The Question of Arms in Africa

Saturday, 24 July 2004

The tragedy in Darfur re-proposes the question of the diffusion of arms in Africa. This is why we decided to issue the part relative to Africa of a dossier on arms in the world in preparation by Fides.
In Darfur, as in many other wars in Africa, the weapons of mass destruction are light arms. In this extremely poor region of west Sudan, horsemen, descendants of plunderers of the past, armed with Kalashnikov, kill civilians and torch poor hovels. These militia groups are the notorious pro-government Janjaweed whose brutality pushed US Congress to approve a resolution declaring that what is happening in Darfur is genocide. From the air Khartoum planes pave the way with indiscriminate bombing with fragmentation bombs and napalm bombs.
The international community is discussing whether to threaten international arms embargo for the Janjaweed, although strangely enough not on the Sudanese government which arms and directs these militia Sudanese. Perhaps because some members of the UN Security Council have signed or are about to sign huge arms contracts with Sudan? Is it not true that some countries are preparing to sell dozens of fighter planes, hundreds of tanks and armoured cars to the Sudanese army?
Africa continues to be a market, albeit poor and apparently marginal, of the world arms trade. As Fides Dossier says, very often old arms are recycled on this continent, from those coming from arsenals being renewed by armies in the west and in Eastern Europe, to those of former fighters in recently concluded African wars. Nevertheless there are people who do not hesitate to put systems of new production on the African market.
The victims of this trade are civilians, women and children in particular. But they include also missionaries, religious and lay people. Faithful to the Gospel, missionaries live side by side with the poor never leaving them even in times danger and they represent often the only help and comfort available to these people without hope. This is why missionaries are a target for those who want to annihilate an entire people. From forgotten Africa, these men and women builders of peace armed only with the faith, continue to denounce the evils of the arms trade.
The reasons for this dossier are written in the last chapter: “Disarmament is possible”. Africa is a continent where peace could become a reality.

The geopolitical picture

The end of the cold war did not mean the end of conflicts in the world. Instead of ideological wars feeding on disputes between two blocks, we have ethnic wars and wars for control of vital resources.
In Africa the alliances of the cold war did not lead to the constitution of multi-lateral organisations like NATO. This meant that in Africa military apparatus were built and fed on bilateral bases, looked after first of all by former colonial powers and in a subordinate way by the USA and the USSR. A resuming of confrontation between the two blocks in the second half of the 1970s gave Africa a central role. The two super powers increased their involvement in African affairs directly, or more often through allies (Cuba for the USSR, South Africa, Morocco and Israel for the USA). The old colonial power most present in Africa was France which, although restrained by the Soviet Union in the context of western politics, pursued its own neo-colonial objectives. French policy was based on a direct military presence with bases and troops deployed in Senegal, Djibouti, Chad, Gabon and Central African Republic. One of the consequences of this scenario was an impressive arsenal which the two blocks poured into Africa and which remained there. An arsenal manly of light weapons which went to feed new wars and situations of widespread criminality.
Since the end of the cold war the determinant factors of African wars have been the following: state of insecurity in transition processes even in countries aspiring to regional leadership like Nigeria, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Ethiopia; the absence of a precise plan on the part of continental and sub-regional organisations. Moreover, the reduction of resources available to African states generates phenomena of erosion of consensus, often obtained with redistribution procedures on a basis of favouritism. The conflicts, as well as personalistic, ethnic or political rivalry motivations, have as their objective occupation of the state and hence control of income and foreign funding.
In this context the United States and international finance institutions supported processes of leadership changein the 1990s. New leaders interested in the “market” and processes of globalisation replaced men like Mobutu, useful during the cold war but an obstacle in the way of the new economic order. These new leaderships often took power with manu militari (Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, Congo) and the leading representatives come mostly from the army. The new convergent and competitive strategy of France and America is to support this leadership in order to control the area.
At the military level, rivalry between France and the US led, by separate paths, to interventions and deployment of armed forces, suited to African geopolitics. In the second half of the 1990s, the United States sponsored an African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) aimed at establishing an inter-African force of 10,000 men. ACRI was to keep peace under the aegis of the African Union while the USA and European countries supplied arms and training. Despite diffidence on the part of South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, the programme made progress. Uganda and Ethiopia have said they are willing to take part and two French-speaking countries Mali and Senegal and one west African English speaking country Ghana showed interest in the US initiative. The key countries in Washington’s plan are South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia once peace with Eritrea is reached, while in north Africa Algeria is seen with interest. Since the terrorits attacks on September 11, 2001 the United States has viewed with ever-greater concern the spread in Africa of Muslim extremist organisations. This is why Washington decided to promote new initiatives to increase the anti-terrorism capacity of African armies. In particular the Pan-Sahel Initiative which aims to increase collaboration of American military with a series of Sahel countries Mali, Mauritania, Algeria, Chad, Niger, Senegal.
France prefers to speak of African Capacities to React to Crises CARC or Reinforcement of African peacekeeping Capacities RECAMI. The French plans rely more heavily than those of Washington on interventions by the UN, the AU African Union, and regional organisations. The African force sponsored by France should not be self-referential like that of Washington. And instead of one force, like the American one, France aims for the formation of sub-regional complementary centres - joint-exercises and pre-positioning of material - called in to collaborate should the need arise. The French plan rests on a smaller military device compared to the past, distributed as follows: Djibouti (3300 men), Senegal (1300), Chad (850), Ivory Coast (4000) and Gabon (600).
So rivalry between Paris and Washington helps increase the arms trade Africa. If on the one hand both powers aim to restrict areas of instability in order to protect their positions, on the other they are tempted to acquire new clients with the distribution of arms and military assistance to governments, parallel troops and rebel groups.
Data supplied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in its SIPRI Yearbook 2000 confirmed this tendency. According to SIPRI French troops have increased in numbers since 1997. In 1999 military expenses were 22% greater than 1996. These figures are only indicative since information is not available on certain countries such as Angola.
In a situation of absence or weakening of the state, public and private actors on African war scenes vary: regular armies, guerrilla or paramilitary groups, self-defence units, foreign mercenaries and foreign army troops. Wars are financed by the following sources: transferral of goods to fighting units (theft, sacking, kidnapping, market control); taxes or percentages on production of primary goods and various forms of illegal trade (illegal diamonds trade, and drug trafficking which is spreading in Africa); foreign assistance, income from refugees, direct assistance from ex-patriots or assistance by governments or foreign multi-national companies; diversion of humanitarian aid to fighting units (army or guerrilla).
The availability of arms is guaranteed by at least three factors:
1) Demobilisation at the end of the cold warof arsenals in NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. These enormous stocks of arms, too expensive to destroy, are often put on the market by traders without scruples. Particularly former Warsaw Pact countries desperate for hard currency are among the most active in feeding the flow of weapons to Africa. From the technical point of view Soviet type arms are well known to the Africans because pro-west guerrilla groups such as UNITA were armed through parallel channels with eastern systems.
2) When, at the end of local conflicts war apparatus were demobilised, the existing arsenals were not destroyed, they were put on the market for the benefit of new wars or criminal groups. This happened in Africa (Mozambique) and in Asia (Cambodia).
3) New production on the part of major powers (including Israel, sometimes wrongly placed among third world producers), which restructured and modernised their military industries in the 1990s, and on the part of third world producers (Brazil, Egypt, both Koreas, China, Iran, Chile). In Sub-Saharan Africa the main producer of arms is South Africa which has a varied and sophisticated industry and giant arms producers like EADS and BAE present in its capital. Small productions of light arms and ammunition exist in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria.
Beside the arms trade, there exist also the, modestly termed, ‘military advice services’. Training, logistic services to the different troops engaged in the various war theatres of Africa are specialities supplied by international agencies. The figure of the mercenary has evolved. Next to the “old mercenary”, component of irregular gangs, there is a new employee of multi-national “security” companies to which even the United Nations Organisation intends to have recourse. This branch includes states with socialist economies such as Cuba and North Korea, who supplied mercenaries in the late 1990s, the former to Angola and Republic of Congo and the latter to Democratic Congo
In Africa there are at least 90 private security forces of various types. Eight of these are in Angola alone because the Angolan government requires mining and oil companies to provide their own security. One of the most famous was the South African Executive Outcomes EO which offered military advice, battle plans, training of land and air personnel, direct interventions in conflicts and protection of mining and oil interests present in war theatres. This company reportedly ceased its activities at the end of 1999. However the case of EO is emblematic because in this group there were mining companies which guaranteed their own claim to resources in the country where their intervention was requested. One of these, Branch Energy, was taken over by Diamondworks, a company associated with the British mercenary company Sandline.
The United States and also Great Britain and to a lesser degree France have integrated the use of mercenary companies in their military strategies. The secret service of the Pentagon Defence Intelligence Agency DIA made contact with the main agencies in this sector to study their commitment in the ambit of America’s African geopolitics.
In this logic, to avoid risk for its own military personnel, the West entrusts the management of its military activities in Africa and also in Latin America) to local actors (armed and trained by programmes like ACRI and RECAMI) and private companies.
THis means that besides arms and training supplied state to state, private supplies are increasing. Moreover geopolitical considerations often come second to trade interests. We have the ELF Oil Company finances both sides of the conflict in Democratic Congo in order to maintain its oil concessions in that country.
Privatisation of war has also ironic effects in Africa, as seen by the progressive emptying of the military capacity of Africa’s regular armies. Fearing military coups and revolts, many African Presidents (many in power thanks precisely to military coups) turned regular troops into “parade armies”, creating at the same time well armed private security guards and henchmen for personal safety. The members of these corps belong to the same ethnic group as the country’s strong man. It is clear that this undermines the foundations of the state and favours sub-state entities, ethnic, tribal etc., or extra-state groups (criminal networks, multinational mining and farm companies etc…).
Diamond trafficking is one example of this. The constitution of networks for the trading of diamonds produced in rebel controlled areas of Sierra Leone is flanked by networks of diamond trafficking, and also sales centres for the same in Belgium, Great Britain, Switzerland, South Africa, India, USA and Israel, nearby countries like Liberia which feed guerrilla in order to gain by this trade, arms’ suppliers (often based in tax-free areas like the Cayman Islands or the United Arab Emirates), accommodating airline companies which transport the goods to destination, and countries such as Burkina Faso which allow transit in their ports and airports or supply end user certificates.
The trafficking of African diamonds often involves Middle Eastern personalities and besides commercial motivations some parts of Africa have become proxy battle zones between Middle East powers. Iran for example supports the government of Sudan, and Eritrea and Uganda back the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army SPLA.
Sudan, moreover, receives aid and funding for its war efforts from Asian oil companies: competition for vital resources involves not only Western but also Asian economies. Sub-Saharan Africa is in ever-greater danger of becoming a land of conquest for the stronger economies.
The interests of the so-called new economy are interwoven with those of the old economy. Coltan, used for producing mobile phones, is mined in Congo controlled by rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Buyers include major western multi-national companies which purchase the mineral through companies in Uganda and Kazakhstan.

Military production in Africa

In Africa, the diffusion of light arms is a plague which contributes to instability in vast areas of the continent. Besides arms coming from other parts of the world, mainly but not exclusively Eastern Europe, local arms production is growing at an alarming rate. African arms-producing countries include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, and Egypt.
The largest producer is South Africa, which inherited a sophisticated and varies arms industry from the Apartheid regime. South Africa has 700 industries in the military sector which employ 22,500 workers (in the late 1980s the figure was 160,000). Most of them are small or middle-sized industries while the giant Denel controls the more important industries. With regard to light arms the main producers: Vektor (pistols, rifles, machine-guns, mortars, automatic 20 mm canons); MGL Milkor Marketing (Pty) Ltd (automatic bomb throwers); Mechem (12,7 and 20 mm anti-material guns); ARAM (Pty) Ltd (heavy 12,7 mm machine guns); New Generation Ammunition (small and large), LIW (small canons 30 and 35 mm); Truvelo Armoury Division (pistols, rifles and small arms parts); Pretoria Metal Pressings (PMP) (ammunition 12.7 x 99mm; 12.7 x 76mm; 9 x 19mm; 7.62 x 51mm; 5.56 x 45mm).
Officially the country exports war products to 61 countries mainly in the Middle East and Africa. The best client is Algeria, despite the fact that this country is in the grip of a civil war in which security forces are accused of atrocities and massacres of civilians. The best buyers are: Algeria, India, China, United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Kuwait, Oman, Peru, Swaziland, Republic of Congo, Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Zambia, Mozambique and Mexico.
In 2001, 32% of South Africa’s exports were absorbed by Africa. Algeria alone represented 28% of all sales in Africa. This north African country purchased, UAV spotter planes (without pilot) and an updating packet for its fleet of Mil Mi24 Hind Russian bomber helicopters. The rest of the exports was divided as follows: 15% Middle East; 16% South Asia; 15% rest of Asia; 16% Europe; 5% Americas and 1% United Nations (peacekeeper equipment).
Not all countries are able to receive the same systems produced by South African industries. SA law stipulates 4 export categories:
Category A: Sensitive Major Significant Equipment (SMSE) - causing high number of casualties and damage to structures.
Category B: Sensitive Significant Equipment (SSE) - light arms.
Category C: Non-sensitive equipment (NSE) - combat support systems without lethal capacity (for example systems of logistics and telecommunications)
Category D: Non-lethal equipment (NLE) - defence means such as de-mining systems.
This means certain countries may purchase only categories CD (non-lethal), like Zimbabwe last supply in 2000 only category D.
Zimbabwe also inherited an embryonic was industry from the previous regime (when the country was still called Rhodesia). In 1984, starting from this basis, the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI) was established. The company produces light arms, ammunition and mines. The know-how to produce explosives and mortars was supplied by France, whereas China built a factory for infantry weapons ammunition. The ZDI clients include Angola (regular army and UNITA rebels), Sudanese rebels and Democratic Congo. In Congo, where Mugabe’s troops support President Kabila, in exchange for ZDI supplies, Harare obtained 37,5 % of the shares of GECAMINES, Congo’s state mining company. Zimbabwe is now looking for new partners to produce arms. Before the end of the war in Angola, Luanda and Harare were engaged in talks in view of joint production of arms. However once the war ended the Angolan government seemed to lose interest in the undertaking.
ZDI produces light arms (copies of Israel’s UZI machine-gun and the Czech CZ25 machine-gun) but mainly ammunition (9 mm to 20 mm), mortar shells (60, 81 and 120 mm), anti-personnel and anti-tank grenades. Zimbabwe’s official buyers include South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia
Still in east Africa Uganda also has a small war industry, at least three factories of arms. The main one is a Chinese owned Nakasongola Arms Factory, (joint venture between Beijing and Chinese, North Korean and South Africa technicians and businessmen. The factory is in the Gulu region devastated by the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Liberation Army-LRA and it produces light arms and mines supplied to the Burundian army and UNITA rebel army in Angola. Another factory is Saracen, which supplies the Ugandan army. Saracen is owned by the Strategic Resources Corporation, behind there is Executive Outcomes (EO), South Africa’s Private Military Company (PMC) which officially ended its activity at the end of 1999, but is suspected of acting under low-profile names. Lastly there is the Ottoman Engineering LTD, specialised in light arms. One of Uganda’s clients is Democratic Congo.
In Kenya, the Kenya Ordinance Factories Corporation produces ammunitions for pistols and assault rifles (20-60,000 a day). The corporation was built with the help of Belgian FN and opened in 2000. The Kenyan government says its production is for use of it own armed forces and that it does not intend to grant export licences.
The only arms producing country in West Africa is Nigeria. The Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) set up in 1964 with the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria Act, played an important role in the war of secession in Biafra (1968-70). Entrusted to foreign managers the company declared bankruptcy in 1972 and its director general, a German, was expelled from the country. The company continued to function with ups and downs for about 30 years, under military regimes. At the end of the 1990s, the new civil government decide to give new impulse to military production appointing a new council of administration the DICON and contact was made with Russia to transfer technology.
The Nigerian Company employs 700 people in Kaduna where it produces light ammunition, whereas in Bauchi light armoured vehicles are produced. Officially the arms are only for use by the Nigerian armed forces and police forces. Material produced includes: Nigerian Rifle 1 Model 7.62 mm (NR 1 - 7.62 British-Belgian licence); Nigerian Pistol 1 - Model 9MM (NPI - 9mm); Sub-Machine Gun (PM 12S Calibre 9MM Italian Beretta licence) DICON SG 1 - 86 Single Barrel Shot Gun; DICON M 36 Hand-Grenade; 7.62mm x 51 soft core (Ball) Cartridge 7.62mm X 51 Soft core (Ball); 7.62mm x 51 Blank Bulleted 9 x 19MM Parabellum Cartridge; 9MM Blank Star; 12 Bore Shot - Gun Cartridge.
In North Africa, the main producer of arms is Egypt, which exports also to Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1992, two years before the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Egypt signed arms sale deals with the Rwandan army. The sale, backed by a French bank, included 60 and 82 mm mortars; 16,000 mortar shells; 122 mm howitzer with 3,000 shots; missile throwers; plastic explosives; anti-personnel mines and 3 million small bore bullets.
Egyptian producers of light arms include: Abu Kir Engineering Industries / Factory 10 (small ammunition); Al-Ma'asara Company for Engineering Industries (MF 45) (small and big ammunition); Arab International Optronic (AIO) S.A.E (aiming system); Helwan Machine Tools Company / Factory 999 (mortars); Kaha Company for Chemical Industries (MF 270) (hand grenades and bombs); Maadi Company for Engineering Industries (pistols, guns, light and heavy machine guns, grenade launchers; Sakr Factory for Developed Industries (anti tank rockets); Shoubra Company for Engineering Industries (MF 27) (ammunition).

The heritage of death of past wars

When a war is over one of the problems is disarmament of troops. Unfortunately despite efforts on the part of the United Nations Organisation and others in many cases it has been impossible to obtain total disarmament. One of the most recent examples is the UN programme for disarmament and demobilisation in Liberia. The civil war between troops loyal to deposed President Charles Taylor and guerrillas of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) ended in August 2003. The country now has to disarm more than 85,000 troops including 20,000 boys some not even 9 years old
After a false start in 2003 (see Fides 9 December 2003), the UN programme for disarmament was started on 15 April 2004. Soldiers who agree to disarm receive 300 dollars (150 immediately and 150 after a three-month rehabilitation programme). However the men are not obliged to come with their weapon to hand it to UN peacekeepers. This has led to a paradoxical situation in nearby Ivory Coast where there is a process of disarmament of New Forces rebel groups which control the north west of Ivory Coast. In Ivory Coast the rebels are required to hand in their weapons and in exchange they receive (900 dollars). The result is a trafficking of arms from Liberia to Ivory Coast, as denounced by the local Church in Liberian in 2004 (see Fides 3 May 2004). The Liberian rebels wanted to double their money taking part in two disarmament programmes, in their own country and in Ivory Coast where they say they are Ivorians or they sell their weapons to Ivorian guerrillas for a percentage of the 900 dollars.
The fact that Liberian guerrillas take part in the programme of demobilisation without handing in their arms is having negative consequences in Liberia itself. Moreover the rebels tend to turn in old or faulty arms and hide the best equipment. This is why although 11,000 men registered for the demobilisation programme in the first week only 8,500 arms were withdrawn. Considering that each man might possess more than one weapon this result is poor and also concerning (see Fides 10 July 2004). Even where disarmament programmes obtain good results reasons for concern exist. In the Republic of Congo, for example, a programme promoted by IOM and UNDP started in July 2000 collected only 28% of an estimated 57,000 light arms in the country.
Arms left in circulation feed delinquency and guerrilla warfare also in neighbouring countries. These arms are a source of destabilisation for whole regions of Africa where the favourite is not the pistol, but recycled AK47Kalashnikovs. Poachers in national parks like Kafue Park in northern Zambia, use Kalashnikovs brought into the country by Angolan refugees. In northern Cameroon, more than half the street bandits are former militia from Central African Republic, Chad and Nigeria.
Because light arms are available on this continent, 18% of the homicides and suicides using firearms registered each year in the world happen in Africa. In Africa arms are used in 35% of the homicides, 13% of the robberies and 2% of the rapes. The country with most violence in the world, second only to Colombia is South Africa where homicides using firearms registered each year are 30 for every 100,000 people.

Disarmament is possible

According to some experts the situation in Africa is tragic but not desperate. There appears to be a drop in the number of light arms in Sub-Saharan Africa: from 100 million pieces to 30 million (5% of all the light weapons in the world). The figure is consistent but the tendency shows that disarmament is not impossible. It should be said however that about 80% of these arms are held by civilians and this aggravates situations of instability in many parts of Africa.
On the other hand this information is concerning because it means that relatively small number of arms and small numbers of troops can affect the life of whole nations.
This situation exists in west Africa where civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone have put the state on its knees and destroyed the economic and social tissue of both nations. It is estimated that in the 1990s at the height of violence in the region, the total number of rebels was 47,000 carrying between 60-80,000 arms. Calculating arms purchased to replace those destroyed, lost or stolen, in 10 years the region absorbed no less than 250,000 arms.
The presence of arms in the region determined illegal flows to countries considered relatively stable, such as Ghana where, according to official data, there are more than 40,000 arms, which escape government control. In Nigeria, a country with situations of ethnic-religious tension that often explode in violence, there are an estimated one million illegal arms.
It should be remembered that when there are economic and strategic interests in question such as control of resources, like oil, local fighters have no difficulty in obtaining arms. This was the case in three civil wars the Republic of Congo 1993, 1997 and 1998-99. The warring parties received a constant supply of arms. At least 24,500 of the 74,000 light arms distributed to Congolese troops, came from security forces’ arsenals, and no less than 49,500 were imported. Countries which sold arms to the different groups fighting in Congo included Israel, South Africa, China, Bulgaria, Russia. Other supplies passed by way of Angola, Democratic Congo, Gabon and Zimbabwe. The Republic of Congo has the sad record of being the first country in which a non state actor, the COBRA militia group obtained supplies of the deadly Russian RPO-A Shmel thermobarric missiles used by Russian troops in Afghanistan and in Chechnya which burn oxygen around the target. This produces decompression, which razes buildings to the ground and crushes lungs in the rib cage.
International criminal circles are able to supply the arsenals of guerrilla groups and therefore also those of terrorism with sophisticated instruments of death (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 24/7/2004 righe 404 parole 5141)