Wars strip US$284 billion from African economies: report

By Paul Simao, Reuters

JOHANNESBURG — Wars stripped about US$284 billion from Africa’s economies between 1990 and 2005, roughly equal to the amount of aid money given to the world’s poorest continent, according to a report to be published on Thursday by Oxfam International.

In the study “Africa’s Missing Billions,” the British aid group said the 23 conflicts engulfing Africa in the period had shrunk economies by an average 15 percent per year at a cost of almost US$18 billion a year.

Oxfam based its estimate on a calculation of the various costs of conflicts and violence, including higher military expenditures, loss of development aid, rising inflation and medical expenses of those injured or disabled.

It said, however, that the tally was probably on the low side, when considering the impact of civil wars on the economies of neighboring countries as well as the long-term effects of higher military spending on individual economies.

“The costs are shocking,” Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s African policy adviser, said in a press release. “This money could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education.”

Rwanda saw its economy grow an average 2.8 percent annually between 1990 and 2001, almost a third less than what was projected had it not experienced war, genocide and other strife during the period, according to Oxfam.

Burundi’s economy suffered even more as a result of its ethnic-fuelled conflict, shrinking an average 1.1 percent annually between 1993 and 2005, compared to a projected annual growth rate of 5.5 percent.

The report, which was backed by the International Action Network on Small Arms and Saferworld, two non governmental organizations, cited the global arms trade as a major contributor to the violence that had killed millions of Africans and impeded economic growth on the continent.

It estimated 95 percent of Kalashnikov rifles — the most popular weapon used in the African conflicts — came from outside the continent, highlighting what was described as a need to better regulate the arms trade.

The United Nations is considering the passage of an Arms Trade Treaty designed to restrict the flow of illegal weapons and arms, especially to vulnerable parts of the world, such as Africa.

Oxfam and other NGOs are campaigning for an agreement that 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.

Some 153 countries voted last year in the U.N. General Assembly to start work on a treaty, which would make provisions for legal arms sales for defense, peacekeeping and other legitimate purposes.

The United States cast the only vote against.

China and Russia, which also have significant arms industries, have expressed reservations about a treaty.

“The treaty provides an opportunity to agree tough controls on the arms trade that would significantly help reduce armed violence in Africa and across the world, an opportunity that is truly priceless,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said in a foreword to the Oxfam report.

Liberia endured a brutal civil war and was involved in cross-border conflicts with its neighbors in western Africa in the 1990s. The violence cost more than a quarter of a million lives and decimated the resource-rich economies in the region.