Updated on April 9, 2013 
This article was first published in AFJN’s January-March 2013 Newsletter

On March 18-28, 2013 the UN held in New York the final conference on arms trade treaty.  At the end, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly to regulate this deadly business by 154 to three votes with 23 abstentions.  This treaty is critical to peace and security for Africa given the many ongoing and previous armed conflicts on the African continent in the past decades.  However, no matter the content of this treaty, African leaders must understand that fewer arms, or knowing the origin of the weapons killing African people, is not the answer to the most pressing needs of Africans.  The greatest challenge to Africa’s peace and prosperity is poor governance by power hungry and blood thirsty constitutional dictators.  It is not the first time the issues of small arms trade has been raised, but those who benefit, including African leaders, have refused to listen.

President Thomas Sankara’s Testament to Africa

Thomas Sankara, fromer President of Burkina Faso (1983-1987), warned Africans to abandon their fruitless conflicts and move toward genuine freedom and unity. He opposed the arms race in Africa and called on Africans to avoid going into debt by buying arms. “Because an African country that buys arms can only be doing so to use them against an African country.” (Michel Prairie, Thomas Sankara Speaks, The Burkina Faso Revolution 1983-1987, Pathfinder, Second edition 2007, 380). In fact, armed conflict is one of the causes of many African nations’ underdevelopment. Conflicts in Africa maintain arms manufacturers in business and the latter put money in their own government treasuries through tax.

The arms industry is just one of many industries supported by money from Africa, which does not benefit Africa.   Thus, Sankara argued: “let’s make sure that the African market is a market for Africans. Let’s produce in Africa, transform in Africa, consume in Africa. Produce what we need and consume what we produce, in place of importing it.” (Michel Prairie, Thomas Sankara Speaks, 380).
Africa, a Good Market for Weapons Suppliers

During the years 2004-2011, the value of arms transfer agreements with developing nations comprised 68.6% of all such agreements worldwide. More recently, arms transfer agreements with developing nations constituted 79.2% of all such agreements globally from 2008-2011, and 83.9% of these agreements in 2011.( Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nation 2004-2011by, Congressional Research Service, August 2012.)

The United States and Russia are the main weapons suppliers. From 2008 to 2011, the United States made nearly $113 billion in such agreements, 54.5% of all these agreements (expressed in current dollars). Russia made $31.1 billion, 15% of these agreements. (Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-2011).
 Development, a Solution to Armed Conflict

According to President Sankara, when medical industries  are neglected to the advantage of arms industries , humanity is on the wrong side. When developed countries are more comfortable in selling weapons to developing countries instead of helping them build democratic institutions, humanity is on a flaming field. When scientists dismiss their prior vocation of using their intelligence to prevent humanity from distress, there is a problem. When physicians who pledged through sermons to take care of life transform themselves into death givers, something is very wrong.
To the heads of states who gathered in Addis Ababa in 1987, Sankara explained: “We can also use Africa’s immense latent resources to develop the continent, because our soil and subsoil are rich. We have the means to do that and we have an immense market, a vast market from north to south, east to west. We have sufficient intellectual capacities to create technology and science, or at least to adopt it wherever we find it.” (Michel Prairie, Thomas Sankara Speaks, 380).

About Thomas Sankara

On August 4, 1983, Thomas Sankara, a thirty-three–year-old captain in the army of the Republic of Upper Volta came to power in a coup. His revolution replaced the French legacy of using people as cheap labor with a new vision of self-reliance that promoted and encouraged his people to capitalize on the virtues of honesty, courage, and work to recover their dignity and pride. He changed the nation’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, translated as the “country of honest people  Little by little, Sankara worked to take his country out of misery, but he clashed with the French and their allies who wanted to prevent him from spreading his revolutionary ideas throughout West Africa. President Sankara was killed on October 15, 1987.

By  Barwende Sane,  s.j