Article written

  • on 16.07.2014
  • at 06:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Africa needs to stop fighting and invest in infrastructure 0

War is an expensive affair and less of it will bring more development to the continent.

It is difficult to measure the economic cost of such destruction but several studies give useful estimates.

The first one, Africa’s missing billions released in October 2007 by Oxfam and two other NGOs, found that conflicts since the end of the Cold War had cost the continent $284 billion, or roughly equivalent to the foreign aid it received during that period.

The survey tracked conflicts in the countries then at war, including Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.

The study found that conflicts cost Africa about $18 billion every year and shrank the economies of warring countries by about 15 per cent.

“Our calculation has only looked at the period of armed conflict,” the researchers noted. “However, economists find that economies often remain essentially at conflict levels for many years; this ‘war overhang’ is more common than the expected ‘peace dividend.’ If, during peacetime, the average military spending of a developing country amounts to 2.8 per cent of its GDP, this increases to around five per cent during civil war, and remains elevated to 4.5 per cent during the first post-conflict decade.”

In January 2012, Dr Hamid Ali of the American University in Cairo estimated that the conflict in Darfur had cost the Sudan government $35.11 billion between 2003 and 2009 in direct military costs, lost productivity by the dead and internally displaced, damage to infrastructure, and in peacekeeping operations and post-war reconstruction.

The economist Paul Collier estimates that the average civil war slashes 2.2 per cent off a country’s GDP annually.

In 2002, when fighting in Côte d’Ivoire made access to the Abidjan seaport virtually impossible, foreign trade in the region was disrupted with cattle exports from Mali collapsing, and falling by 65 per cent in Burkina Faso.

Even low-intensity conflict carries a high price tag. In 2005, the head of the South African tourism office reported that gun crime in the country had kept away a potential 22 million tourists over a five-year period.

Conflicts come with hidden costs. For instance, the ensuing uncertainty and fear of a relapse into violence changes economic behaviour towards activities with short-term results. It is safer to invest in diamond smuggling in eastern DR Congo than in mortgage financing.

In addition, conflict pushes people from rural areas to the relative safety of urban areas but few return home at the end of the fighting, as has been witnessed in Sierra Leone, Monrovia and Gulu in northern Uganda.

This has its positives, such as making it easier to provide services in urban areas and boosting economies there, but it could also lead to labour shortages in the surrounding rural areas, harming agricultural production and leading to higher food prices.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates conflict-related losses to agricultural production in sub-Saharan African between 1970 and 1997 at $52 billion, or 30 per cent of the output of the affected countries.

In Angola, studies found that agricultural output at the end of the 1990s was well below half what it would have been in the absence of war. Similar effects were documented in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Sudan.

War is an expensive affair and less of it will bring more development to the continent. Many African countries spend large sums of money on military budgets, often only to turn the guns against one another.

South Sudan, which marked its third Independence anniversary last week amid a civil war, spends 35 per cent of its budget on security. That is three times what it spends on health, infrastructure and education combined!

If the reality is to match the “Africa Rising” narrative, countries on the continent need to fight less and instead invest more money in transport and energy infrastructure.

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By Daniel K. KalinakiThe East African

Photo credit: LED Network

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