The U.S. needs to walk the walk on African security
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wraps up her travels across the African continent to showcase President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive to advance the “prosperity, security and dignity of its citizens,” she might have some explaining to do.
No doubt about it, the directive is a great strategy focused on strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security, and promoting opportunity and development in Africa. It’s the right combination of the right ingredients. However, when the United States recently had the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to these objectives in fragile regions around the world, including Africa, the Obama administration walked away. Instead of standing with other nations against the illicit and irresponsible arms trade that kills 1,500 people a day, it abruptly reversed course.
Negotiations for a global arms trade treaty were 10 years in the making. But during the final hours at the United Nations in New York, the United States, which was getting the final text adjustments it wanted, surprised everyone by suddenly voicing opposition. Russia and China piled on, halting the entire process.
And as a result, thousands of innocent civilians around the globe will continue to die each year from armed violence fueled by the unregulated transfer of arms.
Over the past 10 years, while the steady international fight against unrestrained trade in conventional weapons marched on, millions of people, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa, have died as a result of armed violence. And the costs continue to grow.
Armed conflict squanders resources on an enormous scale. In Africa alone, conflict cost the continent an estimated $284 billion between 1990 and 2005 – an average of about $18 billion a year that could have been spent on vital services such as education, roads, and healthcare. About 95 percent of the weapons most commonly used in African conflicts – derivatives of the Kalashnikov rifle – come from outside the continent, illustrating the dire need for international arms trade regulations.
As the African leaders Secretary Clinton is meeting with know all too well, the poorly regulated trade in arms and ammunition compromises stability. When weapons are diverted out of the legal market and into the illegal one, development gains are reversed, and communities are paralyzed. When weapons flood communities, schools close, health systems are strained, investments dry up and security is undermined.
Secretary Clinton will be making commitments to partner with African countries to improve security on the continent. Implementing policies related to poverty reduction and economic opportunity, along with security reforms and arms control laws, allow governments to provide essential services and enable people to make the choices and decisions that improve their daily lives. However, the U.S. is undermining these very efforts by blocking a treaty that would greatly contribute to meeting U.S. goals in Africa.
Secretary Clinton visited Senegal, but she will not visit next-door Mali. That’s because a conflict has been simmering there since May, displacing 500,000 people. Worse yet, the fighting is compounding the effects of a severe food crisis affecting 18 million people. An arms trade treaty would make it harder to transfer arms that fuel instability and human rights abuses, because it would require countries to close the loopholes in the international system that allow unscrupulous arms dealers to send weapons to unstable places. But, tragically, the system continues unchecked.
As Secretary Clinton met with African leaders this week, she likely got an earful on the failed treaty. It was being championed by African leaders from nations such as Kenya, South Sudan and Nigeria, which rightly value reining in the irresponsible arms trade. Unfortunately, she is unlikely to hear them in an election year, and she may want to kick the issue down the road. But as conflicts continue to devastate families and communities across Africa, can we really afford to wait?
PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L), next to South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaks during the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue in Pretoria, August 7, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko