Arms Trade in Africa: Western Double Standards

In 2008 Zimbabwe had democratic elections. After years of record hyperinflation and a decrease in the Human Development Index (HDI) many saw this election as an opportunity to reverse the wrongdoings of the past by putting in a new government. Unfortunately the ZEC didn’t release the results for weeks. Finally the the release of the  results necessitated a run-off election.  What happened in the build up to the run-off is what I would like to focus on. MDC supporters were killed and terrorised in villages and farms across Zimbabwe and around Harare and Bulawayo. A ship from China which was Durban bound and had cargo which was to be transported to Zimbabwe, was discovered. This cargo had weapons which serve the sole purpose of  injuring and killing. Weapons assumed to be ranging from automatic riffles, pistols and ammunition made up the majority of the cargo. This obviously caused quite a stir. Western nations expressed their disgust at China for its insensitivity. George Bush, who was nearing the end of his presidential term added his two cents worth by condemning China’s sale of weapons to Zimbabwe. South Africa did not allow the ship to dock in any of her ports so the ship went off to Mozambique. Africa has the ability to produce its own weapons. South Africa has its own gun manufacturing industry. Unlicensed gunsmiths across the continent have the potential to produce 200 000 firearms per annum. These are industry quality firearms. Unfortunately African firearms manufactures combined, only account for an insignificant percentage of arms that are traded in Africa. The majority of these arms are from the 20 OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in European) countries, China and Israel. In a recent case against Pres. Charles Taylor of Liberia an interesting point surfaced. Taylor is being charged for 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and violation of humanitarian law. In 1999 a 68-ton Air-transported cargo from one of the OSCE countries landed in Burkina Faso. This was then sent to Liberia; from there it was distributed to the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) of Sierra Leone who used the arms to terrorise civilians. For this Charles Taylor is being charged. In 2000 a Russian company (Aviatrend) provided the Ukrainian government with a certificate that allowed a shipment of arms to the Ivory Coast to go through undisturbed (“thus making it legal”). In July of the same year 5 million rounds of ammunition landed in the Ivory Coast. This was all legal. The ammunition then headed to Liberia where it was delivered to Charles Taylor’s door step. Charles Taylor is subsequently being charged for the use of this ammunition and no one else is being held to account. The ease of transporting arms within African borders means that only one country needs to have the legal right to receive weapons while the rest can simply receive them via smuggling. The recent Mo Ibrahim index showed that South Africa ranked 44th out of 52 countries on the issue of security. Inter-tribal disputes across the continent have been resolved through the usage of  readily available arms. Poaching and the loss of diversity of animal life have been worsened by the use of readily available arms. The DRC experienced 4 million deaths during its civil war. Liberian rebels have been reported to trade arms for motor-cycles across the border. Some even trade arms for food. It is a priceless commodity among the African “have-nots.” Just like Omar Al Bashir, Charles Taylor’s prosecution has to be seen as far from just, unless those arms traders from the Western nations themselves are brought to account. The  actions of the likes of  Taylor and Al Bashir are in no way justifiable, but to prosecute them only and  not prosecute those who benefited the most from Africa’s wars smirks of  Double Standards.

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