Small Arms in Africa: Where Does the Buck Stop?
The US is undoubtedly the biggest arms exporter to Africa contributing to about 50% of all arms export to the continent. It is an understatement to say that arms exports to Africa and political instabilities, armed conflicts, economic underachievement and poverty are closely linked.
The continent today is littered with hundreds of millions of small arms and light weapons that fuel conflicts and instabilities, making it difficult for any economic development to take place. Tens of millions of Africans have died from the export of arms to the continent and several millions others injured. About 90% of all civilian casualties in the wars come from the use of small arms and light weapons.
Besides, billions of dollars meant for economic and social development have been squandered on arms procurements to fund the instabilities while poverty is swallowing the people. It is estimated that the continent has lost about 500 billion dollars to arms imports alone while children have no access to education, medicines, water, shelter, food and clothing.
For decades, we have witnessed the tragic and the devastating effects of wars in Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Angola, Ivory Coast fuelled by arms imports from US, UK, France, Russia, North Korea, China, former Soviet and Eastern European nations. Most of the arms exports to Africa are used for internal repression as seen in Zimbabwe, Guinea, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea where ordinary citizens and opposition party members are arrested, tortured and killed. These totalitarian regimes have used the weapons to hold back development and critical thinking in their countries turning their people into modern day slaves.
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The arms are also used for external aggression as is evidenced by the involvement of Rwanda, Angola Uganda and Zimbabwe in DR Congo’s internal affairs. Some of these arms have found their way into rebel hands, organised criminals and bandits. Despite the billions of dollars in aid from US, Europe and Japan and several billions of dollars in loans from IMF and World Bank over the years; poverty, malnourishment and disease are still endemic in African societies with children and women bearing the brunt.
The failed state of Somalia where armed groups have been battling one another for nineteen years should inform the president of the dangers of small arms and light weapons sales to the continent. Today in Somalia, pirates have succeeded in disrupting the international shipping route in the Indian Ocean with daily hijackings and kidnappings. The cost of the piracy to international trade runs into several hundreds of millions of dollars and with the everyday security risk that the pirates continue to pose, the cost could soon reach billions of dollars. Piracy has become possible due to availability of small arms and light weapons shipped to the horn of Africa region by Western defence contractors and their counterparts in Asia.
In Nigeria, armed bandits continue to disrupt the international oil market with constant kidnappings and destruction of oil installations while the federal government has used arms to kill about 20,000 of her mostly unarmed civilians, thanks to the steady flow of arms to the West Africa sub-region.
The continued instabilities in the Great Lakes Region and the constant arm struggles in Burundi, northern Uganda and the Rwanda genocide should inform President Obama about the dangers arms shipments from America and Europe are posing to the continent.
The genocide in Darfur cannot stop unless there are concrete efforts to obtain an international arms ban against the Sudanese government and the rebel groups. Almost two million Darfurians are now refugees with little or no shelter, food, water and are under constant threat of attacks from the Janjaweed militia. These refugees were at the mercy of International Aid Organisations who recently have been kicked out by Omar Al Bashir.
In Ethiopia, millions of people face starvation every year while hundreds of millions of dollars are used to import arms. The active but widely forgotten wars in the Casamance Province of Senegal, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad and Burundi will negate any economic aid to these countries and territories unless arms shipments to both the governments and the rebels are ceased. The wars in Chad will not stop unless the flow of arms to the government and the rebels are cut.
President Obama ought to use his good office to help ban the sale of small arms that have been used to terrorise Africans. He should encourage western countries notably the UK and France to ban arms sales to the continent. The UK and France together account for 10% of the total arms market in Africa.
The US should prevail upon China which has continued to export arms to Sudan despite mounting evidence that the arms are being used to commit genocide in Darfur. In 2008, when the people of Zimbabwe were starving and undergoing election tensison, China shipped arms to the country. Such actions by China, North Korea, Russia and other undemocratic nations must stop. They should be made to sign up to international laws banning and criminalising the sale of small arms and light weapons to the continent.
President Obama should know that the waves of civil wars that hit and devastated Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Congo, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Angola, Niger and Guinea were made possible through the sale of small arms and light weapons to governments and rebels alike by western defence contractors and arms companies including those from the US.
A report published by the UN in October 2002 accused 85companies most of them Western companies of directly financing the war in DR. Congo in order to have free access to the minerals and other resources located in the East of the country. These companies have been accused of arming the armies of Uganda and Rwanda to go to war in DRC so that they could exploit the rich mineral wealth for them. Of the 85 companies named in the October 2002 report, eight, including Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, Trinitech International, Kemet Electronics Corporation, OM Group (OMG); and Vishay Sprague, are U.S.-owned.
A document prepared by Amnesty International entitled “Our Brothers Who Kill US” that when read will chill you to the bone has also detailed the atrocities committed by Rwandan and Ugandan troops in Congo as they battle each other for control and in the process killing many of the unarmed civilian population in Eastern Congo. An excerpt of the report could be found below.
In a six-day battle in June 2000, more than 1,200 civilians were killed and many thousands wounded as Rwandese and Ugandan forces fought for control of Kisangani. Scores of civilians had died in earlier battles in August 1999 and May 2000 for Kisangani, with its strategic position on the river Congo and its diamonds, coffee and timber. As Ugandan forces tried to seize control of the city centre, the two sides poured indiscriminate fire into houses, schools, churches and workplaces. The death toll was highest in the residential districts to the north, especially the communes of Tshopo, Makiso and Mangobo. In July 2001, a local human rights organization, Groupe Lotus, named 253 civilians who were killed during the battle: they included 106 children.
Senior Ugandan officers effectively cornered the market in diamonds, entering into deals with a number of trading houses (maisons d’achat or comptoirs). In one incident on 25 December 1999, Ugandan soldiers beat and detained customs officials at Kisangani’s Bangboka airport who attempted to seize part of a consignment of US$600,000 in Congolese francs, escorted by Ugandan soldiers on an aircraft from Kampala and destined for a diamond trading house. Deus Kagiraneza told the Belgian Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry: "We were outraged to see the Victoria Company, sponsored by the Ugandans, sign contracts without the Rwandese. That’s the sole reason we went to war against the Ugandans, because we alone wanted to control the diamonds."
“The battles for Kisangani ultimately left the city of Kisangani in the hands of RCD-Goma. But most diamond mining zones in the north of Kisangani were left in the hands of the Ugandan army and the MLC. This and the steep levels of taxation levied by RCD-Goma authorities in Kisangani encouraged most diamond traders to export their production through the Central African Republic and Uganda. It is estimated that in 2001 US$3.8 million worth of diamonds were exported to Antwerp, Belgium, from Uganda, which has no domestic diamond production. The RCD-Goma authorities in Kisangani have since concentrated on other commodities such as palm oil to supplement their income”. (Source: McCamy Taylor in an article entitled “Dear Mr. President: Only YOU Can Stop the World’s Longest, Bloodiest War...And It's NOT Iraq” and http://www.democraticunderground.com/.)
It is clear from the above reports and indeed many others that the beneficiaries of the wars are the western companies, rebel groups, army generals, a shadow economy, corrupt politicians in Rwanda, Uganda, DR. Congo and their allies in Europe, North America, China and Japan who enrich themselves while the people face death, famine, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, diseases, starvation, have no access to health, education and are refugees within and outside their countries. As of 2008, the war and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people most of them Congolese civilians. These wars apart from its human cost have contributed to the destruction of roads, harbours, airports, railway lines, telecommunications, hospitals, schools and the livelihoods of the people. The wars have decimated regions, countries, communities and families. It has brought poverty, hunger and misery to the people on the continent. It may be right for these companies to get rich on the back of dead Africans but it should not be right for your government.
On democracy, there are few places in Africa today where people could choose their leaders freely without fear of intimidation, harassment or arrest. The people in Libya, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sudan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Tunisia, Cameroon, Guinea, Mauritania and Uganda cannot democratically change their leaders.
The continent is full of tyrants, dictators and kleptocrats whose grip on power has enslaved the people and put them in perpetual bondage. These largely corrupt and undemocratic leaders have prevented genuine democracy, freedom of speech, assembly, association and other freedoms from gaining root. As a result, there is constant threat of wars and instabilities in these countries and the desire by the people to overthrow their undemocratic leaders is growing by the day. This is not good for economic, social and political development and will make nonsense of any economic package you may have in mind to help the people. How on earth should a person continue to rule for 40 years when he is not a monarch? Even monarchs sometimes abdicate in favour of change.
Why has Omar Bongo of Gabon been in power for 42 years now? Gaddafi of Libya has ruled for 39 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea 28 years, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe 28 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt 27 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 26 years, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 22 years, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan 19 years, Iddriss Derby of Chad 17 years, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia 14 years. Tunisian president has just announced that he is going to rule for life. Are these tyrants monarchs?
The aforementioned heads of state ought to peacefully give up their hold on power, unban opposition parties, free political prisoners, organise free and fair elections and understand that politics is about winning and loosing. It should be possible for opposition parties to win elections as happened in Ghana, without hell breaking loose.
What Africa needs is economic development- not guns and weapons. President Obama ought to urge African leaders to choose democracy and economic development over dictatorship, armed conflicts, corruption and political repression. It is time the US, Europe, Russia and China acted together, called their defence contractors and defence companies to order and gave Africa peace to develop.
By Lord Aikins Adusei
Lord Aikins Adusei email@example.com is a Ghanaian based writer.
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