The U.S. Must Supply Arms To African Countries To Counter Chinese Arms Exports

A Chinese-made CH-3A drone of Nigerian Air Force. Nigeria bought a number of drones from China. Source Defense News Nigeria.

A widely-read Nigerian media outlet explained in a multipart published news why Nigeria felt it necessary to negotiate a series of covert military procurement deals with Beijing. 

The article explains how U.S. export controls on attack drones and advanced Apache helicopters led the Nigerians to turn to the Chinese instead for these technologies. “The United States doesn’t export attack drones to Africa because Africans lack the capacity to handle high tech weaponry they decided,” wrote the contributor.

“Well, China took advantage of that hole in the market and they weren’t too pleased about it,” they added.

Chinese workers unloading a VT-4 tank in Nigerian port.

After decades of underfunding its military, Nigeria’s defence budget has increased substantially during the past 10 years. Yet the performance of the country’s military remains poor. And the country’s security challenges continue.

The Nigerian Guardian newspaper investigation revealed that the procurement of military weapons are usually shrouded in secrecy which means that outdated items instead of modern weapons are usually purchased.

Chinese-made JF-17 wing with Nigerian Air Force logo.

Retired police commissioner and security analyst Lawrence Alobi noted that the Nigerian security agencies are powerless because they lack the operational intelligence to thwart the activities of criminal organizations in the country.

The Losen Arms Control

The United States is easing restrictions on the sale of armed drone technology to governments in the Middle East and elsewhere in a bid to avoid being left behind by Chinese competitors in this fast-growing segment. 

Ugandan army is showing Chinese imports from military boots, uniform and arms, an end-to-end Chinese brand displays in this parade.

The United States has now formally changed its interpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a 35-nation agreement aimed at limiting the proliferation of rocket-based weapons such as ballistic and cruise missiles as well as armed drones.

Chinese-made armed drones including the popular CH-3 and CH-4 have become increasingly common in both the Middle East and Africa. For example, Nigeria regularly uses its CH-3A attack drones in its battle with Boko Haram militants.

Professor Elijah N. Munyi from United States International University in Nairobi is a leading scholar in U.S.-Africa policy, with particular expertise in military relations. Professor Munyi published a working paper this week that coincided with his participation in the China-Africa Research Initiative’s annual conference that focused this year on security-related issues.

Chinese Influence In Africa

Why are African states shifting their military procurement from traditional suppliers (the West and Russia) in preference of Chinese arms? This article seeks to use Kenya and Uganda as case studies to explore their military procurement priorities and to examine whether or not the growing preference for Chinese arms will affect their relations with the U.S.

The research finds that, although these countries view U.S. military hardware as the gold standard, the higher costs associated with comparable U.S. hardware and the protracted and sometimes intrusive US. oversight processes make low quality Chinese arms more attractive.

During the past decade, China has been investing a lot of money in sub-Saharan Africa:

Some Western observers worry that this represents a new form of colonialism. Given the continent’s history with European conquerors and rich countries trying to cheaply exploit its natural resources, that suspicion is understandable. But although China can sometimes be predatory — for example, when uneconomical projects saddle African companies or governments with unpayable debt — the new African investment bears little resemblance to the colonialism of old.

In addition, diversification of military suppliers is regarded as strategically important to avoid dependency. Based on this research it would appear that U.S. and China’s military competition in Africa remains only rhetorical thus far. 

“Overall, the picture that emerges shows how China’s arms supply to African states is principally an alternative to Pax Americana. Thus, Chinese arms supply to African states does not seek to follow or entrench any clear vision of regional stability, as is the case with US arms exports. Commercial considerations, on the other hand, seem to come first.”

 “The United States’ stringent requirements monitoring the end-user of procured hardware emerged as one of the most influential aspects of bureaucratic oversight that both Kenya and Uganda had to deal with, and that ultimately led to a preference for Chinese hardware whenever possible.”

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