Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who designed the AK47 died a week before Christmas at the age of 94, but his creation is likely to remain a dominant force in Africa’s warfare.
The AK47 has been in action since 1949 when it was officially accepted by the Soviet Armed Forces and at the time of his death, it’s estimated that between 70 million and 100 million copies had been distributed worldwide.
It’s also safe to say that Africa is home to a significant number of these AK47 rifles spitting fire and claiming millions of lives in civil conflicts on either side of warring parties.
The tricky bit is to determine who was more famous between Kalashnikov the man and Kalashnikov the gun. But the fact is that both Kalashnikovs are infamous subjects. First, Kalashnikov is blamed by critics for designing a gun that has killed more people worldwide than any other gun in history.
It was a debate that divided millions of online readers with many arguing that Kalashnikov, who designed the gun as a young man in his early twenties shouldn’t be handed the entire end of the dirty stick for the millions of deaths his gun caused. Many question the role of warlords.
Indeed, in a 2007 press interview, the designer who died at the rank of a General, said; “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”
It’s surprising that news of Kalashnikov’s death didn’t receive huge coverage in East African papers, considering the crucial role the AK47 has played in liberation struggles.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda wrote in book, Sowing the Mustard, how a band of fighters raided a barracks and took off with several copies of the AK47 to start the war that ushered in his National Resistance Movement/Army to power in 1986.
Truth be told, this article will never come close to explaining why the AK47 was such a darling for most pre-independence liberation groups and later guerilla armies of the post independence years as your writer participated in none.
A proper story about the famed efficiency of the AK47 should be told by fairy army Generals.
In Rwanda, the AK47 played a major role in helping the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) to liberate the country from the grips of a dangerous regime that masterminded the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Uganda’s liberation war (depending on your political camp) and Rwanda’s RPA victory in 1994 are some of the good examples where Kalashnikov can be praised for having designed the AK47.
In Mozambique, the AK47 has been enshrined on the country’s national flag.
An uncle of mine, who coincidentally died on the same day as Kalashnikov, was a policeman and whenever he carried an AK47, you would see his love for the gun from the tenderness with which he cleaned it.
During his lifetime, Kalashnikov had always insisted that he designed the gun for defense not offence (mainly against Hitler’s Nazi army). Those who are familiar with history will know that Russia was being occupied by Germany and the country summoned every citizen to ‘defend the mother land’ and the AK47 was partly a product of these circumstances, noble you would say.
One of Kalashnikov’s popular quotes goes thus; “Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer.”
But beyond the praises; the AK47 has also been widely misused. In Latin America, drug lords have used it to kill thousands.
Not far from Rwanda, a fresh conflict ranges on in South Sudan, and the AK47 is without doubt, among the many weapons being fired. In DR Congo, hundreds of rebel bands use the AK47 as a tool of intimidation to rape, loot and terrorize locals.
There’s also Central African Republic, another place where the AK47 ranges on.
It’s quite clear therefore that while Kalashnikov, who was the 17th born of 19 children, is dead; his legacy will live on through the AK47 and its exploits. He also leaves behind a son, who’s a weapon designer.
One commenter summed it up; “Guns are great at killing people but only when being handled by a human being that wants to kill someone else.” This vindicates the designer and might God judge him with mercy.