The Growing African Market for US Military Industry


Northrop, Lockheed Martin, and other military equipment manufacturers see the growing spending in Africa by the US government, the private sector, and the United Nations as an opportunity.

Five years ago, Africa mattered little to DynCorp International. The Falls Church, Virginia company lined its pockets in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it recruited, trained and supplied police. But with huge new contracts in Liberia, Sudan and Somalia and plenty of potential business elsewhere on the continent, DynCorp’s interest in Africa is growing rapidly. In fact, Africa is now so important that the company is paying this month to be the first sponsor of a conference in Washington for defense companies focused on the region.

In recent years, DynCorp’s African market has grown to $150 million a year, or 7% of its total revenue, and it wants more. The company is considering “major” business opportunities, said Will Imbrie, chief business development officer at DynCorp. She is offering to extend an ongoing contract to train peacekeepers in Sudan for the United States, and she hopes there is a chance to build schools and hospitals on the continent to the United States Agency for International Development. Another possibility could be a work contract with the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the UN. “Africa really fits into the company’s ideal target. Imbrie says.

DynCorp is not alone. Companies such as Triple Canopy, Northrop Grumman, PAE (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin), and MPRI (a subsidiary of L-3 Communications) have received at least $1.1 billion for programs in Africa since 2004 – for the most US State Department and Pentagon contracts to train African soldiers. This represents a large increase over 2003. The continent, however, represents only a small share of the global market for American defense companies, which totaled $20 billion to $316 billion last year. depending on the company and the services accounted for.

The growth of the African market

Africa is one of the most promising growth markets for the defense industry today. US companies are currently bidding on US and UN contracts worth at least $1.2 billion over the next five years, and they are considering even more opportunities in oil company security. , mining equipment manufacturers, and other Western companies operating in Africa. There’s probably more than that available, experts say, but projections are difficult because many government contracts only release funds to contractors after the work is completed, and other contracts are not known. “There is a huge development of activities in the countries of Africa”, says Frances Cook, consultant and former U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon and Burundi who advises clients on working in Africa. Since 2005, contractors have helped the United States train nearly 80% of African peacekeepers and some 39,000 soldiers in 20 countries. ” That’s a lot of money. “, she says.

The largest known award, continuing an ongoing peacekeeping training program for the State Department, will be awarded by next February. The contract is worth up to $1 billion over five years, and includes support services such as communications, maintenance and construction, rather than security activities as carried out in Iraq by companies such as Blackwater, who fought with the insurgents.

The increase in spending since 2003, mainly by the US government and for the benefit of private companies domiciled in the United States, coincides with the accentuation of the strategic importance of the continent. The White House now sees Africa as an important battleground for stopping terrorism, securing access to oil, and countering Chinese influence, analysts say. The Pentagon’s new watchdog structure for the continent, The US Africa Command (AFRICOM), was officially launched on October 1 with a budget request of $400 million and a mandate that recognizes “the emerging strategic importance of ‘Africa’, according to the structure’s website.

Controversial results

Many experts are critical of the work of contractors in Africa and the increased military presence of the United States. “If you look at the report of these programs in terms of learning to respect human rights, professionalizing the armed forces, and preparing African armies for peacekeeping operations – perfectly laudable objectives – the result end of the programs does not contribute much. says Daniel Volman, who heads the African Security Research project in Washington. “These programs are much more likely to be used for purposes not initially intended by the United States government: war counterinsurgency, terrorizing populations, suppressing internal dissent, etc. »

Volman and others cite Executive Outcomes, the defunct South African private military organization, as an example of the dangers of private defense in Africa. Executive Outcomes mercenaries fought on behalf of the repressive governments of Angola and Sierra Leone during their mid-1990s civil wars. Before its activities were shut down by the South African government in 1998, the company also provided security for mining and oil companies in Africa, work that continues today by other contractors.

The private defense sector has since tried to clean up its image. The International Peace Operations Association, a trade group that sponsors this month’s conference, promotes ethical conduct and advises governments, nonprofits, and others. “But while there are control mechanisms in place to prevent corruption and abuse of power,” says independent analyst David Isenberg, “the people who are supposed to enforce them are often not there.”

This criticism is not likely to dissuade the defense industry from continuing its activities in Africa. Most of these companies do not have an armed security activity. Douglas Ebner, a spokesman for DynCorp, refutes the idea that his company is a mercenary force, noting that most of their activities are training and equipping police, peacekeeping, and assisting other armed forces in furtherance of United States and United Nations objectives. “Only 2% of the company’s sales,” he says, “comes from security.” When asked about Executive Outcomes, Ebner insists, “We’re not them.”

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