Angola, whose long civil war ended six years ago, is trying to curb decades of violence by
collecting and destroying weapons, especially the cheap AK-47s that have
flooded the region in the last two decades. So far this year, the government
has collected over 50,000 illegal weapons, many of them AK-47s. These are
publicly destroyed, several thousand at a time, and reduced to scrap metal.
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.
parts of East Africa many rural tribes got access to 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 hundreds of deaths from
tribal clashes in the last two years. The violence has caused thousands of
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. Angola has not got a lot of
tribal animosity, and is paying cash for weapons, especially assault rifles and
machine-guns of all types.
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.
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, although not so much in
Angola, where police have cracked down on illegal arms sales.
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 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 child 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.
of cheap AK-47s also created something of a gun culture. That has led to an
increase in locally made weapons. In Nigeria, for example, there are the
"Awka Guns," named after the southern city of Awka, which developed a
tradition of handmade firearms in the 1960s, when it was part of the breakaway
Republic of Biafra. The Biafran rebels needed weapons, and Awka, which had been
a center of metal working for over a thousand years, mobilized thousands of
metal workers to build crude firearms. The weapons manufacturing continued
after the war, mainly to supply hunters, gangsters, and anyone needing an
illegal firearm for any reason. The cheapest of these weapons is basically a
single shot pistol firing a .410 (10.4mm) or 20 gauge (15.6mm) shotgun shell.
This is for a young thug, or a homeowner desiring protection. Accurate enough
for something within 5-10 feet. Not much good for hunting. These cost $25-$40
each. The Awka gunsmiths also make full size (or sawed off) shotguns (single or
double barrel), that sell for $80-$250. These could be used for hunting. There
are also handmade, 9mm revolvers for about $100. These weapons are found all over the country,
but mostly in the south, and mostly among those who can't afford to pay a
thousand dollars or more for a factory made weapon. On the down side, these
weapons are more dangerous to use, often lacking a safety switch, and prone to
exploding, rather than firing, when the trigger is pulled.
people out in the countryside, where there are still dangerous animals that a
gun can protect a village from, have fewer firearms. That's because there's
more money, more to steal, and more demand for weapons in the cities.