The staggering cost of armed violence to Africa

By Martin Butcher is Oxfam’s Policy Advisor on Conflict and Arms


As the fourth EU-Africa summit takes place in Brussels, we note that the theme “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace” reflects exactly Africa’s needs, and emphasizes Oxfam’s concerns about armed violence and conflict in Africa which are at the base of the decade-long campaign for the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to curb the irresponsible arms trade.

Oxfam research that was published in our report Africa’s Missing Billions showed that between 1990 and 2007 the cost of armed violence and conflict to Africa was $300 billion – approximately the same as the aid money that flowed into the continent during that time. Losses continue at around $18 billion a year. Conflict shrinks the economies of affected African countries by at least 15% a year.

This is a tremendous sum of money, enough to solve the continents’ problems of HIV and AIDS, or to address Africa’s needs in education, clean water and sanitation, and prevent tuberculosis and malaria.

There are the obvious direct costs of armed violence – medical costs, military expenditure, the destruction of infrastructure, and the care for displaced people – which divert money from more productive uses. The indirect costs are even higher. Economic activity falters or grinds to a halt. Income from valuable natural resources ends up lining individual pockets. Conflict brings inflation, debt, and reduced investment, while people suffer from unemployment, lack of public services, and trauma. Inequality rises, bringing further social problems in its wake. Compared to peaceful countries, African countries in conflict have, on average:

• 50 per cent more infant deaths;

• 15 per cent more undernourished people;

• Life expectancy reduced by five years;

• 20 per cent more adult illiteracy;

• 2.5 times fewer doctors per patient; and

• 12.4 per cent less food per person.

Serious armed violence, and particularly civil war, also erodes the institutions of civil society. Family, community, and inter-community links are severed, and a culture of violence spreads. In one current example, Oxfam staff in the Central African Republic observed children in Bangui earning money for their family by selling hand grenades for the equivalent of 50 cents each.

At least 95 per cent of Africa’s most commonly used conflict weapons come from outside the continent, for example, the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, few of which are made in Africa. In the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels were armed with weapons trafficked from elsewhere in Africa. Anti-balaka militias are armed with home-made arms and older military weapons. One thing is clear – none of the arms were manufactured in the Central African Republic. And few entered the country legally.

A steady supply of ammunition is required to keep arms deadly, but little military ammunition is manufactured in Africa. A 2012 report showed that ammunition shipped by Iran was used in 14 African countries, though it was used by government forces in only four of these cases. The ammunition was supplied to governments who then sold it on illicitly, fuelling rebellions, civil wars, armed conflict, and criminal and inter-communal violence.

Africa desperately needs to stop the flow of arms. Our main tool for change will be the ATT adopted by overwhelming vote at the UN last year. The ATT provides for the first time a global framework to control to restrict the irresponsible trade in arms, and to subject the arms trade to control under provisions of IHL and human rights law.

To make the Treaty work mechanisms to control the import and export of arms must be established and made to work effectively. Stockpiles must be secure, and corruption addressed. Many African countries will need assistance with this, something the EU has already committed to provide. But it is not enough for the EU to say that their arms controls are perfect, that only Africa needs to act. Arms exports must be effectively implemented observing the spirit and the letter of the new Treaty.

The EU has a strong interest in peace, stability and economic growth in Africa. Africans and Europeans need to act together in partnership to achieve this vital goal.

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Oxfam's EU Advocacy office in Brussels works to ensure EU policies and practices affecting poor countries have a greater impact on those most in need. Our work spans numerous policy areas including development aid, food security, climate change, and the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of conflicts and natural disasters. more.



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