Good Developments

Thoughts on development aid, African politics and other stuff

Archive for the tag “gun running”

GOOD responds, does not make guns better

by Peter Dörrie

I recently published a critique of an article on GOOD, which touted the sale of ridiculously expensive jewellery to finance buy-up programs for guns in Central Africa (especially the DR Congo). Others seem to have a problem with “gun trafficking for good” as well, so GOOD obviously felt the need to respond. They did this yesterday, by giving the founders (Peter Thum and John Zapolski) of Fonderie 47, the company that is behind the project, a chance to address the issues raised by the commentators. I am still not convinced.

Thum and Zapolski start out by claiming that even if Fonderie 47 injects money into the weapons trade in Africa, people will find it hard to replace their guns, because new ones would cost at least $340 more on the international market than Fonderie 47 pays for the old African ones. They do not give any references as to where they got their numbers from, but it doesn’t really matter, because their argument is wrong anyway. It relies on the assumption that merchants selling guns in Eastern Congo have the same cost of procurement as, say, the government of Congo.

If you want to buy a new gun in Eastern Congo, you don’t ring up an international weapons dealer. You talk to the friend of your uncle, who is a (badly paid) officer in the national army. For this officer, the costs of selling government guns to you is of course not what the government originally paid for them. Instead, he has just to bribe a few fellow officers and officials and factor in a profit margin for himself. In a country, where the national income per capita (adjusted for purchasing power) is $320, the $230 Fonderie 47 seems to pay locals in return for their guns is going to buy them quite a few new ones.

The GOOD article then goes into details on how Fonderie 47 works to get the weapons. This bit is a bit confusing, but I take that Fonderie 47 at least partly destroys weapons that have already been collected (by the UN or the government) and which lie around waiting to be destroyed:

If the NGOs that governments hire to destroy these weapons don’t have the resources to do it, they wait around for the next group of people to come take them. Destroying them eliminates that possibility, making the reemergence of conflict more costly.

In this case it seems like Fonderie 47 is not buying the guns, but merely covers the costs of destroying them (providing labour and machines). That is actually a completely different approach from buying guns and a strategy that finds my approval. I ask myself, why Fonderie 47 does not simply ditch the whole gun running thing they have going on and concentrate their resources on projects of this (uncontroversial) type.

I am bit unsatisfied with the GOOD article on the whole, as it does not address any of the following questions: Is consumerism really a good way to tackle problems? Are the “leaders” who Fonderie 47 wants to reach with these exclusive pieces of jewellery really the right target group, or are they (and their money) not part of the problem? Are the guns really the source of conflict in Eastern Congo and not merely a symptom?

Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced that disarmament is an important part of peacebuilding. But doing disarmament right is probably one of the most complicated things you can do and it is certainly not “conflict prevention” (if arms are there and are used, you already have conflict). Fonderie 47 clearly does not appreciate these problems.

Guns Are Not GOOD

by Peter Dörrie

This is a response to the article “Gun Trafficking for Good”, which was published on GOOD on November 22 and distributed widely via social networks.

Trafficking guns is not a good thing. Gun runners are not any kind of merchant, they sell stuff that is designed to kill and they want their clients to use their merchandise, in the hope of generating even more deals. So anybody should be extremely cautious about getting involved in that trade, especially if he or she has the intention to “do good”.

While the idea of Fonderie 47 to buy up guns to take them out of the hands of killers has a noble motivation, it is also a classical example of a measure that will most likely only worsen the situation. The idea relies on several assumptions, all of which do not hold on closer inspection.First, Fonderie 47 makes wrong assumptions about the economic framework of the weapons market in eastern Congo. Yes, buying up AKs at above market rates would serve its purpose if a) the supply of AK 47s would be limited AND b) there would be no equal substitute for them. As most people can imagine, this is both not the case.

There are few regions on earth that are more flushed with guns than central Africa though currently no hard numbers exist. The region has been in constant conflict for at least five decades now and there is a steady flow of AK 47s and other assault rifles from factories all over the world into the hands of governments, rebels and civilians in the area. There is no legal framework that could prevent that and it is technologically so simple to produce modern assault rifles, that all the money in the world probably could not buy up the yearly production capacity of the arms business.

Economically speaking, the only effect of the intervention of Fonderie 47 will be to put more money into the hands of those that currently have guns. Some of those may use it to build up a civilian lifestyle, and that would be a success. But realistically, one has to assume that a good part of this money will be invested in new and more guns.

The next wrong assumption is that violence would stop, if you take the guns out of the equation. That is sadly not the case. The greatest atrocity that central Africa has seen in recent times was the Rwandan Genocide, a slaughter that was almost exclusively committed with hatchets, stones and clubs. While many militias in Eastern Congo today use AK 47s and other guns, they use them primarily to fight other armed groups. When they turn against the civilian population, knifes, clubs or pure body strength can do the trick just as well.

Guns make it easier to commit violence. But they are not the reason for the underlying conflicts. These range from marginalisation over exploitation to the repercussions of colonialisation and rivalries around the use of resources. While intelligent efforts to control the flow of arms could mitigate some of the effects of conflict in central Africa, even a total arms embargo would not be able to stop the killings and atrocities, as long as the grievances that drive them are not addressed. This should be the goal of any initiative that wants to make this world a better place, not to find yet another excuse to sped a ridiculous amount of money on some cufflinks.

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