Many of the nations of sub-Saharan Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia) signed an agreement in 2000 to get illegal weapons, particularly AK-47s, out of circulation. This was seen as the quickest way to reduce the high civilian death rates from tribal, political and bandit violence.
Angola has collected over 100,000 illegal weapons, many of them AK-47s. These are publicly destroyed, several thousand at a time, and reduced to scrap metal. Tanzania collected over 10,000. Burundi has seized over 50,000. The other nations have also found and destroyed thousands of these weapons. But this effort has only taken less than ten percent of these weapons out of circulation. In areas where a large proportion of the weapons have been seized, it has made a difference. But the continent is still awash in assault rifles.
The AK-47 has become as much of a curse for Africa as many major diseases. Not just in the places you hear about, like Somalia, Angola, Congo and Sudan, but in many others as well. Easy availability of firearms has produced a murder rate in South Africa that is, per capita, ten times what it is in the United States.
In many parts of East Africa, rural tribes got access to cheap AK-47s. This has resulted in traditional crimes, like stealing cattle or land, turning into bloody war. In western Kenya alone, there have been thousands of deaths from tribal clashes in the last five years. The violence has caused even more people to flee their homes, and wrecked local government in many areas. Sending in additional police and soldiers quieted things down somewhat. But the local guys with the guns know where to hide, and the government reinforcements don't. So, eventually, the police will leave, and the AK47s will still be there. Angola has not got a lot of tribal animosity, and is paying cash for weapons, especially assault rifles and machine-guns of all types. Governments have had to be creative to get these weapons away from their owners.
Foreign aid organizations have adapted by hiring some of the local gunmen, to protect the relief operations from all the other gunmen. That just takes money away from more socially acceptable work. But the guns cannot be ignored. Local bad guys can steal a lot more armed with an AK-47, than in the old days when all he had was a spear or an axe.
The disruptive effect of all these guns has halted, or reversed, decades of progress in treating endemic diseases. Death rates from disease and malnutrition are going up. All because of several million Cold War surplus AK-47s getting dumped in Africa. The world market for such weapons was glutted by the late 1990s. All that was left was Africa, but only if you were willing to sell cheap. The gunrunners were, and still are, although not so much in Angola, where police have cracked down on illegal arms sales.
The cheap AK-47 also made it possible to use 10-14 year old children as soldiers. This was a new development, because the old weapons (spears, swords, bows) required muscle. But now, if you could lift a ten pound AK-47 and pull the trigger, you were a killer. Child soldiers changed everything, because warlords could just kidnap kids and quickly brainwash them. These armies of child killers made insurrection and anarchy more common. Tens of millions of Africans fled their homes to avoid these tiny terrors, and many of those refugees died of starvation or disease. These victims were just as dead, even if the bullets didn't get them. In fact, few AK-47 victims died from bullets. It was the massive fear, and breakdown of society, and the economy, that killed most people confronted by all these cheap AK-47s. The kids weren't very good shots, but if they got close enough to you, they were capable of unimaginable horrors.
This influx of cheap AK-47s also created something of a gun culture. That has led to an increase in locally made weapons. In Nigeria, for example, there are the "Awka Guns," named after the southern city of Awka, which developed a tradition of handmade firearms in the 1960s, when it was part of the breakaway Republic of Biafra. The Biafran rebels needed weapons, and Awka, which had been a center of metal working for over a thousand years, mobilized thousands of metal workers to build crude firearms. The weapons manufacturing continued after the war, mainly to supply hunters, gangsters, and anyone needing an illegal firearm for any reason. The cheapest of these weapons is basically a single shot pistol firing a .410 (10.4mm) or 20 gauge (15.6mm) shotgun shell. This is for a young thug, or a homeowner desiring protection. Accurate enough for something within 5-10 feet. Not much good for hunting. These cost $25-$40 each. The Awka gunsmiths also make full size (or sawed off) shotguns (single or double barrel), that sell for $80-$250. These could be used for hunting. There are also handmade, 9mm revolvers for about $100. These weapons are found all over the country, but mostly in the south, and mostly among those who can't afford to pay a thousand dollars or more for a factory made weapon. On the down side, these weapons are more dangerous to use, often lacking a safety switch, and prone to exploding, rather than firing, when the trigger is pulled.
Ironically, people out in the countryside, where there are still dangerous animals that a gun can protect a village from, have fewer firearms. That's because there's more money, more to steal, and more demand for weapons in the cities. But these primitive weapons are not nearly as deadly as the Cold War surplus assault rifles.