By Andrew Field
Africa has long been the dumping ground for those weapons of mass destruction of a different kind, the notorious Kalashnikov, or AK-47, and other lethal miscellany. For some, however, it has been an opportunity killing field and a somewhat bloody lucrative market that fuels death, injury, destruction and poverty too. The prize is influence in the scramble to access Africa’s natural wealth and resources, in a sick feast of political back scratching.
The continent has seen more than its fair share of revolutions, wars and counter revolutions. The rule of law in a few states has degenerated into the gambit of simple gun power, dominated by those who hold the biggest caches. Some governments have failed and small fiefdoms have evolved. Africa’s politically aligned armies, with the sweat of revolution still on their brows, are grotesquely loyal to the parties who rule them, rather than nations that pay them. The ‘party’ and revolutionary pride are all powerful in Africa and their patronage ever stronger.
Little wonder, therefore, that a good portion of today’s illicit, military, small-arms trade finds its way to Africa. At least a dozen small wars are raging, political dissention and instability is rife, and a few autocrats continue to hold onto their ill gotten power, chiefly through the barrel of a gun. Yet, most people who die in Africa, at the hands of AK-47 lugging killers, are not actually at war. People are not the sole victims here either. Wildlife is being decimated by the Kalashnikov to reap ivory and horn. Politicians, die-hard revolutionaries and outlaws are snuggling to make it ever so easy for gun-runners and dealers to flourish.
Added to this equation are China, the post-Cold War Soviet devolution states and member states of the now defunct Comecon. The common denominator here is old-fashioned communism, Africa’s trough of anti-colonial fervour and idealism. These nations are desperate to rid themselves of huge Soviet era stockpiles of, superfluous, but still lethal weapons, which are ideal for Africa’s small wars. Ship loads of armaments have been hitting the coast of Africa for years now. Africa seems to make it all the more easier, with its corrupt regimes, poor infrastructure and leaky borders.
The key to control is the disruption of ammunition supplies. Legitimate trade in small arms munitions into Africa only accounts for about 4% of world trade. Of course, much more comes in. Trade pacts in West, East and Southern Africa are actually serious about implementing gun controls, but it is just not enough and far too late. Besides, governments still seem content to circumvent the rules to maintain old revolutionary friendships. Illicit gun-running continues to thrive through the back door and will continue to do so, as long as this favours those who rule.
Who are the dirtier dealers in this wicked scenario and do the so called ‘Lords of War’ have the most blood on their hands? Apparently not. The power of the gun in sustaining governments in control, or removing them for that matter, is not entirely foreign to Africa. But those who really facilitate this mischievous trade, and by it hope to garner influence, are very foreign indeed. They are swimming in blood and collective Africa, without realising it, is experiencing a new, but subtle, wave of colonialism, which will properly exploit an insatiable hunger for her resources.