Wars have cost Africa at least a staggering $300bn between 1990 and 2005. This does not take into account the millions of lives lost or ruined, the impact on neighbouring countries, the debilitating trauma of war, the unprecedented levels of internal displacement, the destruction of infrastructure or the millions of hectares of good farmland now rendered useless because of unexploded mines.
Add all this to the equation and one shudders to think of the real cost of wars in Africa. It is a cost almost identical to the total amount of development aid into Africa. The figure quoted above was released by Oxfam International following the first study of this nature undertaken by the charity group.
Oxfam says that the 23 conflicts engulfing the continent during this period have shrunk economies by an average of 15% per year at an annual cost of almost $18bn.
The estimates were based on a calculation of the costs of higher military expenditures, loss of development aid, rising inflation and medical expenses of those injured or disabled.
The real cost, when all factors are taken into account, is at least double, if not triple. What is astounding, given this scenario, is not that most of Africa is underdeveloped, but that much of it has managed to develop at all.
The release of these shocking figures comes just as the UN General Assembly is trying to pass the Arms Trade Treaty designed to restrict the flow of illegal weapons to vulnerable parts of the world such as Africa.
This is the second time the General Assembly has tried to pass the treaty. In 2006, 153 countries voted in its favour, 24 states abstained and only one country voted against – the US.
“The treaty provides an opportunity to agree 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,” says Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Johnson-Sirleaf knows at first hand what havoc a proliferation of arms in the hands of irresponsible and greedy people can unleash on innocent citizens. Her country is still painfully trying to recover from the wounds of war.
All of Africa’s wars, and one can say this with confidence following the release of classified documents, have been caused, instigated, supported or provoked by outsiders.
The motives of these proxy wars, once all the white noise surrounding them has been removed, have often been dastardly. The Cold War unleashed a series of murderous civil wars in Central and Southern Africa for no other reason than ‘strategic considerations’, which in hindsight have proved to be neither strategic nor considerate. The instigators of those wars pulled their levers from thousands of miles away while Africans perished in their millions and continue to suffer to this day.
Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, just when that benighted country was beginning to achieve some measure of stability, has devastated Mogadishu and created hundreds of thousands of new refugees. Ethiopia’s brutal push was financed and supported by the US ostensibly because the Islamic Courts – a collection of respected old men – was an ‘Al Quaida’ stronghold!
Darfur continues to burn because a host of ‘interested parties’ want the conflict to continue although nobody now has any idea who is fighting whom for what. The DRC is a battlezone with ‘interested’ parties funding and arming various groups for their own short term gains.
Arms and drugs
The two most lucrative trades in the world are the sale of arms and narcotic drugs. The demand for both is elastic – it grows with supply. Both are unnecessary and extremely harmful. Both depend on addiction – once you start on drugs, you cannot easily stop; once you start a conflict, you cannot easily stop. In both cases, dealers induce dependency and then sit back and count their profits as the victims rob, plunder and murder to get the wherewithal with which to purchase their ‘fix’.
Yet while those who deal in drugs are considered pariahs and subject to a global ‘war on drugs’, those who sell arms and provoke conflict are considered respectable businessmen and diplomats.
Drugs are harmful, yes; but the damage they cause is nothing compared to the devastation caused by the sale of arms and the inciting of violent conflict. Drugs harm those who choose to take them; guns harm everybody, but mostly the innocent, the poor and the vulnerable. Drugs can destroy individuals; guns destroy nations.
If the world is prepared to wage a war on drugs, then it should be more than prepared to wage a war on the sale of arms. If countries are willing to bomb the sources of drugs such as opiates, then they should show the same willingness to deal with arms manufacturers and dealers.
What is it in our human nature that makes us so angry about other people living on the planet that we feel obliged to organise mass slaughter? Why is it a crime to murder someone in civil society but not a crime to murder thousands in the name of war?
There are many other people asking the same questions. The first step to stop the obscenity of war is to pass the UN Arms Trade Treaty. The question is: who will get in the way of such a treaty?