January 16, 2013: As if Africa didn’t have enough problems, it’s recently been discovered that Iran is behind the large quantities of unidentified AK-47 ammunition flooding the continent. There has been a major effort to keep new AK-47s and the ammo for them from getting onto the illegal arms markets in Africa. Keeping new weapons out of the continent has been easier than blocking delivery of ammo for the millions of assault rifles already there. This was especially true of the mystery ammo, which had no identifying marks on the shell casings and came in plain brown boxes and crates. For the last several years the source of this stuff has remained a mystery. This ammo also showed up in Gaza and in southern Lebanon (where Iran-supported Hezbollah rules supreme). That indicated Iran might be involved, as Iran is a major supplier of weapons to both areas. Iran has always denied it was the source of this ammunition.
Many groups analyzed the mystery ammo, looking for any kind of identifier (chemical composition, alloys used, and other unique characteristics) but all that resulted from this was a pretty thorough chemical and metallurgical analysis of the ammo. The big break came in late 2011, when 13 containers of “building materials” in a Nigerian port were found to contain mainly weapons and ammo, and most of the ammo was identical to the unidentified AK-47 stuff showing up all over Africa. These containers were traced back to Iran, as was most of the weapons and ammo. The Iranians tried to deny everything but they were caught red-handed this time, with a clear paper trail tracing the containers back to an Iranian port and shipper. Despite all this, Iran continued to deny that it was the supplier of the mystery AK0-47 ammo.
The presence of all these assault rifles and ammo has led to the deaths of millions of Africans. Once tribesmen, over the last two decades, got access to cheap AK-47s the death rate from banditry and tribal feuds skyrocketed. The AK-47 has become as much of a curse for Africa as many major diseases. Not just in the places you hear about, like Somalia, Angola, Congo, and Sudan but in many others as well. Easy availability of firearms has produced a murder rate in South Africa that is, per capita, ten times what it is in the United States.
The cheap AK-47s resulted in traditional crimes, like stealing cattle or land, turning into bloody battles. The violence has caused millions to flee their homes and wrecked local government in many areas. Sending in additional police and soldiers, when available, quiets things down somewhat. But the local guys with the guns know where to hide and the government reinforcements usually don't. So, eventually, the police will leave and the AK-47s will still be there.
Foreign aid organizations have adapted by hiring some of the local gunmen to protect the relief operations from all the other gunmen. That just takes money away from more socially acceptable work. But the guns cannot be ignored. Local bad guys can steal a lot more armed with an AK-47 than in the old days, when all he had was a spear or an axe.
The disruptive effect of all these guns has halted, or reversed, decades of progress in treating endemic diseases. Death rates from disease and malnutrition are going up. All because of several million Cold War surplus AK-47s getting dumped in Africa in the 1990s. The world market for such weapons was gutted by the late 1990s. All that was left was Africa but only if you were willing to sell cheap.
The cheap AK-47 also made it possible to use 10-14 year old children as soldiers. This was a new development because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. But now, if you could lift a 4.5 kg (ten pound) AK-47 and pull the trigger, you were a killer. Child soldiers changed everything because warlords could just kidnap kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of young killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots but if they got close enough to you they were capable of unimaginable horrors.
This mayhem only gets noticed when there are politically savvy groups at the center of it. That's what will eventually bring in peacekeepers. But there's not much effort to pacify all those places now terrified by kids with AK-47s. Peacekeeping in the worst areas, usually ones under arms embargos, is made much more difficult because of smugglers bringing in the AK-47 ammo and other munitions sold in unmarked packaging by Iran to anyone, anywhere.