Russia faces tough Chinese competition in the African arms market: report

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Russia is facing stiff competition from China and perhaps also from the Ukraine, India and Pakistan as well as western European states in providing arms to Africa.

Writing in the Moscow Defence Brief about Russian efforts to build on the market share held by the former Soviet Union, Konstantin Makienko of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies notes that the USSR began to deliver arms to Africa in the mid sixties in the form of military assistance to left-wing and anti-Western regimes.
Makienko says the first truly large recipient of Soviet armaments was the federal government of Nigeria, during the war against the separatists of the self-proclaimed Biafra.
“Later, most deliveries of arms went to states that chose the ‘socialist path` of development under leadership of a ‘revolutionary-democratic` party. Especially large deliveries were made for obvious reasons to countries involved in civil or interstate conflicts, such as Angola, Ethiopia, Somalia (until it broke off relations with the Soviet Union in 1977) and Mozambique.
“With the growing economic crisis in the USSR and accompanying efforts at reform, the political rationale for providing gratuitous military-technical assistance steadily decreased. During the first half of the 1990s, Russia made just a few small deliveries of armor to Angola.”
The Russian researcher adds that this changed in the second half of the 1990s. “A sharp rise in demand for Russian arms occurred in 1997–1998, in relation to the civil war in Angola, the beginning of the armed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the large-scale regional war in the Great Lakes region.
“In each of these cases, deliveries of aviation from the existing strength of the Air Force or factory stocks played a large role. In the fall of 1998, Promeksport concluded a contract with Ethiopia to deliver eight Su-27 fighters. The entire process from the start of negotiations to the delivery of the fighters in December lasted only 62 days. Since one aircraft was lost in a demonstration flight, Promeksport delivered one more Su-27UB to Ethiopia in January 1999.
“At the same time, six MiG-29 were delivered to Eritrea. All fighters took an active part in the combat of 1999–2000. A UN embargo was placed on arms deliveries to the combatants from 2000–2001, but when the embargo ceased to be in effect in May 2001 both countries continued to place orders.
“Ethiopia acquired a second batch of seven Su-27 fighters, which were delivered from 2002–2003. Eritrea also purchased a second batch of four MiG-29, and in 2004-2005 it received another two MiG-29SE, and two previously delivered fighters were modernized to the MiG-29SMT standard. Eritrea thus became the second country after Yemen to employ this most advanced modification of the MiG-29,” Makienko notes.  
“In 2000, Russia also delivered two Su-25T ground attack planes and two Su-25UB to Ethiopia. Both sides received Russian combat helicopters: Ethiopia got ten Mi-25V, and Eritrea got four. Aside from aviation equipment, Ethiopia also imported a large number of artillery systems from 1998 – 2000.
“The war in the Great Lakes region led to a rise in demand for Russian combat helicopters and aircraft. The main purchasers were Angola and Zimbabwe. Angola purchased 12 MiG-23MLD fighters, six Su-22M4 fighter-bombers and Mi-24V combat helicopters, while Zimbabwe purchased six modernized Mi-24V and Mi-24P helicopters.
“Among the other combatants Uganda purchased six modernized Mi-24PN combat helicopters (the sole foreign customer of this modification), and Rwanda received two Mi-24V.
“Among the warring states of the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, Sudan stood out as an important purchaser of Russian arms after 2001. In 2003-2004, it received ten MiG-29SE and two MiG-29UB, as well as 20 Mi-24P and 60 BTR-80A armored personnel carriers. A small batch of combat and airborne transport helicopters was sold to other African countries: two Mi-24V to each of Burkina Faso and Chad, two Mi-24P to Senegal, and six Mi-24P to Nigeria,” Makienko reports.
Failure and competition
Makienko says Russia`s main failure on the African arms market is “the fiasco surrounding its attempts to penetrate the largest market of the region: that of South Africa.”
He notes the country was unable to secure any part of the 1999 Strategic Defense Package air and naval acquisitions programme that was worth US$3.9 billion.
“Russia was unable to secure even one contract out of this package. The main cause of this failure lay in the inability of Russian industry and exporters to put together an offset program that would satisfy the extremely complex Industrial Participation requirements of South Africa.
“Moreover, it would seem that the traditional ties between the predominantly white military leadership of South Africa and British foreign services played a role, along with similar ties between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Swedish political elite.”
Makienko does not mention that the selection of west and north European equipment came in the face of the good relations and massive support from the USSR to the ANC and many of its leaders while they were in exile from 1960 to 1994. It must be said however, that relations between those leaders and post Soviet Russia were somewhat cool and largely remain so.       
“In addition, Russia was unable to penetrate the aviation market of Nigeria. Towards the end of the 1990s, negotiations for the sale of Su-27 or MiG-29 took place, and also for the modernization of Nigeria`s fleet of MiG-21. The negotiations failed, and Nigeria ended up purchasing 12 Chinese F-7NI and three FT-7NI,” an early indication of a concerted Chinese push into the Africa market, where some dabbling apart, they had been a minor player up to then.    
“Finally, MiG Corporation was unable to expand into the African market beyond the initial advances it made in the late 1990s. As mentioned above, MiG was able to sell from excess stock a relatively large batch of MiG-29 to Sudan and Eritrea for low prices. By early 2000 it was negotiating the sale of MiG-29 to Chad (four units), Uganda (six) and Tanzania (six fighters).
“And it signed a formal contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo for the delivery of four MiG-29. However, for a number of mainly financial reasons, not one of these projects was implemented, and the market has gradually come to be dominated by Chinese production.”
 
Market factors
Makienko says this last factor has an impact on acquisition decisions: “Most states in the region belong to the poorest category of countries of the world, which precludes the development of an arms market of any significant size.
“In the majority of cases, demand is concentrated on the most inexpensive, used armaments and equipment. When new equipment is purchased, priority is given to obtaining the cheapest models available, which are usually Chinese. The low financial standing of African importers encourages the use of alternative means of financing deals through barter arrangements, debt swaps, concessions, and payment by instalment.”
Other factors influencing Russia`s ability to maintain market share are the changing nature of conflict and the continued weakness of African state institutions.
Conflict and state collapse
Makienko avers that after the end of the Cold War, the main source of conflict in the area has been small inter-tribe and inter-clan conflicts in the context of a weak, and in many cases artificial state.
“Angola, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Burundi, and Rwanda are involved in interstate conflicts. In some cases, such as Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the conflicts have led to the collapse of the state.
“In the Great Lakes region, internal conflicts have taken on a cross-border character, giving birth to a difficult, regional war involving almost ten regional states and many intrastate armed formations. There have also been ‘classic` interstate armed conflicts, such as the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, and the conflict between Eritrea and Yemen.
“The situation in the Horn of Africa has signs of trans-border conflict with the participation of both state and non-state actors. In recent years, severe internal crises have affected several states previously thought to be stable, such as Cote d`Ivoire in 2004 and Kenya in 2008.
“The presence of conflicts naturally leads to a demand for armaments, with the priority on the fastest possible delivery of low-cost weapons, especially those that are simple to use and maintain and which have been either used by the army in question or which could be supplied along with personnel from abroad to maintain the equipment.
“These factors encourage repeat purchases from the same suppliers. Since the main arsenals of arms and military equipment readily available for sale originates from the CIS and Central and Eastern Europe, these states have become the main suppliers of arms to the conflict zones of Africa.
The collapse of central governments, significant demand for weapons from non-state actors (including private military companies), and extremely high levels of corruption have led to the wide proliferation of illegal arms exports.
“Such deliveries are made by non-state dealers, often in contravention of international embargos. One of the manifestations of the illegal arms market in the region is the phenomenon of ‘blood diamonds` whereby arms deliveries are paid with unfinished diamonds. This practice has been widespread in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
While Russia had a strong presence at last month`s Africa Aerospace and Defence show, so too did China, India and Pakistan. Some 30 out of 54 African states had official delegations at the show and would have seen the comprehensive range of competitively priced equipment on sale from those sources.     
Table 1. The main features of the African arms market
Market forming factor
Specific feature of the market
Dominant exporters
Economic weakness of the state of the region
Concentration of demand in the lower market segments, especially for previously used equipment
CIS, Central and Eastern Europe, China
High levels of conflict
Demand for the simplest, cheapest offers with the fastest delivery times
Deliveries from existing stocks or excess supplies from CIS or Central and Eastern Europe
Weakness of state institutions, corruption, collapse of central government
Proliferation of illegal arms sales
Non-state, black-market dealers
 
Table 2. Russian arms transfers to Africa 1992 – 2006
Year
Importer
Arms Category
Number
1992
Sierra Leone
Armored combat vehicles
4
1993
Angola
Main battle tanks
20
1993
Angola
Armored combat vehicles
35
1993
Angola
Large caliber artillery
14
1994
Angola
Main battle tanks
10
1994
Angola
Armored combat vehicles
138
1996
Eritrea
Combat helicopters
4
1998
Angola
Armored combat vehicles
65
1998
Ethiopia
Large caliber artillery
12
1998
Angola
Combat aircraft
6
1998
Eritrea
Combat aircraft
6
1998
Ethiopia
Combat aircraft
8
1998
Chad
Combat helicopters
2
1999
Ethiopia
Large caliber artillery
20
1999
Ethiopia
Combat aircraft
1
1999
Zimbabwe
Combat helicopters
6
1999
Rwanda
Combat helicopters
2
2000
Ethiopia
Large caliber artillery
307
2000
Ethiopia
Combat aircraft
4
2000
Angola
Combat helicopters
2
2000
Nigeria
Combat helicopters
6
2001
Sudan
Armored combat vehicles
22
2001
Eritrea
Combat aircraft
2
2001
Angola
Combat helicopters
2
2001
Sudan
Combat helicopters
12
2002
Sudan
Armored combat vehicles
8
2002
Angola
Combat helicopters
2
Year
Importer
Arms Category
Number
2002
Sudan
Combat helicopters
4
2003
Ethiopia
Large caliber artillery
18
2003
Sudan
Combat aircraft
3
2003
Ethiopia
Combat aircraft
3
2003
Uganda
Combat helicopters
3
2003
Ethiopia
Combat helicopters
7
2004
Sudan
Combat aircraft
9
2004
Sudan
Combat helicopters
4
2004
Ethiopia
Combat helicopters
3
2005
Burkina Faso
Combat helicopters
2
2005
Sudan
Combat helicopters
12
2006
Sudan
Combat helicopters
4
Source: UN Register