According to Emmanuel Kwasi Aning, a former professor at the University of Ghana who has written extensive papers on the manufacture of small arms in Ghana, there are some 2,500 blacksmiths with gun-making capacity in the central Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions alone.
Teye Wayo stands, silently abashed, as Ghanaian police officers display the cache of 73 rifles and six pistols the 70-year-old blacksmith has hammered out of scrap metal on his anvil.
Wayo told police he had learned his gun-making skills from his late father, who also engaged in a secretive but thriving sideline for blacksmiths up and down the country. Although porous international borders and cheap, imported semiautomatic weapons are frequently blamed for the proliferation of small arms across West Africa, Ghanaian blacksmiths like Wayo are part of a flourishing industry – and developing a reputation for good-quality weapons that can match the performance of an AK-47 imported from Russia.
Emmanuel Kwasi Aning, a former professor at the University of Ghana, has conducted extensive studies on the manufacture of small arms in Ghana. He said there are some 2,500 blacksmiths with gun-making capacity in the central Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions alone.
A decent traditional hunting rifle can cost as little as US$4.50, according to Aning’s research, while a locally produced semiautomatic machine gun – something like an AK-47 – would cost as much as $93.
The Ghanaian police are keen to crack down on the internal production of arms, which provides the bulk of guns used in the armed robberies that have become a growing problem in the capital, Accra. “If you take five armed-robbery cases, four – or four-and-a-half – will have used locally manufactured arms,” said Rashid Yakubu, of the Foundation for Security and Development in Africa (FOSDA), which works for greater controls of the manufacture and trade in small arms.
Smiling at an uncertain future. Armed related incidents have brought heavy tension in the suburbs of Accra.
Armed gangs are increasingly terrorising wealthier suburbs of Accra, and in some cases the guns are more than a threat. “All of a sudden, I heard pah-pah-pah! We rushed into the house to find Dada lying in a pool of blood. He had his back to the ground and his teeth clenched,” explained a tearful Shallotte Quarshie, 48. “He was still holding onto his spectacles and mobile phone,” she said, sitting on the front porch of the family home in Accra’s Domi Pillar Two quarter. Two blocks away, neighbour Awuah Boateng was also shot dead, along with his wife’s niece and two other family members, by a pistol-wielding burglar.
The incidents have instilled a sense of fear in a neighbourhood where high, razor-wire-topped walls have failed to keep out the gun-toting criminals. To curb the rise in armed crime, the Ghanaian government has repeatedly implemented measures to crack down on the production and circulation of arms. Nonetheless, there remain some 100,000 illicit weapons in circulation, according to the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms.
Kofi Ametepey, also from FOSDA, said the government needed to take fresh stock of how to deal with the covert gunsmiths, because the clampdowns had done little more than push the gunsmiths further underground. He believed the trade should be regulated and monitored instead of outlawed. “We must give local [gun] producers faith and confidence that we can work together and not arrest them, but legalise them,” he said.
The deputy minister of the interior, Nkrabea Effah Dattey, agreed. “I believe the solution lies in regularising the production of small arms. And we must bring all weapons in and licence them so we can control their uses,” he said. Dattey, who is also chairman of the Ghana National Commission on Small Arms, said the gunsmiths should be encouraged to use their skills to make other products.
Not every blacksmith in Accra wants to be a gun-maker. Emmanuel Siaw, 37, said he could understand why other blacksmiths were tempted to make guns. “I have a lot of friends who make a lot of money making guns on the side. It’s tempting, but it’s wrong. I’m not going to get involved in that business, even if it were legal.”
Instead, Siaw, sweat beading on his brow, labours longer hours for less money, knocking crumpled car parts back into shape.