What if they had a gun buy-back scheme and somebody turned in a tank? That’s exactly what happened in Libya this week.
In an attempt to get a grip on the huge arsenal of military-grade weapons in private hands, Libyan authorities have been organising schemes to turn in the hardware. And business has been booming, with everything from armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft missiles and artillery pieces being handed over. Large volumes of ammunition, landmines and grenades were also dropped off.
In some localities inducements such as TVs, iPads, prize draws and even jobs were offered as incentives for citizens to surrender weapons looted from military stores during last year’s uprising.
With an estimated 200,000 Libyans packing heat, the proliferation of weapons throughout the region is a major cause for concern. It spills over into neighbouring countries, makes it easy for terrorist groups to get hold of stuff and in Libya also has tended to turn minor disputes into shoot-outs.
As I mentioned just prior to the killing of the American ambassador in Tripoli, the militarisation of Libya means that there has been a growing security gap. With so much private violence going on, Libyans felt that they had to keep hold of their weapons for self defence and the security services were delegitimised in their role.
In this climate, such hand-over schemes were tried many times before with little success. However this time round the idea seems to have caught on. It would appear that the attacks on the US embassy were a wake-up call for Libyans, who began to realise that their new society risked heading in the direction of Mogadishu.
Surrendering weapons therefore became a demonstration of belief in the government and the regular armed forces.
Like most weapons amnesties though there is cause to be cynical. Those offering up their arms are probably the ones least likely to have used them anyway and the total amount gathered is a drop in the ocean. The criminal gangs and militias will be more reluctant or evasive in their own co-operation.
Additionally, outside the metropolitan centres of Benghazi and Tripoli, government control is much more tenuous. It is in the remote regions that the militias operate with greater impunity and it is there that insurrection will brood and fester.
Libya still has a long way to go before it reaches even a semblance of stability. But in the meantime trading in a tank for a plasma at least offers a flicker of optimism.