Arms Sales to Africa Small But Dangerous

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Picture: Swedish combat aircraftBy Jamshed Baruah

BERLIN - South Africa is not only the largest importer of weapons but also the only country in sub-Saharan Africa producing a wide range of military equipment, says a report by the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Lethal arms flows to sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, accounted for 3.4 percent of the global volume of imports of major weapons between 2006 and 2010. Excluding South Africa, the region's share shrinks to 1.5 per cent,

Between 2006 and 2010, South Africa purchased 15 JAS-39 combat aircraft (as part of a total order of 26), 24 Hawk-100 trainer combat aircraft, 2 Type-209 submarines (of a total order of 3) and 4 MEKO-A200 frigates, says the report by Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman from the Netherlands and Lucie Béraud-Sudreau from France.

"Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom accounted for, respectively, 63, 18 and 11 per cent of South African imports of major arms during this period. When including South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa, Germany was the largest supplier and Sweden the third largest during 2006–10. However, neither Germany nor Sweden supplied major arms to any other country in the region," states the report titled Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa.

South Africa is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has developed a sizeable arms industry capable of producing relatively advanced military equipment that can compete on the global market. In 2007 it was reported that 13,646 people worked in the South African arms industry.

The report points out that in sub-Saharan Africa, which has virtually no arms industry of their own, states have received major arms through legal transfers from a wide variety of countries worldwide. During 2006-2010 China accounted for 25%, Ukraine for 20% and Russia for 11% of the volume of major arms supplied to the region.

Significant numbers of small arms and light weapons were also supplied to both governments and rebel forces in the region. These included at least 220 000 assault rifles which were delivered to at least 34 countries in the region.

The authors of the report have not come across any hard evidence that there were widespread large illegal supplies from outside the region in 2006-2010, but there have been regular instances of illegal weapons flows inside the region, says the report released in December 2011.

Risks

"A key challenge to understanding the motives for and impact of arms procurement in sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of transparency by arms suppliers and recipients," states Pieter Wezeman of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, the lead author of the report. "We cannot have a meaningful debate about African military needs and arms control when states are so secretive."

Even small amounts of arms can have a significant impact on peace and security in the region, adds the report, and therefore stresses the need for greater transparency in exports and procurement so that much needed controls can be improved.

Based on a survey of recent arms supplies to conflict areas, the report underlines the uncertainty about the impact of arms supplies to the region: "Arms supplies may have contributed to efforts to restore stability, in particular when helping to improve the capabilities of international peacekeepers."

"However, the supply of arms can also be an incentive for the recipients to try to achieve their goals via violence instead of dialogue, the arms can fuel human rights violations, and arms recipients often cannot secure their stockpiles and many weapons have been lost or stolen, including by rebel groups," adds report.

The study finds that most transfers to sub-Saharan African countries are not reported by the importers to the United Nations as part of established confidence-building measures between states.

"Arms should be acquired for genuine security purposes, such as self-defence, to maintain internal security or to be able to participate in international peace operations and they must be suited for the envisaged tasks, according to the report," states the report.

However, sub-Saharan African states are highly secretive about their arms procurement policies. This makes it hard to assess them.

"African states have supported calls for international transparency in arms procurement to enhance confidence between states, but then they have not lived up to these ideals', states Siemon Wezeman, co-author of the report.

The significance of the report lies in the fact that armed conflict and military regimes are perceived to be prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. A consequence of this perception is that any transfer of arms to the region – irrespective of its volume – tends to raise questions about whether they will help to provoke or prolong armed conflicts, aggravate inter- and intrastate tensions, or weaken civilian led governments.

"These questions are fuelled by the failure of many governments in the region – regardless of whether the state is in armed conflict or has poor relations with its neighbours – to share information on their arms acquisition plans and motives," says the report.

Secrecy

Answering these questions requires a broad overview of recent developments in arms flows to sub-Saharan Africa, including objective and verifiable information and analysis. But to date, no such overview has been published.

Relevant research has consisted of ad hoc studies on specific countries or regions conducted by, for example, United Nations panels monitoring arms embargoes, research institutes and advocacy groups.

"This lack is not surprising because collecting information about arms transfers to sub-Saharan Africa, as for other regions of the world, poses a series of challenges and is a time-consuming process. The most serious challenge is the habit of secrecy that surrounds arms acquisitions in most states in the region," says the report.

It adds: Many of the concerns regarding arms transfers to sub-Saharan Africa are reflected at the global level, where they have fuelled a worldwide debate and policymaking efforts aimed at controlling arms flows.

In efforts to prevent and end conflicts, the control of arms flows has often been used as a tool in the form of national export and import regulations, multilateral arms export and import regimes, UN arms embargoes, and initiatives to stem the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW).

The widely recognized need to control international arms flows has also led to the worldwide intergovernmental debate about the feasibility of an arms trade treaty (ATT), which would establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.♦

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