Wars in Africa provide economic future for arm dealers

Wars in Africa provide economic future for arm dealers


Chris Odinaka Nwedo

“Apparently, loyal constituents of arm dealers are armed robbers, kidnappers and all fervently in love with violence. The basic and consistent factor in violence which is the only product of war is that the first victim ruined is the vanquished, and the second tragic victim is the victor”.

Arm dealers are the beneficiaries of ubiquitous wars in developing countries and around the world. These wars sustain and provide structures for continuous expansion of industries producing and marketing weapons. The future for the industries involved in production of arms hinge on proliferation of conflicts, violence and ultimately wars. No sane nation fraternises arm producing industries if it is not prosecuting war or anticipating violence. A regime that fervently pursues weapon programmes in times of peace and stability probably plans to conclude the nation’s future wars before replacement.  Apparently, loyal constituents of arm dealers are armed robbers, kidnappers and all fervently in love with violence.

The basic and consistent factor in violence which is the only product of war is that the first victim ruined is the vanquished, and the second tragic victim is the victor. Conflict provides mutual prospects for self-destruction of the parties in the dispute if parts leading to violence is not negated. War is avoidable when peace is allowed. There is no conflict without peace as potent prospect for its resolution.

Since the fortunes of weapons’ industrial complexes grow on the branches of conflicts and nutrified by them, it is no longer alright to disassemble conflicts with gentle spanks and pacifists’ remonstrations. The resulted oriented nature of today’s weapons comes with a mistaken impression that violence is the shortest track to peace. With the active efforts of lobbyists working for gun factories, it is increasingly difficult to dispel the illusions that violence is a quick-fix for all conflicts. Large percentages of today’s folks no longer consider reasoning as having any capacity to play tremendous roles in conflict management and are disinclined to compromise for peace and intolerant to prudence. This is why violence, bloodshed and sorrow are becoming predominant issues in every conversation nowadays.  We have strife, wars and violence everywhere in the world due to deliberate rebellion. The world rebels to reason and the humanity is encumbered by the reckless choice.

On August 2, 1998, violent political conflict erupted in Democratic Republic of Congo mainly between Mobutu and Kabila. Within months, the conflict unfolded into a complex international crisis engulfing Central Africa in what some have called Africa’s First World War. Though this war was triggered by political dissension in DRC and largely the internal affairs of the country, many African countries were ‘thrilled’ to participate in the war. At least there were eight national armies pulled into the conflict these included Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan, Chad, and Zimbabwe. Along with these national armies were rebel groups working so hard to be heard and respected according to the value they were to add to the intensity of damage in the war.  What was spectacular was that, many Western countries provided weapons logistics and training to most of the active players in the Congo conflict.

 In 1998 alone, U.S. weapons to Africa were significant in quantity, quality and cost. There were also substantial arm deliveries to Chad, Namibia, and Zimbabwe among the countries backing Kabila in the conflict.1 Uganda received millions worth of weaponry within the period, and Rwanda, allegedly, started importing U.S. weapons very early in her history before the brutal genocide erupted. United States’ military support in the form of direct government-to-government weapons deliveries, commercial sales, and IMET training to the states directly in the DRC’s war spiralled “since the end of the Cold War.2

Donald McNeil noted that during the height of the war, the U.S. communication equipment and small arms like the U.S.-designed M-16 combat rifle that were circulating freely were used even by rebels in the conflicts. These facilities were heavily depended on both for combat and civilian attacks.3  Heavier equipment and training assistants to the region by a number of so called world powers were parts of the major motivating forces in the war. Uganda, which received just under a million dollars in U.S. weapons in 1997 boosted its total military expenditure in 1999 from $150 million to $350 million. The weapons increased troop commitments and the stockpiled tanks and antiaircraft missiles were accessible for use against Kabila’s forces. Zimbabwe and Angola purported  beneficiaries of U.S. military training and equipment afforded to send jets, tanks, and troops into the combat.4  Because many ‘super power’-supplied weapons have outlasted the governments and conflicts for which they were intended, yesterday’s supplies are finding new uses today.

A Belgian arms dealer was arrested in South Africa for selling 8,000 U.S. M16 rifles from Vietnam War era arsenals to Kabila’s forces.5  The U.S. was said to have provided an estimated $250 million in covert military assistance to UNITA’s forces between 1986-1991. The assistance was helpful for war related programmes, especially,  of Sudanese People’s Liberation Army because military hardware were no doubt being used as the violence spread.6

 As military training programs continued in Africa so were demands for weapons. Weapon sales to the developing world are on the rise, and small arms manufacturers seek to increase exports worldwide. Although U.S. arms manufacturers often boast of making the world a safer place and the Pentagon rallies around human rights training for foreign militaries, history teaches a different lesson.  According to Hartung and Moix  the west  helped built the arsenals of eight of the nine governments directly involved in the DRC War.  In addition, some of the Rwandan forces that played a key role in toppling the regime of long-time arms-client, Mobutu SeseSeko had received training from U.S. special forces under the Joint Combined Exchange Training  program.7

Again, ‘four U.S. citizens claiming to be Christian missionaries were arrested in Zimbabwe for attempting to smuggle small arms caches – which included sniper rifles, shotguns, machine guns, firearms, telescopic sights, knives, camouflage cream, two-way radios and ammunition – across national borders.8 In 1998, American State Department licensed commercial weapons sales by U.S. manufacturers to countries in Africa. The sales included M16s, pistols and revolvers, rifles, and cartridges of .22-.50 calibre ammunition. A number of the countries engaged in the Congo war were recipients of these stocks, including Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Namibia.9  

In general terms, Western policy has done so much in helping create demands for weapons in the ‘developing’ countries, and arm industries are so eager to meet the demands.  Arms market is taking on a life of its own, largely outside regulations and oversight.Arms control critics have continued to argue that ‘Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.’ The Rwandan genocide of 1994 carried out largely with machetes, rocks, and other non-military weapons, is often touted as proof that arms control yields so little in stemming violence. Ultimately, however, those arguments ignore the long-term political, economic, and social effects of flooding the developing world with deadly weaponry and military training.10  

Rwanda as a country cannot get over the violence and the horrific massacre of over 800,000 of her citizens in the 1990s.  As the larger world was caught up in misery over the Rwandan tragedy, in 1998 about 14 of 53 countries of Africa were involved in active hostilities “accounting for more than half of all war-related deaths world-wide and resulting in more than 8 million refugees, returnees and displaced persons.11 And from 1998 to 2018 conflicts in Africa increased with more and more groups taking up arms against the government and making civilians massive victims of the irrational violence. With easy access to weapons, violent groups are springing up and multiplying in numbers with determination to kill or maim others. Probably, there are about 30 million refugees throughout Africa today. In the north-eastern Nigeria, millions of the citizens are currently internally displaced and scattered in refugee camps all over Nigeria as a direct result of Boko Haram Islamic violence. According to statistics about 18,000 Nigerians have been murdered in the religious violence. The Islamic militants are having easy access to powerful weapons is often given as some of the reasons why the group has remained invincible after a decade of mortal combat with Nigerian security agencies. Mali, Kenya, Cameroun, Sudan, Somalia to mention these few have also religious groups as violent and deadly as the Boko Haram.  The motley of exceedingly violent Islamic militants and inter-governmental regional conflicts are part of the many reasons why Africa bleeds.

With overwhelming flow of weapons, many African communities are susceptible to severe vicious conflicts. This is a constant source of suffering and calamitous political, economic and social commotion in some African states. Most of the complex regional conflicts in Africa that gravitated to irrepressible sporadic violence are avoidable, superfluous and obstructive. These conflicts are activated habitually by avaricious politicians, religious bigots and tribal irredentists. For instance the political clashes in Kenya which immediately sentimentalized into ethnic violence with attendant devastation were avoidable. It was unconstructive. There were in the recent past senseless violence, war and destruction in Liberia, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Burundi etc., in which hundreds of thousands of lives were exterminated and properties worth hundreds of billions of dollars were destroyed. The late 1990s saw the culmination of the diamond and corruption fuelled rebellion in Sierra Leon that had been going on for decades.

In 2000 peace agreement signed between rival War-Lords fighting for the heart of in Sierra Leon brought little respite. Guinea was in danger of being dragged into the conflict. Liberia, nominally at peace after its years of war and a state benefiting no one but its former gangster-like regime deeply interested in fomenting conflict in all of its neighbours and was itself edged towards a renewed civil war.13 It is expected that political sanity in Liberia today should be allowed to continue for the better with peaceful transition from one democratic election to another. Imagine the anguish that “for almost two decades, guerrilla forces have been invading rural settlements and kidnapping children in DRC. Each year they steal hundreds of boys and girls from their homes and then disappear into the dense jungle. The children are snatched mainly at night and the raid provided the rebels with a pool of young soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. If the entrapped children do not cooperate, their captors may cut off their nose or lips. Those caught trying to escape face death too horrible to describe.

Somalia, Rwanda, and Sudan have been in never-ending confrontations and hostilities. It is welcoming that the plights have ceased. And Rwanda has moved away from the past history of tragedy and trying to reinvent herself as an abode of hope for her folks. But Somalia and Sudan have made retrogressive steps forward. Somalia in the understanding of many remain a state continuously failing and without any significant to show as signs of deliberate plans to move forward. Sudan became dichotomised between the north and south. Today each parts of former Sudan has carried it confusions along fighting and turning itself upside down and perfunctorily driving to ruin.

‘In Sudan’s western Darfur region, was a massive campaign of ethnic violence that claimed the lives of more than 70 000 civilians and uprooted an estimated 1.8 million more since February 2003. The roots of the violence were complex and parts of the picture remained unclear. “The primary perpetrators of the killings and expulsions were government backed ‘Arab’ militias. The main civilian victims were Sudanese tribes. And the “crisis was then the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet.14

According to Scott Straus ‘to understand the Darfur story it helps to know something about the conflict itself. The crisis in western Sudan has grown out of several separate but intersecting conflicts. The first was civil war between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government and two rebel groups based in Darfur, the Sudanese Liberation Army and Justice and Equity Movement.  The rebels, angered by Darfur’s political and economic marginalization by Khartoum, first appeared with offensive in February 2003.15The government, however, did not respond with major counter offensive until April 2003, after the rebels pull off a spectacular attack on a military airfield, destroying several aircraft and kidnapping an air force General in the process. Khartoum responded by arming irregular militia forces and directing them to eradicate the rebellion. The militia set out to do just that, but mass violence against civilians is what followed.16

Proliferation and fractionalisation of violent groups in Sudan are principally blamed on the sectarian orientation and lack of political will by the government in meeting its obligations and agreements with the armed groups. Factional loyalties in the ranks of Janjaweed and the eventual fight against the government were simulated by anger and frustrations on the government’s failure to provide them with Promised Land, privileges or funds. The fragmentation of violence in and around Darfur had high human costs and dramatic humanitarian consequences in 2007. Despite a decrease in civilian casualties in January to April 2007, overall one-sided violence against civilian continued unabated.21

As Ethiopia fidgeted from the devastating impact of several wars and natural disaster, the autocratic regime of the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi engrossed itself with attempts to crack the commitment of the survivors of the many calamities through political indiscretions, discrimination, marginalisation and violence to opposition political groups and minority tribes. The uses of all manners of violence against political dissenters by the totalitarian regimes naturally escalated conflicts and violence in many states. We have seen the upsurge of violence in Somalia following the invitation of Ethiopian troops to help protect civilian population in Somalia following the hostilities between former Transitional Federal Government and the opposition groups. Studies blamed foreign interference for most of the conflicts, wars, violence in Africa.

During the Cold War era, the struggle to win over African states against the communists in road into the continent was supported by sponsoring tyrannical rulers and delivery of arms and ammunition to them. These weapons fuelled the many wars, conflict and political repressions.  In 1965, after five years of political and military scuffling, Mobutu Sese Seko pushed his way into the presidency purportedly with the help of external backing from the CIA. Determined to maintain a foothold on the continent, the U.S. provided political and military support to its ‘friend and ally’ for decades. In that time, Mobutu came to be known as one of Africa’s most brutal dictators.25 Despite continued reports of widespread violence, corruption and human rights abuses in the former Zaire, U.S. helped build late Mobutu’s arsenal with a fleet of C-130 transport aircraft and a steady supply of rifles, ammunition, trucks, jeeps, patrol boats, and communications equipment.

By the time the dictator was ousted in 1997, the U.S. had delivered more than $300 million in military hardware to Mobutu’s regime. Through the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, the U.S. also trained 1,350 of Mobutu’s soldiers at a cost of more than $100 million.26 Although Zairian forces gained a reputation for violence and repression against civilians, the State Department continued to claim IMET training served to ‘safeguard Zaire’s internal stability and territorial integrity without threatening the security of neighbouring countries.27  Since the deposition of Mobutu, DRC has neither known peace nor stability. Without doubt active violence that became prevalent are maintained by the weapons supplied to the deposed ruler. It was the same weapons that were redeployed in the fratricidal violence that displaced Mobutu from power that offered many Congolese violent death.

According to Hartung and Moix, U.S. policy toward Mobutu was rationalized on the grounds of fighting ‘communism’ and Soviet influence in Africa, but the U.S. was clearly more concerned with securing its own interests in the region than helping foster a stable, secure, and peaceful future for the people of Central Africa. Found at the centre of the continent, Zaire could provide the U.S. with access to important resources, transportation routes, and political favours.

Over the years, U.S. rhetoric changed slightly, placing greater emphasis on democratic reform of the regime and increased attention to human rights, but in reality the policy continued to focus on promoting narrowly defined U.S. economic and strategic interests.28  The weapons encouraged Mobutu’s human rights abuses, political oppression, siphoning of government money, and use of a lawless military elite to subdue the people. “Moreover, even after the Cold War ended, the U.S. continued to provide military support to the Mobutu dictatorship. In 1991, the U.S. delivered more than $4.5 million in military hardware to Mobutu’s government.29 That same year, Congress suspended its economic assistance to Congo, not on human rights grounds, but because it had defaulted on loans provided by the U.S. government to cover its weapons purchases.30 By that time, the arsenals of deadly weaponry had already poured into the country, while Mobutu’s fiscal corruption and brutal rule had incited political unrest and devastated the economy.

According to the World Bank, 64.7% of the country’s budget was reserved for Mobutu’s discretionary spending in 1992; official Zaire figures put the estimate at 95%.31  As to the relative importance of U.S. arms transfers to Africa, data from the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s publication, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, ranks the U.S. as the second leading arms supplier to both Central and Southern Africa. Other significant weapon suppliers included France, Russia, and China among others. There is also a contentious research suggesting that United States ranks sixth in arms transfers to Africa for the period from 1995-1998, after China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.32

The history of overt and covert weapons trafficking to the continent helped nourish the informal networks which are now often the main source of supply for the world’s most vicious conflicts. If the sane world is to play a credible role in resolving and preventing wars in Africa, it should endeavour to help coordinate reduction of military roles by external forces in the continent.  United States can slack substantially its military roles in the continent “only then will it have the diplomatic leverage needed to get other suppliers to follow suit.33

As US administrations’ officials speak ‘more and more of promoting peace and stability, consolidating democracy, and encouraging sustainable growth in Africa, there is need to also take a closer look at the long-term impacts of past and current policy toward the continent and indeed elsewhere in the world. The decades’ conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the neighbouring countries are parts of the examples of how the capitalist’s Cold War legacy continues to wreak havoc in the developing world. However, any assessment of the arms flow to Africa must take account of the substantial transfers of light weaponry that are carried out beyond normal government-to-government channels.


  1. See the International Crisis Group’s ‘Congo at War: A Briefing on the Internal and External Players in the Central African Conflict,’ November 1998, for further detail on international involvement in the war.
  2. Department of Defence, Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts as of September 30, 1998, 1999 
  3. Donald McNeil, ‘A War Turned Free-for-All Tears at Africa’s Centre,’ New York Times, December 6, Week in Review, p. 5.
  4. A Venter, A. ‘Arms Pour Into Africa,’ New African, January 19, p 10-15.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Hartung and Moix op.cit.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Reuters and CNN reports, March 8-10, 1999
  9. U.S. State Department, Section 655 Annual Report for Fiscal Year 1998, submitted on June 30, 1999.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Reports on Causes of Conflicts and promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa by UN secretary General to the Security Council New York, April 16th 1998 p.1
  12. See Balogun A.O. ‘The relevance of African philosophy to conflict resolution in Africa’ in Philosophy and Africa op.cit. p.272
  13. Tom Porteous ‘Resolving African Conflicts October 2004
  14. See Scott Straus ‘Darfur and the Genocide Debate’ in Foreign Affairs, Published by the Council on Foreign Relations January/ February 2005 p.1
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ekaterina op.cit.
  18. see Gettleman J. in International Herald Tribune September 2 2007 quoted in Ekaterina op.cit.
  19. TheDarfur Conflict: Crimes Against Humanity in Sudan
  20. Ibid.
  21. SeeNatsios,A.S.,USPresident’sSpecialEnvoytoSudan,ReportingtoUSSenatecommitteeonForeignRelationApril2007@htt:www.senate.gov./foreign/hearings/2007/hrg07411ahtm
  22. See Lynn Frederickson, Advocacy Director for Africa Amnesty International USA May 10, 2007 Military U.S. Foreign Policy Saps Human Rights Improvements in Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea Testimony Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. William D. Hartung and Bridget Moix op.cit.
  26. Department of Defence, Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts,1981, 1990, and 1997 editions
  27. U.S. State Department, Congressional Presentation for Foreign Operations, FY1986, p 333
  28. Ibid.
  29. Department of Defence, Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts as of September 30, 1998.
  30. Human Rights Watch, ‘Clinton Administration Policy and Human Rights in Africa,’ March 1998
  31. David Schearer, ‘Africa’s Great War,’ in Survival, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Vol. 41, no. 2, Summer 1999, p 92.
  32.   Data cited are from U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1997. (Washington, DC: ACDA, 1999), Table III; and Richard F. Grimmett, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1991-1998 (Washington, DC: CRS, August 4, 1999), p. 58
  33. . Hartung and Moix op.cit.

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