Peacekeeping: The Curse of the AK-47

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April 17, 2007: 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, 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. Kenya, Somalias neighbors, has seen many rural tribes getting cheap AK-47s. This has resulted in traditional crimes, like stealing cattle or land, turning into bloody war. In western Kenya alone, there have been nearly 150 deaths from tribal clashes in the last six months. The violence has caused over 50,000 people to flee their homes, and wrecked local government in many areas. Sending in additional police and soldiers has quieted things down somewhat. But the local guys with the guns know where to hide, and the government reinforcements don't. So, eventually, the police will leave, and the AK47s 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. The world market for such weapons was glutted by the late 1990s. All that was left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are.

 


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