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Arms trade: corrupting the soul of Africa and developing countries

The government’s strategic arms procurement (the so-called “arms deal”) has been the root of all troubles for our young democracy. The arms manufacturers prey on young democracies and the developing countries, enticing them with promises of endless benefits that industrial participation projects (offset arrangements) make possible.

Shortly after freedom ushered a new government after 1994, a rather bizarre decision (according to some) was taken by cabinet after a comprehensive defence review to procure arms. Cabinet believed at the time that in the medium- and long-term the benefits deriving from the Defence Industrial Participation (DIP) and Non-defence Industrial Participation (NIP) programmes will fully offset the economic and fiscal costs of the military equipment.

Cabinet was convinced at the time that the industrial participation projects linked to the arms deal would yield significant economic benefits for South Africa in the form of foreign investment by companies associated with the suppliers of military hardware, the counter-purchase by suppliers of military hardware of South African goods and defence related offsets (that local defence firms would earn over R4 billion via direct participation in the production of aircraft and ships being procured, including transfer of technology in royalties and license agreements to SA firms). We learnt that the outcome of this arms deal was not as it was anticipated.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook of 2001 under “Armaments, disarmament and International Security”, developing countries account for 60% of global arms trade. This is problematic as almost all these countries have rather more pressing socioeconomic needs that require all necessary resources that are being diverted to arms manufacturers.

Corruption is a common bedfellow with such arms deals, as payment of “commissions” to individuals involved in negotiating these deals provides an incentive for purchases of unnecessary equipment. The recent charges of alleged corruption against Jacob Zuma and the conviction of Shabir Shaik demonstrate that corruption is endemic in these types of deals. It is vital that developing countries resist all temptations and the lure of uncertain economic benefits promised by such arms trade and direct their resources to the upliftment of the poor masses.

The arms scandal that has plagued South Africa in the past eight years should be a lesson to other countries, particularly Zimbabwe which has recently ushered in a new government of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. The challenges confronting Zimbabwe are enormous and require foreign assistance.

The lure of offset arrangements linked to arms trade may be too enticing for a desperate government, which may only find itself beleaguered by allegations of corruption. Unscrupulous arms manufactures are certain of the ease with which they can lure Zimbabwean government officials into their pockets and bind the government to agreements whose benefits are disproportionate to the cost. Zimbabwe may only be saved by its bankruptcy from this despicable corruption.

The US economy is in the doldrums and the booming industry is the defence industry. The US defence industry is sustained by illegitimate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and its Nato allies who are all too happy to procure arms from their big brother. Countries like Japan, South Korea, including the undemocratic countries like Indonesia, Colombia and Saudi Arabia are the importers of arms from the US.

It is common knowledge that the US has the nasty habit of arming both sides of the conflict, caring less of repercussions of destructive conduct. Arms sales under the Bush administration have intensified under the false guise of combating terrorism. Both Russia and the US are fighting for a share of this lucrative market and the conflict in Georgia is more telling.

The US has been open about its preferred candidate in the political battle in Zimbabwe and Tsvangirai, with less executive powers than anticipated and the military residing under control of Robert Mugabe, may scupper any intentions of displacing China as the preferred arms supplier. The US is guilty of creating the conditions that have led to seemingly intractable conflicts across Africa, from Angola to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the US that benefits from these conflicts. It is not without reason that most Africans view the US’s involvement in conflicts in Africa with a great measure of suspicion.


  • Sentletse Diakanyo's blogs may contain views on any subject which may upset sensitive readers. Parental guidance is strongly advised.