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The West preaches peace whilst selling guns

London is one of the conference capitals of the world. At any given point in time, you will come across a wide assortment of seminars, workshops and fairs in this city. Last week, London’s Docklands hosted an event that you and I might find rather unusual. In Nairobi we are used to attending exhibitions where we look at cars or computers; London was holding an international arms fair.

More than 1,000 international arms companies booked stands; a flotilla of warships stood gleaming on the docks, ready for inspection by prospective buyers; thousands of delegates from all over the world attended. The event is estimated to have cost the British taxpayer some 1.5 million pounds (KSh 190 million). Yet that is a mere bagatelle in the wider scheme of things: the global arms trade was estimated by some to be worth US$ 800 billion (KSh 62 trillion) in 2001.

Who are the buyers? The invitation list made interesting reading. Delegates came from many of the world’s trouble spots: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Turkey, India and Pakistan. Invitations were also sent to some of the world’s poorest countries: Botswana, Angola, Tanzania and, wait for it, Kenya. Of course, we have no idea who went shopping on our behalf or what they bought; these things are always shrouded in secrecy.

The main producers of arms are the United States, Britain, France and Russia. For these countries, arms sales are big business – a very large piece of their economic cake. This is, in fact, too big a business to be left to private firms; governments play a very substantial role in supporting defence-systems contractors and often lead the charge in winning lucrative export orders.

Western governments claim to be forces for good in this world. Every day you will hear their spokesmen speak of their role as the world’s policemen, of how they stand up to terrible regimes around the world, of how they promote democratic ideals and peaceful coexistence. The arms industry, and western governments’ support of it, makes a farce of this self-righteous posturing. If these are policemen, then they are only so in the Kenyan sense: people who aid, abet and arm criminals, all the time pretending to be out to arrest them.

Consider this: Syria featured prominently on the invitation list to the London arms fair. Syria, you ask, eyebrows jumping skyward? Is that not a ‘rogue state’, a member of George W. Bush’s ‘axis of evil’, and supposedly one of the biggest threats to world peace? A country accused by Washington of having chemical weapons of its own, and of ‘hiding’ Saddam Hussein’s elusive weapons of mass destruction? Indeed it is. So how can any good come from selling more arms to this country? Why, dear reader, how naïve and foolish you are! Business is business! Nothing should stand in the way of a healthy profit, should it?

Consider another of the world’s danger-spots: the India-Pakistan border. These two countries have fought several wars. In recent years, both have tested nuclear weapons and have amassed forces at that trouble-torn border. Not a place to be flooding with more weaponry, surely? Wrong again, dear reader, wrong again. Areas of conflict are great for business.

When India was holding talks with various governments in 2001, seemingly aimed at easing the dangerous border tension, Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, was using the opportunity to lobby for a 1 billion-pound deal to sell BAE Systems fighter jets to India. When Prime Minister Tony Blair came a-calling a little later, ostensibly to strengthen support for the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 2001 atrocity, he is reported to have spent more than half his time in India sealing the BAE deal. Why squander the opportunity to do good business? Effective use of time, is it not?

India and Pakistan were, of course, invited to last week’s arms fair. Pakistan actually had plenty of money to spend. To know why, let me take you on another quick trip across the world, this time to Camp David, the US president’s exclusive retreat. On June 24th of this year, George W. Bush hosted a special guest there: president Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. President Musharraf, you will recall, has been a special ally of the USA in the ‘war against terror’, and allowed US troops to use Pakistan as a base for the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan. Well, it was payback time. This meeting received little media attention, but The Economist revealed that Pakistan had received US$ 3 billion (over KSh 230 billion) in grants over five years – half of which may be spent on arms.

Think about it. President Musharraf is an army general who took power in a military coup. He is engaged in a long-standing dispute against an equally hostile neighbour. He openly acknowledges that his country possesses weapons of mass destruction. And you give him money with which to buy more? This is the leadership that America gives the world? I would like Sunday Nation readers to put down a little marker in history: if, God forbid, a major war breaks out in that region in coming years, I would like you all to remember where the money and arms came from.

The paradox that our western leaders promote peace while selling arms is a concept too strange for me to understand. Weapons are used to kill – they have no other purpose. Most of the world’s war-torn countries – Afghanistan, Palestine, Congo – are incapable of manufacturing their own arms. They simply do not have the know-how or the capacity. They buy these arms from the west. But it is Africans, Arabs and Asians who are condemned as a war-mongering, bloodthirsty lot. The hand that made the weapon that did the killing is never seen and never discussed.

The west floods the world with these weapons. Virtually all the weapons used by criminals to kill Kenyans have an American, British, Russian, French or Israeli provenance. Yet these are the same people who see fit to admonish us on ethics and governance, morals and democracy.

Does it really come as a surprise that there is no peace in the world? The only path to peace is that of dialogue and understanding. I have watched Israelis and Palestinians engage in a tit-for-tat cycle of horrific violence for more than thirty years, and still there is no end in sight. But will this violence ever end, as long as there is a vested interest for the west in creating arms races, in viewing areas of conflict as unique selling opportunities?

One week after September 11, a senior military consultant was reported as saying that the attacks were “all good things for the defence industry”. As indeed they were. The international arms industry has been enjoying a spectacular boom ever since. But as this industry stays confidently in the black, the poor world is sentenced to stay in the red – the red blood of innocents. Beware those who carry the flag of peace in one hand and a gun to sell to you in the other.

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