Debt, diseases and war are three major issues affecting the continent of Africa. Development is what is needed and yet hostilities across the continent between 1990 and 2005 have cost Africa’s economies approximately $284 billion, roughly equivalent to the amount of foreign aid given to the continent. This is all according to a report released Thursday, October 11, 2007, by the British group Oxfam International in collaboration with International Action Network on Small Arms and Saferworld.
The report, titled “Africa’s Missing Billions,” calculated the overall effects of conflict on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was published just as diplomats from around the world arrived at the United Nations to discuss an Arms Trade Treaty, which many believe will help to stabilize Africa’s wars and thus its economies.
Some experts are arguing that this $284 billion could have been directed toward fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, as well as promoting education and creating stronger economies on the continent; yet, as the report indicates, it has been used to fuel wars.
“The costs are shocking. This money could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education,” said Oxfam’s African policy adviser, Irungu Houghton, in a press release.
Breaking Down the Information The report sites that 23 conflicts in Africa between 1990 and 2005 reduced economic activity by an average of 15% annually at a cost of almost $18 billion per year. The report calculated the cost of conflicts and violence, including higher military expenditures, loss of development aid, rising inflation and medical expenses of those injured or disabled.
Beyond the 15% annual reduction in economic activity, the report also found that African nations that experienced conflict had about 50% more infant deaths, 15% more malnourished people, reduced life expectancy, increased adult illiteracy, 12.4% less food per person and 2.5 times fewer physicians per person than other nations. Deaths caused indirectly by the wars are 14 times higher than deaths in combat. “This is a massive waste of resources,” the report said.
Not to mention that the tally is probably on the low side when one considers the impact hostilities have on the economies of neighboring countries as well as the long-term effects of higher military spending on individual economies.
All of these crises seem to be interwoven, from war to failing economies to a lack of food and clean water and health care. The creation of a stable Africa, which many believe can be accomplished if arms trading is cut and regulated, would eliminate the cost of war, including care for the victims and post-conflict reconstruction. This would also allow countries’ resources to be stabilized and thus benefit their economies; in turn, governments would be permitted to invest in vital sectors of their nations such as economic growth, education, and the fight against HIV/AIDS and other health issues. As it stands now, specifically with HIV/AIDS, due to bilateral and multilateral debt most African countries are almost entirely dependent upon outside support and funding in order to sustain the fight against this deadly epidemic.
The Cost on Specific Countries A few specific examples of the cost of conflicts on Africa sited by Oxfam include Rwanda and Burundi. Rwanda saw its economy grow an average 2.8 percent annually between 1990 and 2001, almost a third less than what was projected had it not experienced war. Burundi’s economy is suffering even more as a result of its ethnic-fuelled conflict, shrinking an average of 1.1 percent annually between 1993 and 2005, compared to a projected annual growth rate of 5.5 percent.
There is also the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which according to the World Bank has seen its formal economy virtually collapse in the last few decades due to mismanagement and conflict. The GDP per capita in the DRC is one of the lowest in the world. Although the government has recently launched economic, financial and structural reforms aimed at stabilizing the macroeconomic situation and the creation of a climate conductive to private sector-led development, this recent ray of hope is threatened by the rising tensions in the DRC due to rebel factions operating in the East and the ongoing conflict that has ensued.
The Key to Africa’s Survival The two non-governmental organizations which have backed the Oxfam report, the International Action Network on Small Arms and Saferworld, have cited the global arms trade as a major contributor to the violence that has killed millions of Africans and impeded economic growth on the continent. Small arms and light weapons are thus, major contributors to the conflicts which are costing the African continent its sustainable survival.
It is estimated that 95 percent of Kalashnikov rifles, the most popular weapon used in the African conflicts, came from outside the continent, highlighting the need to better regulate the arms trade. Therefore, the United Nations is considering an Arms Trade Treaty designed to restrict the flow of illegal weapons and arms, especially to vulnerable parts of the world, such as Africa.
Oxfam and other NGOs are campaigning for an agreement that would prohibit arms transfers if they were likely to be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, or undermine sustainable development. The question then raised is how to deal with the transfers of legal weapons that arrive to make peace but eventually fall into the hands of rogue militias or corrupt government armies.
Under the new US military command for Africa (AFRICOM), Africa will see an increase in the presence of US soldiers and weaponry on the continent of Africa, under the guise of humanitarian aid and capacity training for African militaries. Though the projected structure of the command claims to be purely precautionary and stipulates that no arms will be exported to Africa unless needed to fight terrorism or rogue rebel groups, it is a dangerous first step. Africans fear a destabilization of their already fragile continent and an invasion of the military into civil society. As the Oxfam report indicates, arms transfers to Africa have been disastrous for the people of Africa. A military approach to development is always an ill-conceived one; the military and civil society must remain separate if a country is to be peaceful, prosperous, and democratic. Addressing AFRICOM has become a primary concern at AFJN and we hope you will join us in opposing what may be catastrophic for the people of Africa.
What Africa needs is not more weapons, more soldiers, or more military equipment, but a method of community restoration and transitional justice to bring peace; specifically, Restorative Justice. In contrast to criminal justice, restorative justice would take into consideration the cultural issues affecting the people and their traditional forms of reconciliation. However, it is important to remember that restorative and criminal justice are not mutually exclusive and must work along side one another as some crimes are simply too severe for traditional forms of peacebuilding.
It seems then that the key to Africa’s sustainable survival would be to reduce arms trade and better regulate them as well as to focus more on restorative justice as oppose to focusing solely on criminal justice and military action.
The Buzz Around the Treaty Some 153 countries voted last year in the U.N. General Assembly to start work on a treaty, which would make provisions for legal arms sales for defense, peacekeeping and other legitimate purposes. The United States cast the only vote against the project.
Regarding the treaty, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in a foreword to the Oxfam report, “The treaty provides an opportunity to agree on tough controls on the arms trade that would significantly help reduce armed violence in Africa and across the world, an opportunity that is truly priceless.” Liberia endured a brutal civil war and was involved in cross-border conflicts with its neighbors in western Africa in the 1990s. The violence cost more than a quarter of a million lives and decimated the resource-rich economies in the region.
This recent report by Oxfam confirms our concerns and our efforts here at AFJN to prevent the US government from carrying out AFRICOM’s current structure, to invest more in health care (HIV/AIDS, specifically in pediatrics), to eradicate poverty in Africa, to promote restorative justice and peacekeeping and peacemaking through diplomacy instead of might. We at AFJN desire to see a stable Africa that flourishes and is recognized as the asset that it is.
Former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sums it up best in a speech he made on April 16, 1953 when he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”