Arms In Africa: ‘Scramble For African Defense Market Has Just Begun’

Arms In Africa: ‘Scramble For African Defense Market Has Just Begun’

Cuts in U.S. defense spending and Western-backed efforts to bolster counterterrorism in Africa have international defense companies looking increasingly to Africa as an emerging arms market potentially worth $20 billion, according to a UPI report.

Defense spending in Africa, where established and emerging energy sources need protecting, could exceed $20 billion over the next decade, the U.S. weekly Defense News reports.

Increased defense spending is partly due to recent expansion of several armies in Africa, which “seems to have been in continual ferment with wars, coups and insurgencies since the end of the colonial era in 1960s,” the report said.

Most of the expansion has taken place since 2001, the report said, and is primarily about Western-backed efforts to bolster counterterrorism capabilities, particularly in the Sahel region of Northern Africa, the oil and gas-rich Mediterranean belt, and Horn of Africa on the East coast where al-Qaida and its offshoots have been highly active.

“The scramble for the African defense market has just begun, and it will continue over the next decade,” said Col. Joseph Sibanda, a retired  Zimbabwe Army officer, now a defense analyst.

Mozambique, now the center of a major gas boom, along with neighboring Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya – where oil and gas have been found – will need to recalibrate its defense requirements to protect oil and gas infrastructure onshore and offshore.

This will include more patrol ships, probably maritime surveillance aircraft and possibly unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Africa will in the next few years rise to become a defense market almost at the same level with Southeast Asia,” Sibanda said. Military aircraft, armored vehicles and advanced artillery systems are expected to top the list as African militaries and law enforcement authorities modernize to meet new security threats.

“Demand for military hardware in Africa is set to increase as governments gear up to fight terrorists and Islamic militants,” analysts said in the Defense News report. “Nations say they need better firepower, modernized forces, improved armed mobility and stronger force protection to fight militants that have become the scourge of nations throughout East, West and North Africa.”

Most of sub-Saharan Africa’s leading armies have also expanded despite the continent’s widespread poverty, Oxford Analytica reported.

This is attributed largely to expanded donor-funded peacekeeping operations involving African forces and “elevated security threat perceptions.” This has been particularly evident in Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria.

“Since 2001, Africa’s armies appear to have enjoyed external support levels not (seen) since the height of the Cold War,” according to Oxford Analytica. “U.S. and European programs have funded initiatives aimed at ‘stabilization’ or ‘democratic consolidation.'”

Oil-rich countries like Nigeria, Algeria and Libya have bought top-tier weapon systems like aircraft, naval vessels and tanks over the years, but Africa has not been a key market for major Western defense contractors.

South Africa and Egypt are the only African countries with indigenous arms industries, the report said. However South Africa’s Israel-linked defense sector has diminished considerably since the end of white rule in 1994.

“South African companies are especially better positioned to make the best out of this business opportunity given their excellent track record in meeting continental defense needs,” Sibanda said.

A leader in South Africa’s defense industry is Denel, capable of producing advanced missile systems, world-class artillery and aerospace systems. Africa’s largest economy could be a major beneficiary of a major equipment upgrade of the continent’s armed forces.

Denel and B&T of Switzerland recently signed a technology transfer allowing Denel to produce and market small arms ranging from submachine guns to grenade launchers.

Denel will initially use Swiss-made components while upgrading its production plant to manufacture parts in South Africa.

In the aviation industry, Denel Aviation recently signed a repair and service deal with Eurocopter, a division of the European defense giant EADS that covers all AS332 Super Puma, B0 105, AS350 Ecureuil and Alouette helicopters in Africa.