Africa: The Next Defense Market Opportunity?
Low value. Corrupt. Aid-driven. Despite the odd exception like Algeria, and South Africa’s indigenous defense industry, most people think of these terms when they think of the African defense market. Analyst firm Forecast International sees a different picture, however: “tomorrow’s growth market for the global defense industry.”
This assessment didn’t come from reading Nigerian email solicitations. F.I. admits that overall African spending isn’t expected to suddenly become impressive: 3.5% increases year-on-year from 2007-2011 to $15.9 billion, with under 20% of defense budgets slated for procurement.
That isn’t much to write home about, but “African Market Overview” author Matthew Ritchie sees the opportunities in much more specific terms. Meanwhile, Konstantin Makienko of Moscow Defence Brief discusses the key features of the arms market in Africa, and explains how they have worked to shift Russia out of its dominant role, in favor of China. His chronicle of Russian exports reveals at least one recent market success, however – in Sudan…
Matthew Ritchie, Forecast International:
“…looking at the confluence of burgeoning security requirements and vast oil and [natural] gas reserves in the context of high energy prices and it becomes readily apparent that there is a collection of Africa nations demonstrating procurement characteristics reminiscent of the Middle East three decades ago.”
Algeria, Libya, and Nigeria are cited as key examples of the energy-wealth driven increases, and their specific increases are both higher and more procurement-driven than other African governments’. Growing oil production around the entire Gulf of Guinea could lift other boats as well, creating other nations with “rentier governments” with a correlated interest in overhauling their military capabilities in order to secure their position against external or internal hostility.
The African arms market has traditionally featured a US/European vs. Russian focus, thanks to the Cold War. Russia’s lack of interest in the uses its weapons are put to will continue to make them somewhat popular, and their Algerian natural gas for arms squeeze play aimed at Europe remains the most significant arms deal on the continent. China is a growing player in this market, however, for reasons that combine their ‘no strings’ policy and growing ties to the region created by China’s resource needs. Nigeria’s 2005 buy of J-7 fighters is a good example of that trend, and the relative low cost of Chinese export offerings is a plus in this market.
Konstantin Makienko of Moscow Defence Brief describes 3 key factors influencing most African arms purchases:
Economic weakness. This leaves a very few states as serious players who can buy new equipment, coupled with concentration of demand in lower market segments like used equipment.
High levels of localized conflict does drive demand for weapons, but the demand it drives is often the cheapest, simplest weapons with the fastest delivery times. This can be items like small arms, but basic items delivered from existing state stockpiles also have an edge.
Finally, the weakness of state institutions, pervasive corruption, and in many case the collapse of central government into ‘failed state’ status drive illegal arms sales in which non-state and even black market dealers thrive.
These dynamics, coupled with key losses during the 1990s in South Africa and Nigeria, have eroded Russia’s standing in favor of China, whose offerings and approach offer a much better fit with these characteristics. The biggest exception is Algeria, and even that deal has become shaky. Makienko’s chronicles the history of Russian defense exports to the region reveals another bright spot, however – Sudan, who is also a notable chinese arms and oil client.
Despite all this, Forecast International reports that American and European share of the total value of arms transfer agreements with Africa rose from 34% to 37% between 1999-2002 and 2003-2006. As the oil market drives military modernizations in a number of key African states, will that trend continue?
- DID (March 29/12) – Super Tucano Counter-Insurgency Plane Makes Inroads Into Africa. Bought by Angola, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania
- South Africa’s Paramount Group (Nov 29/10) – Oil boom and terror fears fuel African defence spending spree. They use SIRPI’s figures of $23.6 billion for Africa-wide spending in 2007, and $27.7 billion in 2009.
- Forecast International (Dec 3/09) – African Defense Market Churning Despite Economic Woes
- DefPro (March 26/09) – Russia’s Presence in African Arms Market on the Decline
- DID (Feb 1/09) – China’s Unusual Deals Working to Grow African Arms Presence