Despite war, Russia overtakes China as major arms supplier to Sub-Saharan Africa

Russia is the world’s second largest exporter of weaponry in the world, after the United States, accounting for 20 percent of global arms sales and $15 billion per year in revenue.

Russian Weapon Exports

Russia is the world’s second largest weapons exporter, but its stock is slowly being destroyed on the battlefields of Ukraine every day.

Despite war with Ukraine, Russia has overtaken China as the major arms supplier to Sub-Saharam African militaries.

Russia has rapidly become the primary arms supplier to Sub-Saharan African militaries, despite ongoing armed conflicts with Ukraine. This development has seen the nation overtake China as the leading arms provider in the region. Russia has actively sought to expand its presence in Africa, and this has been mirrored in the increased supply of weaponry to African nations.

Data by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a global arms trade tracker, shows that Russia supplied 26 percent of the artillery imported by sub-Saharan Africa in five years . Even though Beijing has for long been the region’s largest seller of weapons.

Russia overtakes China in Africa’s arms market exports

Russia’s growing influence in Sub-Saharan Africa has been evidenced by the number of weapons deliveries to African militaries. China saw its share of the market drop to 18 percent from the 29 percent it supplied in the five years to 2017, as its total arms exports globally dipped by 23 percent.

According to Sipri, “several arms-exporting states are competing for influence in sub-Saharan Africa,” and Russia has emerged the biggest winner over the last five years, even as its war in Ukraine dipped its global share of the arms market.

Although, Moscow’s arms exports dropped by 31 percent in the five years to December 2022, causing its global share of exports to plunge to 16 percent from the 22 percent at the end of 2017, as the United States and France raised their share to 40 percent and 11 percent respectively.

Coups, Unrests fuels arms purchases

Overall, in Africa, arms imports saw a general slump of 40 percent, while the sub-Saharan Africa firearm imports dropped by 23 percent, although some countries such as Mali – that have had coups and political unrest in the period – increased their imports.

This comes against the backdrop of a heightened jostle between Russia and China for influence in Africa, which has seen the two countries deploy their top diplomatic officers on the continent like never before.

Russia has become a major arms supplier to Sub-Saharan Africa, overtaking China as the leading supplier.

In 2018, Russia delivered more than $2 billion worth of arms to African countries, including tanks, artillery and combat aircraft. The nation has also supplied armoured vehicles, small arms and light weapons, as well as air defence systems and missile launchers to African nations.

At the Russia-Africa summit in 2019, Moscow announced that it will be selling weapons worth at least $14 billion to Africa annually, and this is expected to grow as its relations with Africa improves against the backdrop of increasing instability in many of its friendly countries on the continent.

In recent years, Russia has built strong relationships with many African countries, including Mali, Nigeria, and Alferia. This has been driven by both geopolitical and economic factors, as Moscow seeks to strengthen its presence in the region. As a result, Russia’s weapons deliveries to African militaries have increased significantly.

In the last two decades, Moscow has managed to deepen its connection with Africa and become the biggest arms supplier on the continent.

Its arms exports to Africa increased by 23 percent over the last four years when compared to the previous four-year period, 2011–2015. “In 2020 and early 2021 alone, we signed contract documents worth over $1.7 billion in this region and brought the number of countries in Central, Western and Southern Africa in our order portfolio to 17,” said Alexander Mikheev, Director General of Rosoboronexport.

Weapons supplied by Russia to African militaries include a wide range of military equipment, from small arms and ammunition to tanks and anti-aircraft systems.

In addition, Moscow has also supplied the African Union with military hardware and training programs, further demonstrating its commitment to the region.

At the heat of the Russian-Ukraine conflict, experts had speculated that an unintended consequence of Russia’s “Special Military Operations” in Ukraine is that African militaries will have to look elsewhere for critically needed spare parts to keep their military equipment in working order.

Russia is the world’s second largest weapons exporter, but its stock is slowly being destroyed on the battlefields of Ukraine every day.

Russia’s strategic goal in Ukraine was expected to severely hamper Africa’s militaries’ own ability to carry out its wars, particularly against non-state and sub-state adversaries.

In time, Russia will have a hard time filling orders while scrambling to replenish its own stocks. Russia’s traditional arms clients may turn to foreign competitors, or turn to domestic production.

However, this is not yet the case as Moscow continues to fulfil it’s existing contracts with African militaries.

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