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.