Africa: US Arms Sales Increase

by William Church, October 16, 2006


The United States has dramatically increased its involvement and arms sales to the Horn of Africa and East Africa in the last three years. In addition, the United States will soon consolidate it focus on Sub-Sahara Africa by unifying the military command structure.

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has given initial approval to create a unified Africa Military Command. This consolidates the current split command structure of the US European Command controlling most of Africa, and the Central Command directing US military activities in Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya into a single command.

Direct US arms sales to East Africa and the Horn of Africa countries-Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda Uganda and Zambia--have increased from under one million dollars in 2003 to over $25 million in 2006. Djibouti leads the list with nearly $20 million in direct arms purchases in 2005 and 2006.

However, Ethiopia also shows a dramatic increase of arms purchases. In 2006, an estimated eight million dollars of weapons will be directly sold and with another five million dollars estimated in 2007. This is an increase from only $250,000 in 2005 and $750,000 in 2003.

Weapons sales by authorized private weapon companies, like the recently accused Select Armor, have also soared. Recently released US Defense Department figures show that private arms sales will hit an all time high of an estimated $9.5 million in 2007, which is down from a 2005 high of nearly $15 million. Uganda leads this list with nearly nine million dollars in purchases from US authorized private arms dealers, and Djibouti once again hits near the top of the list with nearly six million dollars in purchases in 2005, 2006 and an estimated 2007.

Uganda's purchase of weapons through private companies like Select Armor, may be significant in light of a recent article by Africa Confidential that claimed US and Kampala-based Select Armor was being used to funnel weapons to Somalia's government in their fight against the Islamic Courts Union. According to the reports, Select Armor promised to provide end user certificates as part of their service, which if true, may violate the current UN arms embargo on Somalia.

Overall, direct US weapons sales increased from $39.2 million in 2005 to nearly $60 million in 2006. In both years, East Africa and the Horn accounted for nearly 40 percent of US weapons sales to Africa, and this demonstrates the US military's strategic shift to the region.

The United States has also increased its Djibouti's counter terrorism base. The Special Operations Combined Joint Task Force at Camp Lemonier has grown from 800 soldiers in 2003 to 1,800 today.

Access to strategic airfields and ports has also increased for the US military. Beyond Camp Lemonier in 2003, the US had an agreement with Kenya that allowed it access to the port of Mombasa and airfields at Embakasi and Nanyuki. Since then the US has extended its regional influence with "cooperative security locations" that provide basing structures for regional operations when needed.

Zambia and Uganda have joined Kenya in this unique arrangement. At Entebbe, the US has constructed two K-Span steel buildings to house troops and equipment. The so called "Lily Pad" arrangement will allow the US military to use the base when needed in times of conflict or as a staging area for a conflict within the region. They are bare bone facilities surrounding an airstrip with installed communications equipment and warehoused supplies. Many times these facilities are manned by local soldiers, which lowers the US footprint but still provides security.

Strategically, the US military has developed a regional operations plan that centers on Djibouti to support the Horn countries. It anchors the southern flank with bases in Kenya, Zambia and Uganda to the west.

The US strategy in East Africa and the Horn is strategically positioned in two areas. First, it can immediately assist Kenya if the fighting in Somalia spills over into Northern Kenya. For the past month, a steady stream of Somalia refuges have crossed into Kenya challenging the drought stricken region further and increasing tensions between Kenya and Somalia.

Second, like in Nigeria, it can be used to ensure an uninterrupted flow of oil from the newly discovered fields of Uganda and Kenya, and it opens the door to the construction of a well-protected oil pipeline carrying oil for the interior of Central Africa to the port of Mombasa. It also provides a strategically located airbase to support future military operations to the north in Sudan or to the west.

The expansion of the United States military influence in the Horn of Africa is counter balanced by a growing French presence in Chad and the Central African Republic. France has increased its troop numbers in both countries to fight a growing rebellion in the region. Recent reports describe a rapid French military build-up in Chad with the arrival of 600 French mercenaries, four attack helicopters, and 12 Brazilian-made tanks at the end of September.

The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS) believes the French and US military build-up may be part of a unified Sub-Saharan strategy. Both countries currently cooperate in Djibouti in a resource sharing arrangement. In the last two years, the United States has aided the French-backed Chad government in the fight against Algerian Salafist guerrillas operating in Chad.

In 2004, the US flew a P3 Orion surveillance aircraft from a base in Southern Algeria over Northern Chad. The intelligence from those flights was fed to the Chadian forces fighting the Salafist group.

Although there are indications that US arms sales to Africa may be drastically reduced in 2007, this appears to be highly unlikely considering the increased fighting in Somalia and an unstable situation in Sudan. If the Sudan government is destabilized over the international confrontation in Darfur, the repercussions for the region, and Sudan, will be drastic and fuel an increased influx of weapons to the region.



William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to foreign African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.

North Africa page

Home Page