Arms Transfers and Trafficking In Africa
 
(Source : U.S. Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs ; issued July 9, 2001)
 
 
 WASHINGTON, DC---Arms and Conflict in Africa Arms transfers and trafficking remain one of sub-Saharan Africa's major security problems.

Africa continues to have the greatest number of armed conflicts of any continent. In mid-2001, latent or open hostilities affected Angola, Burundi, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC), Djibouti, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria-Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania-Zanzibar, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The influx of light weapons financed by cash, diamonds, or other commodities did not cause Africa's wars but it has prolonged them and made them more lethal.

Given the number of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, it is not surprising that they cumulatively have claimed at least 7 to 8 million lives. Also, by 2001, more than 3.5 million of the more than 14 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world were in Africa. Of the approximately 21 million internally displaced people in the world, more than 10 million are Africans.

Nations and manufacturers eager to dispose of arsenals of arms made superfluous by post-Cold War political developments and technological innovations continue to view Africa as an attractive market. The international community's inability to control arms transfers and trafficking contributes to the persistence of these devastating conflicts. African leaders also have acknowledged that their porous borders and ineffective national legal codes governing firearms commerce also play a role in the continent's continued vulnerability to opportunistic arms merchants.

Apart from undermining the promise of African democratization and development, armed conflicts contribute to political decay, facilitate state collapse, cause widespread human rights violations, generate refugees and internally displaced persons, and exacerbate famine conditions. Conflicts also divert scarce resources away from social services, disrupt trade, discourage tourism, and contribute to the breakdown of family structures.

The pervasiveness and persistence of conflict also have grave psychological consequences as children are traumatized or become accustomed to a culture of violence. A recent study published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers claims that 120,000 minors, out of a worldwide total of 300,000, are participating in various African wars. Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda are thought to have some of the largest numbers of under-aged soldiers.

With the exception of the more conventional Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict (1998-2000), efforts to end Africa's conflicts have yielded no lasting successes. One obstacle is war-profiteering by soldiers and guerrillas. The arms market continues to offer many opportunities to those who possess assets other than hard currency to finance weapons purchases. Diamonds, other gemstones, and minerals enable cash poor governments and insurgents the ability to acquire arms.

In DROC, for example, soldiers from Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe enrich themselves by plundering natural resources such as diamonds, columbite-tantalite (coltan), and ivory. Insurgent groups such as the Congolese Liberation Front (FLC) and the Mai Mai engage in similar practices. In West Africa, the sale of conflict diamonds smuggled out of Sierra Leone has fuelled the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgency and enriched the guerrillas' regional patrons. Diamond smuggling and arms trafficking funded by oil revenues yield substantial profits to arms merchants willing to sell to one or both parties to the Angolan civil war.

International efforts to control the bartering of natural resources such as diamonds and other precious stones, coltan, timber and other commodities for weapons have done little more than drive much of the illicit trade deeper into the shadows.

On the positive side, insurgents in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola may not be smuggling out as many diamonds as they previously were able to, and the cost of the weapons they purchase probably also has risen.

Sadly this has not been enough to put a crimp in the illicit commodities for arms trade.


International and Regional Efforts To Control Arms Transfers and Trafficking

Arms transfers and trafficking have continued to spiral, in part, because the international community has not effectively enforced UN sanctions, criminalized embargo violations, penalized financial institutions that act as conduits for weapons purchases, failed to promote indigenous controls over African arms production and sales to countries under UN arms embargoes, or taken actions against countries that serve as arms transshipment points.

Numerous international and regional programs aspire to reduce the flow of weapons into sub Saharan Africa. These initiatives have succeeded only in documenting the devastating impact that arms transfers have on Africa.


United Nations.

The UN has imposed arms embargoes against Liberia and Somalia and against various insurgent groups, including the Revolutionary United Front (Sierra Leone), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and Hutu and ex-Far extremists in Central Africa. The United Nations has perhaps made its greatest effort to enforce its arms embargo against UNITA by essentially freezing its bank accounts, restricting the travel of UNITA officials, and limiting UNITA's ability to market diamonds.

Despite these measures, UNITA continues to wage a fierce guerrilla war. None of the embargoes has been enforced effectively despite repeated violations acknowledged by the UN and revealed by non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Similarly, the recently expired one-year (2000-2001) arms embargo against Eritrea-Ethiopia failed to deter weapons deliveries of heavy and light equipment to either party. Beyond arms embargoes, the UN and some member states, notably Canada and Great Britain, have advocated a name and shame" policy. According to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the "public identification of international arms merchants" is the single most important tool in combating the arms trafficking problem.

On September 24, 1999, the UN Security Council held its first ministerial meeting on small arms; this led to a Security Council presidential statement urging member states to curb arms trafficking. The UN's "name and shame" strategy has had no impact on weapons flows. Neither the UN nor any of its member states has focused on Africa's role in arms trafficking.

In particular, there has been no UN action against countries like Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; all are major transshipment points for arms shipments to west, central, and eastern Africa. The UN Register of Conventional Arms, which has been in operation since 1993, has received data about weapons sales from 153 nations. However, the response by African states is among the lowest in the world.


Organization of African Unity.

In July 1999, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) issued a declaration on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons that called for a coordinated African solution to the arms trafficking problem.

In collaboration with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, the OAU devised the Initiative on Small Arms Proliferation and Africa, designed to raise awareness of the small arms proliferation problem and to facilitate an in-depth discussion of the menace it poses. Several sub-regional initiatives aim to control arms trafficking but they lack the investigative capabilities and legal authority to enforce strictures against arms trafficking.

Mali, working through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS--Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) devised the West African Small Arms Moratorium that imposed a renewable three-year (1998-2001) voluntary ban on the manufacture, import, and export of weapons throughout member states. Because of a lack of resources for enforcement, this moratorium failed to impact significantly on arms trafficking activities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Weapons sales to other West African countries also continued unimpeded.

There are at least 8 million small arms in West Africa, according to some estimates, with more than half in the hands of insurgents and criminals. Criminal elements in Ghana alone reportedly possess some 40,000 small arms.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Committee on Small Arms seeks to control weapons flows to Africa by encouraging all states to observe and enforce UN arms embargoes and to criminalize their violations. SADC has yet to persuade its members (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) to undertake such actions.


How the Arms Trafficking Network Works

Arms trafficking is a complex and convoluted business. A single weapons sale may involve an array of brokers, banks, transportation companies, and transshipment points. The availability of false end-user certificates enables traffickers and their clients to circumvent UN arms embargoes. The following case studies illustrate the multi-faceted nature of the arms trafficking problem and its deleterious impact on African society.

Gun Runner Extraordinaire. Victor Butt, a Russian national based in United Arab Emirates, has come to symbolize the arms trafficking problem in sub Saharan Africa. He owns at least five airlines that fly 60-aircraft and employ some 300 people. Over the past several years, Butt repeatedly has demonstrated an ability to deliver weapons and other military supplies to clients throughout Africa.

Currently, he operates in Angola, Cameroon, DROC, Kenya, Libya, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Uganda.

International efforts to arrest Butt or curtail his operations have thus far been unsuccessful. Butt and other arms traffickers transport weapons and other military supplies through Africa by a variety of routes, sometimes directly, often through one or more transshipment points. These nodes comprise an elaborate network of options for arms dealers who wish to keep their activities private.

Some of the more frequently used African airfields transited by Butt and others include Entebbe, Goma, Kigali, and Luanda. African seaports used by arms traffickers include Aseb, Beira, Conakry, Dar-es-Salaam, Djibouti, Durban, Luanda, Merca, Mombasa, Monrovia, and, Nacala. After arrival, arms are forwarded to their destination by road, rail, air, or ferry.

For example, shipments through Dar-es-Salaam normally are sent by rail to Mwanza, a port on Lake Victoria, and then loaded onto a ferry for Port Bell in southern Uganda or other regional destinations.


Guns and African Instability.

Many of Africa's pastoral groups are threatened by the proliferation of small arms that makes conflicts with their neighbors more lethal. A typical example concerns the Karimojong in northeast Uganda who for centuries relied on traditional weapons when engaged in cattle-rustling and clan warfare. Such fighting claimed relatively few lives and was settled eventually by elders.

By the late 1990s, there were an estimated 30,000-40,000 AK-47s in the hands of Karimojong and neighboring pastoral communities. Ownership of such a weapon conferred political, social, and economic status. Oftentimes, an AK-47 was part of a bride price. Not surprisingly, cattle rustling and clan warfare became more lethal. Efforts by the Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) to disarm the Karimojong led to occasional clashes. The proliferation of AK-47s not only has intensified conflict but also has undermined the authority of the elders.

As a result, Karimojong society not only is less cohesive but also has become part of the arc of conflict that stretches from the Horn of Africa to east, central, and southern Africa.


Nairobi: Life in the Big City.

The proliferation of illegal firearms in Kenya has reached crisis proportions. A recent study of Kenya by South Africa's Institute for Security Studies indicates that black marketers sell some 11,000 guns annually, most of which enter Kenya from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda. According to Kenya's Chief Licensing Firearms Officer, "Seventy-five percent of the country is awash with illicit arms."

As a result, gun-related incidents rose by 200% in 1995 (most recent available figures) over the previous year. Conditions in Nairobi, a city of some 2.8 million people, are particularly worrisome. Guns are increasingly used in car-jackings, kidnappings, rapes, muggings, and robberies. Police suspect that organized crime elements or retired or serving soldiers or police are responsible for at least some of these incidents. Reportedly, Somali gun dealers in the Eastleigh section of Nairobi regularly "rent" weapons for an afternoon to anyone who can pay their fee.

In mid-2000, the Kenya Police reported that they were recovering between 1,800 and 2,000 unlicensed guns per month in Nairobi. One year later, there still were an estimated 5,000 illegal firearms in circulation in Nairobi, or one illegal weapon for every 560 Nairobi residents. This figure does not include unrecorded sales that are undoubtedly much higher. Gun-related crimes probably would continue to escalate as the police lack the resources to stem the flow of weapons into Nairobi.


West Africa Weapons -- Domestic and Imported.

Nigeria is a significant actor both as a producer and consumer of weapons. Press reports indicate South African and Russian arms manufacturers visited Nigeria in early 2001 to tender proposals to rehabilitate and expand Nigeria's Defense Industries Corporation (DICON). Press reports also suggested an eagerness to acquire arms that may have involved at least one unorthodox and politically suspect arms transaction.

Nigerian police, in late May 2001, seized a shipment of weapons at the port of Apapa that allegedly originated in Pakistan and were purchased, with the assistance of unnamed Indian agents, by several retired Nigerian generals with links to the late General Abacha.

The intensification of hostilities along the Guinean-Liberian-Sierra Leone border has heightened demand for arms in that already saturated area. Liberian dissidents operating across the Guinean border, earlier this year, allegedly received arms and ammunition delivered to the port of Conakry. Several reports have suggested Liberian timber exports increasingly are used to finance and smuggle weapons, further facilitating Taylor's ability to evade UN sanctions directed against Liberia's exchange of conflict diamonds for arms.

At the end of the day, neither African or non-African nations nor the international community has been willing to levy painful political, economic, or legal penalties against individuals or countries to dissuade them from selling arms to or within Africa. Such limitations make it unlikely that the arms trafficking problem in Africa will be significantly ameliorated anytime soon.

Print this page Back to the top