African conflict costs $300 billion

JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images It’s hardly news that war has hampered Africa’s development, but a new study by Oxfam is the first to quantify just how much the continent has lost through armed conflict. Since 1990, war has cost Africa almost $300 billion, according to the report. This is an average of $18 billion per year ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
598707_071011_africa_05.jpg
598707_071011_africa_05.jpg

JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images

It's hardly news that war has hampered Africa's development, but a new study by Oxfam is the first to quantify just how much the continent has lost through armed conflict. Since 1990, war has cost Africa almost $300 billion, according to the report. This is an average of $18 billion per year or 15 percent of GDP. It's also equal to the total amount given in aid to Africa by major international donors over the same period. As the report explains, while the destruction of lives, property, infrastructure in war is expensive, the real damage is in opportunity costs:

Economic activity falters or grinds to a halt. Income from valuable natural resources ends up lining individual pockets rather than benefiting the country. The country suffers from inflation, debt, and reduced investment, while people suffer from unemployment, lack of public services, and trauma. More people, especially women and children, die from the fall-out of conflict than die in conflict itself.

JOSE CENDON/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hardly news that war has hampered Africa’s development, but a new study by Oxfam is the first to quantify just how much the continent has lost through armed conflict. Since 1990, war has cost Africa almost $300 billion, according to the report. This is an average of $18 billion per year or 15 percent of GDP. It’s also equal to the total amount given in aid to Africa by major international donors over the same period. As the report explains, while the destruction of lives, property, infrastructure in war is expensive, the real damage is in opportunity costs:

Economic activity falters or grinds to a halt. Income from valuable natural resources ends up lining individual pockets rather than benefiting the country. The country suffers from inflation, debt, and reduced investment, while people suffer from unemployment, lack of public services, and trauma. More people, especially women and children, die from the fall-out of conflict than die in conflict itself.

The most disturbing thing about the report? Its authors feel the $300 billion figure is almost certainly an underestimation:

This method will underestimate the true figure because it does not include:

  • International costs: humanitarian aid, peacekeeping etc;
  • The economic impact on neighbouring peaceful countries;
  • The lingering economic impact once the conflict has been officially resolved – our estimation only covers the war years. We have deliberately taken this conservative approach to ensure that the calculation does not exaggerate the cost of armed conflict to Africa’s development.

The sum also does not include anarchic Somalia, from which there was no data available.

The report is part of Oxfam’s efforts to lobby for the proposed international Arms Trade Treaty, a U.N. resolution that would provide a wide-ranging framework to regulate the international sale of small arms. Ninety-five percent of all the weapons and ammunition used in Africa’s wars are produced outside the continent. The United States was the only nation at the U.N. to vote against starting work on the ATT last year, under pressure from domestic gun rights lobbyists.

George Bush wants to increase aid to Africa to $9 billion per year, and that’s great. But what Oxfam’s work shows is that over the past two decades, such aid has been completely negated by armed conflicts fought with foreign weapons that the United States doesn’t want to restrict. In this light, opposing the ATT isn’t just morally objectionable, it’s economically unsound.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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