The rhino rifle syndicates

Poaching: the big guns

South Africa’s game reserves have been hard hit by an intensive campaign of poaching and wildlife crime

The carcass of a female white rhino in the Malelane area of the Kruger National Park. It was shot dead by poachers on 16, August 2018 and discovered by rangers the following day. Photo: WIKUS DE WET / AFP

The rampant increase in wildlife poaching has been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest threats to biodiversity conservation in Africa. The Asian demand for rhinoceros horn has seen a massive onslaught on the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and black rhino (Diceros bicornis) populations. Since 2008, there has been a gradual and then explosive growth in rhino poaching in South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Mozambique and Botswana. In South Africa, the Kruger National Park region and the game reserves of KwaZulu- Natal have been the hardest hit by an intensive campaign of poaching and wildlife crime. Links to transnational crime syndicates and corruption have surfaced rapidly. The challenge became highly charged between conservation NGO movements and state conservation agencies.

According to Save the Rhino, an NGO that monitors rhino poaching statistics, South Africa lost 1,000 rhino per year between 2013 and 2017. In contrast, official rhino poaching statistics for 2018 and 2019 have shown a marked decrease. The decrease may be due to several factors: more law enforcement and counter poaching effectiveness (especially in the Kruger National Park and adjoining private reserves), a depleted rhino population and the additional effort that poachers must now make to locate rhino.The Kruger National Park covers an area of 19,485 km2 in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa. It extends 360 km from north to south and 65 km from east to west. It is estimated that some 3.3 million people live within 50 km of the Kruger National Park’s western boundary, though this figure is based on the last South African population census in 2011.

This does not take into account the Mozambican population on the Kruger National Park’s eastern boundary, or the Zimbabwean population just north of the Crooks Corner border between the three countries. The bulk of the population is rural, in many cases poverty stricken and highly dependent on the environment for their well-being and daily survival. In comparison to protected areas in the European Union and North America, the Kruger National Park is a massive area to protect and manage. Furthermore, South African National Parks (SANParks), the agency delegated to manage the country’s national parks, must compete for budget allocation from the fiscus. Other priority areas such as primary law enforcement, basic education, public health and related needs often take precedence over conservation and the management of parks. SANParks supplements its fiscal grant by undertaking revenue-generating activities such as providing accommodation, food services, safaris, walking trails, bird-watching, historical site tours, specialist activities and more.

A key element of SANPark’s strategy is community development, which is focused on building strong relations with local communities and traditional leadership. This includes providing communities with access to protein sources from culling and related park operations and harvested thatch for home-building programmes. This approach must also be seen within the bigger question of land reform and access to resources that dominate much of the current discourse in South Africa. At present, the Kruger National Park has a field ranger complement of approximately 450 rangers and other specialised counter-poaching resources and capabilities. The field rangers have extensive paramilitary and wildlife law enforcement training as well as in depth field-craft skills focused on operating safely within a dangerous game environment. The Kruger National Park’s capabilities include aerial support (helicopters and fixed wing light aircraft), canine tracking units, environmental crime investigation specialists and a partnership with the stock-theft unit and the wildlife crime section of the South African Police Service (SAPS).

It now also has a multi-sensory detection system, known as the MEERKAT, funded by the Peace Parks Foundation, which helps to locate poacher groups and direct rapid-response ranger teams and tracking dogs. In addition, the park has tested shot detection technology that is able to triangulate shots fired, which may have had a deterrent effect on poacher tactics. In 2013, with poaching of its rhino population rising, the Kruger National Park recognised the need to change its strategy and adopted a more vigorous counter-poaching approach. SANParks appointed well-known retired army Major General, Johan Jooste, to lead efforts to upgrade and enhance the parks response. The approach was successful, and Kruger National Park and General Jooste were requested to expand their efforts and support provincial conservation agencies and increase the integration of private reserves and anti-poaching units.

There still is a great focus on integrating operations with police, private anti-poaching units, provincial anti-poaching services and SANParks. But the militarisation of anti-poaching efforts has also resulted in the development of a ministerial approved Rhino Laboratory plan for law enforcement that guides much of the work in protecting rhino. At present, the Kruger National Park estimates that there may be as many as seven to eight poaching incursions into the park every day. Poaching groups have a very specific modus operandi that has been refined over time. On-the-ground poachers coordinate with local couriers, supervisors and local bosses to share information and adapt tactics. Teams of three to four individuals enter the park, travelling light and on foot. Each member of the poaching group has a specific role: one is the axe man, another the gun-bearer and another the shooter. Rhino are thick-skinned animals, weighing several tonnes. They are highly resilient to physical attack by humans.

Taking down a rhino requires a heavy calibre bolt-action rifle in the .375 to .458 magnum range. Given that the aforementioned sensory systems and in-depth monitoring are likely to locate them, poachers have to ensure that the rhino is killed with one shot, two at most. Then they must quickly hack off its horn and rapidly exit the park. In many instances the poachers are in such a hurry to depart that they leave a rhino alive, not wanting to risk the additional shot to put it down. They leave horrifically injured animals and often orphaned calves alone to face the elements. Social media and other platforms have distributed brutal visuals of injured rhino. Poachers have also shown ingenuity in assembling homemade suppressors to try to reduce the sound of gunshots. In many cases, they modify the firearm and weld on suppressors. Generally, firearms seized in the private reserves tend to have their serial numbers filed off, but the majority of the rifles seized in the Kruger National Park still have their serial numbers.

Poaching syndicates are ever more aware of the Kruger National Park’s ability to trace firearms. This is also true of provincial conservation agencies such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency in the Eastern Cape Province. What is clear is that each poaching group will require at least one firearm. Going on the lower estimate of seven incursions a day, that suggests as many as 2,555 illegal heavy calibre firearms in the park annually. Even half that number would be a high figure, given the power of these weapons. That would be equivalent to the number of weapons needed by two infantry battalions. Firearms are generally available in Africa, mainly self-loading carbines such as AK- 47s and R-series weapons. Self-loading carbines have been the mainstay of low intensity warfare, civil war and violent extremism. But they are of little benefit to poachers who target rhino and elephant who need heavy calibre, bolt-action “hunting” rifles. Suitable rifles are obtained in a number of ways.

Firstly, farm attacks in South Africa have led to a hidden network of gangs providing poaching syndicates with stolen firearms and ammunition either through direct sales, on a rental basis, or for a percentage of the poaching proceeds (though the latter needs further confirmation). These potent networks have likely overseen the movement of rifles across provincial boundaries and across national borders. Although South Africa has strong legislation addressing firearm licensing, training and management, there are concerns that the regulations are inconsistent and the implementation lacking. This enables the illegal trade in firearms. According to registered security service providers, many gun shops have not been inspected for several years. Secondly, corruption at police station level has seen the sale and rental of firearms directly to poachers out of station armouries and evidence lock-ups. Several private counter poaching companies in the region have noted that rifles seized in arrests are being used by other poaching groups.

The third source of firearms is Mozambique, via a murky set of firearm consignments and deals struck by two particular gun dealers. Rumours also point to the rental of firearms from white South African farmers to poachers and poaching syndicates. A tendency to racially profile poachers has ignored the fact that there are white players in the industry, including professional hunting outfits and even the rhino owners themselves. In an intensive investigation between 2015 and 2017, Kathi Lynn Austin of the Conflict Awareness Project undertook an investigation into the supply of small arms manufactured by the Czech company CZ Brno to Mozambique – specifically, how they were getting to the poachers to be used in poaching events. Austin’s investigation used the follow-the-guns methodology, and highlighted critical links between CZ Brno in the US and in the Czech Republic with the arms trade with Mozambique.

Portugal is used for the transhipment of the firearms; transnational criminal syndicates needed their frontline poachers to have access to rifles that are powerful enough to kill a rhino, so they enabled a dedicated arms pipeline from Europe to Africa. Between 2014 to 2018 the average proportion of CZ Brno firearms as a percentage of the total seized in the Kruger National Park was 22.18%. However, about 85% of all CZ Brno rifles seized in the Kruger National Park originated from the Mozambican arms trade. This is highly concerning, given that there are only two licensed gun dealers in Mozambique, although this in itself does not mean that either gun dealer is involved in illegal firearm sales. Historically, Mozambique does not have a culture of recreational or professional hunting, although this is changing with the establishment of new protected areas, Big Five tourism lodges and hunting concessions. Mozambique is trying to diversify its tourism industry from the traditional beach tourism to a focus on ecotourism.

With this diversification into Big Five reserves comes a need for high calibre rifles to protect guests on safaris. This will likely lead to a steady legal growth of rifle sales in Mozambique over time. South African national parks and law enforcement agencies have engaged with their Mozambican counterparts, but the Mozambican authorities appear to have done little or nothing as regards the CZ Brno imports and distribution by the “Rhino Rifle Syndicate”, as it might be called. Firearm import and export certificates from countries of origin, transhipment documentation and port clearance approvals are often tampered with. It is recommended that the Mozambican authorities take a stronger stance on firearm import controls. The sad state of affairs of firearms management at some South African police stations should sound an alarm to the SAPS, as well as policymakers. Inspections of station armouries and evidence lock-ups need to be accelerated and conducted on an ad hoc basis.

The private security industry regulatory authority in South Africa must also take stronger measures to review and inspect the armouries and stockpiles of private security companies. Clear insight into the possible complicity of some of these companies is needed. Most of the poachers are now coming from the western boundary of the Kruger National Park; an overall drop in Mozambican poaching is noticeable. Overall, it is clear that the SAPS lack capacity and resources to investigate the role of illegal firearms in poaching. The Kruger National Park’s mandate ends at its fences, and the need for effective law enforcement in the rural areas around countering poaching remains critical

Ashwell Glasson is the Head of Academic Policy and Sector Advancement at the Southern African Wildlife College. He leads various projects involved in the broader SADC region focused on cross-border training and development in the conservation sector and Peace Parks. He has completed an honours degree in Peace and Conflict studies. His research and policy interests include the militarization of conservation, illegal wildlife trade, counter violent extremism and environmental security.

How governments are ‘weaponising’ surveillance

Surveillance technology: used and abused

African states have been deploying surveillance capabilities to spy on and intimidate youth movements and activists

Egyptian army officers monitor local and
international TV stations and websites at the
military press office department in Cairo in
June 2012. Egyptians were voting in a run-off
presidential election, pitting an Islamist against
Hosni Mubarak, amid political chaos, highlighted
by uncertainty over the future role of the army.
Photo: AFP PHOTO/STR

On 20 August, 2016, a group of mostly young social media activists gathered at a property in the Burundi capital, Bujumbura, to discuss national political affairs. The political climate was tense in the central African country following brief, intense protests against the continued rule of long-time strongman Pierre Nkurunziza, politically motivated killings, repression of the media and an attempted coup the year before, in May 2015. As the gathering got under way, police swooped in and 46 of the activists, who had organised the meeting via the messaging app WhatsApp, were arrested. Eight of them were kept in jail for a while. “Police accused them of tarnishing the image of Burundi by spreading defamatory information against public authorities,” said a civil society activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “Before the arrest of those WhatsApp group members, the minister in charge of public security had issued a threatening statement against social media activists,” the activist told Africa in Fact.

“On 17 May, 2016, he said that those using social media tools to spread rumours should not feel safe; that security services have now acquired the capacity to monitor them, to locate them and arrest them.” The Burundian activist said that in the wake of the incident suspicions grew that the regime had acquired sophisticated digital surveillance capabilities to monitor and intercept the communications of citizens. As a result, with the traditional media sector, especially broadcasting, effectively captured or destroyed by the Nkurunziza regime, and with many journalists having fled the country and now operating from exile, a heavy culture of self-censorship enveloped the country, even on social media platforms. Since the youth-led uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring of 2011 that toppled authoritarian regimes across North Africa, indications are that many African governments have sharpened their communications and digital surveillance capabilities, especially seeking to clamp down on political expression on popular social media platforms that are primarily used by the youth.

In September 2019, the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) Institute released its ‘State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019’ report, which found: “The continued surveillance of the public, with limited oversight, in addition to the increased surveillance capacity of governments, and the interception of communication, including that of critics and human rights activists, threatens internet freedom. These measures have been coupled with regulatory control of the internet, including now widespread and restrictive measures such as censorship, filtering, blocking, throttling and internet shutdowns evident in several countries.” The report mentions that while most of the repressive surveillance practices uncovered were primarily perpetrated by authoritarian regimes – of which there are apparently 23 among the 55 African governments – even those countries classified as “flawed democracies”, such as South Africa, engaged in highly questionable surveillance activities.

Since 2011, countries such as Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the list goes on, have “weaponised” the internet and social media platforms through surveillance and repressive computer misuse, social media tax, and cyber security and terrorism laws. This has been especially noticeable following similar youthful outspokenness online like that which preceded and fuelled the Arab Spring. And some states have even gone as far as deploying troll armies and state sponsored disinformation campaigns – what the Oxford Internet Institute calls “organised social media manipulation campaigns” – to counter narratives on social media platforms that are perceived to be anti-government. In its September 2019 report, ‘The Global Disinformation Order’, the institute identified 10 African governments involved in or running “organised social media manipulation campaigns” – specifically, Angola, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.

The growing spectre of harm and alarm represented by such tactics, and the increasingly pervasive nature of state surveillance practices, along with the very real threat of surveillance overreach and abuse – as well as the ease with which surveillance and hacking technologies can be acquired internationally – have given rise to a global climate of widespread repression before expression. This was flagged as a burgeoning global human rights concern by United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye in June 2019. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, in a report submitted before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), stated: “We live in an age of readily available, easy to abuse and difficult to detect tools of digital surveillance. In his groundbreaking surveillance report in 2013, the previous mandate holder, Frank La Rue, noted that weak regulatory environments had provided fertile ground for arbitrary and unlawful infringements of the rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Many of the examples of abuse and infringements that Kaye was referring to undoubtedly emanated from the African continent, where some of the more repressive and authoritarian, as well as some seemingly democratic, states have been active over the past decade or so in global digital surveillance technology markets and have been caught out engaging in murky and unlawful surveillance activities. One such country is South Africa. “There’s plenty of evidence that South Africa’s security agencies have put resources into monitoring and interfering with democratic formations, particularly during the Zuma administration,” says Murray Hunter, a surveillance researcher who formerly headed the influential Right2Know (R2K) campaign’s state surveillance monitoring project. “This includes civil society groups, student protest movements, dissident unions, and media organisations. “A few years ago, there was also reporting on a leaked SSA [State Security Agency] document that revealed the agency’s official national security estimates, i.e. what it perceives to be the biggest genuine threats to state security,” Hunter explains.

“As this report shows, the state was frankly and seriously anticipating an Arab-spring style uprising in the lead up to the 2014 elections. In other words, the state had reframed what many would consider to be legitimate and unrelated social protest as a potential existential threat.” South African civil society and the media have exposed such practices over the years and even taken the state to court. In September 2019, the investigative journalism initiative, the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by R2K and others, won a high court judgment that effectively scrapped the primary law enabling communications surveillance and interception, the notorious Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (RICA) of 2002. With SSA expected to appeal the high court decision, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) already having lodged an appeal, it’s unclear how the case will eventually end. But the decision reverberated around the world and has emboldened international calls for reform of state surveillance practices globally.

One country in particular need of reform is Zimbabwe, just north of South Africa, which has a long history of repression of legitimate dissent and political expression. While invasive state surveillance was already an uncomfortable fact of life for political activists and journalists up until then, since 2016 the situation has become much worse, according to political activist Henry Munangatire. He was one of the core organisers and strategists of the July 2016 #thisflag pro-democracy protest movement – run primarily via various social media platforms on mobile phones – spearheaded by young Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire, who attracted a large youth following and international attention, as well as state harassment, intimidation and repression. Munangatire said that at the height of the #thisflag movement, which called on people to stay home in protest at the state of the country, state security operatives used the state’s communications surveillance capabilities to hunt down and imprison youth movement leaders, many of whom managed to evade capture and had to be smuggled out of the country.

“All of a sudden you had young people using this hashtag to talk about their economic and social situations, which at that point were a result of 36 years of corruption and mismanagement of the country by Zanu-PF,” he says. “The success of this movement culminated in building social media activism and on-the- ground activism, which, of course, led to the creation of other hashtags, such as #Mugabemustgo, which were created online and led to civil disobedience and people expressing discontent at the system. “So it was at that point that the Zanu-PF government realised it didn’t know what to do with the internet and they started crafting a cyber security Bill. And that Bill basically sought to criminalise the use of social media in politics and social activism, even if it is peaceful activism,” Munangatire says. He added that while the cyber security Bill had moved onto the back-burner since the 2017 military coup that removed long-time Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe from office, it has since been revived by the Mnangagwa regime, which has pushed for its urgent enactment into law.

The Zimbabwe Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill was approved by the Mnangagwa cabinet at the beginning of October 2019 and has been sent to parliament for enactment into law. The Bill has already attracted criticism for its provisions that enable a clampdown on social media. The 34-year-old Munangatire said he lives under constant and invasive state surveillance and has been arrested twice for his political activities over the years. His experiences are unfortunately not isolated ones on the African continent. The warning signs for Africa are clear and everywhere, as articulated in the CIPESA ‘State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019’ report: “While digital authoritarianism has been in existence for decades, it is clear that its use by authoritarian regimes to surveil, repress, and manipulate domestic and foreign populations is a tool of state control over their rights. If left unchecked, democracy and internet freedom will continue to regress.”

However, according to Hunter, the situation was not all doom and gloom. “While pervasive surveillance may be a fact, we should not assume that it’s an inevitable fact,” he says. “As societies, we need to raise the political and social cost of security-statist thinking. That means helping raise public awareness of the issues and the threats and the costs of surveillance. We can march for privacy, and vote for privacy, and debate and discuss for privacy, and pay for privacy and donate for privacy and design for privacy and litigate for privacy and legislate for privacy – and we should.”

Frederico Links is a Namibian journalist, editor, researcher, trainer and activist. Research associate of Namibia’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). He is primarily concerned with democracy and governance, particularly corruption and maladministration. He is chairperson of the Access to Information in Namibia (ACTION) Coalition of civil society, media and social activists.

A rapidly changing landscape of ever increasing threats

Cyber crime: It’s a war

Cyber crime knows no boundaries and the perpetrators are constantly improving their capabilities

According to Ivory Coast’s police department in charge of cyber crime (PLCC) nearly 100 internet criminals were arrested in the country in
2018. The country is known for its Web scammers. Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

Cyber crime cost Africa an estimated $3.5 billion in 2017 alone, according to pan-African IT business advisory company Serianu, but most countries don’t have the right legislation to defend themselves from – let alone prosecute – this new form of crime. The brutal war in Yemen provides a timely example of how what might appear to be a traditional regional conflict of the type far too common in Africa and the Middle East is also one being fought in a uniquely modern way using cyber warfare and drone attacks. The conflict between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-led coalition backed by the United States, United Kingdom and France is brutally old fashioned, fought with guns, mortars and tanks, killing about 91,600 people since 2015 and displacing more than two million others, according to recent reports by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and the United Nations. But in two ways it is a very modern war; two Houthi drone strikes in September 2019 on Saudi oil facilities threatened 10% of the world’s supply, while cyber warfare is also a key part of this conflict.

Rebels also took control of Yemen’s internet service provider (ISP), Yemen Net, when they took over the capital, Sana’a, in 2015 – opening up “another front”, Allan Liska, a threat intelligence analyst at internet technology company RecordedFuture, said in an interview with Cyberscoop, an online media outlet for technology decision makers. But cyber war is not just part of an active conflict like Yemen; it is growing in Africa, too. “Cyber crime today knows no borders, and its technical capabilities are improving fast,” says Riaan Badenhorst, general manager at IT security consultants Kaspersky Africa. Moreover, cybercrime in Africa is increasing at an “exponential rate”, says Nozipho Mngomezulu, a specialist telecoms and internet partner at Johannesburg law firm Webber Wentzel. Quoting Serianu’s 2017 cyber security report, Mngomezulu says that in Africa cyber attacks hit Nigeria the hardest, with losses of $649 million, followed by Kenya with $210 million and Tanzania with $99 million.

Meanwhile, during that time, more than 95% of public and private organisations across the continent spent less than $1,500 a year on cyber-security measures, with SMEs in particular failing to invest. Mngomezulu noted that the Institute for Security Studies had found that South Africa was the target of 13,842 cyber attacks every day. “Cyber criminals currently see Africa as a safe haven, where they can conduct their operations without the fear of being held accountable,” she told Africa in Fact. “Cyber criminals view Africans as easy targets that can be easily manipulated. And most African countries are yet to catch up with the rest of the world insofar as cyber security is concerned.” Several African countries have also effectively shut down their own internet during times of crisis – including Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Chad – making it possible for repressive regimes to keep citizens from protesting, literally by cutting off their means to communicate. Social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, which are key channels for spreading information, are the most frequent targets.

In the past year WhatsApp, the messaging service owned by Facebook with over a billion users, has been “turned off” in several countries. Social media are also the most important avenues for the spread of disinformation. In September 2019 Google’s security team revealed that Apple phones had been hacked, apparently by the Chinese, to spy on the oppressed Muslim Uyghur population in that country. Not long afterwards, WhatsApp sued Israeli security firm NSO Group for attacks on about 100 users, mostly human rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Yemen has also seen a spike in malicious software, known as malware, although it is unclear whether cyber criminals intend them for espionage or criminal purposes. But “the intent for criminals to take advantage of people in a war zone, as well as nation states to do espionage … is there,” said Winnona DeSombre, a threat intelligence researcher at RecordedFuture in an interview with Cyberscoop.

One fearsome form of cyber crime with clear criminal intent is ransomware, in which hackers take control of computer systems and demand a payment to return control to their owners. In August 2019, Johannesburg’s city power utility was hacked with ransomware, while the city of Johannesburg itself was hit in October. The 2017 WannaCry ransomware attacks, which targeted several African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Egypt, Mozambique, Tanzania, Niger, Morocco and Tunisia, are thought to have hit 200,000 computers in 150 countries, and the total damage was estimated at between hundreds of millions and billions of dollars. A 2016 African Union Commission and Symantec report analysing cyber-security trends and governments’ response to them, found 34 out of the continent’s 55 countries lacked specific legal provisions to combat cyber crime, says Mngomezulu, citing also “weak infrastructure security, a lack of skilled human capital and a lack of awareness of the sector’s dynamics”.

“There is little sense of a cohesive strategy to fend off cyber attacks, little knowledge sharing, and certainly no cyber-defence capacity as part of national defences,” says Arthur Goldstuck, the managing director of South African-based researchers World Wide Worx. Meanwhile, the threat of ransomware remains as powerful as ever, while it also evolves in sophistication, says Badenhorst. Attacks on urban infrastructure, such as the recent ones on Johannesburg, are often worryingly successful, he added. They have a far-reaching impact on essential systems and processes and affect local businesses and citizens as well as the municipal or government authority itself. Kaspersky’s detection data shows that larger organisations, such as city authorities and enterprises, are the fastest growing target. The company monitored 194,803 ransomware attacks in South Africa alone in 2018. That was a 64% increase over 2017, according to the company. Meanwhile, attacks on the employees of large organisations surged 17.9% in the 12 months to May 2019.

“Phishing and malware continue to be relentless threats, leveraged by cyber criminals,” warns IBM’s Sheldon Hand, business unit leader at IBM Security, told Africa in Fact. Organisations must understand the need to educate employees about attempts to trick log-in details and other information out of them. “Unpatched vulnerabilities will continue to be exploited by attackers,” Hand adds, pointing to the need to continually update business cyber-security measures. Most African countries are “one ransomware attack away” from waking up to the need for defensive capabilities against these attacks, says Goldstuck. “The most commonly used tactic is to pray that nothing happens. However, prayer does not have a great track record in cyber security.” Meanwhile, the threat landscape is changing rapidly, with new cyber threats emerging every year. “Many organisations across all industries face unmanageable levels of threat, the risk of exposure, and an ever-growing attack surface,” says IBM’s Hand.

Retailers, particularly those with a growing online presence, continue to be vulnerable, while the finance and insurance industries are the most targeted, he says. Transportation services – including airline, bus, rail, and water forms of transport – are an increasingly attractive target for malicious actors, Hands points out, because of the industry’s reliance on information technology to facilitate operations, its ubiquitous need for integration of third party vendors, and its vast supply chain. All around Africa, at a continental level, “the lack of political urgency in enacting adequate cyber-security legislation is particularly worrying,” says Mngomezulu. Given the increasing sophistication of cyber crime and cyber warfare, and the general lack of sophistication around these problems in government and business circles, as well as among individuals, we all should be worried.

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff and a contributor to Forbes. His TED talk on innovation in Africa has over 1.4 million views, and he has been featured in the New York Times.

A plague of greed and illegality

Small arms and light weapons: an African overview

State fragility and political instability continue to create an ever-increasing demand for small arms and light weapons

Arms and ammunition recovered from Boko
Haram jihadists are displayed at the headquarters of the 120th Battalion in Goniri, Yobe State in north-eastern Nigeria in July 2019. Boko Haram’s decade-long campaign of violence has killed 27,000 people and displaced about two million in Nigeria. The insurgency has spilled over into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting formation of a regional military coalition to defeat the jihadist group.
Photo: AUDU MARTE / AFP

Following the end of World War II, Africa’s period of independence induced euphoria and sense of the prosperity that would follow the decolonisation of Africa did not last long. The continent became part of the Cold War battlefield. The Cold War was essentially a clash of ideologies and economic models, with the traditional West and the Soviet-dominated East bloc competing to gain influence and expand and develop their overseas interests. Africa posed a tempting – and wealthy – prize to the winner. The continent has an abundance of natural and mineral resources, overseen by untested and weak governments, and also a range of strategic locations. During this period Africa was characterised by fragile and failed states, and virtually synonymous with wars and assassinations, coups d’état, civil wars, covert operations and destabilisation (Africa’s first self-orchestrated regime change occurred in Egypt in 1952, when the reigning monarchy there was overthrown).

As a result, the continent also became an uncontrolled dumping ground for military weapons and equipment, primarily from the now defunct East Bloc. But the problems did not end there. A rise in terror-inspired movements, transnational organised crime and acts of genocide followed the end of the Cold War. Along with collapsed economies and failing governance, government brutality and crackdowns have added to a rising sense of anger, discontent, and fear among many African populations. Any government is defined by the people involved and the institutions they adopt. The government is the direction-giving mechanism of the national trajectory, and it is responsible for the development and implementation of the policies that guide, direct, and safeguard that trajectory. Policies require action and implementation, but the continent’s governments have often failed to implement them – especially policies related to governance, security and stability.

This generates failed or fragile governments, which exploit tensions and conflict, incentivising armed criminal networks, anti-government movements and proxy forces, and allowing safety and security failures to gain traction. Given their political and social instability, many governments have strengthened their power bases and sought to improve the quantity and quality of their security forces. Often they have done so by making use of both regional and foreign government security services and equipment. Continuing instability has, additionally, led to an increase in the involvement of foreign governments and private business organisations providing governments with services that range from private security to military training and related services – often with little to no oversight. Conversely, anti-government movements have established their own militias and have armed themselves, sometimes by raiding government arsenals. Similarly, domestic and transnational criminal networks have been able to buy, steal, and sell weapons to further their criminality.

The often-glaring deficit in (multi)national intelligence and the inability of security forces to act pre-emptively have also incentivised anti-government movements and criminal groups, allowing them to act almost with impunity. Additionally, porous borders have enabled armed groups to act transnationally and find safe havens in neighbouring countries, enabling armed action against civilians and governments. Political fragility and instability, along with the erosion of national security, have led to an increased demand for weapons. For example, over the period 1990 to 2005, armed conflict cost Africa approximately $18 billion per year, according to a 2009 report by the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN). The collapse of the Libyan government in 2011, for example, allowed criminals and jihadist movements to raid abandoned and uncontrolled Libyan government arsenals.

Large quantities of these weapons were moved across Africa, finding their way to groups such as Boko Haram (BH) in Nigeria (according to a captured BH member interviewed by the author in Nigeria in 2016), Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (more commonly known as Al-Shabaab) in Somalia, and the Allied Democratic Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Similarly, weapons are being “lost” by law enforcement officers and military personnel on a frequent basis. In a recent case, a South African policewoman was found to have been “renting out” her service weapon to pay her debts. Available data on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons suggests that approximately 100 million weapons are available in Africa. It is, furthermore, estimated that 59% are civilian-owned, 38% in possession of government armed forces, 2,8% owned by law enforcement agencies and 0,2% in possession of armed groups, according to a February 2018 article on the AllAfrica website.

Civilians who do not choose sides or participate in violence or the small arms trade pay a heavy price for their governments’ lack of accountability and oversight of their light weapons and civilian firearms. Armed anti-government and criminal groups are able to recruit followers from a disgruntled civilian population – or coerce their cooperation. Ongoing instability and cross-border conflicts, along with armed organised transnational criminal groups, have increased the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. According to the UN Security Council’s report on small arms (S/2008/258, dated 2 June, 2009), “the dividing lines between underdevelopment, instability, fragility, crisis, conflict and war are increasingly blurred; the small arms issue is therefore intertwined with the security, development, and human rights preconditions for sustainable peace. Present-day conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace building require multi-dimensional interventions”, according to the AFJN report mentioned earlier.

State fragility and political instability in Africa continue to create an ever-increasing demand for small arms and light weapons by governments as well as anti-government forces and criminal networks. January – March 2020 47 Small arms and light weapons manufacturers and suppliers understand and exploit the links between political instability and the armaments market. The market space has opened up to illegal arms deals and the movement of arms by both legitimate and unscrupulous arms dealers. There is evidence that legally obtained arms find their way onto the black market, where they are sold to whoever needs them – or can afford them. Political instability and conflict have enabled private security companies (PSCs) and private military companies (PMCs) uncontrolled access in Africa. Typically, these companies have a number of roles, including offering private-sector security training and operations such as protecting high-value assets, critical industries and people. Other services include training law enforcement personnel and armed forces.

Many PSCs and PMCs abide by the laws of their hosts and work at making a positive impact, but some use the continent’s endemic instability and conflict to further their own aims. PSCs have been known to arm ill-trained personnel and to exercise little control over the weapons issued to security guards. “Misplaced” weapons usually go unreported. Meanwhile, an influx of small arms and light weapons is also due to governments evading the UN’s Programme of Action on Small Arms and its International Tracing Instrument (available on the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs site). This is particularly driven by governments aiming to expand their interests through armed conflict, either overtly or covertly. In addition to the illegal arms sales networks, there are links between the legal and the illegal trade where legally obtained arms are sold illegally. Anti-government movements, inspired by religion and supported by sectarian governments – frequently viewed as “rogue governments” – have resulted in a dramatic rise in sectarian violence, especially in North, West and East Africa.

These governments typically support regional anti-government movements in other countries, financially and morally, and by providing arms – evading UN arms controls where possible. These religious anti-government movements are gaining traction, spreading their tentacles southward as they do so. This means that the flow of weapons into previously stable regions has increased, creating ungoverned spaces controlled by armed anti-government movements. The recent deployment into Mozambique by the Russian PMC “Wagner Group” highlights the problems involved when a PMC is unprepared for its mission(s) and attacked by anti-government forces. Wagner Group members, working alongside Mozambique troops, were ambushed in northern Mozambique in late October 2019, according to a report on the Moscow Times website, and suffered numerous casualties. The antigovernment forces seized all of their weapons and equipment. Non-state actors have contributed significantly to the uncontrolled trade in small arms and light weapons.

Armed political opposition groups, secessionist movements, terrorists, criminal networks, transnational herdsmen and hunters and poachers have all added to the uncontrolled movement of this weaponry. These groups typically occupy ungoverned spaces or areas where there is little law enforcement, enabling them to use weapons to secure their own safety while exercising control over these areas and the people who live there. These groups often fund themselves by resorting to armed criminality. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons has become an impediment to the socio-economic development of many African states. Security policies, including policies aimed at controlling the flow and use of arms, cannot be implemented by fragile or failed governments. In some cases, policies are unimplementable, or make no allowance for managing and monitoring the proposed approach and legislation. Within this complex and dynamic environment, the oversight and control of small arms and light weapons are tasks that will continue to plague governments.

As noted, the lack of oversight has impacted on communities, countries and regional landscapes, resulting in a rise in armed criminality and endangering innocent civilians. It has, furthermore, prevented the delivery of economic, humanitarian and social aid, and contributed to the displacement of people and uncontrolled migration. As discussed, the uncontrolled movement and use of small arms and light weapons is indicative of poor or non-existent governance and a lack of effective security measures and policies. The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in Africa has direct, indirect, and consequential impacts on the human resources of the continent. Annually, thousands of innocent people, law enforcement officers and soldiers are killed or wounded by weapons in the hands of antigovernment groups and criminal gangs.

Governments that refuse to act decisively – and without dedicated and driven political will to improve governance, law enforcement and security – incentivise armed action against the state and against the populace. This lack of performance adds to the greed and illegality of unscrupulous arms manufacturers and traders. There is little doubt that small arms and light weapons in Africa will continue to proliferate if governments continue to neglect the politics and governance, and if they lack effective policies to reduce illegal gun control.

Eeben Barlow has served as a division commander, battalion commander, and Special Operations Group commander for several African armed forces, where he holds the rank of major general. He has authored several books, frequently speaks at conferences, and lectures at numerous African and foreign universities on conflict and war in Africa. He is chairman of STTEP International Ltd.

Existential threats to humanity

Nuclear weapons: the African view

African states argue that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against their use or threat of use

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) flanked by South Africa’s former Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana- Mashabane give a joint press conference in Pretoria in February 2013, where Lavrov said he expected the UN Security Council to agree on ‘an adequate response’ to a controversial North Korean nuclear test.
Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

The climate crisis – the process of climate change – and its far-reaching and unprecedented challenge to all aspects of society, is often (and perhaps correctly) viewed as the defining issue of our time. At the same time, another threat to the future of humankind while not new, continues to haunt the majority of the international community – the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used either by design, accident or miscalculation. As Egypt told the UN General Assembly in October 2018, “rising levels of tensions at the global level coupled with rapid technological developments make the risk of intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons at one of its highest levels since the Cold War era”. With the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) due to take place in April and May this year in New York, this article focuses on African initiatives to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.

All too often, the role of African states in advocating for a world free of nuclear weapons is under-reported, or perceived as marginal, as they strive to cope with what some regard as of more immediate concern, namely: the alleviation of poverty, the provision of housing, education and health care and the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. All African states, except for South Sudan, are party to the 1968 Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This means that they have undertaken not to acquire or manufacture nuclear weapons. South Africa remains the only country to have manufactured nuclear weapons and then to take a unilateral decision to renounce and dismantle its nuclear weapons programme (an account of this is given in a 2014 book by Nic von Wielligh and Lydia von Wielligh- Steyn, The Bomb). The NPT, which came into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995, is regarded as the cornerstone of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The NPT is designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, further the goal of nuclear disarmament, and promote co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

The treaty defines two categories of parties – nuclear weapon states (NWS) and nonnuclear weapon states (NNWS). NWS are defined as the five states that detonated a nuclear device before January 1967 – China, France, the then Soviet Union, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US). All other UN member states, which have ratified the NPT, are regarded as NNWS that have agreed not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and, in accordance with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to prevent diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The five NWS, on the other hand, are obliged to pursue nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith. The NPT entered into force some 50 years ago, and in 1946 the first UN General Assembly resolved to establish a commission “to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy and other related matters” and to make specific proposals on the control of atomic energy and on “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons”.

Nevertheless, 14,000 nuclear warheads remain in existence today. Notwithstanding numerous attempts to ensure that the NWS fulfil their side of the “grand bargain” – to pursue disarmament – the states possessing these weapons continue to argue that it is within their rights to keep their nuclear arsenals for as long as the current global political and security conditions remain unfavourable. Some analysts argue that this seeks to legitimise their perpetual possession of such arms. Most NNWS, including African states, argue that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against the use, or threat of use, of such weapons and that the very possession of nuclear weapons encourages nuclear proliferation. In 2004, the African Union’s Common African Defence and Security Policy identified “the accumulation, stockpiling, proliferation and manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, unconventional long-range and ballistic missiles” as common external threats to continental security in Africa.

African states, both individually and as members of regional groupings within the UN system such as the Africa Group, the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), continue to affirm the urgent need for the NWS to diminish the role of nuclear weapons in their security policies and to ensure the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test- Ban Treaty (CTBT) as a meaningful step in the realisation of a systematic process to achieve nuclear disarmament. Besides Egypt, only the African states of Mauritius, Somalia and South Sudan have neither signed nor ratified this particular treaty. At the same time, it is also important to note that African states reaffirm their inalienable right to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy in terms of Article IV of the NPT. Their view is that states can be totally committed to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, while also recognising the developmental benefits that nuclear material and related applications provide.

International co-operation for the peaceful application of such material should therefore not be undermined in the quest to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The lack of urgency and seriousness with which nuclear disarmament has been approached in the NPT context led to the negotiation and adoption in 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). An April 2019 statement to the Security Council by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, South Africa’s permanent representative to the UN, reflects Africa’s position, namely that the very possession of nuclear weapons by some countries encourages nuclear proliferation by others and that “efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons should be matched by an equal commitment by the nuclear weapon states to eliminate all nuclear weapons in a verifiable and irreversible manner”. The TPNW is the first legally binding international agreement to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons.

Proponents of the treaty portray this as a key step towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons, but many states possessing nuclear weapons and their allies have been highly critical of the treaty. These latter states have argued, among other things, that the TPNW ignores the increasingly complex international security environment and that it may negatively impact on the NPT and its review cycle mechanism. That is, they claim that the TPNW undermines the step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament, including the movement towards entry into force of the CTBT. Nevertheless, the TPNW was adopted at the UN on 7 July, 2017, with the support of 122 states, including 42 African states. The treaty will enter into force once 50 states have ratified or acceded to it. As of 26 October, 2019, there were 79 signatories and 33 states parties. These states are of the view that the more complex the international security environment becomes, the higher the risk of the use of nuclear weapons – thus making nuclear disarmament more urgent.

Furthermore, given their catastrophic humanitarian consequences, nuclear weapons cannot be used in a manner consistent with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law. Nuclear weapons do not increase security, but rather undermine regional and international peace and security. South Africa ratified this treaty in February 2019. The “ratification… sends a positive signal of our continued commitment towards the achievement of a world free from the threat posed by nuclear weapons and ensuring that nuclear energy is used solely for peaceful purposes,” the then minister of international relations and co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, said. Her view expresses those of many African states. Another important example of Africa’s commitment to a world free from nuclear weapons is the African Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba), which was approved by African heads of state on 23 June, 1995 and entered into force in July 2009.

The Treaty declares Africa a zone free from nuclear weapons and provides for the promotion of co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It requires complete nuclear disarmament by African states and aims to enhance both regional and global peace and security. Basically, the Treaty of Pelindaba seeks to ensure that nuclear weapons are not developed, produced, tested or otherwise acquired or stationed anywhere on the African continent or its associated islands. Presently, the treaty has 41 parties with (only) 14 states still to deposit their instruments of ratification with the AU. Parties also pledge to prohibit the testing of nuclear devices and the dumping of radioactive waste, while improving the physical protection of their nuclear materials and facilities. Uniquely, the Treaty of Pelindaba also prohibits armed attacks on nuclear installations, including nuclear research or power reactors.

Protocols to the treaty are designed to ensure that non-African states respect the status of the zone and undertake not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any African country. Only Spain and the US have not ratified the relevant protocols. Spain, while not a nuclear-armed state, is de facto in control of three territories within the zone – the Canary Islands and two coastal cities in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Spain claims these are integral parts of the European Union and therefore should not be included within the African nuclear weapons free zone. Spain has also argued that the Treaty of Pelindaba does not contain any global nonproliferation or disarmament provisions that it has not already signed. The US leases Diego Garcia from the UK as a military base. Both the UK and the US argue that the British Indian Ocean territory cannot be included in the geographical area of the Treaty of Pelindaba.

The AU, however, considers the islands to be part of Mauritius. In February last year, the International Court of Justice in The Hague stated that the island was not lawfully separated from Mauritius and that the UK should end its control of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean “as rapidly as possible”, according to the judgment. Parties to the Treaty of Pelindaba have established the African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) to ensure compliance with the treaty. Hosted in South Africa, AFCONE’s overall goal is “to ensure safety, security and socioeconomic progress in Africa through coordinating, strengthening and developing continental nuclear peaceful applications programmes and playing a dynamic role in disarmament and non-proliferation affairs”. It therefore plays a key role in advancing the peaceful application of nuclear science and technology in Africa and in bringing much-needed support to states parties to fully benefit from nuclear sciences and technology applications in the areas of health, agriculture and energy.

Both the continued existence of nuclear weapons and climate change are existential threats to humanity. Africa contributes the least to global emissions and has forsworn nuclear weapons, but the continent cannot argue that both are now “northern” problems to be ignored by the “global south”. Africa shares in the responsibility to enhance international peace and security. As a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone and as supporters of the TPNW, African states have reinforced their commitment to global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives of the NPT and the CTBT.

Noel Stott is a senior researcher at the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC). He previously led an Institute for Security Studies programme, Africa’s Development and the Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He has extensive experience in arms control and currently focuses on building the capacity of non-nuclear weapon states to participate in multilateral nuclear disarmament verification.

A legacy of bloodshed and corruption

The arms industry: fuelling conflict

The world’s biggest arms fair, which turned 20 in 2019, is lauded as a ‘fantastic showcase’ by its British hosts, but critics strongly disagree

A vendor uses an Armtrac 20T robot to squash a 2015 Rugby World Cup branded rugby ball as
he demonstrates its capabilities during the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London in September, 2015.
Photo: LEON NEAL / AFP

The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), which boasts of being the world’s largest arms fair, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. The biennial event, held in London, aims to bring together the global arms industry under one roof, showcasing more than 1,700 exhibitors and 36,000 attendants from more than 50 countries. It is supported by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Department for International Trade, as well as BAE Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer. Political insiders defend the country’s role as an arms exporter and the DSEI’s role in generating arms sales as sources of high-tech research and jobs. “The UK defence industry is looking to recruit more engineers, scientists and developers into 200,000 jobs and up to 10,000 apprentices within UK defence companies,” according to James Gray MP, a member of the House of Commons Defence Committee, quoted in a DSEI statement. “DSEI is a fantastic showcase for defence companies where international buyers, sellers, developers, thinkers, educators and the trainers can all get together.”

Yet critics of Britain’s role in the global arms trade, and the industry as a whole, see DSEI less as a “fantastic showcase” and more as the shiny centrepiece of a globally destructive sector unrivalled by any other. The exhibition is met with protests and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has called for it to end. Arms exports are estimated to contribute as much as £12 billion to the UK economy. Andrew Feinstein, a former South African MP for the ANC and author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, is one such critic. “In the 20 years of its existence DSEI has, probably more than any other trade show of any sort anywhere in the world, contributed to the death and suffering of Africans,” Feinstein told Africa in Fact. “Its legacy is one of bloodshed, corruption and Britain being at the forefront of undermining good governance across the African continent.” Countries with a recent history of conflict or military suppression sent delegations to DSEI 2019, officially invited by the UK government. From Africa, they included Algeria and Nigeria, while Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara did not preclude it from an official delegation invitation.

Algeria found itself on the UK government’s list of core markets for defence and security opportunities, along with Tunisia, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Angola. Egypt was also among them – and remains a core market for UK arms exports. A delegation was officially invited by the UK government to attend DSEI last year despite appearing in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) 2018 “human rights priority countries” report. According to the UK government’s report, “the human rights situation in Egypt continued to give cause for concern”. It cited new restrictions on media and online freedoms, and a government campaign against civil society, cases of torture, enforced disappearances and extended pre-trial detention. At least 250 cases of enforced disappearances were documented by lawyers, with thousands of individuals estimated to be in pre-trial detention, often in solitary confinement for extended periods.” Andrew Smith, spokesperson for the NGO Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), explains the apparent contradiction within UK policy. “There’s always been a total hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy and UK arms exports,” he told Africa in Fact.

“The FCO might deem some of these countries a concern, but the government as a whole can still deem them very close allies.” Feinstein agrees. “By any measure, Britian sells arms to whoever it wants to. The bottom line is the UK puts sales of weapons way ahead of any consideration of human rights. It puts profits ahead of people,” he says. But the DSEI does not see this as a true characterisation of its exhibition or of how it and the UK government operate. “The presence of a delegate or visitor from any country should not be taken as a presumption that the export of equipment to that country would be permitted,” a spokesman for DSEI said. “That is a matter for the UK government and their export licensing process, which operates to the highest regulatory standards.” Feinstein dismisses these assertions: “Their [DSEI] first assumption is profoundly wrong. The second, that the UK has an ethical system that guides export arms policy, is frankly a nonsense,” he argues. That Egypt and South Africa, the respective powerhouses of north and southern Africa, have been identified as core markets is no surprise due to the relative size of their economies and the different roles they fulfil.

Egypt, due to its proximity to the Middle East, can serve as a political ally for the UK arms industry’s main market, Saudi Arabia, and the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has also called for the lifting of a UN arms embargo on neighbouring Libya. Under its former leader, Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was a key market for the UK government, especially after the former prime minister, Tony Blair, visited the country in 2004. Smith believes that the legitimacy conferred by the UK government is another driving factor behind the country’s large arms trade. “When a regime is buying weapons from the UK, they’re not just buying weapons; they’re also buying political support that goes with those weapons,” he argues. This applies equally to countries such as Libya, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The UK gets money and the buying country gets both arms and tacit political support to maintain their position. Although both the UN and European Union (EU) can, and do, implement arms embargoes, these can ultimately prove ineffective due to previous deals, Smith explains.

In Egypt, for example, arms sold to former President Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s were used against civilians during the Arab Spring, despite an embargo now in place. “After the coup [in Egypt], an arms embargo was brought in by Europe, but it was probably the single worst embargo in the history of arms embargoes, because it was [so] momentary [that] absolutely nobody followed it,” Smith says. Embargoes can prove ineffective because arms generally have a longer lifespan than the period of an embargo. Any arms deal signed the day before an embargo is put in place can still be completed. At the other end of the continent, South Africa is seen as the gateway to the African market, making it an attractive country to set up business in and to build links to the rest of Africa to sell arms. Feinstein outlines why the UK and Europe target this market particularly, and what advantages they have over the world’s largest arms exporter, the US. “South Africa has been involved in a number of very corrupt arms transactions so [it makes it attractive] for British and European arms companies who can’t compete with the Americans because the Americans have massive economies of scale over Europeans, or the Chinese who practically give away their weapons, so Europeans [are willing to] pay enormous bribes.”

Yet, after 20 years of DSEI few people, if any, celebrate the anniversary – other than global arms dealers and people in the corridors of a couple of UK government departments in Whitehall. “The best thing we can do, if we are truly concerned about the socio-economic development of Africa, would be to shut it [DSEI] down and to properly regulate our arms trade,” concludes Feinstein. For the moment, though, the UK and Europe will continue to sell weapons. DSEI will continue to bring together the global arms trade. And African citizens will continue to suffer the consequences. “Nobody is forced to sell weapons to anyone,” says Smith. “Not every country in Europe is a major arms dealer. But those that are, are doing tremendous damage around the world.”

Joe Walsh is a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg. He writes about the environment, energy and the green economy as well as politics and society for British publications, including Environmental Finance, the New Statesman and The New European.

Africa and the ‘grey market’

Transnational brokering: a complex web

Businesses and criminal syndicates have both violated United Nations arms embargoes, sometimes with the collusion of corrupt state officials

A vehicle of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) passes in
front of Goma airport in June 2019 after it was stoned by angry protestors. Photo: ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

Arms brokering or inter-mediation is a commercial activity within the international arms trade that is difficult to regulate. Arms brokers often operate transnationally, so often escaping or avoiding national trade controls in their home countries and the countries where transactions have taken place. Their transnational operations also create “grey” markets, which sometimes fuel illicit markets. Between a quarter and a third of states claim to have some form of arms brokering regulation but many of those regulations are weak. This is especially a challenge for African countries, which have to import arms, yet lack the capacity to control borders and ports. Leaders around the continent tend to politicise and militarise law enforcement, while deprived communities engage in intense competition over water, land and other scarce resources. These factors tend to drive up demand for weapons, according to research published in 2018 by Institute for Security Studies Chief Executive Jakkie Cilliers and in 2013 by Robert Muggah and Francis Sang.

This was tragically demonstrated in the case of the international arming of the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide in the early to mid 1990s. Indeed, the term “arms broker” was first mentioned in official United Nations (UN) investigative reports about the genocide. According to their submissions to the UN, by 2011 only eight African states had a specific law on arms brokering, while eight more states had their law under review. Yet, by 2017 these totals had barely changed. In the past five years, 26 African states became state parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, Article 10 of which requires parties to regulate the brokering of a wide range of conventional arms under their jurisdiction. Some 35 states in Africa are also state parties to the UN Firearms Protocol, Article 15 of which reads: “shall consider establishing a system for regulating the activities of those who engage in brokering”.

Specific measures such as licensing, registration and penalties are left to the discretion of state parties. African sub-regional treaties on small arms also commit the majority of African states to regulate brokering. These regional treaties are: Protocol of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the control of Firearms, Ammunition and Other Materials (2001); Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons in East Africa, the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa (2002); Convention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms, Light Weapons, their Ammunition and Other Related Materials (2006); and The Central African (Kinshasa) Convention for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Their Ammunition and All Parts and Components That Can Be Used For Their Manufacture, Repair and Assembly (2010).

One challenge facing legislators is to define what is meant by the term “brokering”, and hence who is a “broker”. There is no definition of brokering in the UN Firearms Protocol or Programme of Action (PoE) on small arms and light weapons, or in the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). However, some international consensus has emerged among European states, the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade as regards what arms brokers do and how they operate. This makes it possible for states to define the core scope of arms brokering activities and establish the main types of measures that can be deployed for such regulation. The 2007 report of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on illicit brokering of small arms and light weapons (SALW) described a broker in SALW as: “[a] person or entity acting as an intermediary that brings together relevant parties and arranges or facilitates a potential transaction of small arms and light weapons in return for some form of benefit, whether financial or otherwise”.

The term “potential transaction” was included because the brokering activities can take place long before the actual contract is signed or a shipment of the arms has taken place. The GGE identified the following types of “intermediary activities” involving a broker of SALW: (a) to serve as a finder of business opportunities to one or more parties; (b) to put relevant parties in contact; (c) to assist parties in proposing, arranging or facilitating agreements or possible contracts between them; (d) to assist parties in obtaining the necessary documentation; (e) to assist parties in arranging the necessary payments. The GGE also discussed those “activities closely associated with brokering in small arms and light weapons that do not necessarily in themselves constitute brokering” but which “might be undertaken by brokers as part of the process of putting a deal together to gain a benefit”. The Southern African Development Community and Nairobi Protocols define brokering in such a way as to include mediation as well as buying and selling.

In the ECOWAS and Kinshasa Conventions, for example, the definition of “broker” includes “the provision of financial support and transportation” and “financial and shipping agents”. Another challenge is to define whether the national law on arms brokering covers any extraterritorial aspects. The GGE report on illicit brokering of SALW pointed out that “[b]rokering activities can take place in the broker’s country of nationality, residence or registration; they can also take place in another country. The small arms and light weapons do not necessarily pass through the territory of the country where the brokering activity takes place, nor does the broker necessarily take ownership of the small arms and light weapons”. Thus, for example, South Africa’s arms brokering legislation also has extraterritorial application: any citizen, permanent resident or organisation registered or incorporated in South Africa is bound by the regulations, regardless of their physical location when the relevant activities occur.

US legislation on arms brokering has even stronger extraterritorial provisions, also covering US and non-US nationals who broker potential transactions for the transfer of US-made military equipment or technology wherever located. Such people can be prosecuted if they do not have prior authorisation from the US State Department. In a recent case, on 15 May, 2019, Ara Dolarian, a US citizen living in Bulgaria, was arrested in California on suspicion of illegally brokering the sale of military-grade arms and munitions, money laundering and conspiracy. Dolarian is the president of Dolarian Capital Inc. (DCI), an arms brokering company with offices in Fresno, California, Washington DC, and Bulgaria. US prosecutors allege that in June 2014 Dolarian entered into sales contracts with a French/Nigerian arms brokering company, Societé D’Equipments Internationaux (SEI) Nigeria Ltd, which was acting on behalf of the Nigerian government, for the purchase and transfer of high-explosive bombs, rockets, military-grade firearms and aircraft-mounted cannons worth more than $8.5 million.

Court records showed that in 2018, Dolarian attempted to broker an arms deal to supply the Cameroon government with 1,000 M-4 rifles and 4,000 magazines without the approval of the US State Department. Dolarian was also accused of attempting to broker an arms deal with Paul Malong, a South Sudanese warlord living in Kenya, according to a government brief dated 20 May, 2019, case number 1:19-MJ- 00106-EPG. At the time of writing, the trial of Dolarian was yet to conclude. Until June 2019, Canada was one of the few highly developed states not to have established a specific law to control arms brokering, despite recommendations to do so from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the influential Wassenaar Arrangement; a multilateral export control regime comprising the world’s most significant arms exporters of dual-use technology and conventional weapons.

The new Canadian law is similar to that of South Africa and came into force in September, but on 7 May, a Montreal company, Dickens & Madson, which is headed by a former Israeli intelligence officer who is a Canadian citizen, signed a contract with the Transitional Military Council of Sudan for the provision of various services. According to Amnesty International’s review of a copy of the contract, it includes commitments to “strive to obtain funding and equipment for the Sudanese military”; to “strive to obtain funding for [the TMC] from the Eastern Libyan Military Command in exchange for [Sudanese] military help to the LNA (Libyan National Army)”; and to “provide military training and security equipment to [Sudanese] military forces”. The head of the company confirmed in a telephone interview with the BBC on 1 July, 2019 that his company had signed the lobbying contract with Sudan’s military regime.

He said his company would seek to remove the international sanctions against Sudan; the proposed arms sales would then occur only after the removal of sanctions. This would be necessary because Canada has enacted UN Security Council sanctions restricting the supply of arms and related materiels to Sudan. Meanwhile, the head of Dickens & Madson has registered as a “foreign agent” in the US to lobby the government on behalf of the Sudanese military regime. Business actors and criminal syndicates have been found to be involved in violations of UN arms embargoes, sometimes with the collusion of corrupt state officials. For example, in 2011, UN investigators documented a case of extraterritorial brokering of arms deliveries to Ivory Coast while the country was under a UN Security Council arms embargo. The embargo was imposed in 2004 and lasted until 2016 with minor modifications from 2010, such as to allow non-lethal equipment for policing purposes.

According to the UN expert group, incontrovertible evidence demonstrated the modus operandi of repeated violations of the UN sanctions regime. They were carried out by a trafficking network composed of two business groups supported by key Ivorian officials with links in the west and north Africa regions, as well as various parts of Europe. Weapons and related material entered Côte d’Ivoire directly until 2009, sometimes with the approval of the authorities of the country of origin. Then in 2009 Senegal began to be used as a transit country for arms to Ivory Coast. Payments were charged to the Ivorian presidency’s budget, which was outside the control of the state’s financial bodies. Immediately after the Ivorian presidential elections of 2010, a large amount of ammunition for assault rifles, fragmentation grenades, 120 mm mortar shells and pistols was delivered to the Special Security Command (Centre de commandement des opérations de sécurité) in flagrant violation of the sanctions regime.

According to the UN expert group, three key businessmen – French nationals Robert Montoya and Frédéric Lafont, as well as a Belarusian national, Mikhail Kapylou, who all used Ivorian passports – were involved, directly or indirectly, in a complex structure of companies based in Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Latvia, enabling them to violate the sanctions regime. From 2006 to 2010, Protec-CI, Protec-SA and Darkwood Logistics sold weapons and related materiel to the former government of Ivory Coast for about $16.3 million, but an opaque system of payments could mean that this total was higher. Corroborating information showed money transfers originating from the Ivory Coast treasury for the benefit of Montoya, thereby highlighting his leading role in the network. In 2012, the UN Group documented arms imports that violated the UN arms embargo. The imports included pistols (made in France), revolvers, shotguns and associated ammunition.

They also included two types of fragmentation grenades: M26A9 grenades manufactured by Denel in South Africa and H.Gr 84 grenades, which were counterfeited copies of grenades manufactured in Austria, and suspected to have originated in Serbia. Despite the serious harm that can result from illicit arms brokering, prosecutions are still fairly rare, not least because of the absence of adequate legislation. However, another reason is that brokering networks can be very complex and opaque. In a recent case, a Belgian national, Jacques Monsieur, was sentenced on 1 June, 2017 to three years’ imprisonment and an €800,000 fine by a Brussels court for illicit arms brokering between 8 April, 2006 and 3 May, 2009, based on articles 10 and 11 of the Federal Law of 5 August, 1991. Monsieur was acquitted of organised crime charges and money laundering. However, the court upheld the charges that he had brokered $15 million worth of arms sales for Guinea-Bissau between 9 April, 2006 and 21 April 2006.

This included four Mi-24D attack helicopters, one MI- 8T helicopter and 10 BTR-8 armoured personnel carriers. An email from Monsieur dated 17 April, 2006 mentioned a 5% commission to be divided between the defendant, the UK financial institution that financed the deal, and a Guinea-Bissau minister. Charges upheld also included the sale of 100,000 AMD-65 assault rifles to Libya between 22 October, 2006 and 30 November, 2006, and the sale of naval equipment to Mauritania between 13 March, 2009 and 4 April, 2009. Monsieur lost his appeal and on 19 October, 2018 the Brussels Court of Appeals sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and a fine of €1.2 million. The appeals court also upheld the organised crime charges against him. His second appeal was pending at the time of writing. Illicit arms brokering often involves elaborate offshore schemes for money laundering. Between 2005 and 2007, Gary Hyde, an arms dealer based in the United Kingdom (UK), together with his German business partner, Karl Kleber, brokered agreements for the sale of arms from China to the Nigerian government.

These had been arranged between a Chinese company, China Jing An (later assigned to another Chinese company, Poly Technologies Inc), and two companies acting for the Nigerian purchasers. The shipment of no less than 70,000 rifles, 10,000 pistols and 32 million rounds of ammunition from China to Nigeria took place in November 2007, according to the British court judgment in the 2014 case. Hyde signed agreements in the name of EWH Consultancy Ltd, which the crown prosecution stated was a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands under his control, and under which he was to receive commission fees totalling $1,337,800. He intended to receive his commission in bank accounts in Liechtenstein, which he apparently operated to reduce his tax liability. He used corporate vehicles – including EWH Consulting Ltd and various trusts of which he and his family were beneficiaries – to receive the commission from the deal. Hyde took considerable care initially to broker the contract from outside the UK, thinking that he could avoid having to obtain a UK trade licence.

However, between March 2006 and December 2007 Hyde worked from the UK and used the firm Jago Ltd in England as his correspondence address in managing the deal. During this time he sent letters using the Jago Ltd letterhead and emails using his York Guns and Jago Ltd email addresses in the UK. Although those companies were not the formal contracting partners, the UK prosecutors contended that their bona fides lent credibility and substance to the applicant’s role as a broker acting from the UK and therefore requiring a UK trade licence. The authorities learnt of this transaction, and on 18 November, 2009, Hyde was interviewed. He declined to answer questions, but maintained, through his solicitor, that his business dealings had taken place outside UK jurisdiction. However, the court held that the renegotiation of a contract leading to its variation or assignment did, as a matter of law, fall within UK law.

He was charged with two offences under Article 9(2) of the Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003: deliberate involvement in the movement of arms with an intention to evade the prohibition under Article 4 and concealing criminal property, contrary to section 327 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The latter charge was based on argument that he had concealed his profits from the illegal trade in his Liechtenstein bank account. Illicit arms brokering can also aid and assist mercenaries and encourage terrorism – contrary to UN Security Council resolution 2370 (2017). For example, on 15 November, 2018 Rami Ghanem, a naturalised US national living in Egypt, was found guilty in the US of conspiring to use and transfer anti-aircraft missile systems. On 29 October, 2018, the day before his trial started, Ghanem pleaded guilty to six other federal crimes stemming from his arms-trafficking activities, including the unlicensed export of weapons and ammunition, smuggling, money laundering and unlicensed arms brokering, according to the California Central District Court records.

Evidence presented in court showed that he had brokered the services of missile system operators to a militant faction in Libya in 2015, and thus conspired to use Russian-made Igla and Strela surface-toair missile systems, according to the US Attorney’s Office. A UN arms embargo had been imposed on Libya in 2011. Among other actions, Ghanem negotiated the salaries and terms of service of the missile system operators, coordinated their payment, facilitated their travel to Libya, and offered them a $50,000 bonus if they were to succeed in shooting down military aircraft flown by the internationally recognised government of Libya. Solving Africa’s illicit arms trade problems will require strict control of arms brokering, amongst other measures. This would be much easier if basic functions and features of government – such as effective legislatures, judiciaries, law enforcement, cross-border management, public procurement and military accountability – were operating effectively.

But Africa’s problem with arms brokers cannot be solved by remedial action only in Africa. Exporting states, as well as importing and/or transit and transhipment states outside Africa, should also have robust regulatory systems that comply with UN and other arms embargoes, as well as international weapon prohibitions and standards that are implemented. To be effective, the national regulations should be consistent with the ATT and other relevant international and regional instruments, including the UN conventions on transnational organised crime and corruption, and should cover the business activities of the country’s nationals and residents relating to any brokering of sales, transport and financing of arms deals.

Brian Wood headed Amnesty International’s arms control work, including on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) from 1995 to 2016. He helped found the International Action Network on Small Arms and has done research for various UN agencies and think tanks, including IPIS. He was the consultant to the UN Group of Governmental Experts on the illicit brokering of small arms and light weapons.
Peter Danssaert has reported on the international arms trade since 1999 as researcher for the Antwerp-based International Peace Information Service (IPIS) and regularly produces the IPIS Arms Trade Bulletin. He worked as a consultant for the UN Panel of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Opaque and difficult to quantify

Light weapons: a roadmap

Africa has made some innovative interventions to reduce illicit small arms flows, despite a scarcity of data and challenges on several fronts

A member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) armed forces sings moments before casting his vote at a polling
station in southern Sudan’s regional capital, Juba, on 9 January, 2011 in the first hours of a week-long independence referendum, which led to the formation of South Sudan. Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP

In January 2017, the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union adopted its Master Roadmap for Silencing the Guns in Africa (AUMR) by the year 2020. The AUMR recognises that the use of small arms and light weapons continues to destabilise the continent – while the causes and factors driving conflicts in the continent have changed. The document encompasses a number of steps and modalities for action, with a focus on preventing the illicit flow of weapons throughout the region. Among those, reliable information and analysis are critical to understanding the nature, extent and impact of illicit small arms proliferation. It is against this background that the AU Commission and Small Arms Survey undertook the first ever continental mapping of illicit arms flows, with a view to promoting transparency and stronger commitment among African states to use evidence-based approaches to controlling the proliferation, circulation, and trafficking of small arms.

The report, “Weapons Compass, Mapping Illicit Small Arms Flows in Africa”, published in January 2019, unpacks trends in illicit small arms proliferation, reviews examples of existing good practice and summarises recommendations to tackle illicit flows. Defining these illicit arms is not easy because they take many forms. In outline, illicit arms are those “weapons that are produced, transferred, held or used in violation of national or international law” and can include both military-style small arms and light weapons and commercial firearms. The report draws on a review of existing knowledge combined with new research, including consultations with and contributions received from multiple stakeholders, such as AU member states, regional economic communities, regional bodies, and specialised UN and civil society entities.

In particular, between 2017 and 2018 21 African countries and a number of international actors responded to data requests and questionnaires previously prepared by the Small Arms Survey. The mapping that resulted from the analysis identified six major sources of illicit weapons, originating both from within and outside Africa. For better data visualisation and analysis, the continent has been disaggregated into the five regions as designated by the AU (northern Africa, western Africa, central Africa, eastern Africa and southern Africa). Action is required on several fronts, notably at the regional and national levels. The implementation of international instruments such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the United Nations Programme of Action (PoA) can contribute to significantly preventing and reducing illicit arms flows on the continent.

Moreover, a number of subregional organisations have been mandated to tackle one or several aspects of small arms issues: in 2016, 22 organisations out of 52 worldwide working to implement the UN PoA were based in Africa. Nevertheless, very few African states have put mechanisms in place to keep track of arms trafficking. Data on illicit weapons is scarce and the scale of the phenomenon can only be roughly estimated. Illicit flows are opaque and difficult to quantify, given the concealed, multifaceted and context-specific nature of the trade. Despite increased international attention to small-arms related issues, to date there has been only limited progress in states’ reporting and transparency on the core issues relevant to arms control. Firstly, information on both the authorised industrial production and transfer of small arms is patchy.

Despite gaps in reporting, though, there is evidence that several countries maintain capacities to produce small arms or ammunition. Curiously, capacity seems to exist in at least 19 states, with most of them located in northern Africa (capacity in Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda is, though, to be confirmed). Secondly, authorised trade in small arms is also relatively poorly documented as statistics are based on states’ voluntary reporting and less than half of African states report to the main platform, the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database. The available statistics, however, suggest that the value of reported imports to Africa has been increasing since the beginning of the century, with northern Africa as the subregion that imports the most small arms, averaging $62 million per year, followed by western Africa ($35 million). Thirdly, data on both licit and illicitly held weapons is similarly scarce.

Small Arms Survey’s estimates indicate that civilian actors hold more than 40 million of the small arms on the continent; by contrast, armed forces and law enforcement agencies hold less than 11 million small arms. Past studies used to give an overall figure of 100 million arms in the continent, but the numbers could thus be larger. West Africa has the largest number of both licit and illicit civilian-held firearms on the continent (roughly 11 million), followed by north Africa (10.2 million). Staggeringly, Africa seems to host relatively few small arms compared with other global regions: its rate of 3.2 civilian-held small arms for every 100 people compares well to the rate in the Americas, which is 46.2. Illicit weapons in Africa enter the market at virtually every stage of the weapons’ life cycle.

Legacy weapons from past conflicts in the continent, and in particular from the peak of Africa’s late 1990s/early 2000s civil wars, still constitute the main source of illicit firearms in circulation. However, research indicates other important sources, ranging from recently manufactured weapons to weapons imported recently from outside Africa or diverted from legal commercial flows. The iTrace System, developed by Conflict Armament Research, shows, for instance, that between 1% and 3% of illicit small arms documented in Somalia and Burkina Faso and between 9% of ammunition seen in Burkina Faso and 17% in Somalia have been manufactured since 2010. The source of these weapons is both internal to Africa and external. Cross-border trafficking is a major source of weapons across all of the African sub-regions.

Documented weapons often reflect small scale smuggling of arms and ammunition, but this so-called “ant trade” can involve large volumes of arms trafficked into conflict theatres. As a result, weapons are often trafficked between countries without contiguous borders, or re-circulated across large geographical areas. Smuggled weapons also include weapons that were recently diverted from national stockpiles. Outflows of looted national stockpiles followed the collapse of the Libyan government in 2011, for instance. Weapons of Libyan origin were reportedly trafficked to a number of neighbouring countries and as far as the Central African Republic (CAR) and Somalia. Diversions from national stockpiles remain a primary concern in the Sahara-Sahel region as well as in central Africa.

Weapons from Ivorian stockpiles, for instance, have been recovered in a range of countries, including the CAR, where weapons formerly belonging to Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have also been found. Diversions from national stockpiles are also a concern in African sub-regions less affected by conflict, as media reports in Madagascar and South Africa show. Diversions from national stockpiles include weapons lost or seized from troops deployed in the context of peace operations. The main actors of land-based trafficking are typically armed groups, criminal gangs, local manufacturers, corrupt security officials, as well as peacekeepers returning from international duty. Smaller-scale trafficking can also involve local border communities. Pastoralist groups in Kenya (Turkana), Uganda (Dodoth) and South Sudan (Toposa), for example, have traded arms across borders to protect themselves and their cattle.

Interestingly, intelligence-based information sharing is currently helping to reveal that terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda-linked groups have acquired capacities to move equipment across borders in western Africa. Arms can be also diverted from civilian holdings, although the extent of this phenomenon is particularly difficult to measure. As of June 2018, only 12 African countries had provided statistics to Interpol’s illicit arms record and tracing management system, which allows police agencies worldwide to record detailed information on firearms lost, stolen, or trafficked. Other sources, however, show that the diversion of civilian holdings can be significant. In South Africa, for example, during the year 2015/2016, an average of 20 firearms per day were stolen from private individuals.

The proliferation of unlicensed craft producers represents an enduring threat throughout Africa. Craft production appears to be concentrated in West Africa, where at least 12 countries appear to host craft producers. The weapons produced range from rudimentary hunting weapons to sophisticated firearms, including copies of assault rifles. In some of these countries, the possession of craft-produced weapons is common. Such weapons are involved in 80% of gun-related crimes in Ghana, whereas in Nigeria 17% of rural gun owners hold them. The nature and extent of craft production capacities is less clear in eastern and southern Africa. However, it is known that capacities exist in almost half of AU member states, with the exception of northern Africa. Overall, craft production is the second-most prominent source of illicit weapons.

Many of the illicit small arms circulating in Africa originate from the continent. However, external sources of illicit arms have gained prominence over the past few years. Arms transfer diversions are well documented in the context of arms embargoes. Africa is both a recipient and source of embargo-breaking arms transfers. Violations of the arms embargo imposed by the UNSC on Libya, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, the CAR and Somalia have been documented. Analysis carried out by UN experts and monitoring groups shows that the largest cases of transfer diversions have been directed to Libya, before the strengthening of the arms embargo in 2014. Middle Eastern states have been repeatedly identified as points of origin for several cases of illicit transfers of small arms to embargoed countries.

Yet at the same time, illicit weapons from Libya before 2014 were destined not only for Africa but also for the Middle East. Illicit transfers to Africa, including in violation of arms embargoes, originate also from Europe, notably eastern Europe. A relatively recent phenomenon is the proliferation of converted imitation firearms, which enables the circulation of illicit handguns at a much-reduced cost. While this was initially particularly significant in North Africa, major shipments of readily convertible imitation guns from Turkey have recently been intercepted in, or on their way to, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia. In 2017, 25,000 Turkish imitation pistols were seized in Port Kismayo, Somalia. External sources of illicit small arms include the diversion of recently authorised imports of arms and ammunition.

Such diversions were a regular occurrence in Africa in the 1990s, but the phenomenon has decreased to some extent because conflict actors are increasingly relying on more sophisticated ways of procuring small arms already available on the continent. The limited participation of African states on international information-sharing platforms has not prevented the continent from hosting innovative interventions to tackle illicit arms flows, which in a number of cases have proved to have a positive impact on illicit flows. Joint border initiatives represent an emerging area of good practice, such as the joint border commission established between Kenya and Ethiopia and the cooperation agreement between Chad and Sudan. Joint commissions are also being established such as that between the CAR, Chad and Sudan on the one hand and Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria on the other.

Sub-regional, cross-border security strategies, such as the Mano River Union Strategy, and regional joint operations are also gaining traction. An example of the latter was Operation Trigger III, a firearms seizure conducted simultaneously in nine North and West African countries by Interpol in cooperation with UNODC and WCO in 2017. Other notable arms-control measures relate to sub-regional and national end-user controls. States such as Burkina Faso and South Africa, as well as regional organisations such as ECOWAS, have developed national and sub-regional end-user control systems. Addressing gaps in the certification and verification of end uses and end users is key to preventing the diversion of arms. The approaches discussed above are, however, limited to specific sub-regions.

The mapping study mentioned earlier has provided a typology for categorising broader illicit arms flows, but many knowledge gaps remain, especially in the area of policy planning. We need more information in a range of areas, such as studies of the demand factors driving illicit arms flows and the scale and nature of illicit arms flows in non-conflict settings. The study also shows that there is room for improving current practices in a number of areas, for instance as regards the disposal of surplus and collected weapons, including those recovered in the context of peace operations. More attention needs to be paid to the quality of national legislation on the enforcement of arms embargoes, as well as emerging threats such as convertible imitation firearms.

Continental and sub-regional instruments designed to reduce illicit small arms flows are in place, but fulfilling such commitments requires engagement at international, regional and national levels. It is recommended that the AU’s political bodies engage with external players to encourage, for example, the main arms exporters to Africa to report their exports. Strengthening cooperation and information exchange at the regional level by establishing sub-regional and national databases to monitor trends will also be key to generating actionable weapons intelligence. Last but not least, national authorities need to change their approach to the coordination of assistance and capacity building efforts, and better support capacity-building initiatives in these areas.

Africa has made some innovative interventions to reduce illicit small arms flows, in line with efforts at the international, regional and sub-regional levels. Raising awareness about them could be a valuable asset in countering the major drivers of illicit weapons flows, and contribute to the successful implementation of the Silence the Guns agenda in Africa.

Sigrid Lipott is an associate researcher at the Small Arms Survey, where she works on illicit arms proliferation and trafficking, arms embargoes, and peacekeeping. She holds two master’s degrees in diplomacy and a PhD in transborder policies from the International University Institute of European Studies. She has worked at the European Projects Association and at the European External Action Service in Brussels

Silencing the guns

Africa: fragile gains

There’s been some progress towards ending wars on the continent, but 2020 was never a realistic goal for ending all conflicts

A Kenyan police officer of the African Union’s
peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) takes part in a night patrol on a street in Mogadishu in September 2019. Photo: TINA SMOLE / AFP

Seven years ago, in 2013, African leaders solemnly vowed “not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans”. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the continent’s premier political body, the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of today’s African Union (AU). As part of a broader development plan extending to the hundredth anniversary, the AU set a goal of ending all African wars by 2020. That campaign, known as Silencing the Guns, is now reaching its deadline. It has registered some accomplishments in that short time. During 2019 alone, the AU helped negotiate new peace accords among warring parties in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Then in August, AU and Ethiopian mediators persuaded Sudan’s generals to form a transitional government with leaders of the popular uprising that had ousted longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir four months earlier, at least momentarily averting the likelihood of greater bloodshed. The gains remain fragile, however. And across the continent, Africans continue to die in large numbers. According to Uppsala University’s Conflict Data Programme, some 15,000 people were killed in violent confrontations in Africa in 2018, the last year for which figures are available. The bulk of those casualties were in five countries: with Nigeria at the top, followed by Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the CAR and Mali. Although 2018’s total was notably down from a peak of more than 24,000 deaths in 2014, it was still only slightly below the figure for the year Silencing the Guns began.

“As human beings we cannot accept such levels of violence,” AU commissioner for peace and security Smail Chergui told a reporter for the London magazine New African in February 2019. However, sceptics, accustomed to the organisation’s history of unmet targets, never expected very much. The limited results have less to do with excessive ambition than with the sheer difficulty of quickly resolving such complex conflicts. The tight deadline was intended to spur African leaders to concentrate their energies more than they might have otherwise. Everyone agrees that ending war is essential for Africa’s future. “We cannot have sustainable development without sustaining peace,” Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general, who is from Nigeria, observed at a March 2019 African regional conference in Morocco.

She promptly added: “neither can we build a secure future for everyone without addressing the root causes of our conflicts and vulnerabilities.” The old Organisation of African Unity (OAU) only occasionally engaged in peacekeeping, hindered by its prohibition against African interference in the internal affairs of member states. By the early 1990s, as more conflicts erupted, that notion began to change. The principle of noninterference became less categorical in the face of massive human rights violations and population displacements that threatened regional security. The OAU set up new mechanisms to quickly field mediation and observer missions. Initially, however, the most active African-led peacekeeping came from regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development, sometimes as precursors to better-financed UN operations.

With the transformation of the OAU into the AU in 2002, security issues acquired an even higher priority. The AU’s Constitutive Act explicitly gave it authority to “intervene in cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”, thereby replacing the principle of non-interference with one of “non-indifference”. Still, it took some time before African leaders assumed greater responsibility to act on their own, rather than leaving the task to the UN or other foreign entities. The AU has mounted peacekeeping missions in Darfur, Burundi, Somalia and several other countries. It is also in the process of establishing an African standby force capable of rapid interventions. The Silencing the Guns campaign builds on those efforts. It explicitly links security with the wider range of AU concerns.

Eliminating the root causes of conflict in African societies, notes the 2013 declaration, will require effort on a number of levels: improved governance, better entrenched democratic and human rights norms and stronger anti-corruption measures. Economic and social disparities fuel tensions and discontent, especially among marginalised ethnic groups, youth and women, and they need to be addressed. Making progress in all these areas, moreover, cannot rest on the shoulders of African leaders alone. A detailed “Master Roadmap” to ending conflicts adopted in 2017 specifies tasks to be carried out by the AU, regional organisations, governments, international partners, civil society groups, and local communities. Like the UN and other organisations, the AU emphasises the need to increase women’s involvement in peace efforts, often citing the role of women activists in helping end Liberia’s civil war.

But the record so far is disappointing, for the AU as well as its partners. In Mali, for example, the highest body overseeing the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement is composed entirely of men. Women did better in Sudan. After the AU suspended Sudan’s membership in June 2019 to pressure the junta into negotiating seriously with protest leaders, women had limited involvement in the talks. But when the resulting transitional government was announced, four women figured among the 18 cabinet members, including the new foreign minister, Asmaa Mohammed Abdullah. Levinia Addae-Mensah, deputy executive director of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, says that there has been only a “marginal increase” in women’s roles in African peace efforts. And while a few women may now be in prominent positions, their absence on the ground is most serious.

Pointing to the need to narrow the gap between national decision makers and local communities, she told allAfrica.com, “that is why we want the voices of women to be heard in … community dialogues”. The AU originally sent peacekeepers to Darfur, Sudan in 2004 at a time of widespread killings by pro-government militias. In 2007, when the UN authorised its own intervention, the AU troops were merged into the UN-AU Mission in Darfur, the first such hybrid undertaking. There is still no peace agreement between Khartoum and the Darfur rebels, but the violence has declined considerably. Also in 2007, the AU established a Somalia peacekeeping mission to support the government in Mogadishu. Despite the presence of nearly 20,000 AU troops there, parts of the country remain outside government control and insurgents continue to attack Somali and AU positions, including in the capital.

The AU’s peace toolkit is varied, however, and includes a spectrum of initiatives, from conflict prevention to post-conflict stabilisation. Mediation, which requires no troops, arms or expensive logistical support, is an important one. In March 2019, a peace accord between various rebel groups and the government of the CAR was on the verge of collapsing, as its seven predecessors had. The AU hastily brokered a new round of talks that brought more rebel leaders into the deal. According to Mankeur Ndiaye, head of the UN’s CAR peacekeeping mission, the competing rebel factions still sometimes fight each other, but “there are no more direct confrontations between the government and the armed groups”. In 2019, the AU sent election monitoring missions to Madagascar and the DRC, with the aim of averting renewed partisan bloodshed.

While the election in the DRC featured major irregularities, both contests yielded political reconciliation rather than violence. The AU is also working to control the proliferation of illicit guns. An AU funded report by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva research group, estimates there were more than 50 million small arms and light weapons in Africa in 2017. Only one fifth were held by official military or police forces. The rest were in the hands of non-state armed groups, private security businesses and individuals. Such weapons have fuelled fighting by organised factions, but they have also aggravated community disputes and enabled all sorts of criminal activity. Small arms, notes Kwesi Aning, a director of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, are “Africa’s weapons of mass destruction”. Reducing illegal imports or cross-border smuggling is difficult.

Small arms experts argue that the demand for guns must be reduced, whether through the disarmament of organised military factions or by better ensuring the safety of local communities, which often acquire arms for self-defence against marauding rebels, predatory soldiers or bandits. Consolidating peace after conflicts formally end is essential for preventing a reversion to warfare. But funding is often scarce for community recovery efforts, the reintegration of ex-combatants and numerous other pressing tasks. One of the greatest handicaps, notes the AU’s Master Roadmap, is “inadequate resources” for financing peace operations. The AU has struggled to ensure funding from its own members. Until recently, only about two thirds of assessed contributions were collected, with more than half of all members in default.

In 2017, the AU started assessing a 0.2% levy on all imports into African countries to support the group’s various activities. It is also exploring other, more innovative ways to raise funds. Regional African organisations face similar problems. Despite meagre resources, the Sahel Group of Five (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) launched a joint anti-terrorist military force, but after several years have yet to mount significant ground operations against jihadist groups active there. But a September 2019 summit meeting of the broader ECOWAS decided to commit $1 billion over four years to combating jihadism in the Sahel, in principle tapping the greater resources of Nigeria and other states in the region. More international support will also be essential, including from the UN, which currently has seven peacekeeping missions in Africa.

The UN, however, faces resource difficulties of its own, especially with major US cutbacks to its funding contributions. In July 2019 the AU Executive Council proclaimed that its theme for 2020 would be “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”, inviting African leaders to take stock of what has been achieved so far. But by tacitly dropping the 2020 deadline, the body suggested that the process will be ongoing. Whatever new mechanisms or timetables Africans develop, reducing mass bloodshed will remain a vital goal for the continent’s future.

Ernest Harsch is a journalist and academic who has focused on African political and development issues since the 1970s. He has published several books, most recently Burkina Faso: A History of Power, Protest and Revolution (London: Zed Books, 2017), and is a research scholar at the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University in New York.

A relationship richly infused with meaning

Southern Africa: cattle and colonialism

Historically, cattle are central to the lives of southern Africans in economic, political, social, spiritual and cultural terms

Human life, and human wellbeing, are tightly bound up with the flora and fauna with which we share our world, with the domestication of animals – sheep, goats, cattle, horses, even dogs and cats – for food and labour an integral element of the history of human settlement. And in southern Africa, perhaps more than dogs and horses, cattle have played a central role in the lives of homo sapiens; cattle history is closely connected to human history. Around eight millennia ago, in two separate domestication events – one in the fertile crescent (a region that included what is modern-day Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and areas of south-eastern Turkey) and another in India – bos Taurus and bos Indicus cattle emerged, respectively.

Domesticus is Latin for belonging to the home, thus human and cattle history cojoined during the agricultural revolution. The relationship between cattle and humans has been instrumental in human advancement because humans took from cattle dairy (bovine mammalian secretions), meat (flesh), leather (skin), and draught power (labour). Ancient societies deified cattle as gods, especially of fertility. Otherwise, humans conceived of cattle as reproducible, moveable financial assets. And in southern Africa, Nguni-speaking societies and Nguni cattle joined together south of the Drakensberg escarpment around 700 AD. Comparative historical linguistics suggests that, during the second half of the second millennium, generational and gender ethics changed in relation to the political and economic centralisation that accompanied a shift to keeping cattle among grasslands Nguni speakers.

Nguni lexical sets for cattle breeding and life cycles emerged alongside developments in the structure of Nguni human societies, including gendered roles. The increasing exploitation of cattle and goats enabled greater political and economic centralisation; Nguni speakers and Nguni cattle co-evolved. Cattle appear richly infused with meaning in southern Africa. Due to their domestication and therefore predictable availability, cattle, among other things, have bound together human social and familial relations via bride wealth (lobola), and opened human ancestral communication in ritual slaughter ceremonies. Cattle represented, and still represent, capital and cultural prestige, and myriad wars and raiding expeditions were conducted over cattle, while centralised hierarchical chiefly power was premised upon controlling cattle.

Jan van Riebeek’s mission to the Cape in the 1650s was to establish a merchant base and livestock supplies, and his journals reveal a sustained primary interest in acquiring bovines. Historically, cattle are central to the lives of southern Africans in economic, political, social, spiritual and cultural terms. And in southern Africa, colonialism radically disrupted and reconfigured the relations between local populations and cattle. Cattle and colonialism are linked in southern Africa. Consider some quick illustrations: after the great cattle massacre in the Eastern Cape in 1856-1857, when Xhosas killed around 400,000 cattle, historian Jeff Peires writes that the Xhosa “national, cultural and economic integrity… finally collapsed”. In Namibia, after the rinderpest epidemic in 1897, the Herero were significantly weakened and German settler colonialism started to consolidate.

In Zimbabwe, the First Chimurenga – the Ndebele-Shona revolt against Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (1896-1897) – failed during the rinderpest epidemic and Southern Rhodesia took its name in 1898. Cattle died in traumatic, writhing pain and their position in southern Africa started to undergo radical shifts. Since cattle were bedrock features of political, economic, social, and cultural institutions, rinderpest dramatically weakened these. The rinderpest epidemic of the late 1890s that decimated cattle populations across southern Africa facilitated the establishment and increasing coverage of colonial veterinary regimes and regulations governing animals, especially in South Africa. Here, the first colonial veterinary surgeon was appointed in 1874. In 1908, Arnold Theiler set up the region’s first, and the continent’s second, veterinary facility, which later became the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute.

By 1918 the Department of Agriculture spent 66% of its budget on veterinary services and research, and its Sheep Division (Union of South Africa, Annual Report of the Department of Agriculture, 1919). In the wake of animal disease epidemics, settler colonial state institutions became deeply involved in exerting formal institutional control over cattle, implementing a range of laws in the process. These laws implemented control over cattle fencing, dipping, brand registration, veterinary policy, quarantine and slaughter enterprises, fences, immunological and prophylactic research, national and local disease epidemic commissions and border guards, to name a few aspects. The arms of state started to control the conditions of human cattle ownership, cattle genes, their birth, health, movement, sex, and death. In cattle history, this was a major shift.

The political philosopher Kimberly Smith has argued that the expansion and consolidation of modern states was, in many ways, driven by increasing control over domesticated animals and in southern Africa this appears to be the case. Developments in refrigerated shipping and rail, and large contracts from the British army during the South African War, saw the emergence of a powerful mechanised animal flesh-producing monopoly – the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company – in the early 20th century. By 1925, Imperial Cold Storage had set up abattoirs in Walvis Bay, Bulawayo, and Lobatse and had secured decade-long export monopolies. Simultaneous to this, like other British colonies, the South African settler state became acutely interested in purposive, “scientific” cattle breeding. Between 1910 and 1918 South Africa imported 2,430 “pedigree stock” bulls and oxen and 4,574 cows and calves.

By the 1920s, there were five agricultural colleges in South Africa that had specific cattle breeding programmes, and sales of pure-bred “stock” from them increased from £7,303 in 1915 ( £744,522 in 2019) to £28,251 in 1918 (£1,592,000 in 2019). Focused essentially on increasing the monetary value of cattle (for flesh or milk), these breeding programmes had profound ontological and genetic effects on cattle. Similar shifts in cattle history occurred in Botswana during the early 1900s, while it was the British protectorate Bechuanaland, receiving its own permanent veterinary officer in 1905 and a stock inspector in 1908. By the 1930s Bechuanaland had 35 state veterinarians, plus stock inspectors and officers. From the 1930s, at Good Hope, Masama, and Leupane, the Bechuanaland Veterinary Department initiated “livestock improvement schemes”, which demonstrated husbandry techniques like castration, vaccination, and disease recognition, and provided bulls for breeding.

Bechuanaland’s first veterinary school was built in Ramathlabama in the 1950s. In 1965 the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC), a centralised and monopolised state institution for promoting cattle flesh exports, was constituted and became a major source of foreign exchange for the country’s economy. Paradoxically, as humans in Botswana received formal colonial independence (1966), so cattle were drawn increasingly into the colonial structures of industrialised animal agriculture (abattoirs, meat processing plants, tanneries) controlled by the newly independent state. Today, South Africa and Botswana have large cattle industries. Cattle frequently outnumber humans in Botswana, while South Africa’s cattle population has remained at about 10 million for the past century. Half of South Africa’s cattle live in rural areas. For rural cattle, life is radically different to that experienced by their kin who live in industrialised facilities with their intensive breeding, feed lots, and veal or dairy facilities.

I spent several days alongside free roaming rural cattle in Mdumbi in the Transkei region of South Africa’s east coast. The extent to which cattle in Mdumbi are free to consort and roam with their kin and herd is striking. Cattle there hold more cultural and social prestige. There is a compelling distinction between the lives of rural and industrialised cattle. Cattle born in intensive breeding facilities, confined in veal production cages or dairy factories, or feedlots, or artificially inseminated in breeding programmes then invariably goaded to an abattoir, inhabit an emotional and experiential world totally different to the free roaming cattle in rural southern Africa. A cow who feeds her calf on the Mdumbi beach, among her herd and lying on soft warm beach sand, is in a dramatically different position to a calf-deprived cow, who is repeatedly impregnated and intensively milked for her short, confined industrial life. Since cattle are mammals possessing the requisite neurological and biological hardware for consciousness and perceptions, plausible inferences can be made about how different conditions and historical shifts impact cattle’s lives and experiences.

This is one way to navigate the challenge of cattle leaving no written texts from which to construct the subjective aspects of their history. Though still chattel property, cattle herds in the Transkei roam unhindered, choose grass and plants autonomously, and are generally able to live and express behaviours in species characteristic ways. This sketch of cattle history in southern Africa shows that colonialism also had an impact on animals. A cattle history, an inter-species history, shows us how history has differently shaped lives of cattle, and that legacies of settler colonialism, such as industrialised animal agriculture, still affect their experiences across the region.

Michael Glover is pursuing a PhD on a cattle-centred history of southern Africa at Leiden University and the University of the Free State. He has published on animal history, animal ethics, open education, and activity theory. Michael is an associate fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.