News & Media / Evolving Military Landscape in Africa: International players and their impact

Evolving Military Landscape in Africa: International players and their impact

27 September, 2023

Africa has become a focal point for military engagements by international organisations and non-African states, shaping the continent's security dynamics. The current landscape, characterised by several significant presences with evolving strategies, reflects both cooperation and competition among these actors.

Multilateral institutions have more military operations in Africa than anywhere else

Many multilateral institutions have military operations on the continent. The United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping Operations have a greater footprint in Africa than any other region, with six out of the 12 active missions on the continent. These missions have been ongoing for a decade or more, with a collective strength of over 73,000 personnel. DR Congo houses the largest of these operations, MONUSCO, with an 18,000-strong force. The UN's commitment to stability in Africa is further underlined by the fact that the oldest UN Peacekeeping Mission on the continent, MINURSO in Western Sahara, has been operational for 22 years.

World regions: current UN peacekeeping operations (2023)

World regions: current EEAS operations (2022)

The European Union's (EU) presence is also palpable, evident through the European External Action Service (EEAS) and its 13 civilian and military missions operating in various African nations. These initiatives aim at capacity building, training, and security enhancement. However, the EU's redirection of substantial funds from its European Peace Facility towards military support for Ukraine raises concerns of a 'crowding-out effect', potentially diverting resources away from African peace operations. While the EU's intent remains cooperation, such financial shifts could necessitate a revaluation of its African commitments.

Presence of Non-African States

Non-African states have also established a prominent military presence within Africa, reflecting the continent's strategic importance. A total of 14 non-African countries have set up military bases in

23 of the 54 African nations. The United States leads the pack with 16 bases, while France maintains 11, and Germany, Italy, and the UAE each operate three. Long-standing actors like France (since 1960), the US (since 2003), and China (since 2017) vie for influence alongside newcomers like Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Notably, Djibouti's strategic location makes it host to the bases of seven non-African nations, including France and China, establishing it as a hub of regional significance.

Non-African countries: military base or military presence in Africa (2023)

France's approach to its African presence is undergoing a significant shift. The conclusion of Operation Barkhane in 2022 marked a turning point, with President Macron announcing a gradual reduction in France’s military footprint. A renewed emphasis on training and equipment provision is expected to complement this withdrawal.

China's influence is visibly growing, exemplified by its contributions to African peacekeeping efforts. With the second-largest share of the UN Peacekeeping budget, China deploys over 2,400 personnel across the continent. The potential establishment of an additional Chinese military base in Equatorial Guinea in the coming years underscores its expanding footprint.

The United States, in contrast, maintains a sizeable but often discreet military presence in Africa. Approximately 6,000 rotational personnel are involved in diverse missions across the region. Additionally, Russia's agreements for military cooperation as well as their use of private military contractors indicate its growing stake in Africa's security landscape.

Emerging players like India, Turkey, and the UAE also shape the continent's military narrative. India's active participation in UN peacekeeping missions and joint military exercises as well as its strategic surveillance stations signify its increasing involvement. Initially part of NATO's anti-piracy efforts in 2009, Turkey has also expanded its footprint, with a significant base in Somalia and security agreements with 30 African states.

In this ever-evolving landscape, African states will need to remain conscious of shifting geopolitical dynamics and what this will mean for their own security landscape. As external actors vie for influence, the continent's security narrative is shaped by these international stakeholders.

While these engagements largely aim to enhance stability, concerns about resource allocation as well as the influence of competing power dynamics will warrant sustained attention.