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Senior UN Official Urges End to Arms Sales to Africa


A senior United Nations official is calling on nations to stop selling arms to African countries. The official says Africa is awash with weapons which are at the root of the continent's massive problem of internal displacement.

The United Nations estimates 25 million people around the world are homeless. They have been uprooted by conflict. More than one-half are in Africa. This means there are more than three times as many internally displaced people in Africa than there are refugees, who number around three million.

Dennis McNamara heads the U.N. Division that deals with Internally Displaced Persons or IDPs. He calls Africa's IDPs the continent's new refugees. But, he says these people have not crossed an international border and are not recognized as refugees. Therefore, he says there is no United Nations agency to look after them, there are no international conventions to protect them.

"It is massive. It is widespread. It is ongoing. It is the scourge of Africa. It is a major, major humanitarian issue for which there is no single agency, for which there is no international convention, for which there is no sustained focus, and for which there is minimal media coverage," he said. "A third of this displaced population is not even reached by the agencies. We have got one-quarter of a million Somalis displaced in Mogadishu and we cannot even land in Mogadishu. We are not allowed to land the plane there."

McNamara says IDPs often get little help from their own governments that in many cases are to blame for the human rights violations that cause people to flee their homes.

He says the problem is hidden. For example, he notes no one knows how many people are displaced in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is because many people are hiding in the jungle or dispersed in poor villages.

McNamara cites a recent article published in a British journal that highlights the enormity of the problem. The article reports 38,000 people die every month from direct or indirect causes of war in eastern Congo. It calls this the most deadly conflict since World War II, exceeding the combined deaths from conflicts in Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo and Darfur in Sudan.

McNamara says guns are at the heart of the problem. He says the West should stop selling arms to Africa.

"Not an embargo. Not a sanction. A voluntary cessation of all arms sales to Africa. The continent is swimming in arms," he added. "The kids on the streets of Nairobi, in Khartoum, in Abidjan, in Monrovia have guns in their pockets or up their sleeves. They shoot motorists at the roundabout. They rob you on the highways with AK-47s…. We provided the arms. We, we the west. We, the G-8."

McNamara says defense ministries spend one trillion dollars a year on buying arms. He says it is hard to give up profits like this. But, he warns wars, displacements, deaths and violations of the human body and spirit will continue in Africa unless the arms merchants stop engaging in business as usual.