Report: China Exporting Weapons and Mercenaries to Africa

A report by the Rand Corporation on the growing influence of China and Russia in Africa found that Beijing is not far behind Moscow in exporting weapons and private military contractors to African nations, especially those participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The report, entitled Mapping Chinese and Russian Military and Security Exports to Africa, tracked Chinese weapons sales to 17 African nations, plus deployments of private military and security contractors (PMSCs) to 15 countries. Five of those nations also receive military support from Russia, including Angola, the Central African Republic (CAR), Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan. 

Some of those countries are noted for using their imported weapons with enthusiasm, including Ethiopia’s vicious civil war over the past two years, Mali’s conquest by a military junta in 2020, and Sudan’s long history of using military force against restless citizens.

The RAND report noted the interesting detail that every one of the 15 African nations where Chinese PMSCs have been deployed has also received Russian PMSCs. These countries tend to be conflict zones whose governments are having difficulty combating long-running insurgencies, such as Libya, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Malawi. Some are countries that have long relationships with Russia and the Soviet Union, or whose governments seek to hedge their military bets against reliance upon Western patrons, like Egypt.

RAND’s “heat map” of Russian and Chinese military influence found only a handful of African countries free of weapons and PMSCs from both of those authoritarian nations, including Tunisia, Western Sahara, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Biseau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Cameroon, and Namibia.

Russian contractors largely come from the infamous Wagner Group, which RAND noted has been “sanctioned internationally” for “atrocities and war crimes committed by its employees.”

The Wagner Group is shadowy, an “umbrella of many entities, most likely under the control and direction of Russian and government leaders,” while Chinese PMSCs are more disciplined, more clearly controlled by the central government, and more focused on defending China’s assets and investments in African countries.

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