Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

African Solutions to an International Problem: Arms Control and Disarmament in Africa

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

African Solutions to an International Problem: Arms Control and Disarmament in Africa

Article excerpt

In February 1994, Robert Kaplan published a highly controversial article in the influential Atlantic Monthly titled, "The Coming Anarchy." Kaplan prophesized that a combination of "scarcity, crime, overpopulation, tribalism and disease" would swiftly undermine the social fabric of the world we know. (1) Africa, and especially West Africa, was depicted as one of the key ground zero sites. Kaplan's article has been widely read and debated by both academics and policymakers.

One and a half decades later, Kaplan's doomsday predictions are yet to be realized. States and citizens, in Africa and elsewhere, remain challenged by the problems identified in "The Coming Anarchy," but the prospect of a continent-wide social meltdown seems an unlikely short- to medium-term scenario. In Africa, some of the conditions of human security have arguably improved. In particular, there has been a quantifiable decrease in the occurrence of major armed conflict. Between 1998 and 2002, Africa was the region with the highest number of major armed conflicts compared to the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. (2) Africa experienced on average eight distinct major armed conflicts each year during this five-year period. However, between 2003 and 2006 the number of major armed conflicts decreased to three per annum; in 2007, only one major armed conflict was observed in Africa. (3)

Despite this decrease in the number of major armed conflicts, Africa currently remains affected by a series of intense minor armed conflicts. (4) These conflicts brew in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Darfur region of Sudan and Somalia; they all have the potential to significantly destabilize much of central and eastern Africa. The existence of armed non-state groups in the Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria, as well as the high levels of firearms crime and violence in urban centers in Kenya and South Africa remains a critical human security concern. Small arms and light weapons are among the key tools used to foment violence in Africa. The proliferation of such weapons and related ammunition has intensified and prolonged violent conflicts.

In response to the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons in Africa, African governments, with the support of donor governments and agencies, have initiated inter-state arms control processes. Since 2000, African governments have successfully negotiated continental and regional arms control agreements and established inter-governmental implementation agencies. A number of countries have initiated bilateral arms collection and destruction operations, and certain governments have updated or are in the process of reforming their arms control policy and legislation. These developments contribute to greater confidence building and continental integration. They have the potential to enhance the safety and security of Africa's population, thereby forestalling Kaplan's prophecy of impending chaos.

This article explores both the legal and illegal dynamics of the international conventional arms trade as well as weapons transfers and proliferation in Africa--all of which are intertwined. Specific reference is made to current conflict hotspots in Africa, where the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons is most severe. This article also critically considers the mechanisms and instruments that have been established to control these arms transfers. In addition, it examines the link between arms transfers and peace and continental integration in Africa.


The arms trade in relation to Africa, as in other regions, can be divided into legal and illegal components. No international instrument currently regulates the international arms trade. Therefore, the legality of arms transfers is determined by relevant national legislation of the export, transit and recipient states, as well as international arms embargoes. …

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