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Fifteen years of conflicts have cost Africa around $300bn

The cost of conflict on African development was approximately $300bn between 1990 and 2005, according to new research by Oxfam International, IANSA and Saferworld. This is equal to the amount of money received in international aid during the same period.

The study "Africa's Missing Billions" is the first time analysts have estimated the overall effects of conflict on GDP across the continent 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 around $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 solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria, or provide clean water, sanitation and education."

The research also estimates that 95% 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 estimated 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%, whereas the actual growth rate was minus 10.15%.

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.

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