Africa, Development & Aid, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

POLITICS: Africa Awash with Small Arms, Misery

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Apr 19 2005 (IPS) - Around 30 million illegal arms are in circulation in sub-Saharan Africa, fuelling conflicts and destroying lives and property across the continent, says a campaigner.

Ochieng Adala, director of Africa Peace Forum, which promotes peaceful conflict resolution policies in the Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa, urged African governments to cut their defence budgets so as to reduce the proliferation of weapons.

‘’Governments should urgently reduce their budget on small arms and ensure transparency by providing information to the public on production, possession and transfer of arms,” Adala told journalists in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. ‘’Sub-Saharan Africa is characterised by civil war which creates a high demand for arms.”

Adala, together with some 160 activists from across the world, attended a conference in Nairobi to address the proliferation of and misuse of arms. The meeting, held Apr. 15-17, also sought ways to reduce arms trade.

The gathering, whose theme ‘Action for Arms Control in a World Awash with Weapons’, was organised by the Control Arms Campaign, an international anti-arms lobby group. It brought together charities and pressure groups like Oxfam, Africa Peace Forum, Amnesty International, Saferworld, as well as the International Action Network on Small Arms and ARIAS Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.

During the meeting, a participant blamed the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on proliferations of weapons.

‘’Congo is rich in natural resources like gold, diamond and timber. Different groups have been fighting to control the resources and they have used small arms to maintain their control over these resources. Many innocent people have died in the process,” Nasibu Bilali of the DRC Action Network on Small Arms and Light Weapons told IPS in an interview.

He said an estimated 500,000 illegal arms were in the wrong hands in the Congo. His organisation, together with the country’s National Commission for Disarmament and Demobilisation, are urging various rebel groups, militias and bandits to surrender their weapons.

‘’It is, however, difficult to know the number of those who have laid down their arms, but some people are coming in and giving up their arms to MONUC (the UN Mission in Congo) and to the national Army,” Bilali said.

Congo, which has not ratified any protocol to control the illegal proliferation of arms, has been embroiled in civil war since 1998. Characterised by killings, torture and rape of civilians by both government and rebel forces, the conflict has seen more than three million people killed or die from hunger and diseases caused by the war.

To prevent similar sufferings, activists are demanding the establishment of an international Arms Trade Treaty, which they say must be legally binding.

‘’We are talking with governments about establishment of an International Arms Trade Treaty, which will be a binding mechanism to control the international transfer of arms. Already 15 governments have made a statement of support, 15 others are interested. We are involved in debating with them, so that everyone will play by the same rules,” Brian Woods of Amnesty International told journalists.

He said, ‘’we are talking about a global set of principles, more of a soft agreement trying to convince them that the world needs a level playing field for arms so that you do not get a situation where one country supplies arms when another one refuses.”

For the treaty to be effective, it should address all elements surrounding the supply of arms. ‘’We have to address all parts of the supply chain as well as demand for arms. Reducing the demand for arms means ensuring human rights, better safety and security, at the same time tightening the controls on the supply side, not just the factories, the producers, the intermediaries and the brokers,” Woods added.

The campaigners want the treaty in place before the next United Nations arms conference in New York in 2006. The meeting will review progress that has been made so far in reducing the flow of small arms.

According to the Control Arms Campaign, 1,300 people are killed each day around the world by conventional arms, begging for immediate action from governments.

‘’The challenge to all governments is urgent. They must co-operate to control and limit the flow of arms and the spread of arms production. At the very least, arms-exporting countries must not supply arms where there is a clear danger that they will be used for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” said the Control Arms Campaign in a recent report.

The report, titled ‘Shattered Lives: The Case for Tough International Arms Control’, says the world’s most powerful governments are the world’s greatest suppliers of arms and have the responsibility to control the global trade.

The UN Security Council’s permanent members – France, Russia, China, Britain and the United States – together account for 88 percent of the world’s conventional arms exports, the report says.

Previous agreements signed to control proliferation of illegal firearms have often been violated. ‘’Since the signing of the Nairobi Protocol in April 2004, more than five million new weapons have entered the world market. This is in addition to the estimated 640 million already in circulation,” said Chirau Ali Mwakwere, Kenya’s foreign minister, at the opening of last week’s conference.

Experts say the uncontrolled proliferation and misuse of arms by both government forces and armed rebel groups will increase poverty.

An estimated 22 billion dollars a year is spent on arms by developing countries, a sum the Control Arms Campaign says would be enough to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of ending extreme poverty by 2015. The UN estimates the goals of achieving universal primary education at 10 billion dollars a year, and of reducing child and maternal mortality at 12 billion dollars a year.

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