Leaky humanitarianism

The anthropology of small arms control in the Gambia

by Niklas Hultin

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Among Gambians, attitudes toward small arms control vary. For some, it appears as the unjust act of an overbearing and autocratic government; for others, it is part of the project of fashioning a modern state; for yet others, being licensed to carry a gun is a sign of respect from the state. On the basis of these differences, I develop the notion of “leaky humanitarianism” to capture how humanitarian small arms control underwrites state power. I further suggest that small arms control should be understood as a form of statecraft centered on injuring power and is thus a potent but underused diagnostic in the anthropology of the state.