china arms

Kenya: Commercial Imperative in Chinese Arms Exports to Africa 2020

Nairobi (HAN). 1st October, 2020. New Working Paper and Policy Brief and International Security By. Elijah N. Munyi. The past decade has seen a rise in the global share of Chinese defense sales – in this set of publications, Elijah N. Munyi looks at the implications for the African continent. Munyi examines the motivations for some African states’ growing preference for Chinese arms with a particular focus on case studies conducted in Uganda and Kenya. Read on to find out how Prof. Munyi delves into the nuance behind the preferences for military procurement.


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 US. The research finds that, although these countries view US military hardware as the gold standard, the higher costs associated with comparable US hardware and the protracted and sometimes intrusive US oversight processes make Chinese arms more attractive. In addition, diversification of military suppliers is regarded as strategically important to avoid dependency.
Based on this research it would appear that US and China’s military competition in Africa remains only rhetorical thus far.
Largest importer of arms: Ranking the top 10 countries of 2018


In the past decade, Chinese sales of its defense equipment to African states has made significant gains. According to the Military Balance 2018, an annual report produced by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, 68 percent of African countries now use Chinese made military equipment.1 Since 2005, at least ten African states, referred to as “emergent customers” —Angola, Algeria, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, and Uganda—have become new customers of Chinese made military equipment. Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, and Kenya, which have previously purchased Chinese military hardware, have also escalated their total share of
Chinese military imports in the past decade. The switch to purchase Chinese arms rather than remain with traditional partners, like the US, Europeans states, and Russia, raises an interesting puzzle.
What is precipitating this shift in military procurement among African states? This question is particularly pertinent to African countries like Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria who have traditionally relied on the US for military supplies as part of their fight against regional terror groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabaab. Overall, this study seeks to examine three questions. First, does the preponderance of Chinese arms imports influence democratic consolidation or disintegration? This question, in particular, relates to accusations of China’s proclivity to sell arms to so-called rogue states. Second, what motivates African states to switch their defense procurement from traditional Western suppliers (or Russia) to China? Finally, how does this switch in procurement influence an African state’s relationship with traditional defense suppliers (specifically the US) in view of the putative military challenge that China poses to the US’s global military dominance?
China's arms exports to Africa skyrocket, fresh report says • TODAY NEWS  AFRICA
As the former US National Security Advisor and Ambassador John Bolton put
it in 2018 when announcing the Trump administration’s New Africa Strategy, “in Africa, we are already seeing the disturbing effects of China’s quest to obtain more political, economic, and military power.”3 This policy’s announcement sounded a warning on the likely intensification of military competition in Africa between the US and China. Critical aspects of this competition are likely to be African states’ military diplomacy and procurement conduct. African states’ preferences in military procurement could thus precipitate a shift in relations between the US and specific African states.
While US arms sales have been taken to imply regional security guarantees in volatile regions such as the Middle East or Northeast Asia, Chinese arms sales to African states have often elicited a less favorable comparison.
Chinese military sales have been associated with helping the survival of rogue regimes.5 Is Chinese arms procurement spurred by regime protection assurances for beleaguered and insecure regimes? Or could the increasing preference for Chinese arms also be driven by a soft balance strategy on the part of African states? Whittaker argues that, “some of the
United States’ closest allies on the continent have become some of its most vocal challengers while not being ‘highly confrontational’ and continuing to cooperate with the US in many areas.”6 Could arms procurement be part of such soft balancing?
This paper employs the case studies from Kenya and Uganda to shed light on these questions through both quantitative and qualitative methods. As crucial states in the fight against terrorism,


China Africa Research Initiative
at Johns Hopkins University’s
School of Advanced International Studies

Download the full working paper here

Download the full policy brief here.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link