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Africa: Arms & Air Transport

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 25, 2009 (090525)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Air cargo companies involved in illicit or destabilizing arms transfers to African conflict zones have also been repeatedly contracted to deliver humanitarian aid and support peacekeeping operations, according to a report released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The report reveals that 90 per cent of the air cargo companies identified in arms trafficking-related reports have also been used ... to transport humanitarian aid, peacekeepers and peacekeeping equipment." - SIPRI

The 74-page report released by SIPRI on May 12 provides extensive documentation on air transport companies related to conflicts in six African countries and on the parallel involvement of these companies in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping contracts. It also proposes measures to track and sanction such companies, with an emphasis on the potential role of the European Commission.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a press release, the executive summary of the report, and chapter 3, with data related to past conflicts in Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and to continuing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Sudan.

For information on a related U.S.-based campaign, targeting mineral exports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular, see,, and
U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 in Congress in April.


Note from the Editor

Pan-Africanist activist and commentator Tajudeen Abdul Raheem has been killed in an auto accident in Nairobi. He and his multifaceted contributions will be sorely missed. For more details see "Tajudeen Abdul Raheem: a giant is lost on African Liberation Day" by Firoze Manji Tributes are pouring in to Pambazuka News from around Africa and around the World.

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Same air cargo companies deliver both humanitarian aid and weapons, says SIPRI

Press Release - May 12, 2009

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute -

Further information: Stephanie Blenckner Communications Officer Phone: +46 8 655 97 47 E-mail:

Further details Contact Hugh Griffiths +46 (0)73 339 7474, +46 (0)8 655 9781 or email: Mark Bromley +46 (0)70 845 6032, +46 (0)8 655 9735 or email:

(Stockholm, 12 May 2009) Air cargo companies involved in illicit or destabilizing arms transfers to African conflict zones have also been repeatedly contracted to deliver humanitarian aid and support peacekeeping operations, according to a report released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The report reveals that 90 per cent of the air cargo companies identified in arms trafficking-related reports have also been used by major UN agencies, EU and NATO member states, defence contractors and some of the world's leading NGOs to transport humanitarian aid, peacekeepers and peacekeeping equipment. In some cases, air cargo companies are delivering both aid and weapons to the same conflict zones. Entitled 'Air Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows', the report shows how air cargo carriers involved in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operations have also transported a range of other conflict-sensitive goods such as cocaine, diamonds, coltan and other precious minerals.

The report also outlines some EU-centred solutions which can change the behaviour of some companies and put others out of business. According to Hugh Griffiths, one of the report's co-authors, 'The problems have been recognized by the EU, now it is a question of selecting from the available options and coming together as a community with coordinated measures.' ...

'A coordinated response by the EU and the humanitarian aid community could require companies to chose between transporting arms or aid to conflict zones while air safety enforcement could put hard core arms dealers out of business,' said Mark Bromley, coauthor of the report. 'Our research shows that companies named in arms traffickingrelated reports have poor safety records. Safety regulations represent their Achilles heel, and can do to them what tax evasion charges did to Al Capone.'

Air Transport and Destabilizing Commodity Flows

Hugh Griffiths and Mark Bromley

SIPRI Policy Paper No. 24

Executive summary

Air transportation has played a key role in fuelling the war economies that have devastated much of Africa in recent decades. It is instrumental in the transfer of small arms and light weapons (SALW) as well as in the extraction and transfer of precious minerals, metals and hydrocarbons. Air transportation actors are also important facilitators of illicit flows of illegal narcotics and tobacco destined for European, North American and Middle Eastern markets. At the same time, those air cargo carriers that have been reportedly involved in these commodity flows that have been so destabilizing are also enmeshed in humanitarian aid, peace support, stability operations and defence logistics supply chains of United Nations agencies, European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Transportation represents the 'choke point' for destabilizing or illicit commodity flows. Air and maritime transport actors are far easier to trace than arms brokers, drug cartels or resource smugglers as the former must legitimately register their aircraft, vessels and associated companies. As such, transporters are the only non-state actors involved in destabilizing or illicit commodity flows required to operate overtly. This characteristic makes them possible to track via databases, flight and maritime records and field research and subject to control. The EU, through its institutions, legislation, member states and European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is uniquely placed to influence the behaviour of these actors.

Unlike the global arms trade, UN mechanisms and standards to regulate aviation and maritime transportation are already in place and are increasingly enforced by supranational organizations such as the EU. Existing EU air safety mechanisms have already effectively targeted a wide range of companies named as involved in SALW flows by banning them from EU airspace. Such companies are thus prevented from accessing the world's largest regulated market.

As the world's largest humanitarian aid and development donor, EU institutions, member states, NGOs and other partners can reinforce these 'market denial' trends by adding ethical transportation clauses to humanitarian aid, peace support, stability operations and defence logistics supply chain contracts.

These clauses can preclude involvement with air transport actors associated with destabilizing or illicit flows.

ESDP missions in Africa and Eastern Europe can effectively support evolving EU information-sharing efforts through the insertion of predeparture and in-country training modules and related components that sensitize civilian and military ESDP personnel to non-governmental air and maritime transportation issues. Such measures combined with Internetbased platforms and databases may also be used to address a lack of awareness and information coordination regarding air cargo companies within the humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and defence contractor communities in order to reduce UN agency, NGO or commercial usage.

The application of relatively inexpensive yet empirically proven opensource, data-centred project models combined with field research can also provide EU and member state policymakers with the type of coordinated information systems necessary to systematically monitor air transport actors engaged in destabilizing or illicit commodity flows in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South America and Central Asia.


  1. The EU and member states should deny humanitarian aid, peace support, stability operations and defence logistics supply chain contracts to air transport companies engaged in destabilizing or illicit commodity flows, in particular the transfer of SALW.
  2. The EU should support the efforts of African partners to improve air safety through the provision of 'dualuse' transport development capacity building projects that specifically target unsafe air cargo companies engaged in destabilizing commodity flows.
  3. ESDP mission planning and operational structures should take into account the key role of air transport companies in many ESDP mission areas and provide the requisite sensitization, awareness and reporting training.
  4. The EU's air safety mechanism should be refined and resourced to take account of the evasion techniques used by unsafe air cargo companies seeking to access EU markets.

The Policy Paper summarized here is part of an on-going study by the Countering Illicit Trafficking Mechanism Assessment Project (CIT-MAP) at SIPRI. CIT-MAP takes a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of destabilizing or illicit arms transfers. The project draws on investigative field research and empirical analysis which are synthesized in solutionoriented reports.

Further information on CIT-MAP, including its first publication, 'Stemming destabilizing arms transfers: the impact of European Union air safety bans', SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security no. 3, Hugh Griffiths and Mark Bromley, Oct. 2008, is available at <>

3. The role of air cargo carriers in war economies

[Excerpts from Chapter 3, excluding footnotes. Chapter 3 includes details on cases including Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan. Full text, including footnotes, is available on]

War economies are political economies that typically involve both state and nonstate actors specifically, private business sector actors and armed groups that seek to initiate or perpetuate conflict for economic as well as political gain. The economic drivers of these conflicts tend to centre around the control of natural resources and the territory required to extract and transport them. The use of state-based security forces, the military, customs and intelligence officials to conduct extra-legal activity features prominently in war economies.

Despite operating in isolated areas, war economies are sustained and developed through interaction with global markets. It has been noted that contemporary patterns and modalities of instability not only occur within states but across states and regions. These wider connections reflect the characteristics of modern-day war economies. They are rarely self-sufficient or autarkic after the fashion of traditional nation-state-based war economies. On the contrary, though controlling local assets, they are heavily reliant on all forms of external support and supplies. Maintaining the political entities associated with post-nation-state conflict usually requires transregional linkages. At the same time, the marketing of local resources and procurement of arms and supplies are based on access to global markets and, very often, transcontinental smuggling or grey commercial networks. In many respects, contemporary war economies reproduce the networked structures associated with globalization more generally.

This structural reproduction is aided by the fact that export chains related to war economies are usually not entirely illegal: transactions along the way may involve licensed traders, legal concessions and legal transportation. Simultaneously, these economies include clandestine business practices such as avoiding taxes, evading economic embargoes, manipulating currency, violating trade regulations, smuggling, and illegitimately exploiting raw material resources practices that typically involve air cargo carriers that have been named in UN Security Council and other arms trafficking-related reports. It has been observed that 'most modern war economies are highly dependent on all forms of external support and trade networks that is, for the marketing of resources or services in order to secure arms, fuel, equipment, spare parts, munitions, clothing, food aid, funding, and so on'.

This chapter highlights aspects of the war economies which prevailed or continue in Angola, Colombia, the DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan which are inextricably linked to and facilitated by air transport actors. ...

Air cargo carriers as facilitators of war economies in Africa

Although air cargo carriers are one of the principal transporters for licit consumer imports in western, central and sub-Saharan Africa, many of these same air cargo carriers are also involved in war economy export chains either through the transport of small arms and light weapons and the valuable raw materials themselves or the servicing of extractive industries through the movement of fuel, spare parts and other equipment and have been named in UN Security Council and other arms trafficking-related reports. They play a central role in these war economies due to a reliance on air transport for the transfer of certain essential commodities over difficult or dangerous land routes. The air transportation links, the frequency of flights and the air cargo companies granted the rights to such routes also reflect broader trading relationships between groups and networks that are often separated by national borders. Despite the presence of such barriers, air transportation links between groups in different states can be stronger than those within a particular state.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy in Angola, 1992 2002

Air cargo carriers were closely associated with the transport of SALW, diamonds and mining equipment in the diamond-based war economy that dominated areas of Angola for two decades. In the period 1994 97, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Uni o Nacional para a Independłncia Total de Angola, UNITA) is estimated to have exported $1.9 billion worth of diamonds. During this time the illicit trade in diamonds and arms took place unhindered from monitored airstrips where, according to private sector actors, the UN was often present. According to the UN, 'an Interpol analysis of probable UNITA airstrips places each one close to a UNITA mining area, suggesting continuing close links between UNITA's logistics and diamond trading'. A UN report noted 'air transport as the main avenue for re-supplying UNITA forces' which was supported by other reports noting how air cargo carriers facilitated the war economies in territory under UNITA control through the delivery of fuel oil and other commodities essential to the operation of UNITA's electricity generators, military and transport vehicles as well as food, beer and medical equipment.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1997 present

Air cargo companies have played a key role in extractive processes and export transactions associated with the DRC's wealth of precious mineral reserves for more than 15 years. The DRC's reserves include one third of the world's cobalt and one tenth of its copper, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite (tin ore) and gold. The scale of these reserves and disputes over land ownership provide for the potential for conflict for years to come. In all of the conflicts to date, air cargo carriers have played an important role. Areas of the DRC where conflicts centred around control of diamond mining and extraction processes have been described as 'network wars' and have involved air cargo carriers. In the DRC, air cargo carriers have been used to transport large quantities of cassiterite from mining areas under the control of a particular military group and have been documented as responsible for transporting up to 80 per cent of cassiterite from conflict zones and other rural areas in eastern DRC. In 2008, according to export data from the DRC Government certifier, known as the Diamond and Precious Metals Evaluation Centre, this would represent a traded volume of over 150 tonnes with an export value of over $150 million.

Air cargo carriers have also been frequently used to transport the mineral coltan from outlying areas in eastern DRC and from the main towns such as Bukavu to international markets. Air cargo carriers have been reported as being specifically created to transport coltan from the DRC to Kenya and Rwanda. Arms dealers have been reported as having leased an Ilyushin cargo aircraft to militia leaders to transport coltan from the DRC. Other air cargo carriers named in UN reports as transporting coltan were reported to be also conducting business on behalf of militia leaders.

UN reports also state that air cargo carriers have transported gold from conflict zones, as well as diamond traders who play a key role in artisanal diamond transactions in the DRC. Air cargo carriers have also serviced security and acquisition operations through the transportation of soldiers and military equipment. In some areas under rebel military control, Soviet-era cargo aircraft have made up to 24 flights per day from tarmac roads serving as improvised airstrips.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy in Liberia, 1996 2003

During the various conflicts affecting Liberia during much of the 1980s and 1990s, the war economy encompassed 'all activities relating to the illegal extraction, taxation and export of Liberia's natural resources, particularly timber, rubber, diamonds and gold'. The importance of the income generated by these activities for Liberian President Charles Taylor and his associates were recognized by the UN when it placed a trade embargo on diamonds and timber emanating from Liberia. While timber concessions were granted to businessmen with links to maritime shipping companies, key diamond traders in Liberia sanctioned by President Taylor operated air cargo carriers in conjunction with business partners such as Victor Bout. A US Government report states that air cargo operators who were linked to arms supply and raw material extraction operations in Angola, the DRC and Rwanda were paid in Liberia in 'diamonds and other valuable commodities'. Diamond trade networks in Liberia were involved in air cargo and other commercial transport operations. The UN documented how the Liberian Bureau of Maritime Affairs and its agent, the Liberian International Shipping and Corporate Registry, 'had been used for cover and funds for arms and transportation in violation of UN sanctions'. The UN noted that diamond dealer and air cargo carrier operator Sanjivan Ruprah, who 'had been a deputy commissioner of maritime affairs', was tasked by Taylor to 're-organize' Liberia's civil aircraft registry, which was used by at least 12 air cargo carriers named in UN Security Council reports.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy in Sierra Leone, 1996 2000

Between 1991 and 2001, Sierra Leone was the site of a network war that pitted the rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against the Sierra Leone Government, tribal groups and the private military company Executive Outcomes. Under President Taylor, Liberia was a major sponsor of the RUF in Sierra Leone, supplying arms and ammunition via air in order to ensure continued RUF control over diamond mines. The diamond SALW trading nexus in Liberia was intimately linked to diamond mines in Sierra Leone, which provided a far higher annual yield in terms of uncut diamonds than Liberia. Air cargo carriers played a central role in this nexus.

According to a UN Security Council report, 'the role of aircraft in the RUF's supply chain is vital'. The network that developed has been described as a new form of warfare where 'the real value of the state . . . is that it controls the legitimisation of illicit trade operating on the periphery of the air cargo industry'. Air cargo carriers and associated individuals such as Sanjivan Ruprah involved in the diamond trade were key facilitators of this war economy. In addition, it has been claimed that during the civil war airport security officials at Freetown's Lungi Airport were notoriously inept and corrupt, making it easy for smugglers to export diamonds derived from RUF territories.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy in Somalia, 1999 present

In Somalia commodities play a less capital intensive role in the war economy, which is instead structured around the need to control key import, export, distribution and transit nodes such as maritime ports, airports, bridges, road junctions and markets. Licit exports such as bananas or charcoal transiting these nodes may be 'taxed' by militia groups, which also control the points of access required by commercial actors and humanitarian organizations seeking to deliver aid or goods. After SALW, the most valuable and widespread war economy commodity is the narcotic khat. Militia leaders control the import of khat and use revenue generated from its sale to finance SALW purchases. Air cargo carriers play a key role in the import and distribution of this product, which is consumed by many militia members. A UN Security Council report states that air cargo carriers transporting khat to Somalia are part owned by warlords and are also involved in poly-trafficking which include deliveries of SALW. The UN also states that air cargo carriers involved in khat and illicit SALW transfers to Somalia had earlier been contracted by Ugandan forces operating in the DRC.

Air cargo carriers and the war economy in Sudan, 1998 present

The ongoing conflicts in Sudan have been partly caused and sustained by competition for control of oilfields. The discovery of oil in the Darfur region and its concessions linked to particular foreign companies in partnership with relatives of members of the government have focused attention on the links between oil contracts, arms flows, conflict and displacement in Sudan. In southern Sudan and Darfur, government forces and rebels have 'utilized private sector actors as vehicles to earn the needed revenue and establish the required international connections to access military arms and continue fighting'. These private sector actors have included both foreign and domestic air cargo carriers to service the Sudanese oil industry via airfields such as those at Heglig. Indeed, the oil industry in central and southern Sudan is serviced by some of the same air cargo actors named in UN Security Council reports for violating arms embargoes in Darfur. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, air cargo Antonovs flying from the oil company airfield at Heglig have also been used to bomb villages in southern Sudan.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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