By PHILIP NGUNJIRI
Africa is losing about $18 billion a year to armed conflict. In addition, civil war or armed insurgency shrinks the African economy by 15 per cent, says a new study.
On the other hand, the cost of conflict in terms of African development was approximately $300 billion between 1990 and 2005 — equal to the money received in international aid during the same period, according to the study entitled Africa’s missing billions, by International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).
“If this money were not lost due to armed conflict, it could solve the problems of HIV and Aids in Africa, or address the continent’s needs in education, clean water and sanitation, and prevent tuberculosis and malaria,” says the report, compiled for IANSA by Oxfam International and Saferworld, and released last week.
This is the first time analysts have estimated the overall effects of conflict on GDP across the continent.
The countries where the study was carried out were: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.
The study comes as diplomats from around the world arrive at the United Nations to discuss an Arms Trade Treaty.
Armed violence is one of the greatest threats to development in Africa,” said Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s African policy advisor. “The costs are shocking. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate,” he added.
The costs are incurred in a variety of ways. There are the obvious direct costs of armed violence — medical costs, military expenditure, the destruction of infrastructure, and the care of displaced people — which divert money from more productive uses. The indirect costs from lost opportunities are even higher.
The research also estimates that 95 per cent of Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Kalashnikovs are the most common weapon in Africa’s conflicts. The combatants who ignore the rules of war and commit human rights abuses are almost always supplied from outside the continent.
Joseph Dube, IANSA Africa co-ordinator, said: “As an African, I implore all African governments and weapon-producing governments to support a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty. This is a call for global co-operation and cannot be achieved working alone.
“The government whose factory produces the rifle is as responsible as the government who permits its ships to transport them. Similarly the states that unload the cargo must monitor whose hands these weapons end up in. Without this regulation, the cost and suffering borne by Africans will continue to be immense.”
Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African nations have been involved in conflict. During this time it is estimated how these countries’ GDP would have grown if there had been no conflict, by comparing them to peaceful countries of a similar economic status. For example, during Guinea-Bissau’s conflict in 1998/99, the projected growth rate without conflict would have been 5.24 per cent, whereas the actual growth rate was minus 10.15 per cent.
This methodology almost certainly gives an underestimate. It does not include the economic impact on neighbouring countries in terms of political insecurity or a sudden influx of refugees. The study only covers periods of actual combat, but some costs of war, such as increased military spending and a struggling economy, continue long after the fighting has stopped.
In countries affected by war, the direct costs of violence (such as military expenditure or the destruction of infrastructure) pale in comparison with the indirect costs of lost opportunities. These include, inflation, debt and high unemployment. They also include income from natural resources going to private individuals, rather than being invested in the nation as a whole.
More people, especially women and children, die from the consequences of conflict than in the fighting itself.
African governments are convinced of the need to control arms transfers and have already taken encouraging initiatives at regional level. These are important steps but will not solve the problem on their own. The arms trade is a global industry and needs a global, legally-binding treaty.
Oxfam, IANSA and other NGOs are campaigning for an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to prohibit arms transfers if they are likely to be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian or human-rights law, or undermine sustainable development. Such a treaty would not prevent responsible arms transfers for defence, policing or peacekeeping.
So far, African support for an ATT has been crucial to its success. Negotiations in the United Nations are reaching a critical stage. It is vital for governments, in Africa and around the world, to support these negotiations and demand a strong result.
IANSA is the global movement against gun violence — a network of 700 civil society organisations working in 100 countries to stop the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.
Saferworld is an independent non-governmental organisation that works to prevent armed violence and create safer communities in which people can lead peaceful and rewarding lives, while Oxfam is a development, relief, and campaigning organisation that works with others to overcome poverty and suffering around the world.