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Friday, 20 March 2009

President Obama, Africa Needs Democracy and Development NOT Guns and Weapons

kins Adusei

The US is undoubtedly the biggest arms exporter to Africa contributing to about 50% of all arms export to the continent. It is an understatement to say that arms exports to Africa and political instabilities, armed conflicts, economic underachievement and poverty are intractably linked.

The continent today is littered with hundreds of millions of small arms and light weapons

fuelling conflicts and creating instabilities around the continent, making it difficult for any economic development to take place.

 Tens of millions of Africans have died from the export of arms to the continent and several millions have been injured as a result of the wars fuelled by these arms exports. About 90% of all civilian casualties in the wars come from the use of small arms and light weapons. Besides, billions of dollars meant for economic and social development have

been squandered on arms procurements to fund the instabilities while poverty is  swallowing the people.It is estimated that the continent has lost about 500 billion dollars to arms imports alone while children have no access to education, medicines, water, shelter,food and clothing. 

For decades we have witnessed the tragic and the devastating effects of wars in Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Angola, Ivory Coast fuelled by arms imports

from US, UK, France, Russia, North Korea, China, former Soviet and Eastern European nations. Most of the arms exports to Africa are used for internal repression as seen in Zimbabwe, Guinea, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea where ordinary citizens and opposition party members are arrested, tortured and killed. These totalitarian regimes have used the weapons to hold back development and critical thinking in their countries turning their people into slaves.  The arms are also used for external aggression as is evidenced by the involvement of Rwanda, Angola and Zimbabwe in DR Congo internal affairs. Some of these arms have found their way into rebel hands, organised criminals and bandits.

Despite the billions of dollars in aid from US, Europe and Japan and the several billions of dollars of loans from IMF and World Bank over the years; poverty, malnourishments, diseases are still very endemic in African societies with children and women bearing the brunt.

The failed state of Somalia where armed groups have been battling one another for 19 years should inform the president of the dangers of small arms and light weapons sales to the continent and the importance of banning arms exports to the continent. Today in Somalia, pirates have succeeded in disrupting the international shipping route in the Indian Ocean with daily hijackings and kidnappings. The cost of the piracy to international


trade runs into several hundreds of millions of dollars and with the everyday security risk that the pirates continue to pose, the cost could soon reach billions of dollars. The piracy has become possible due to availability of small arms and light weapons shipped to the horn of Africa region by Western defence contractors and their counterparts in Asia. In Nigeria armed bandits continue to disrupt the international oil market with their constant kidnappings and destruction of oil installations while the federal government has used arms to kill about 20,000 of her mostly unarmed civilians thanks to the steady flow of arms to the West Africa sub-region.

The continued instabilities in the Great Lake Region and the constant arm struggles in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and northern Uganda should also inform the President about the dangers arms shipments from America and Europe are posing to the continent.

The genocide in Darfur cannot stop unless there are concrete efforts to obtain international arms ban against the Sudanese government and the rebel groups who are abducting, raping, terrorising, torturing and massacring the innocent people. In Ethiopia millions of people face starvation every year while hundreds of millions of dollars are used to import arms. This explains why you should work with your allies to ban arms exports to the continent as you take office.

The widely forgotten wars in the Casamance Province of Senegal, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad and Burundi will negate any economic aid to those countries and territories unless arms shipments to both the governments and the rebels are ceased. The wars in Chad will not stop unless the flow of arms to the government and the rebels are cut.

President Obama, please use your good office to help ban the sale of small arms that have been used to terrorise the people for quite so long. President Obama should encourage the other western countries notably the UK and France to also ban the sale of small arms to the continent. The UK and France together account for 10% of the total arms market in Africa. Their companies are heavily involved in the sale of arms that continue to destabilise the continent.  

The US should let her influence be bear on China who is increasingly ignoring all calls to halt arms sales to the continent. China in particular is the greatest obstacle to peace and stability as it is not democratic and does not respect international laws when it comes to her interests. China has continued to export arms to Sudan despite mounting evidence that the arms are being used to commit genocide in Darfur. In 2008 when the people of Zimbabwe were starving and was clear that Mugabe had lost the elections all that China could do to support the people and democracy was to ship arms to Mugabe’s repressive regime. Such actions by China, North Korea, Russia and other undemocratic nations must stop. They should be made to sign up to international laws banning and criminalising the sale of small arms to the continent.

President Obama should know that the waves of civil wars that hit and devastated Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Congo, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia, Uganda, Sudan, Angola, Niger and Guinea were made possible through the sale of small arms and light weapons to governments and rebels alike by western defence contractors and arms companies including US companies. These wars apart from its human cost have contributed to the destruction of roads, harbours, airports, railway lines, telecommunications, hospitals, schools and the livelihoods of the people. 

 The wars have decimated regions, countries, communities and families. It has brought poverty, hunger and misery to the people on the continent. This shows that the beneficiaries of the wars are the rebel groups, army generals, western companies, a shadow economy, corrupt politicians and their allies who enrich themselves while the people face famine, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, diseases, have no access to health, education and are refugees within and outside their countries. 
On democracy there are few places in Africa today where people could choose their leaders freely without fear of intimidation, harassment or arrest. The people in Libya, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sudan, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Tunisia, Cameroon, Guinea, Mauritania and Uganda cannot democratically change their leaders. The continent is full of tyrants, dictators and kleptocrats whose grip on power has enslaved the people and put them in perpetual bondage. These largely undemocratic leaders have prevented genuine democracy, freedom speech and other freedoms from gaining root. As a result there is the constant threat of wars and instabilities in these countries and the desire by the people to overthrow their undemocratic leaders. This is not good for economic, social and political development and will make nonsense of any economic package you may have in mind to help the people. How on earth should a person continue to rule for 30 years when he is not a monarch? Even monarchs sometimes abdicate in favour of change. Isn’t it?

Why has Omar Bongo of Gabon been in power for 42 years now? And Gaddafi of Libya has ruled for 39 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea 28 years, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe 28 years, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt 27 years, Paul Biya of Cameroon 26 years, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda 22 years, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan 19 years, Iddriss Derby of Chad 17 years, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia 14 years. Tunisian president has just announced that he is going to rule for life. Are these tyrants monarchs?

Mr. President, please reach out to these tyrants and encourage them to peacefully give up their hold on power. Please ecourage them to embark on democratic reforms long needed in Africa. Encourage them to unban opposition parties, unban civil and political activists, free political prisoners and organise free and fair elections. Let them understand that politics is about winning and loosing and that it should be possible for opposition parties to win elections and hell does not need to break loose. Explain to them that their hold on power is not only harmful to the image and the development of Africa but is a major factor why impoverishment and underdevelopment is prevalent.

Mr. President, at this critical moment in world history what Africa need is democracy and economic development not guns and weapons. It is a fact that African countries will not be able to achieve any economic development unless they achieve political stability first. Therefore help mobilise international support to ban small arms and light weapons export to Africa.

As you asked Americans to choose hope over fear in your speech so do I ask you to urge African leaders to choose democracy and economic development over dictatorship, armed conflicts, corruption and political repression. It is also time for US, Europe, Russia and China to act together and call their defence contractors and defence companies to order and give Africa peace to develop.

We know USA can help. So please help.

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