While nearly 50 African heads of state convene in Washington DC, one of Africa’s biggest defence contractors is making a pitch to let Africa have more advanced defence and security equipment and training.
This week, at the kickoff of the first US-Africa Leaders Summit, President Obama is hearing from young people, women, civil society leaders, change agents, stakeholders, heads of state – and South Africa’s Paramount Group.
For Ivor Ichikowitz, Executive Chairman of aerospace and defence company Paramount Group, the message is simple: Give Africa a chance to defend itself. He says he is attending the summit in Washington to make the case to the Obama administration that African countries should be encouraged to build up their own intelligence services, militaries, and national police to combat the continent’s rogues, insurgents, and fanatics.
The West, according to the South African defence entrepreneur, discourages governments from creating their own security infrastructures. And that’s a problem, in the age of Boko Haram and al Shabaab, he said. “The message from the U.S. and other countries is: ‘We will give you aid if you don’t use budgets to create armies and intelligence services.'”
To illustrate this point, Ichikowitz talks about a recent conversation he had with an African head of state that is currently involved in resisting insurgencies. “I have met with the president and he told me that he has no capacity to be able to afford the solutions they require because of limitations imposed by the international community on how they use their budget,” Ichikowitz said.
According to Ichikowitz, the International Monetary Fund told the head of state that it could not use money provided by the fund for its budget for advanced military equipment. “As a result, the government involved is forced to be reliant on the charity of Western powers, they are forced to be reliant on third parties to resolve a domestic problem,” he said.
Ichikowitz acknowledged in the interview that the African continent is awash in weapons, particularly small arms. “The Cold War resulted in the introduction of millions of small arms into the continent over the years,” he said. “A lot of this equipment has fallen into the hands of thugs, of fundamentalist organizations. As a result there is a formidable threat to almost every single African democracy. Unfortunately, the West has not necessarily given African governments the capability to create sophisticated, world-class capabilities to counter these threats.”
It’s also worth noting that the United States military has long-standing partnerships with many African militaries. But those partnerships often do not allow these states to acquire advanced technologies.
This is where Paramount believes it can step in, if given the chance. It makes a full range of armoured vehicles and also produces surveillance drones with the kind of sensors that can sniff out wireless communications from a discreet geographic area. Paramount also upgrades the electronics and avionics systems for Soviet-era helicopters, many of which are still used by African militaries.
Ichikowitz stressed that his company will not do business with any country that is under a United Nations embargo, is at war with its neighbours or opposes other sovereign democratic governments. Furthermore South Africa, through the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has some of the most stringent arms export regulations in the world to govern every single piece of defence equipment that is exported from the country.
Ichikowitz said he believes it’s time to arm countries like Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda with the kinds of unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance systems and weaponry that will give them an edge against the insurgencies and rogues that threaten their survival.
“Today in Africa this is about outlaws versus governments,” he said. “It’s time to trust the governments and give them the capability to defend their democracies.”
“In order to avoid the perpetuation of violence and conflict in Africa, African governments need to be allowed to create deterrence and the way to create deterrence is by encouraging and facilitating the creation of a strong domestic defence capability.”