IPB Webinar: Excessive Military Spending in Africa
On May 26, 2021, IPB’s Africa working group held a webinar to examine the trends and implications of expanding military budgets in Africa. The panel consisted of three speakers, including Major General Prince Charles Johnson III (Liberia), Ms. Cyrille Rolande Bechon (Cameroon), and Mr. Michael Amoadjah (Ghana). Each of them provided in depth context to how the military’s presence in their respective countries is impacting potentials for peace. The event was moderated by IPB member and Director of 4Kids International Tyson Smith Berry Jr.
Quique Sánchez (IPB) introduced the subject by presenting the result of one month campaigning with GDAMS. He began by praising the work of SIPRI, which each year publishes global data on military spending. Sánchez then went on to present the military economic circle, a concept that shows why the money invested by the state in weapons only increases the risk of conflict and generates more and more military spending. It is important to understand that this money comes from our taxes and therefore the state could invest it in public goods. The infographic produced for the campaign shows how this money could be better invested.
Major General Prince Charles Johnson III recalled that excessive military spending is not new. At the time of decolonization, many African countries felt the need to build military power to protect themselves from invasion by their neighbors. Investment in infrastructure for the population has not developed in the same way. Many Africans have been left with basic social services.
History also shows that in Liberia, periods of high military spending have been followed by civil wars. Neglecting public spending on armaments leads to insecurity. It is somewhat ironic that the military justifies military spending on the grounds that it brings peace and security. Today the threats are not the same in Africa, it is important to analyse these threats in order to respond proportionally and to evaluate military expenditure.
Ms. Cyrille Rolande Bechon presented the vision of Cameroun in Africa as executive director of Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH). According to her, when one looks at military expenditure in Africa one is tempted to think that Cameroon is not the most excessive spender of African countries. However, everything is relative. Indeed, the comparison should not be made between countries, but rather within the country. Other sectors of the country have been left behind, the roads for example are in a lamentable state. Some children do not have access to school.
Military spending in Cameroon was supposed to be used to contain the armed group Boko Haram. It has been several years now. However, Cameroon has invested a lot in the army and very little in its public infrastructure. In the north of the country, the population lives on less than 1 dollar a day, Boko Haram recruits by offering 5 dollars a day. Once again this shows us that abandoning the country’s essential sectors for more “security” is counterproductive.
Closing remarks by IPB’s Executive Director, Reiner Braun.
First, he spoke about the responsibility of colonial countries for the actual situation in Africa, noting that such colonial behavior continues today through military engagement in African conflicts and neo-colonial economic and social behaviors. In this respect, Braun emphasized the importance of coming to equal relations of peace, disarmament and sustainable future in the coming years.
A second point IPB’s Executive Director raised was the fact that arms exports from Western or industrial countries like the United States, France, Great Britain, Germany, Russia and China, continue to kill people every day in Africa. As he mentioned, in order to overcome armed conflicts and wars in Africa, new international rules that prohibit arms exports are needed. According to Braun, this is key in order to solve some of the world’s major problems, including terrorism, as terrorist groups are also buying and selling these weapons. He finished his intervention by emphasizing the need for African governments, parliamentarians and civil society to raise their voices much louder internationally in a call for disarmament. In this respect, he said that African countries should call more intensively for increased support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as well as for a renewed international discussion about disarmament. Braun then referred to the need to hold a new international disarmament conference, highlighting the job GCOMS and other campaigns and CSOs are doing in preparing international activities on this issue. To conclude, Braun stressed that one of the key obligations for us all is to put disarmament and military spending again on the international agenda.
You can find the full video here.