Are our arms sales promoting conflict?

Nyala APC

BUYERS of South African defence industry products last year include sales to countries involved in conflict, in turn the country received weapons and military hardware from nations also involved in conflict zones. The recent wave of student unrest has seen locally produced Nyala APC become a common sight on campuses throughout the country and elsewhere — the issue of the creeping militarisation of education and society in general, is now a problematic raised by students opposed to the use of violence as a means of solving anything.

In the Middle East where the Iraqi government has been fighting Islamist rebels since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the early 2000s, South African sales of combat vehicles to the value of over R160 million and missile launchers were worth just on R44 million. Big spending countries included Saudi Arabia‚ buying around R125 million worth of our vehicles‚ transponders and software — the Saudis are currently in a major war with the Houthis in Yemen and received 100 RSA-made vehicles.

According to a City Press report, South African Police have been deploying water cannons for riot control, imported and produced by Israel, a conflict state involved in an ongoing dispute and competing claims over land. The resulting displacement of peoples has resulted in several Intifadas as well as the Gaza War.

A National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) 2015 report tabled in Parliament earlier this year details arms sales to conflict nations such as Azerbaijan, Burundi, Kenya and Nigeria. South Africa exported R2.7 billion worth of arms last year.The department of defence issued 899 export permits to 53 countries and  649 import permits‚ with a total import value of just over R165 million, were issued.

Azerbaijan which is involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (an ethnic conflict between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan), bought armoured combat vehicles worth R26.6 million, R16.1 million worth of “heavy weapons” as well as “warning equipment” worth R37.2 million.

Burundi, where president Pierre Nkurunziza recently extended his term by another five years and where civil war is raging, bought armoured combat vehicles valued at R44 million from South African suppliers. The selling point is that they are battle tested, by a country which has had its fair share of massacres. South Africa’s military has been involved in several African conflicts, including a fiasco in the Central African Republic and Lesotho.

In addition to armoured combat vehicles worth some R65 million, South Africa also sold R1.28 million worth of artillery, R9.7 million worth of bombs and ammunition valued at R31.8 million to Nigeria, which is currently battling Boko Haram.

In 2014, South Africa’s defence industry exported 326 armoured vehicles (mainly armoured personnel carriers) to nearly two dozen countries, as well as four mine detection vehicles to Iraq. The biggest buyers were Burkina Faso (31 vehicles), Guinea (32 vehicles), Niger (21 vehicles), Senegal (39 vehicles) and the United Arab Emirates (26). These vehicles sales amounted to more than R810 million in 2014.

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