Weapons Flows, Regional Conflicts, Gun Culture, and Failures of Disarmament

[continued from International Security Crisis and Development in Africa: The Allure of Globalism to Fund the Pursuit of Peace and Africa’s Wealth of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas, and Prior Development Attempts]

Regional conflicts including revolutions, civil wars in Libya, Chad, and Sudan have choreographed weapons flows in the Sahel and bred a subsequent gun culture among society surrounding personal defense and the protection of property. Attempts to absorb rebel or terrorist combatants into national armies and disarm combatants have produced mixed results leaving much of the region with a continuous high demand for personal weapons.

The first armed resistance movement to form in independent Chad followed the replacement of French soldiers with Chadians in 1965 who proved to be more abusive than the French. The customary authority in Chad known as the derde, Weddey Kihidemi, relocated to Libya in 1966 and recruited exiled dissidents founding the Front de libération nationale du Tchad (Frolinat) in Nyala, South Darfur and this movement was the birth of all subsequent rebel movements since. Eventually the Frolinat splintered into other groups until in 1997 the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT) evolved into the MDJT War that lasted from 1997 to 2011. The opposition movement was founded by about a dozen civilians and army officers from Tibesti in N’Djaména and consisted of 13 fighters equipped with five firearms. However, it was able to quickly recruit and gain assistance including financing, weapons, and recruits among the Teda living in Libya, Chad, and Nigeria where they had previously been excluded or marginalized. Over time, the Qaddafi regime in Libya grew from passive goodwill to logistical support and intelligence services to eventually after 2001 repression of the MDJT and other Libyan Teda.

Overcoming the MDJT for the Chadian government proved to be a gradual process of surrenders taking place from 2003-2011 with some ANT veterans arguing that their infiltration into the rebel movement proved to be more effective than pressure in the field. The weapons were collected during these years was soon made up for with the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011 that lead to a resupply of looted weapons from Libya’s arsenals to rebel movements between Libya, Chad, and Sudan that lasted until 2013.

Yet not all of the weapons supplies have come from Libya and Chad. Sudan’s Civil War from 1983 to 2005 and beyond has also contributed to the demand, availability, and use of weapons in the region. According to Case Study Number 7 of Operations Case Studies Series Disarmament in South Sudan by Cecily Brewer, Sudan was the first test case by the United Nations of an “integrated” civil-military approach to disarmament. Disarmament campaigns take up three phases usually following peace agreements including: disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate (DDR). Combatants are given the opportunity to give up their weapons and be placed in either centralized armies or jobs in local trade. In Sudan, this was introduced between 2005 and 2006, but the campaign faced organizational problems with the United Nations and local government, and struggled to bring about the funding into 2007 which by that time was too late.

The campaign was further compromised by internal disagreements. The cofounder of the Small Arms Survey, Robert Muggah, describes the institutional problems as “‘weaknesses in political leadership within and outside the United Nations, the absence of clear direction from headquarters, competing understandings of DDR among managers and practitioners, and confusion over financing mechanisms.’’ Additional disputes arose between the UN and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army which supported forced disarmament while the United Nations resolution authorized only the voluntary disarmament and destruction of weapons. According to the Sudanese experience, the killing of 500 provided an incentive for other combatants to surrender their weapons.

Other logistical nightmares such as problems with the terrain and travel in South Sudan made the expectations of the UN headquarters and home offices which demanded immediate or quick action unrealistic. In addition, the uneven execution of DDR contributed in some cases to rearmament of combatants. This has occurred in South Sudan with opposing forces were not disarmed at the same time; when those who have disarmed were not effectively defended; and when those who must be disarmed are also the only suppliers of food such as livestock or other essential goods. When the SPLA where sent to disarm northern Jonglei communities that supplied them with cattle, the Jonglei were able to starve members of SPLA forces who subsisted on the cattle. According the case study, when one UN official was asked about equal and simultaneous disarmament in South Sudan, the response was, “‘Forget it; it’s not possible.’” Another regional problem of arms flows is the paid surrender of combatants. With European powers willing to pay militias to surrender in an effort to stabilize the region or limit the flow of migrants to southern Europe, more funds have been introduced to armed factions that can easily reinvest money earned for surrenders that turn out to be temporarily honored.

This region of Africa is also susceptible to the arms flows to and from other parts of the continent including the Horn of Africa where al-Shabaab and other armed Islamic groups coordinate with those active in North and West Africa including Boko Haram, AQIM, and IS. Middle East countries including Qatar have aided Sunni Islamic groups and Iran uses the influence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to expand both licit and illicit trade interests in African countries. Russia has directly engaged in arms sales and the sharing of nuclear technology in Africa in exchange for access to resources including mining material, oil, and gas. Most of the rifles documented among militia groups are Kalashnikovs or Kalashnikov knock-offs. These collective threats have brought the US and other western powers to engage in security operations. 

While trafficking in weapons occurs with the slave trade and other criminal exploits including narcotics and counterfeit products, the support of the arms trade does not depend on currency but can be traded for any of these goods in demand. This also means that the arms trade itself may in turn support trafficking of humans, narcotics, and other contraband. This issue combined with the operations of clandestine nuclear activities raises the bar on the level of possible threat emanating from the region. Chad and Nigeria are both uranium producing countries, and Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Algeria border countries are all engaged at some level of acquiring nuclear programs with the help of Russia. In the case of Sudan, both Russia and China are contributing towards a nuclear program in Sudan in exchange for development. This increases the regional supply and global sales of nuclear related material between Africa and the Middle East requiring further international monitoring and additional arms support to protect the material in transit between both African states from clandestine forces and illicit trafficking.

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