SIPRI maps foreign military intervention in Africa


Over the past decade major external actors, including the United States, China and Russia, have advanced their security, geopolitical and economic interests in Africa.

An analysis of the security activities of seven ‘major actors’ in Africa shows an increasing use of multilateral approaches, support for the “Africanisation” of African security and the privatisation of foreign security support, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Titled “Security Activities of External Actors in Africa,” the publication aims to fill some of the knowledge and understanding gaps of external actors on the African continent.

The countries mapped by SIPRI are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN).

The publication is the first SIPRI attempt to comprehensively map the seven major external actors’ security activities in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The form of external security activities in Africa has shifted over the past 10 to 20 years from permanent military presence to temporary interventions, often within a multilateral framework; from direct military intervention to training of African security forces and other support for African security; and from large-scale arms transfers to allied African countries to lower levels of arms transfers linked to specific security programmes,” said Dr Elisabeth Sköns, Head of SIPRI’s Africa Security and Governance Project.
“There are, of course, major exceptions to this such as the US military base in Djibouti and French bilateral interventions in West Africa, but, by and large, these are the main trends.”

While the form is shifting, SIPRI says the drivers remain basically unchanged. External actors in Africa continue to pursue policies based on their own self-interest, making lasting progress in African security issues problematic.
“Many of their activities in Africa are part of policies to prevent security problems in Africa such as transnational crime, violent radicalisation and international terrorism from spreading to their own countries, or to seek access to resources in Africa,” Dr Olawale Ismail, co-editor of publication and now Head of Research at International Alert following a three year stint as SIPRI senior researcher.

External actors’ security activities in Africa take place within the context of a global trend towards multilateralism, especially in peace operations. Overall between 1989 and 2013 the UN conducted 33 peace operations in Africa.
“At the same time we have seen some actors revert to bilateral intervention when multilateral approaches are too slow,” Dr Vincent Boulanin, a Researcher with the SIPRI European Security Programme and author of the chapter on France, said. “The recent interventions by France in Mali and other West African countries are cases in point.”
“External actors increasingly emphasise the importance of local ownership and devise policies to support African countries to help themselves. However, they often come with predefined programmes and they tend to interfere when things do not develop as they would like to see it. There is a need for true partnerships,” adds Ismail.

As far as China and its relations with Africa are concerned the publication highlights, in a media backgrounder, that these date back to early post World War Two in modern times.
“China has been a supplier of major weapons to Africa since the 1960s but is generally regarded as a relatively new security actor in Africa. This is explained by its expanded engagements in Africa in the 21st century, including in security matters, for example, the triennial summits of the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) held since 2000 and China’s 2006 Africa policy.
“China supports and participates in UN peace operations in Africa and engages in bilateral military co-operation, among others, training of African military personnel and judicial and police co-operation to combat transnational organised crime and corruption.
“Data on Chinese security activities in Africa are difficult to obtain. UN data on peace operations show a strong growth in Chinese contributions to UN peace operations in Africa since 2000.
“SIPRI data on transfers of major weapons show that China’s arms transfers have focused on a few large deliveries to two to three countries at a time (e.g. Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe in 2004/08 and Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana in 2009/13) and have increased significantly since the early 2000s.
“China’s military and security relations in Africa have attracted criticism from the international community in recent years. Most notably, China’s arms sales to some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and Zimbabwe, have come under scrutiny from human rights advocacy groups and Western governments, while China maintains it abides by international regulations.”