Dr. Peter Lock
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Dr. Peter Lock
c/o EART e.V.
Auf der Koppel 40
D - 22399 Hamburg
Pugwash Conference in Rustenberg, September 1999
Panel discussion "Light weapons and Conflict in Africa"
Chair: Jeffrey Boutwell
Presentation by Peter Lock, based on the notes (because of the limited time available some arguments were not fully developed during the oral presentation).
I. Addressing the issue from outside Africa it seems appropriate to start with highlighting some general features of the global context in which the African security crisis has emerged.
Globalisation is reinforcing inequality. The present course of development is marked by continued polarisation of income, both between nations (internationally) as well as within nations (intra-societal).
As a result social segregation dominates the changes of the social topography of societies all over the world. Most visibly formerly public spaces are increasingly being converted into privatised and socially selective malls. But spatial segregation is pervasive, particularly in what sociologists have dubbed "glocal cities", the forerunners of globalisation and modernisation.
Increasing levels of unemployment in the regular economy mark the situation at the global level, allowing for positive deviations in some well-off countries.
As a result informal economic activities increasingly become the backbone of societal reproduction. This evolution is not restricted to developing nations and countries in transition. Particularly affected are the new entrants to the segment of the economically active population. Unemployment rates for the age group 14-24 years of over 50 % are common.
A general trend to curtail state functions following the logic of the neo-liberal paradigm and profound crises of the state finances reinforce each other. As a result privatisation of security is a pervasive trend. The private security industry has turned into a vibrant economic sector whose labour force already exceeds the police forces in most countries. A few globally operating companies dominate this "crisis-proof" economic sector. To guarantee the security of its citizens is apparently not any longer the "raison d'être" of the state. Security and particularly protection from violence, a basic human right, are in the process of becoming a traded commodity. The adage "My home is my (proactively protected) castle" is only now in our post-modern age developing its full meaning. Those who can not afford protected castles and the proactive commodification of their security are forced to organise their self-defence outside the legal parameters. As a result we are observing the evolution of private security into a mutually reinforcing system of multi-polar societal "rearmament" cascading down the social ladder where it amounts to an informal militianisation of the society at the lower end of the social pyramid.
II. The underlying structure of these trends is the restlessly globalizing economic system. A closer look at the global economy reveals that it is actually composed of at least three different spaces. Though asymmetrical interaction between the three sectors is a constitutive element of their respective existence.
The regular economy: the rule of law is a dominant feature at its core; taxes are generally paid, though the level of effective taxation is generally declining. The unrelenting competition to attract inward investment has led to lower tax rates and excessive tax exemptions, above all in special economic zones like the famous "maquiladora" border industries in Mexico. The meagre growth rates of the regular economy do not keep pace with the increase of the economically active population seeking an entrance to this space.
The oceans of informal economies: The rule of law applies but marginally; its rules reflect asymmetrical power structures often resorting to violence for arbitration. Informal economies are globally the fastest growing economic space in terms of participants. Almost by definition the informal sector does not pay taxes, value added taxes when (rarely) interacting as consumers with the regular economy being an exception. Though often welfare levels generated in the informal sector hardly exceed the most basic subsistence, the sector contributes to the welfare in the regular economy through interaction mainly in form of cheap services of all kind. Another part of its produce is siphoned off into the coffers of criminal actors who impose their terms wherever the rule of law is not effectively supported by the state and people do not have the means to protect themselves.
The globally organised criminal economy: By definition the rule of law does not apply. There is ample evidence that the criminal economy is the fastest growing space in the global economy in terms of turnover and profits. The criminal economy constitutes a parasitic link between the spaces of the regular and the informal sectors of the economy. Conservative estimates presented at an IMF- and EBRD-sponsored seminar put the global gross criminal product (GCP) at 1000 billion US $, this compares with a GNP for subsaharan Africa of 330 billion US $, of which the RSA alone accounts for more than one third.
III. At the level of nation-states the three spaces of the global economy interact in different proportions according to the relative strength of the state. But in spite of enormous differences in the respective configuration of the economies at the level of nation-states, one sad feature they have presently in common, are unacceptably high rates of youth unemployment. This pervasive feature seems to confirm the existence of interdependent patterns in the global economy, no economy can extricate oneself from under the prevailing machination of the global economy.
I have termed this feature "intergenerational apartheid", though this evolution is not the result of a deliberate strategy arrived at by ideological consensus, as was the case with the apartheid practiced in South Africa. It manifests itself in unacceptable high levels of youth unemployment which runs as high as 60% of unemployed in the age group of 15-24 years of age in many countries at the end of this century. There are so far no indications that this pervasive trend will be reversed in the foreseeable future. The term "intergenerational apartheid" draws attention to the exclusion of the current generation aiming to enter the pool of the economically active population from the intergenerational continuity of economic roles which prevailed in many traditional societies until recently. Due to the unmerciful processes of economic modernisation the traditional succession of professional roles is replaced by migration towards the urban spheres which can not cope with the onslaught of masses of unqualified labour. Most embarrassingly in many failing states the level of education achieved after decolonisation is not any longer being maintained. This intergenerational decline of educational levels further entrenches the observed "intergenerational apartheid". On the African continent the situation is further acerbated by the sociological data. Africa is the youngest continent, half of its population is under the age of 18. Moreover, the constant migration of jobs throughout the global market place towards ever cheaper locations of production tends to reduce job offers for less qualified labour in many advanced countries as well. Certain vulnerable groups like minorities and above all young people tend to become excluded from the regular economy and provide a reserve army easily attracted by the jobs the criminal sector of the economy is offering. This is by no means restricted to drug trafficking. The sociological composition of the prison population clearly reflects the specific pattern of exclusion in each country.
IV. What do these global trends foreordain for Africa? Above all the trends described so far manifest themselves in extreme forms throughout the continent. Violence and armed conflicts in Africa are conditioned by an advanced level of "trifurcation" of the socio-economic tissue into regular, informal and criminal economic spheres. The absolute preponderance of either the informal or the criminal sector in association with the respective other leaves many African states without the resources needed to function even at minimum levels. As a result the state is of often drawn partially and in extreme cases fully into the criminal sector. In a number of countries tax paying economic actors and state-owned industries as a resource of the government have largely disappeared. The latter were either appropriated or "privatised" by the incumbent, though corrupt rulers or lost out in the context of global competition. Furthermore it is estimated that at least 50 % of cross-border trade in Africa is not accounted for by any government. One part of this trade reflects traditional trade patterns which survived colonial and post-colonial regimes, while the rest is accounted for by downright criminal activity. Whatever the causes are for this state of affairs, the result is unambiguous. The state as regulator of social relations is seriously weakened and proves unable to provide proper policing on its territory. The ensuing development can be adequately described as an intra-societal arms race resulting eventually into a process of competitive militianisation of the entire society.
In the initial phases of social fragmentation virtually everybody feels sheltered by adopting an explicit social identity, later pressures emerge to develop discriminating group identities because they facilitate some protection through a wide range of mechanisms from collective political leverage and informal spatial relocation to armed self-defence. Once set in motion the politics of collective identities are mutually reinforcing and provide a fertile playing field for ethnic, religious and political manipulators. In contrast to the seemingly virtuous causes they preach these manipulators are generally deeply entangled in the criminal economy and can be described as "political entrepreneurs". They regularly promise a bright future provided other groups are excluded politically, economically and eventually even physically. These ideologies based on exclusion foster the militianisation of the society. A latent temptation to employ violent means to resolve even minor conflicts goes with this development. Since ideologies of collective identity unfailingly portray any act of violence committed in pursuit of the "common cause" as legitimate self-defence, the dangers of escalation into a civil war are obvious. At this stage the huge reserve armies of young men generated by the pervasive intergenerational apartheid enter the stage and see fighting as their (only) chance of inclusion, not entirely without justification.
The cynical appropriation of an ideology and the ruthless application of violence in pursuit of societal inclusion by the so-called "hittistes" (young men who lean against the wall) are empirically documented in the context of the on-going Algerian civil war (Luis Martinez, La guerre civile en Algérie, Paris 1998). Young men turned into territorial warlords in suburban areas under the guise of fundamentalist fighters who became known as "emirs". Ruthless violence serves the "emirs" to position themselves in society. Contrary to outside perceptions they do not aim at a fundamentalist society. While the forms vary considerably, a large part of violence can be explained by the exclusion-inclusion syndrome.
The protracted civil war in Sierra Leone is also sustained by the large-scale exclusion of the plentiful youth in the context of a failing state and the underlying economic disaster (Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rainforest, London 1996). In the course of the armed rebellion largely uneducated footloose young men and children formed a social enclave with norms of its own. By now Sierra Leone's war has turned into the most palpable manifestation of a "youth war". It reflects an evolutionary process where the initial "guerrilla" leadership takes long since a back seat. It also explains why the outside world fails to understand the seemingly irrational acts of violence in this war. Traditional procedures of mediation have failed for lack of an effective leadership which is in control of the fighting party.
V. In the sometimes emotional debate about armed conflicts, the atrocious acts of violence committed therein and the participation of child soldiers the perception of the perpetrators is rarely taken into account. As the stage of such events is generally conveniently distant, it is bracketed with brutish, pre-modern cultures. This impedes the recognition of similarities with patterns, at much smaller scales though, in the context of industrialised countries. Sociologists report for example that the formation of youth gangs in metropolitan areas aiming to control criminal activities within a specific territory provide marginalised young males with a more attractive roles than are offered within the regular or informal sectors. More generally we have to accept the fact that displaying an armed disposition to act violently, be it in the context of criminal endeavours or military-type fighting, offers a concrete chance for the excluded groups of the society to develop an identity which warrants a feeling of self-respect. A gun can transmute a nobody into a man whom others (are forced to) pay respect. Entire generations of young males pushed into economic apartheid are prone to take their chance if offered to them in the circumstances and are disposed to consider armed violence as a means to enforce their inclusion in one way or another. It is for this reason that the pervasive illicit availability of small arms in the post-Cold War period has such a destabilising effect throughout the world. Either as tools of entrepreneurs of violence or on their own account young men form the recipient end of the illegal proliferation and diffusion of small arms which create havoc and untold suffering throughout the world.
VI. In the context of the continuously acerbating social fragmentation and ensuing conflicts the illicit availability of small arms operates as a horrific force multiplier. Whether recently smuggled into the African continent or sent in vast quantities during the Cold War to proxy governments, virtually all small arms originated in industrialised countries. It is for this reason that the industrialised countries, and Europe in particular, have a responsibility to actively join the combat against the illicit small arms availability in Africa. While many African governments have clearly recognised the absolute need to bring the black markets for small arms under control, they do not have the necessary means and are not likely to succeed if Europe does not support these endeavours.
Apart from better policing of international transactions there is evidence that the black market for small arms is sensitive to prices and displays a high price elasticity. Proactive interference aiming at drying off certain known outlets would be a non-conventional measure worth testing. It is well known for example that large quantities of small arms are procured by the criminal groups from South Africa in the border regions of Angola and Mozambique where huge surpluses from the civil war are being marketed. Investing a few million dollars in proactive undercover purchases of small arms in the marketplaces of the border towns looks cheap compared to the costs of armed criminality in South Africa. One could expect prices on the black market to soar.
Additionally the insight in black market operations gained would contribute to improved and internationally co-ordinated controls.
VII. Many armed conflicts in Africa are entrenched for years and have developed their own social life and most importantly their economies. The most annoying aspect of this development is that these wars have transmuted into a mode of (re)production for large groups of combatants as well as traders and smugglers involved in the logistics of resupply. These war economies are based on criminal transactions, theft, deception, extorsion and only rarely on productive activities. As a result these war economies generate disproportionately large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The lavish support fighting, parties in Africa as proxies of one or the other side of the Cold War antagonism were receiving, is not any longer the backbone of the war economies. The fighting parties have successfully expanded other sources of revenue. It is a bitter irony that the misappropriation of humanitarian aid has become an important element in the reproduction and sometimes even in the military logistics of the warring parties. Africa's wars have converted the continent into a major turntable of the global drug trafficking. It is well established that the networks of drug trafficking also engage in the illegal trade of small arms. The illegal export of raw materials, most prominently gems, diamonds, ivory etc. constitute yet another pillar of war economies in Africa. Finally, expatriate communities working in Europe, North America or in oil-exporting Arab countries whose ethnic kin are involved in conflict are tapped to send money and to organise arms transfers on the black market.
The common denominator of all resources mobilised to sustain a war economy is that they are linked to the global economy. Since the end of the Cold War the war economies have to generate their own resources and most importantly a significant share of these resources must be convertible into foreign exchange, as arms can only be procured through cash transactions on the black market. This inevitably leads to trade links with the criminal sphere of the global economy. In turn countries weakened by an on-going armed conflict are deliberately targeted by powerful criminal actors who seek opportunities to launder money and to recruit cheap personnel prepared to take unreasonable risks as is needed in drug trafficking operations.
The indispensable global outreach of the war economies in Africa shifts the responsibility in part to the major economic powers which have the responsibility to clean up the shady segments of international trade where the proceeds of the war economies enter the global circulation and eventually the regular economy. Contrary to the perceived images of wars in Africa they are not just local affairs. And it are not only the famous merchants of death who secure the supply of basically small arms which keep the wars going. The flip side of arms trafficking at the receiving end is the generation of convertible income which depends on criminal entry points into the global circulation of the disposable commodities. The constant refuelling of Africa's war economies is brokered by shady middle men who, for an extra-profit, clear the exports of war economies for regular circulation. Neither WTO or OECD for example are known to take meaningful steps to improve the policing of critical commodity exports. In this sense Africa's wars are global affairs and fall within the responsibility of dominant nations in the global economy.
VIII. To the extent that states weaken and can not any longer sustain the rule of law, economic transactions are steered by a mix of communitarian consensus and violence or rather the threat thereof. With the excessive illicit availability of small arms throughout Africa, often at prices which are below the costs of production, arbitration of conflicts often escalates into violence. The ensuing dynamics of violence prepare the ground for open civil war, in which the stakeholders of government positions are usually part of the problem, who abuse their position for exclusionist strategies. From an analytical point of view it might be argued that the violence and wars are no longer discreet events in Africa, the underlying structural causes can not be distinguished.
From an individual perspective an automatic gun is such a terrifying force multiplier that one would rather have one than not, if the environment is perceived as dangerous. The distinction between a civilian and a fighter becomes rather flimsy, except for the fact that being a combatant in Africa's civil wars reduces the risk of being killed. The affluence of illicit weapons constitutes indeed an onerous obstacle to shift the direction of governance in Africa towards democratic conflict resolution and a suppression of the mushrooming criminal economic spheres. Under the hypothesis that these are essential preconditions to opening a path of development in Africa, combating the large-scale illicit small arms availability should become a priority on the political agenda of international fora.
IX. The picture of Africa drawn in this sketch is, of course, rather selective and does not do full justice to the strengths African societies display. The gloomy side of Africa's future is the overarching weight of the criminal economy whose grip seems to tighten even further. This pressure can only be alleviated by resolute action of the major economic powers aiming at cleaning the dirty backyards of the global economy. Otherwise African societies have strong resources of their own to manage their development.
The resilience and ingenuity of the informal sector of the African economy which resisted colonial rule and the comprador regimes which took over at independence are not part of the public image of the continent. But the fact, already mentioned, that 50 % of all cross-border trade is not accounted for by either state is proof of strong autonomous regional organisation of production and trade which thrives in spite of the largely failed system of nation-states. If developed and protected the informal economy has a potential to absorb the excluded masses, while the regular economy under the spell of world-wide competition does not have the potential of integrating the marginalised masses of young people. It is for this reason that the continent has to invent its path of development, the human and organisational resources exist.