The Cost of Conflict in Africa


Universe Column, November 11th, 2007

A new report estimates that during the 15 years up until 2005 the cost of conflict in Africa has been around $300 billion.
Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African nations have been involved in conflict and according to research by the aid agencies, Oxfam International, IANSA and Saferworld, this is equal to the amount of money received in international aid during the same period.

The study, “Africa’s Missing Billions”, shows that on average a war, civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 per cent.
Conflicts are costing African economies an average of $18bn a year – desperately needed money which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education.
The shortage of health care, food and medicines is matched by an abundance of small arms.
Kalashnikovs are the most common weapon in Africa’s conflicts. These are weapons of mass destruction and you don’t need international weapons inspectors to find them. You can see them everywhere you go; often brandished by young children. Globally, 1000 people are estimated to die daily, the victims of small arms.

95% of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa; and until a global Arms Trade Treaty is ratified they will continue to do so.
And the story doesn’t end there.
More people, especially women and children, die from the consequences of conflict than in the fighting itself. Visit the camps in Darfur, as I have done, where the depredations of the Janjaweed militia have led to 2 million people sheltering in squalid and unsanitary conditions as the world looks away with feigned embarrassment from this first 21st century genocide.
Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford University, says that conflict is one of the four “traps” that lock the “bottom billion” into lives of grinding poverty and stagnant or shrinking economies.
One study suggests that in just a seven year period the net losses to agriculture alone from armed violence in Africa was over $25 billion.
Compared to countries living in peace, African countries suffering from conflict have, on average, 50% more infant mortality; 15% more undernourished people; life expectancy reduced by 5 years; 20% more adult illiteracy; 2.5 times fewer doctors per patient; and 12.4% less food per person.
The proliferation of arms in countries in conflict – from Somalia to Sudan, from Eritrea to Congo, is that arms flow across borders into more peaceful countries, such as Kenya, and destabilise them. The Kenyan Foreign Minister recently said that “when guns get into the calculus then it becomes a recipe for disaster.”
The flooding of Africa with guns is also cultivating a climate in which young men seem to believe that unless they are toting a gun they are not a real man. It is only one step further to use the gun.
In the Congo a United Nations programme has been established to try and demobilise the tens of thousands of boy soldiers who have been involved in that country’s carnage; and young children have been the back-bone of the militias that have terrorised Northern Uganda.
As western nations continue to sell arms into Africa’s conflicts, where are our consciences?
And as African leaders continue to corruptly squander lives and resources, where are theirs?
In 2008 the United Nations group of experts who have been considering the proliferation of weapons must issue a report and recommendations. They need to put renewed impetus into the creation of a strong globally effective Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
If it is to achieve anything it must prohibit arms transfers if the are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international law; if they are likely to be used to commit serious violations of human rights; or if they are likely to be used to undermine sustainable development.
An Arms Trade Treaty could be an indispensable mechanism for holding this trade in check.
If the world community is not prepared to make the ATT a mutually binding and enforceable agreement, the continued cost in Africa will be immense. If the avaricious interests of arms dealers are put ahead of the interests of their victims the cost will continue to be measured in lost lives.