June 1, 2010:
With nearly 400,000 football (soccer) fans headed for South Africa, to see the World Cup games live, some are concerned about the high murder rate there (about 38 per 100,000 people a year). Half those killings are with edged weapons (knives, axes, swords, machetes). In response to this perceived need, a British firm is advertising $70 "stab-proof vest". The "Protektorvest" is available with football themes printed on it. South Africa was not happy with this, and pointed out that the murder rate for tourists was much lower than the one for the population as a whole, and that it was highly likely that no tourists at all would be killed during the games.
But South Africa, and Africa in general, is a dangerous place. So is Latin America and parts of Asia. While many of the deaths are from stabbings, or blunt instruments, burning or drowning, guns are increasingly common instrument of murder. For example, there are 80 million privately owned firearms in Latin America. For a region with 550 million people, that's a lot of firepower. The murder rate is about 16 per 100,000 population. The murder rate in the Western hemisphere (about 8 per 100,000 people a year) is much higher than in Europe, where it is about 3-4. Middle Eastern nations have rates of between 5-10. The United States is often regarded, at least by Europeans, as a wild, gun happy place. But the national murder rate is about six per 100,000. There are other parts of the world that are more violent. Iraq has a murder rate of less than 20, about what it was under Saddam (10-20 a year), but less than a quarter of what it was three years ago.
In Africa, especially Congo, Sudan and South Africa, you find similar murder rates. Only South Africa has a sufficiently effective government to actually keep accurate track of the murder rate, mostly from crime. It's worse in places like Congo and Sudan, but the numbers there are only estimates by peacekeepers and relief workers. In southern Thailand, a terror campaign by Islamic radicals has caused a death rate of over 80 per 100,000.
While firearms make it easier to kill, they are not necessary for a high murder rate. Parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa have murder rates of over ten (or much more) per 100,000, without the presence of many firearms. To lower the murder rate, something has to be done about anger management, more so than weapons control. Criminals can always get banned weapons, and in some parts of the world, the anger issues are much worse. Corrupt and ineffective government are the most common cause of anger, and this has been a problem that is difficult to deal with.
Frontier areas have long been noted for less law and more violence. Tribal societies are more violent than those using more advanced forms of government (monarchy, democracy), a fact which is often ignored by pundits and journalists. But anthropologists, archaeologists and historians continue to uncover more evidence that tribal systems are very violent. One reason for the enormous population growth in Africa after the 19th century, was the European colonial rule stopped the incessant, and debilitating, tribal warfare. While the colonial administrations were none too gentle, tribal wars often ended up in the extermination of the losing tribe. But no such violence is expected in South Africa this year, as the football tribes assemble to intimidate their opponents.