I understand this foremost from my personal experience, having been caught up in the conflict that engulfed my country, Uganda. That was over thirty years ago. Uganda still suffers from violence which is enflamed by the availability of small arms in particular. In this, we are typical of Africa as a whole.
The existence of an estimated 100 million uncontrolled small arms and light weapons (SALW) in conflict and crisis zones impact our continent’s ordinary people, families and communities. People, always, bear the cost fuelled by uncontrolled arms: through economic losses, through being forced to flee their homes, and through the injuries and fatalities they incur – not least gender-based violence.
Oxfam’s new report, The Human Cost of Uncontrolled Arms in Africa (http://oxf.am/ZbXc) recounts the stories of people affected by armed conflicts in Africa. Our paper shows how arms do not “necessarily” cause conflict but they do exacerbate tensions – and they tip the balance towards violent confrontations. They, too, reduce the use and effectiveness of dialogue and negotiated settlement of disputes; encourage retaliatory measures, and worsen social divides.
We must draw increased attention to the effects of armed violence and conflict on women and girls, and Gender Based Violence (GBV). Conflict heightens the risk of GBV; it is estimated that a shocking 45.6 percent of African women have experienced GBV in their lifetime.
Sadly, in 2013, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) became known as the world’s rape capital, with an estimated 48 women raped per hour by rebels and Congolese soldiers. Yet the full effect of uncontrolled arms on GBV in Africa is best understood through the stories from conflict-affected countries. Too many of our people in Africa are witness to the social, cultural and psychological impact that uncontrolled arms impel. Women – and their families – experience abduction, stigmatization, post-traumatic stress disorders and even greater risk of HIV/AIDS.
And at a time when Africa is hosting over a quarter of the world’s 24.5 million refugees and asylum seekers, we must better understand how conflict and armed violence exacerbates mass displacement. As of July 2016, nearly half a million people from the DRC found refuge in neighbouring countries; whilst refugees in Congo itself numbered 387,963.
Ed.’s Note: Winnie Byanyima is Executive Director of Oxfam International. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.
Contributed by Winnie Byanyima