Fifteen years of conflicts have cost Africa USD284bn

Oct 12, 2007
Author: P&S

The cost of conflict on African development was USD284bn between 1990 and 2005, according to new research by Oxfam International, IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms) and Saferworld which was released yesterday (Thursday).

This is equal to the amount of money received in international aid during the same period.

The study ‘Africa’s Mission Billions’ is the first time analysts have calculated the overall effects of conflict on GDP and comes as diplomats from around the world arrive at the United Nations to discuss an Arms Trade Treaty.

It shows that on average a war, civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 per cent. The continent loses an average of $ 18bn a year due to armed conflict.

“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 under-estimate but they show conflicts are costing African economies an average of $ 18bn a year. This money could prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education.”

The research also estimates that 95 percent 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: “This report describes some of the devastating economic impacts of the poorly regulated international arms trade and the shocking level of human suffering that this causes. As an African, I implore all African governments and weapons-producing governments to support a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty. This is a call for global cooperation 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. Oxfam, IANSA and Saferworld calculated what these countries’ GDP would have been 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 percent, whereas the actual growth rate was minus 10.15 percent.

This methodology almost certainly gives an under-estimate. It does not include the economic impact on neighbouring countries, which could suffer from 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 to the indirect costs of lost opportunities. These include:

  • Inflation, debt and high unemployment

  • 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

    The most common weapon used in African conflicts is the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the best known being the AK-47. Kalashnikovs are nearly all made outside Africa. 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 global industry and needs a global, legally-binding Arms Trade Treaty.

    Oxfam, IANSA and other NGOs are campaigning for an Arms Trade Treaty which would prohibit arms transfers if they were 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.

    In October 2006 the UN General Assembly passed a draft resolution to have a group formed that would study the scope and feasibility of an international arms trade treaty. The United States voted against the resolution – the only one to do so – while 24 countries including Russia, China and in Africa Somalia and Sudan abstained. The treaty would have helped identify and trace illicit small arms and weapons.

    In the foreword to the report, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, whose own country has only recently emerged from years of conflict, said that as an economist she was acutely aware of the devastation to African economies due to armed violence.

    “In my own country, conflict has led to the squandering of rich mineral, agricultural, and human resources that should have benefited Liberia and its people. Although economic recovery has begun, it will take many years to recover from the destruction of infrastructure, the damage to businesses, and the loss of life and livelihood.”

    She said the cost to Africa was money that Africa could ill afford to lose. “The sums are appalling: the price that Africa is paying could cover the cost of solving the HIV and AIDS crisis in Africa, or provide education, water and prevention and treatment for TB and malaria. Literally thousands of hospitals, schools, and roads could have been built, positively affecting millions of people. Not only do the people of Africa suffer the physical horrors of violence, armed conflict undermines their efforts to escape poverty.”

    She called on the governments of Africa and the world to be bold in working towards the Armed Trade Treaty.

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