Shadow of the gun
While senseless armed conflicts continue to kill hundreds of thousands of Africans and drive countries into bankruptcy, someone somewhere is making a fortune. With their traditional markets shrinking, arms dealers have now turned their full attention to Africa and are set to make a pile of blood money. Milan Vesely investigates where the money to buy the guns comes from.
According to a US State Department report, oil, diamonds and mineral resources are 'parallel financing' the proliferation of sophisticated weaponry that has prolonged Africa's conflicts. With 11 major conflicts raging on the African continent, the Arms and Conflict in Africa report reaches some startling conclusions. It reveals exactly where the money for conflicts in poverty-stricken states comes from and that 'parallel financing' - the bartering of resources for armaments - finances the regional wars that have created eight million refugees.
Arms sales showed little growth on a world scale in 1998, except in Africa. Totalling some $56.9bn, up from 1997's $56bn, the world's arms industry actually declined when inflation factors are taken into consideration. "This has resulted in a fundamental change taking place in weapon sales," the US report states, with sub-Saharan African increasingly seen as an attractive market to replace the traditional Middle Eastern and Latin American buyers.
The demise of the Cold War has left arms manufacturers with warehouses bulging with superfluous weaponry. Increasingly they have turned to the proliferating African guerrilla movements as their main customers, often cutting deals that would never have been considered when national armies were their main source of revenue. "Such is the influx of weapons into the African continent that an AK-47 costs as little as $6 in the wartorn areas of Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia," the Arms and Conflict in Africa report reveals.
The African continent is not just a market for durable, low maintenance land mines, rocket propelled grenade launchers, mortars and the widespread AK-47. Sukhoi fighter bombers, T-72 main battle tanks and even the sophisticated MiG 29 have seen action in the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict in the Horn of Africa. The downing of a civilian Learjet that strayed off its approved flight path in August over Ethiopia also indicates that ever-more sophisticated, and therefore costly, radar and anti-aircraft defence equipment is also finding its...