January 19, 2012: Sub-Saharan Africa is rather poor, with not a lot to spend on equipping its armed forces. Two nations have come to dominate arms sales to Africa, by recognizing what the customers there want, and what they can afford. Some 25 percent of arms sales to Sub-Saharan Africa come from China, with another 20 percent from Ukraine. China has long manufactured inexpensive weapons, usually knockoffs of Russian designs. Ukraine is competitive here because when the Cold War ended Ukraine ended up with a disproportionate share of the Soviet Union's weapons. That's because the military strategy of the Soviet Union was to prepare for a big war with NATO. Ukraine was where the Soviet Union stationed most of its reserve force weapons needed for that war. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the deal was that wherever something was at that time, belonged to whatever new country that territory belonged to. The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 countries. Ukraine was one of the largest and got many more weapons than it needed. Ukraine has been selling those weapons, cheap, ever since. Ukraine will also upgrade them as well. It’s been a lucrative business, especially in Africa.
But cheap copies and inherited weapons are sometimes not enough. Kenya, for example, was looking for aircraft it could use as bombers. It found what it needed in Jordan, which was selling some old F-5s (and replacing them with pre-owned F-16Cs). Kenya got 15 of these F-5s. Kenya had obtained F-5s from the United States decades earlier, but these were worn out. The F-5 is a 12 ton fighter roughly similar to the 1950s era MiG-21 and is a contemporary of the Russian fighter. The F-5 was built mainly for export to nations that could not afford the top-line Western fighters but did not want the MiG-21s. The F-5 is normally armed with two 20mm cannon, and three tons of missiles and bombs. This proved all that was needed for bombing raids on al Shabaab Somali Islamic terrorists during a recent round of peacekeeping in southern Somalia.
Kenya has also recently bought 44,500 assault rifles, 550 machine-guns and 655 RPG launchers from Ukraine, which ensured that the troops going into Somalia last November were well equipped with basic weapons.