Africa’s New Block

Coming of age

Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing its most profound changes since the early years of independence. Forces that have long held sway over the region are now either waning or gone. For decades the United States, the Soviet Union, and France propped up dictators who served their interests — men like Ethiopia’s Mengistu Halle Mariam, Somalia’s Mohamed Siad Barre, Rwanda’s Juvenal Habyarimana, and the former Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. The scaled-down presence of foreign powers has helped topple the regimes these men built. Other despots like Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi and Cameroon’s Paul Biya are also feeling unprecedented pressure for democratic change. Many were military officers who took advantage of the general disorder left by departing colonial forces to seize power. Once entrenched, each preached some form of nationalism, only to evolve cynical regimes which, in addition to being brutal, did little for their own people while shamelessly enriching their leaders’ inner circles. Now, with the clear exception of Nigeria, Africa’s postcolonial despotic order is finally breaking down.

But several new trends are evident. Since the departure of foreign powers, pre-colonial ethnic conflicts — exploited by local political forces — have reemerged with a vengeance. Although the divide between the Hutus and Tutsis dates back to at least the sixteenth century, Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which up to 800,000 people were slaughtered, was unprecedented. Ethnic and clan-based political identities are resurfacing elsewhere on the continent as well. In Nigeria they fuel a regionally based opposition movement to the central government, in Sudan an armed rebel group that threatens secession. And in places like Liberia and the Somali Republic, they have dissolved nations into anarchy.

Another rising trend is the propensity of African states to invade each other. Besides deploying combat forces, Rwanda helped plan, organize, and lead the rebel campaign that deposed Mobutu last year, turning Zaire into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Angola also marched against Mobutu and had a hand in Brazzaville’s more recent leadership struggle. Uganda, which has a history of backing military campaigns in the Great Lakes region, is now allied with Ethiopia and Eritrea in support of rebels in Sudan. Ethiopia is also backing forces in Somalia. Nigeria has deployed peacekeepers under dubious mandates in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Africans are increasingly taking matters into their own hands. A new generation of leaders backed by highly trained and disciplined armies is assuming power. The most assertive of these new leaders are former guerrilla commanders who developed their character and worldview as their movements defeated foreign-supported, postcolonial despots in drawn-out struggles. While highly nationalistic, these leaders were once students of Marxism, organizing along democratic-centralist lines and planning to nationalize their economics. Although some still own Lenin’s complete works, they are pragmatists, favoring free markets and insisting that corruption, not class difference, is the greatest threat to national development. Steeped in the values of secular nationalism, each has sought to incorporate disenfranchised ethnic and religious groups. Yet not one of these leaders can easily be called democratic, as each still runs a de facto one-party state.

Some of these states are coalescing into a new political and military bloc that, though relatively small, aspires to remake much of the continent. At its core are Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, with Angola and South Africa playing smaller roles. These countries enjoy the sympathies of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Burundi. Having ousted Mobutu, the bloc now seeks to topple the Islamist regime in Sudan and influence Chad, the Central African Republic, and Somalia. While these new leaders disagree over tactics, they share the goal of ending the cronyism and instability that has epitomized postcolonial Africa.

More by default than by design, the United States has gained influence while France, especially, has lost ground. The Clinton administration has largely played catch-up in response to events in Africa, with guidance flowing as much from foreign missions to Washington as the other way around. U.S. policymakers have been mostly sanguine about the new bloc and its aims. Yet on key issues affecting Africa, they remain divided.

The agents of change

LEADERS OF the new bloc share interests and experiences that manifest themselves in fiercely independent attitudes. Take Eritrea, a small, poor country on the Red Sea, colonized by Italy and forcibly incorporated into neighboring Ethiopia in 1962. It fought U.S.- and then Soviet-backed Ethiopian regimes for 30 years before gaining independence in 1993. Its new president, Isaias Afwerki, is a long-time guerrilla leader and is unusually candid. In his first address to the Organization of African Unity, Isaias (Afwerki, by regional custom, is his father’s first name) lambasted the assembled heads of state for neglecting Africa’s problems while wasting money on their own lavish lifestyles.

A former engineering student, Isaias, 51, is a problem-solver, willing to borrow from any plan or formula that might work. At 23, he went to China for military training at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Today he is taking a correspondence course at a British institute to earn a business degree. Isaias retains — and demands from his followers — an unyielding spirit of self-sacrifice. Crime and corruption are rare in Eritrea. In 1995 the government imprisoned several high-ranking Eritrean revolutionary veterans for embezzlement. National service, including both military training and civilian labor, is compulsory, and many young men and women are surprisingly eager to serve. And unlike other African capitals, Asmara is impeccably clean.

Eritrea, while allowing more political freedom than before, is not a democracy. Isaias states clearly that the country will advance toward greater pluralism according to its own schedule and on its own terms. The movement he founded, which still dominates, has successfully incorporated Muslims and ethnic minorities into its ranks. But fearing ethnic fragmentation, Eritrea outlawed parties deemed to be ethnically or religiously motivated. Furthermore, only demonstrations in favor of the government are tolerated. In 1993, when disabled revolutionary veterans protested by blockading roads and taking hostages, government soldiers killed several of them. There is no free press either. An Eritrean journalist with Agence France Presse was arrested in 1997 for reporting on a private speech Isaias gave on Eritrea’s military involvement with allied states against neighboring Sudan.

Ethiopia, much larger than Eritrea, is one of those states. Its prime minister, Meles Zenawi, 42, who joined a revolutionary movement when he was a 20-year-old aspiring medical student, is another eclectic thinker. Meles fought alongside Isaias for 15 years against the brutal, Soviet-backed Mengistu. Isaias, who provided experienced combatants to help Ethiopian revolutionaries in 1975, provided the artillery for Meles’ final march on Addis Ababa in May 1991. These two leaders then negotiated the protocols for a referendum two years later that led to its independence. They have even more in common. Both men are ethnic Tigrinya, which leads many non-Tigrinya Ethiopians to suspect a conspiracy.

A third leader within the bloc is Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, about 53 (he is not sure), the president of the small but powerful Uganda. Often described as the “godfather” of the new bloc because of his voluble utterances, Museveni is the only bloc leader who came to power during the Cold War. He, too, has a history of involvement in revolutionary movements. In 1968, the 24-year-old Museveni was studying in socialist Tanzania. Later he led a group of students behind enemy lines in Mozambique to visit Marxist Guerrillas. He also spent time in North Korea seeking military training. By 1971 he was back in Uganda, working for President Milton Obote’s first regime when the army commander Idi Amin seized power. Museveni formed a guerrilla force to oppose Amin but eventually disarmed and joined the second Obote regime, only to break with him again. In January 1986, five years after forming a new guerrilla army, Museveni and his men overran Kampala.

Museveni has been a relatively benign dictator, often delivering homilies about the value of work and individual initiative. While encouraging political participation in villages, he outlawed political parties, claiming they would only breed chaos. Before the 1996 presidential elections, he allowed long-dormant parties to resurface, although they were still prohibited from formally endorsing candidates or organizing rallies. During the campaign, Museveni’s followers intimidated the opposition, while state resources were used to mobilize his own supporters, and he won easily. Opposition groups nevertheless hold some seats in the parliament and control The Monitor, Uganda’s second-largest daily. While the opposition tries to attract members of ethnic minorities, the issue of ethnicity is less divisive in Uganda than elsewhere. The country has many small ethnic groups, so no single group dominates. Museveni himself is from the Banyankore ethnic group in southwestern Uganda. Because some key Rwandans who fought alongside him during his rise to power are Tutsi, he is frequently accused by foreigners, especially Francophones, of being one as well.

Paul Kagame, 40, Rwanda’s vice president and minister of defense was one of Museveni’s comrades, supporting him in 1981. In turn, Museveni aided Kagame and the Tutsi rebels that defeated the French-backed Hutu government in Rwanda in 1994. Like others in the new bloc, Kagame and his movement have a Marxist past; some Rwandan officers still subscribe to North Korean newspapers. Yet the new Rwanda is hardly antediluvian. Western experts consider Kagame a top military strategist who commands an effective army that he is not afraid to use. Kagame does not deny that his forces played a decisive role in the recent Zairean rebellion that brought Laurent Kabila and his followers to power. Kagame’s main objective was to rid eastern Zaire of Rwandan Hutu rebels. But an unknown number of them have since returned to Rwanda, hiding among its Hutu majority and launching new attacks. Hutus outnumber Tutsis six to one. Kagame has no intention of sharing any real power.

The new four-state African bloc, therefore, emerged from the prior understandings between the men who are now leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia on the one hand, and Uganda and Rwanda on the other. These leaders still disagree on many issues, however. While Rwandan and Eritrean senior officials get along well, Uganda’s Museveni is critical of Ethiopia’s Meles for encouraging ethnic identity politics that could backfire and divide the country. Similarly, since Kagame’s 1994 takeover in Rwanda, some distance has opened up between the Ugandans and the Rwandans. Although Museveni is prone to making indecorous public comments, he privately discouraged Kagame from taking measures that might have provoked France in the former Zaire. Kagame ignored him. In general, Museveni has advocated restraint, while the leaders of the bloc’s two smallest countries, Rwanda and Eritrea, have called for action.

For better or worse?

Emerging conflicts have brought the four members of the bloc closer together. Since the late 1980s, Sudan has provided bases and arms to various Islamist and extremist rebel groups launching raids into Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda. After one cross-border attack into Eritrea in December 1994, Isaias took the initiative to strike back. He invited various factions of the Sudanese opposition to Asmara to forge a military alliance and flew to Addis Ababa and Kampala to persuade Ethiopia’s Meles and Uganda’s Museveni to form a coalition of frontline states. Each, state now provides bases, logistical support, and arms to Sudanese rebel groups operating from its territory, with their combined momentum even drawing U.S. support. In 1997 the Clinton administration’s budget for nonlethal military aid to Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda to help fend off rebels backed by Sudan was $20 million.

The former Zaire was a second catalyst of cooperation. While Zaire had long provided bases to rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) fighting the Angolan government along its western border, its own ethnically-driven policies on its eastern border harrowed the terrain for insurrection. Zaire allowed Rwandan rebels to operate from its territory, and Zairean forces joined with these groups in 1995 and 1996 to attack local Tutsis, massacring thousands and displacing as many as 250,000.

Although Laurent Kabila took credit for its success, the Zairean rebellion was a joint effort. Kagame has since admitted that Angola and Uganda provided initial funding. Angola also deployed troops right before the fall of Kinshasa; Rwanda helped plan and execute the operation and provided combat forces. From the beginning, Eritrea provided material support and combat training in eastern Zaire. The operation, while impressive by military standards, exacted a grisly human cost. Evidence suggests that both Kabila’s and Kagame’s forces hunted down and killed unarmed civilians — including women and children — suspected of being, or being associated with, the rebels. Many officers suspected of ordering the killings spoke Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s language. These massacres cast a harsh light on Kagame, Kabila, and the new bloc.

Despite this record, some international observers like the World Bank and Oxfam International, a private anti-hunger consortium, welcome the bloc. They see a new axis emerging across the continent, linking leaders who seek to break the corrupt and colonial ties of the past and ending the vast patronage systems that have undermined African development. For decades, leaders failed to invest in infrastructure, education, health care, or legal and regulatory reform. Nations became aid-dependent, while their leaders established predatory regimes. They used their armies and what judiciaries they had to insulate themselves from any pressure for reform. When challenged, tyrants like Amin, Habyarimana, and Mobutu responded with unspeakable violence.

The legacy of their generation is obscene. Among Sub-Saharan Africa’s 590 million people, almost half live on less than one dollar a day and lack safe drinking water. More than one-third have no health care. Tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, and AIDS run rampant, and preventive measures are minimal. Nearly half the adult population is illiterate, and worker productivity in most countries is among the lowest anywhere. Africa’s aggregate per capita income is lower than that of any region but south Asia. In fact, under the last generation of rulers, the continent grew poorer with every passing decade. Even if Africa’s aggregate growth doubles over the next nine years, its per capita income in 2006 would still be five percent lower than it was in 1974.

Africa’s new leaders aspire to reverse this decline — to establish what Oxfam calls “new political systems of responsive and accountable government.” Interestingly, while all four members of the bloc share this goal, Eritrea and Rwanda have been particularly suspicious of foreign nongovernmental organizations. Neither country is a beggar. In 1996 Rwanda expelled many NGOs, accusing them of aiding rebels. Eritrea accuses NGOs of perpetuating their own existence by creating aid-dependency among its people. In 1996 Eritrea ended food relief programs, and in 1997 it suspended all other activities of NGOS in the country, allowing them to fund, but not operate, health and education projects.

The bloc’s four countries encourage development through investment and work rather than through foreign aid. With the exception of Rwanda, whose economy continues to plummet due to the civil war, these countries have seen their economies grow. Ethiopia experienced a 3.4 percent average annual increase in GDP in this decade. Uganda did even better, averaging 6.9 percent growth during the same period, rising to 10 percent in the past two years. This prosperity follows efforts, especially in Uganda, supported by the World Bank and others, to stabilize currencies, sell state-owned enterprises, reduce government budgets, and create a stable business climate designed to attract private capital. Pursuing similar policies, Eritrea has seen recent annual growth of almost 8 percent.

Sub-Saharan Africa now receives only five percent of all direct foreign investment flowing to developing countries. About half of that goes to Nigeria, mainly to extract oil. Nonetheless, South Africa, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana are attracting new investors, and countries like Senegal and Mozambique are trying to. Private capital alone, however, will not eliminate poverty. Oxfam and many other groups urge the World Bank and other Western institutions to use their funds to encourage economic equality, improve health and education, and develop agricultural and other projects that are self-sustaining in the long term.

Economic development should not distract attention from human rights abuses like the Congo’s recent massacres. These events, however, should not be seen through an historical lens. Looking at events over time, everyone emerges sullied, including members of the international community. Rwanda’s genocide began in April 1994. United Nations peacekeepers were already there, but their force structure and mandate were too feeble to stop the bloodletting. France deployed troops in Rwanda once the genocide was under way, but they set up a safe haven that protected many war criminals. The U.N. Security Council approved France’s establishment of a sanctuary. Oxfam and U.N. relief agencies also played host to killers in refugee camps in eastern Zaire.

Almost everyone involved agreed that civilian refugees should be separated from war criminals, but they disagreed on who should do it. When the United Nations in late 1996 decided to deploy a force under Canadian command, its proposed mandate was limited to providing safe corridors for refugees to voluntarily repatriate to Rwanda. It had no authority to segregate them forcibly from the killers who were holding them back. By then Kagame, the Rwandan leader, was fed up. Just as the U.N. force was about to mobilize, Kagame unleashed a rebellion. In less than one month, local Tutsi and Rwandan forces routed the war criminals from the U.N. camps, separating them from most of the refugee population. Half a million refugees returned to Rwanda within three days. The rebellion continued, and, Kabila proclaimed himself its leader.

A member of the Muluba ethnic group from diamond-rich southeastern Zaire, Kabila had participated in several communist-led revolts and an ethnic rebellion. He formed his own revolutionary party in 1968. Although it attracted little support, Kabila financed it through ivory, diamond, and gold smuggling. He remained in relative obscurity until he was recruited by Kagame and others to lead eastern Zaire’s Tutsi rebellion. Since assuming power, he has failed to incorporate opposition leaders and other ethnic groups into his movement, raising questions about whether he will be able to control the Congo, one of Africa’s largest countries with over 200 ethnic groups. His forces, like Kagame’s, have much to answer for concerning human rights, although he has agreed to allow the United Nations to investigate their alleged massacres. But brokered by U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson, the U.N. commission’s mandate begins in March 1993, which will enable its members to investigate Rwanda’s deadly slide into genocide, as well as subsequent events that precipitated the Congo massacres. Kagame, Kabila, and others have been assured that the antecedents to their own crimes will not be overlooked.

New targets

Although the bloc is cohesive, its influence elsewhere on the continent is modest. Stretching from the Great Lakes region to the Red Sea, its combined forces are one of several major military concentrations in Africa. While together they are stronger than the Sudanese army, they are no match for the armies of South Africa or Nigeria. Economically the bloc is small. Its most militant members, Eritrea and Rwanda, have economies smaller than that of Cyprus. The bloc’s two largest countries, Ethiopia and Uganda, have economies that are each less than that of oil-rich Sudan. So far the bloc’s influence has been limited to central and eastern Africa as well as the Horn. Nigeria dominates the Economic Community of West African States, and post-apartheid South Africa is a rising force on the continent.

Sudan is next on the bloc’s list of targets. For years the Islamist regime, led by General Omar Bashir, has backed fundamentalist rebels in three bloc states and elsewhere, including Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, and the former Somalia. Khartoum was also behind assassination attempts on Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995 and Eritrea’s Isaias in Asmara in 1997. Here the bloc and the United States share common interests. Washington is irritated at Sudan’s support of individuals like the wealthy Saudi Osama bin Laden, whom the State Department claims has financed terrorism worldwide, and groups including Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, the Palestinian-based Hamas, and Islamist veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

Composed mainly of Muslim Arabs in the north, the Bashir regime has escalated the war against rebel forces in the south. The regime has banned political parties, trade unions, and all other “nonreligious institutions,” and has restricted dress and behavior in accordance with Islamic law. Taking some cues from Iran, it has also restricted the press and purged more than 78,000 people from its army, police, and civil service, reshaping the state apparatus to better stifle dissent. The army, faced with unprecedented rebel attacks, has been forced to recruit 14-year-olds to sustain its ranks.

Leaders of Sudan’s armed rebels are close to the bloc. John Garang, the commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, based mainly in the south, was in a revolutionary study group in Tanzania with Uganda’s Museveni. Abdel Aziz Khalid, commander of the Sudan Alliance Forces, a new group based in the east, is a former Sudanese army commander who consults frequently with Eritrea’s Isaias. Elsewhere in Africa, another leader compatible with the bloc is Thabo Mbeki, 55, the South African deputy president. More militant than President Nelson Mandela, Mbeki is expected to succeed him in 1999.

The bloc supports change elsewhere in Africa, even in states beyond its reach like Nigeria. Described by one U.S. expert as “a massive criminal enterprise,” Nigeria has become a major transit point for heroin from Asia and other drugs en route to Europe and the United States. Led by General Sani Abacha, who seized power in a 1993 coup, Nigeria’s regime has killed hundreds of political opponents and imprisoned thousands more, including many members of ethnic minorities. Composed mostly of northerners like Abacha, it has crushed dissent in the country’s southeast, especially among the Ogonis, who blame him and his predecessors for destroying their homeland. Ignoring them, Abacha in November 1995 hung Ken Saro-Wiwa, the award-winning writer, along with eight fellow Ogoni activists.

However unlikely the bloc is to effect change in Nigeria, it has already bolstered the opposition in other countries like Kenya. President Moi recently closed the offices of Ugandan rebels in Nairobi, and demonstrators there have begun shouting Kabila’s name in the streets. Moi has finally extradited Rwandan rebel leaders to stand trial. As part of its effort to isolate Sudan, the new bloc also seeks influence in the Central African Republic and Chad. In the former Somalia, the bloc plans to help rebuild the state’s institutions. On the Horn and elsewhere, it aims to inspire regimes in its image.

Although disorder reigns over much of the continent, Africa’s new leaders have begun to fill the vacuum left by the end of the Cold War. While all four members of Africa’s bloc are leery of France for historical reasons, all enjoy warm relations with the United States.

The Clinton administration has embraced the bloc and its allies. Since 1995 U.S. army special forces have been training Kagame’s troops in Rwanda. Last December, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. She sidestepped, however, many abuses, including the recent massacres in the Congo, drawing criticism from human rights organizations. Moral versus pragmatic views are at the heart of most foreign policy debates; the most sustainable solutions usually result from a synthesis of both. Such a policy is appropriate for dealing with Africa’s new bloc, which is led by market-oriented men who earned their mandates through protracted struggle. Although they still resist foreign guidance on democracy and human rights, they are far more responsive, accountable, and egalitarian than any of their predecessors. Together they comprise a new political-military alliance that is engaged in joint campaigns from the Great Lakes to the Sahara. However imperfect, the bloc changes Africa’s balance of power.

Arming Genocide in Rwanda

Read the original article here.

The high cost of small arms transfers

Rwanda is only the latest example of what can happen when small arms and light weapons are sold to a country plagued by ethnic, religious, or nationalist strife. In today’s wars such weapons are responsible for most of the killings of civilians and combatants. They are used more often than major weapons systems in human rights abuses and other violations of international law. Light conventional arms sustain and expand conflict in a world increasingly characterized by nationalist tensions and border wars. Yet the international community continues to ignore trade in those weapons, concentrating instead on the dangers of nuclear arms proliferation.

In the post-Cold War era, in which the profit motive has replaced East-West concerns as the main stimulus behind weapons sales, ex-Warsaw Pact and NATO nations are dumping their arsenals on the open market. Prices for some weapons, such as Soviet-designed Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles (commonly known as AK-47s), have fallen below cost. Many Third World countries, such as China, Egypt, and South Africa, have also stepped up sales of light weapons and small arms. More than a dozen nations that were importers of small arms 15 years ago now manufacture and export them. But most of this trade remains unknown. Unlike major conventional weapons systems, governments rarely disclose the details of transfers of light weapons and small arms.

The resulting costs of such transfers are apparent. Small arms and light weapons have flooded nations like Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not only fanning warfare, but also undermining international efforts to embargo arms and to compel parties to respect human rights. They have helped undermine peacekeeping efforts and allowed heavily armed militias to challenge U.N. and U.S. troops. They raise the cost of relief assistance paid by countries like the United States. Yet the international community has no viable mechanism to monitor the transfer of light and small weapons, and neither the United Nations nor the Clinton administration has demonstrated the leadership required to control that trade.

Rwanda’s war

No tragedy better illustrates the need for controls than Rwanda, where the U.S. contribution to the present relief effort is expected to reach $500 million, or about two dollars for every U.S. citizen. Rwanda’s genocide, which began in April 1994, was preceded by a war launched in October 1990 by Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) against the Hutu-led government. Rwanda was already one of the poorest nations in Africa. Although both the government and guerrillas had limited resources with which to buy arms, and their combined 45,000 combatants never comprised a very large market, arms suppliers rushed to both sides like vultures to a carcass.

The war’s origins go back, in part, to a wave of violence from 1959 to 1966, when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy, which had ruled for centuries. Between 20,000 and 100,000 Tutsi were killed in a slaughter that the British philosopher Bertrand Russell then described as “the most horrible and systematic massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.” The violence drove about 150,000 Tutsi exiles, known as Banyarwanda, to Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zaire.

In Uganda, Banyarwanda and their descendants suffered under the tyranny of dictators, including Milton Obote and Idi Amin. In the early 1980s at least 2,000 of them joined a guerrilla movement led by a former defense minister, Yoweri Museveni. In 1986 Museveni and his men took power. In 1990, when the RPF invaded Rwanda across its northern border with Uganda, more than half its initial guerrillas and most its officers were drawn from Uganda’s army. Uganda also provided an array of small arms and other weapons systems, including recoilless cannons and Soviet-made Katyusha multiple-rocket launchers.

To counter the invasion, the Hutu government drew from its existing stock of Belgian automatic rifles and French armored vehicles. But Rwanda was understocked and under siege. Until then, Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial ruler, had been its main military patron. But Belgium had an explicit policy against providing lethal arms to a country at war. Following the invasion, Belgium continued to provide military training, boots, and uniforms to the Rwandan army, but no arms. France, however, rushed in 60-mm, 81.-mm, and 120-mm mortars and 105-mm light artillery guns. France, which was committed to keeping Rwanda within the bloc of 21 Francophone African nations, also provided seasoned advisers and four companies of 680 combat troops at a time.

An arms race was under way. More than a dozen nations helped fuel the Rwandan war, and both sides appear to have purchased considerable weaponry through private sources on the open market. By its own admission, the Rwanda government bankrupted its economy to pay for those weapons. Former Warsaw Pact countries appear to have supplied both sides, seeing opportunity in Rwanda less than one year after the Berlin Wall fell. It remains unclear how long it took ex-Warsaw Pact equipment to reach Rwanda, but eventually most RPF guerrillas carried Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles, many manufactured in Romania. Among the rebels who had uniforms, most wore distinctive East German rain-pattern camouflage.

Russians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks, and others are aggressively promoting arms sales. The collapse of Moscow’s central control has given governments and the officials left in charge of existing stockpiles a free hand. With the Russian ruble devalued and East European nations in need of hard currency, their governments are likely to try to sell even more small arms in the future. The CIA reports that Russian crime syndicates are also involved in nongovernmental weapons sales.

By 1993, Rwanda’s Hutu government had begun to look to Russia to buy arms, especially Kalashnikov AKMs. But the key suppliers for government forces were France, Egypt, and South Africa. A $6 million contract between Egypt and Rwanda in March 1992, with Rwanda’s payment guaranteed by a French bank, included 60-mm and 82-mm mortars, 16,000 mortar shells, 122-mm D-30 howitzers, 3,000 artillery shells, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, antipersonnel land mines, and more than three million rounds of small arms ammunition.

South Africa also supplied small arms, including R-4 automatic rifles, 7.62-mm machine guns, and 12.7-mm Browning machine guns. In October 1992, on the heels of the Egyptian deal, Rwanda made a $5.9 million purchase from South Africa: 100 60-mm mortars, 70 40-mm grenade launchers with 10,000 grenades, 20,000 rifle grenades, 10,000 hand grenades, spare parts and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition for R-4 rifles, and one million rounds of machine gun ammunition.

South Africa developed its arms industry in response to the U.N. embargo against it. Its conventional weaponry is considered to be among the most durable and reliable in the world — a fact Rwanda quickly learned. By late 1993, within a year of its $5.9 million purchase, Rwanda had decided to standardize its infantry forces with South African arms. These purchases from South Africa were in contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolution 558 opposing importation of weapons from South Africa. The import prohibition was voluntary, unlike the U.N. ban on arms exports to South Africa, which was lifted in May.

Who is responsible?

The proliferation of weapons in Rwanda expanded the conflict, displacing, last year, one out of eight Rwandans — one million refugees who went unnoticed internationally. The arms flows also facilitated violations of international law (both the army and RPF engaged in direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas) and increased human rights abuses. Regrettably, that turned out to be a tragedy of minor proportions compared to what came next.

Relief groups estimate that 200,000 to 500,000 people have been killed in the genocidal carnage that began in April, although some U.S. intelligence experts estimate the death toll at one million or more. Much of the killing was carried out with machetes, but automatic rifles and hand grenades were also commonly used. Their wide availability helped Hutu extremists carry out their slaughter on a horrendous scale. The huge piles of Tutsi bodies massacred in Rwanda since April are now juxtaposed with the huge piles of rifles in Goma, Zaire, that were confiscated from fleeing Hutu.

Rwandan authorities distributed large numbers of firearms to militia members and other supporters months before the genocide began, and again after most foreigners left Rwanda at the beginning of the carnage. One example is sufficient to demonstrate the impact of small arms in the hands of those capable of crimes against humanity: Human Rights Watch/Africa reports that 2,800 people gathered in a church were slaughtered by militiamen using automatic rifles, machine guns, grenades, and machetes. As people fled, it took the militia four hours to kill them all.

Governments that supplied weapons and otherwise supported those forces bear some responsibility for needless civilian deaths. In March 1993, following the release of a report detailing the massacre of several thousand unarmed Tutsi civilians between 1990 and 1993, Belgium withdrew its ambassador, Johan Swinnen, for two weeks to protest the abuses. In contrast, France apologized for them. Said French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud, “There are violations by the Rwandan Army, more because of a lack of control by the government, rather than the will of the government.” Hutu leaders got the message that they could get away with genocide facilitated by foreign arms.

Perhaps if more had been known about the flow of light weapons and small arms into Rwanda, if the international community had the opportunity to stop the arms influx or at least to pressure suppliers into conditioning arms supply on human rights performance, the outcome would have been different. Yet to this day France, South Africa, Egypt, and Uganda have not fully disclosed the nature and extent of their military assistance and arms transfers.

For Rwanda, international scrutiny came too late. In the future, human rights organizations may continue to disagree with governments about the impact of the transfer of light weapons and small arms. But a democratic debate over whether such transfers conflict with human rights requires knowledge of the transfers themselves. This is something that any democratic republic, including France and the new South Africa, should understand.

The problems of control

On every continent, trade in light weapons and small arms — both legal and on the black market — is rapidly expanding, although there are no reliable statistics. This contrasts with the global trade in heavy weapons systems, which, according to most statistics, has actually declined in dollar value in recent years.[1] Both trends reflect the high demand for light weapons and small arms in regional conflicts. Most observers agree that those arms have never before been so easily obtainable.

It is increasingly clear that the proliferation of light weapons is a destabilizing force throughout the world. Pistols, rifles, machine guns, grenades, light mortars, and light artillery are the weapons used most often in repressing civilian populations. Included in their toll is the suffering of refugees, and the corresponding costs of international humanitarian relief efforts. Small arms raise the cost of international peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. Thus, they endanger not only internal, but also regional and international stability.

Nonetheless, conventional arms trade control remains a secondary issue for most nations. Almost no effort is being made to monitor and control trade in light weapons and small arms. Governments and independent analysts alike focus almost exclusively on major weapons systems.

Disclosure of arms transfers is in the interest of the United States and the international community. Therefore, the first and essential element of any control mechanism should be to compel as many states as possible to make their transfers public. Some states, however, will oppose any attempt to compel transparency for fear that disclosure of their buyers might invite competition. Even more states, those that sell arms to human rights abusers, would fear that disclosure would subject them to stigma. But both concerns should be overridden by the collective international need for transparency.

The dynamics of the arms market give rise to another obstacle. Clearly, any control mechanism would be imperfect. The leakiness of existing and past arms embargoes on individual nations is ample evidence of the difficulties involved. A major reason those embargoes have been difficult to enforce is that without any mechanism to control transfers, states can easily buy arms through second- and third-party transfers, without the knowledge of the original producer.

There is also the huge problem presented by the voluminous covert trade in light weapons, which some observers believe may amount to billions of dollars each year. In one incident in 1993, 150 tons of assault rifles, mortars, rocket launchers, land mines, and ammunition, mostly of Chinese and Czech manufacture, were found in a warehouse in Slovenia, intended for Bosnian Muslims. Clearly, private arms dealers would seek ways to illegally circumvent any control mechanism. “Yet the biggest regular suppliers of weapons to the covert arms trade are not freelancing private arms dealers, but governments themselves,” reports The Economist. “The main motive is cash.”

The international community has never established a viable mechanism for controlling the transfer of conventional arms. Attempts at control have largely consisted of a patchwork of often ineffective arms embargoes against perceived rogue nations and failed international discussions, notably the Conventional Arms Transfer Talks during the Carter administration and the U.N. Security Council “Perm 5” talks following the Persian Gulf War. Many nations have domestic legislation regulating arms trade, but such regulations tend to be weak and susceptible to duplicity by such means as false end-user certificates. And, in general, there is far less official scrutiny and regulation of the trade in small arms and light weapons than in major weapons. Most troublesome, nations rarely have meaningful control over how their weapons are used once transferred.

The most significant international initiative to date has been the establishment of the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms. The register was made possible by the end of the Cold War, which created a more sympathetic environment for conventional arms trade control, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which convinced many nations of the dangers of excessive arms transfers. The U.N. register is a voluntary mechanism, designed not as a control measure but as a confidence-building procedure. Data is requested on the export and import of seven categories of major weapons systems: battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, naval warships, and missiles and missile launchers. The U.N. established the register in 1991, and states made their first entries in 1993 for the previous calendar year.

The U.N. register has been a qualified success. Some previously unknown information was reported, while some critical and otherwise known transfers were not.[2] Fortunately, most arms exporters participated, including a number of countries that have traditionally been secretive about their arms trade, such as France and the United Kingdom. But only two-thirds of arms importers participated; some key nations in the Middle East and Asia did not.

These shortcomings stem partly from fundamental problems with the register itself. It does not include light weapons and small arms; it requests reporting only after the completion of a calendar year; and it requests states to participate on a voluntary basis. Rwanda is a case in point. Despite the heavy flow of arms into that country in 1992, the only entry listed in the register is Egypt’s provision of six 122-mm howitzers. These problems are readily recognized by people responsible for developing the register, but they point out that the collective political will necessary to correct the problems does not exist at this time.

Still, the premise of the U.N. register is sound. Increased transparency enhances peace and stability. A register for trade in light weapons and small arms is needed more than one for major weapons systems, as far more about trade in the latter is already known. The addition of light weapons and small arms to the register, even if unevenly reported, would be a major step forward. Transparency can also be a crucial tool in the much-needed effort to demand accountability for weapons misuse by the supplier as well as the recipient.

Whatever control mechanism is used, to be effective it must seek to compel rather than merely request disclosure, and disclosure should be within a reasonable period. A nation’s willingness to cooperate should be a prerequisite for its acceptance by the international community. The nurturing of such a climate would, of course, take time. The first step should be expanding the register to include light weapons and small arms.

Many states will be opposed to controls on trade in light weapons and small arms, and reasonable questions will be asked about the feasibility of constructing a verifiable or enforceable export control regime. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for the Clinton administration to show leadership on an important but largely ignored threat to international peace and stability.

America’s role

No discussion of conventional arms exports should omit the fact that the largest conventional arms exporter is the United States. The Clinton administration has trumpeted the increased threat of the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the foremost danger facing the United States. Yet it has issued hardly a word on conventional arms — the real killer — except to assert their importance to U.S. defense manufacturers. For almost two years, the administration has labored to develop an official arms transfer policy. According to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, “Regrettably, the evidence clearly indicates that the administration has sought to promote arms sales, rather than to reduce them.”

The United States, as the world’s number one arms merchant, should take the lead in proposing new ways to control the flow of light weapons and small arms. An administration that is struggling to deal with crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere should recognize its own need to check this type of proliferation.

To its credit, the U.S. government has taken action on light weapons in two notable instances. In a precedent-setting action earlier this year, the United States announced that it would no longer provide small arms to Indonesia in recognition of its government’s use of such weapons in human rights abuses in East Timor. The U.S. Congress has incorporated a similar ban into this year’s foreign aid appropriations bill.

Even more noteworthy is the leadership the United States has exercised in prohibiting the export of a particularly egregious light weapon — the antipersonnel land mine.’ With strong encouragement from a broad coalition of human rights, humanitarian, arms control, development, and environmental organizations, the United States, at the initiative of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Representative Lane Evans (D-Ill.), enacted a one-year moratorium on the export of all antipersonnel land mines in 1992 and extended the moratorium for another three years in 1993. The U.N. General Assembly subsequently passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on land mine trade, and to date about a dozen nations have announced an export ban. The U.S. State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency are developing a framework for an international export control regime for antipersonnel land mines. This could provide a model for limiting the trade in light weapons and small arms.

While the vast majority of the United States’ major weapons transfers are public, most of its transfers of light weapons and small arms are not. For this trade no regular reporting is made to Congress in classified or unclassified form.[3] Many sales are private commercial transactions, and attempts to get detailed data on them through the Freedom of Information Act are routinely denied on proprietary grounds. But since the United States has perhaps the most transparent arms transfer system of any arms-producing nation, it has little to lose and much to gain by compelling competitors to move toward an equal or higher standard.

Transparency would not translate into control. But it is a necessary starting point in coming to grips with the nature, scope, and effects of the trade in light weapons and small arms. The costs to the world of this uncontrolled trade are so great that urgent action is needed. Nations need to devote more resources to monitoring and assessing the impact of the light arms trade. The international community needs to do some serious and creative thinking about how to design a control regime. To preclude more killing fields, the world begs for leadership now.

1. See, for example, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers 1991-1992, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994; U.S. Congressional Research Service, “Conventional Arms Transfers to the Third World 1986-1993,” CRS Report to Congress, #94-612F, July 29, 1994; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Yearbook 1994, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

2. See Edward J. Laurance, Siemon T. Wezeman, and Herbert Wulf, Arms Watch: SIPRI Report on the First Year of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

3. For several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a useful and detailed annual report was publicly released to Congress that contained comprehensive data on the U.S. trade in light weapons and small arms — the “Annual Report on Military Assistance and Exports, as required by Section 657, Foreign Assistance Act.” Resuming publication of this report would be the singly most important step the U.S. government could take to increase transparency in arms transfers,