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.