Global Policy Forum

African Wars Fueled by


By Thalif Deen

InterPress Service
January 26, 2000

United Nations - The ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as "Africa's first world war," is being fueled mostly by weapons from the former Soviet bloc countries and military training from the United States. At least seven countries, whose heads of state are currently in New York for a mini-African summit, are being provided with military instruction and training by the United States. The weapons, including fighter aircraft, combat helicopters, battle tanks and heavy artillery, have come mostly from Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Poland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The seven African leaders - from the Republic of Congo, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique and the DRC - are trying to find a negotiated settlement to the civil war in DRC, which is threatening to turn into a wider regional conflict.

The US, which holds the rotating presidency of the 15-member Security Council for the month of January, has been primarily responsible for sponsoring the UN summit. US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, president of the Security Council, has labelled January "The Month of Africa" and has convinced the other 14 Council members to specifically focus on the devastation caused to Africans by the spread of AIDS and the rash of civil wars in the trouble-plagued continent.

But William Hartung of the New York-based World Policy Institute says that "it will take more than a month for the Clinton administration to begin to undo the damage wrought by decades of misguided US weapons transfers to African dictators and demagogues like Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko and Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi." The 1.5 billion dollars in US arms and training sent to Africa during the Cold War years "set the stage for the current round of conflicts in the region," Hartung points out. "The military skills and equipment supplied by the US are still being used by combatants in these wars," he argues.

Under the current US International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme, the US provided about 7.9 million dollars in outright grants to sub-Saharan Africa in 1998, increasing it to 8.1 million dollars in 1998 and 8.5 million dollars in 2000. In contrast, South Asia received only 5.7 million, 5.6 million, and 5.8 million dollars, respectively. Rwanda is to receive about 325,000 dollars in fiscal year 2000, Zimbabwe about 300,000 dollars, Zambia about 150,000 dollars, Mozambique 180,000 dollars, Namibia 175,000 dollars, and the DRC 75,000 dollars. Uganda, which is militarily backing the rebel forces fighting in the DRC, is expected to receive about 400,000 dollars in US military grants this year.

In a report released Monday, the Institute said that the ongoing civil war in the DRC is "a prime example of the devastating legacy of US arms sales policy on Africa." The US prolonged the rule of President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the DRC) by providing him with more than 300 million dollars in weapons and 100 million dollars in military training. The report said that Mobutu used his US-supplied arsenal to repress his own people and plunder his nation's economy for three decades, until his brutal regime was overthrown by Laurent-Desire Kabila's forces in 1997. "When Kabila took power, the Clinton administration quickly offered military support by developing a plan for new training operations with the armed forces," the Institute said. Throughout the Cold War (1950-1989), the US delivered over 1.5 billion dollars worth of arms to Africa. Many of the top US arms clients, including Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and Zaire, "have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse," the report said.

Meanwhile, according to a report in the London-based military magazine Jane's Defence Weekly last November, the DRC has finalised an arms deal with Georgia for the purchase of 10 sophisticated Russian-made Sukhoi Su-25 fighter planes at a cost of about five million dollars.

In the latest UN annual Arms Register for 1999, Russia has declared the sale of six fighter aircraft and 65 armored personnel carriers to Angola, and two combat helicopters to Chad. At the same time, Russia has also supplied six fighter aircraft to Eritrea and eight to Ethiopia, two countries involved in a brutal border war in the Horn of Africa. All of the equipment was delivered in 1998. According to the Arms Register, Poland has supplied 18 120 mm mortars to Congo, along with 1,000 rounds of mortar ammunition, while Bulgaria has supplied 90 T-55 battle tanks to Uganda and 50 to Ethiopia. Belarus has transferred 40 T-55 battle tanks to Ethiopia, most of them described as secondhand Russian-supplied vehicles which had been in service with the Belarus armed forces. In a similar sale, Kazakhstan has re-exported eight 122 mm secondhand, Russian-made long calibre artillery systems to Angola. Ukraine's 1998 arms sales to Africa included one combat helicopter and four armored personnel carriers to Guinea. Ukraine also exported 14 attack helicopters to the north African country of Algeria, along with 32 armored personnel carriers and 27 battle tanks.

Since 1996, the US has been providing, on a cost-free basis, large quantities of secondhand surplus weapons from its army, navy and air force inventories. But most of the give-aways have to be refurbished, serviced and maintained by the cash-strapped countries, costing millions of dollars in hard currency. During 1995-1996, for example, the US provided four Lockheed C-130 military transports to Ethiopia and 10 Bell helicopters to Ghana. The US also gifted two C-130 transports to Zimbabwe, along with seven torpedo launch control panels and 88,000 rounds of 40 mm ammunition. The largest number of giveaways was to Botswana, one of the few African nations whose economy is on the upswing. The US equipment included three C-1 30 transport planes, 261 towed howitzers, and 100,000 rounds of 20 mm ammunition. Additionally, Botswana also purchased 18 secondhand US-made F-5 fighter planes (some of the them transferred from Canada with US permission) at a total cost of some 28 million dollars.

Hartung says the US should restrict the flow of weapons and training to Africa and provide economic support for sustainable development policies. This is the only way, he says, that the US can help create the conditions needed for peace and stability to take root. .

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