Arms flows to Africa: small volume, big impact, says new @SIPRI report

January 3 2012, 7:36 AM  by Øistein Thorsen

Stockholm, 20 December 2011) Arms flows to sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) are small, at only 1.5 % of the total volume of global arms transfer. Yet even small amounts of arms can have a significant impact on peace and security in the region and need to be controlled. Greater transparency in arms exports and procurement is essential to ensure that such controls can be improved, according to a new report released by SIPRI today.

Read the French version here.
Download the SIPRI Policy Paper here.

With virtually no arms industry of their own, states in sub-Saharan Africa have received major arms through legal transfers from a wide variety of countries worldwide. During 2006–10 China accounted for 25%, Ukraine for 20% and Russia for 11% of the volume of major arms supplied to the region. Significant numbers of small arms and light weapons were also supplied to both governments and rebel forces in the region. For example, at least 220 000 assault rifles were delivered to at least 34 countries in the region.

There is no hard evidence that there was widespread large illegal supplies from outside the region in 2006–10, but there have been regular instances of illegal weapons flows inside the region.

‘A key challenge to understanding the motives for and impact of arms procurement in sub-Saharan Africa is the lack of transparency by arms suppliers and recipients’, states Pieter Wezeman of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, the lead author of the report. ‘We cannot have a meaningful debate about African military needs and arms control when states are so secretive.’

The risks of arms transfers to sub-Saharan Africa

Based on a survey of recent arms supplies to conflict areas, the report underlines the uncertainty about the impact of arms supplies to the region. Arms supplies may have contributed to efforts to restore stability, in particular when helping to improve the capabilities of international peacekeepers. However, the supply of arms can also be an incentive for the recipients to try to achieve their goals via violence instead of dialogue, the arms can fuel human rights violations, and arms recipients often cannot secure their stockpiles and many weapons have been lost or stolen, including by rebel groups.

Transparency the major challenge

The report finds that most transfers to sub-Saharan African countries are not reported by the importers to the United Nations as part of established confidence-building measures between states.

Arms should be acquired for genuine security purposes, such as self-defence, to maintain internal security or to be able to participate in international peace operations and they must be suited for the envisaged tasks, according to the report. However, sub-Saharan African states are highly secretive about their arms procurement policies, which makes it hard to assess them.

‘African states have supported calls for international transparency in arms procurement to enhance confidence between states, but then they have not lived up to these ideals’, states Siemon Wezeman, co-author of the report.

Download the Policy Paper here.