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Russia, the leading arms seller in sub-Saharan Africa


Exit China, come back to Russia. Over the past five years, from 2018 to 2022, Moscow has taken over from Beijing the top arms seller in sub-Saharan Africa with a total of 26% market share, compared to 21% in the previous period, according to a report. published in mid-March by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), whose work on the subject is a reference. This fraction even climbs to 40% if we include the Maghreb, where Algeria is historically a major customer of Russian arms companies. China, for its part, saw its market share plunge from 29% to 18% in the sub-region, thus falling to second place, ahead of France (about 8%) and the United States (5%). .

As in other areas such as infrastructure, energy or mining, there is currently an intense “competition between arms exporting countries for influence in sub-Saharan Africa”, notes the Sipri. An economic-diplomatic battle in which Moscow has been particularly active in recent years. Weapons were thus featured as flagship export products at the first Russia-Africa Summit organized in Sochi in 2019, where Vladimir Putin received more than 40 African heads of state. More broadly, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, spearhead of Russian ambitions, has already visited Mali, Angola and South Africa in 2023, after visiting Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC ), Uganda and Ethiopia in 2022.

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Although the figures are not disclosed, the amounts at stake in Africa remain modest compared to the approximately $15 billion (in value) of arms exported by Russia in 2021, according to Siemon Wezeman, one of the report’s authors. ” I will be surprised if we are talking about more than a billion dollars per year, estimates the Sipri researcher, emphasizing that sub-Saharan Africa imports few weapons compared to the rest of the world (2% over the period, down 23% compared to 2013-2017) and especially little equipment. technologies, such as armed vehicles or light artillery, and therefore of low value.

The top three importers in the sub-region are relatively wealthy or conflict-affected countries: Angola, Nigeria and Mali. The latter, the scene of two successive coups in 2020 and 2021, saw its arms imports explode by 210% compared to the previous period. Bamako, notes Mr. Wezeman, is also an illustrative example of the African arms market.

Free field

The latter remains first of all very open » and competitive, where States most often opt for the most financially advantageous contracts. Thus, Russia is the first supplier of Mali – where the mercenaries of the private security group Wagner are deployed – but Bamako has also, among others, bought from Brazil, China, Turkey or the United Arab Emirates.

There are many possible options for most African statesobserves Mr. Wezeman, noting however that some of them are faced with refusals from exporters. For Mali, for example, the United States no longer has the will [de livrer des armes au pays]as well as European countries, because of problems of internal democracy. The country is indeed run by a junta led by Colonel Assimi Goïta. This situation leaves the field open to States that are less observant in this area.

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The link between Russian arms sales and the presence of the paramilitary group Wagner is established, notes Mr. Wezeman. ” We see it in Mali, we also see it in Libya or the Central African Republic. Even if there is an embargo of the United Nations, the weapons enter and they enter in particular with Wagner “, he underlines, adding that these mercenaries mainly use Russian weapons in these countries where they are active, whether their presence is official or not.

Russian arms exports to the world are expected to decrease from 2023 mainly due to the war in Ukraine, but this does not mean that those destined for ” Africa will fall to zero”, notes Mr. Wezeman. They should keep, according to him, small stocks of weapons intended for African countries. One way, he points out, to satisfy these states and ensure that they will remain neutral in the United Nations Security Council or in other political bodies “.