Rebirth Logo

Armed conflict and War In Africa

Most wars fought during the 1990's took place in countries that are poor, to poor to buy weapons, however millions of small arms and light weapons are simply given away by militaries that are downsizing, or they are recycled from one conflict to another. In some lands there is such an abundance of assault rifles that they are sold for as little as six dollars or can be traded for a goat, chicken, or a bag of clothes.

Cheap, mass produced weapons and small caliber ammunition have since late 1945, for the greater part killed an estimated 50,000,000 people around the world. Another reason small arms are popular, is that they are rugged and remain operational for years. Rifles such as the AK-47 and the Ml 6, which soldiers carried in the Vietnam War, are still being used in wars of today. Some rifles used in Africa date back to World War I. Further, guns are easily transported and concealed. A column of horses can carry enough rifles to outfit a small army.

Cheap weapons have not disrupted life in the industrialized world, excluding where drug dealing and political terrorism flourish. The rich states have failed to recognize the horror, suffering and hardship this evil has brought to the lesser developed countries, especially in Africa. Experts currently estimate that +/- 500 million military style firearms are currently in circulation around the globe.

Apart from low cost and wide availability, there are other reasons why small weapons are so popular. They are lethal. A single rapid-fire assault rifle can fire hundreds of rounds a minute they are also easy to use and maintain. A child can be taught to strip and reassemble a typical assault rifle. They can also quickly learn to aim and fire that rifle into a crowd of people.

The global traffic in guns is complex. Huge supplies of guns pass legally from nation to nation. After the Cold War, armies in both the East and the West were reduced, and governments gave or sold excess equipment to friends and allies. According to a writer at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, since 1995 the United States alone has given away more than 300,000 rifles, pistols, machine guns, and grenade launchers. It is reasoned that giving weapons away is cheaper than dismantling or storing and guarding them. Some analysts estimate that perhaps three billion dollars worth of small arms and light weapons legally cross national borders each year.

The illegal trade, however, may be much larger. Black market weapons usually have to be purchased. In some African wars, paramilitary groups have bought hundreds of millions of dollars worth of small arms and light weapons, not with money, but with diamonds seized from diamond-mining areas. The New York Times commented: "Where governments are corrupt, rebels are pitiless and borders are porous. The glittering stones have become agents of slave labor, murder, dismemberment, mass homelessness and wholesale economic collapse."

Having read the above, let us not forget that behind every illegal diamond that is seized we must have willing buyers, where do these unscrupulous buyers come from? How ironic that a gemstone traded for assault rifles may later be sold in an elegant jewelry boutique as an expensive symbol of eternal love!

Weapons are also linked to the illegal trade in drugs. It is not unusual for criminal organizations to use the same routes to smuggle drugs in one direction as they use to smuggle guns in the other. Weapons thus have become a virtual currency, bartered for drugs.

When wars end, the guns used in them often fall into the hands of criminals. Consider what happened in South Africa that experienced a shift from politically motivated violence to criminal violence. Political violence there took the lives of some 10,000 people in just three years. When that conflict ended, criminal violence soared. Competition between taxi drivers resulted in "taxi wars", where thugs were hired to shoot the passengers and drivers of rival companies. Increasingly, military type assault rifles were used in robberies and other crimes. The number of homicides committed with guns reached horrific proportions, it was recorded as the second highest rate in the world for countries not at war.

The knowledge that criminals are armed and dangerous creates fear and insecurity. In many developing countries, the wealthy live in virtual fortresses, surrounded by walls and electrified fences that are guarded day and night. Residents of developed countries also take precautions. This is true even in places that have not experienced civil strife.

No human can measure the deadly work of cheap mass produced weapons; nor can we tally the dead, the wounded, the bereaved, and the shattered lives. Yet, we do know that the world is awash with arms and that their numbers keep rising. Increasingly, voices cry for something to be done. But what can be done?

My African brothers it is time to "WAKE UP" we don't need cheap weapons that have been dumped here by the developed countries, we need to fight and kill each other. Destroy your cheap weapons; resolve your differences through dialogue and debate.