Algeria Just Bought a Thousand Armored Vehicles
Plus a factory to build even more as Africa re-arms
You can be sure they’ve popped the Champagne at Rheinmetall, a major German defense contractor. In a deal worth 2.7 billion Euros, Rheinmetall will deliver 980 Fuchs armored personnel carriers to Algeria in North Africa, according to Handelsblatt.
The deal will also include a factory that Rheinmetall will help set up—and which could produce further Fuchs at a rate of 120 per year. Algeria reportedly has agreed not to resell the vehicles to a third country, although it’s not clear how Germany will enforce this rule.
Several other German arms companies will share in the joy. Daimler is said to have cinched a deal to provide trucks to Algeria—and Thyssen Krupp will build ships for the Algerian navy. All deals have their roots in a landmark 2008 visit to Algeria by German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The new Fuchs APCs will represent a big boost for Algeria’s People’s National Army. At the moment, Algeria has around 1,700 APCs in active service, but many of them are Soviet-era BMP-1s that probably haven’t aged very well.
The Fuchs, by contrast, is one of the better APCs on the market. Algeria’s version will probably be the most advanced, with modern lightweight composite armor. In addition to carrying troops, the Fuchs can mount a range of weapons from light machine guns to MILAN anti-tank guided missiles.
The Fuchs deal is hardly Algeria’s only military investment. The authoritarian regime of Pres. Abd Al Aziz Bouteflika, which relies heavily on the military, has dropped serious cash on choice items like 305 Russian T-90SA main battle tanks, 42 Russian Mi-28N helicopter gunships and submarines.
In 2014 the government could add to the military budget in order to purchase aerial tankers, transports and surveillance aircraft.
The buying spree is the result of several political and economic developments. First of all, Algeria is essentially a military dictatorship and because it makes a fortune selling its considerable oil and gas reserves, the generals have all the money in the world to spend on their toys.
But arming the military is also a matter of life and death for the Algerian leadership. It relies heavily on the armed forces to suppress political dissent, not the least from violent jihadist groups. Terrorist attacks are a real threat to the Algerian economy, as the assault on the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas in 2013 demonstrated.
Algeria is also locked in a long-running conflict with neighboring Morocco, and looks wearily on the chaos in Libya, with which it shares a long border in the east.
The continent is arming
But Algeria is hardly alone among African countries in improving its military capabilities. According to the Swedish research institute SIPRI, Africa has the fastest-growing military budgets of all continents, spending an astonishing 53 percent more between 2009 to 2013 than in the previous five years.
As is the case with Algeria, many African countries buy weapons simply because they can. Several less-than-democratic regimes in Africa have recently made good money from their considerable reserves of hydrocarbons and ores—and their ruling elites are happy dropping a considerable chunk of it on shiny planes and tanks.
But mostly, what we’re seeing in Africa is governments’ preparation for armed clashes with rebels … and with equally heavily-armed states. For some regimes, weapons are a matter of survival. Omar Al Bashir in Sudan is fighting several civil wars at once and only a strong military guarantees his power.
Other countries are looking outside their borders. Ethiopia and Uganda have effectively ended all internal insurgencies. As they rapidly develop their economies, they begin to perceive themselves as regional powers with military responsibilities—and opportunities—across the continent.
Both countries have intervened militarily in Somalia, and Uganda has sent some its more recent acquisitions—including Russian SU-30MK2 multi-role fighters and T90-S main battle tanks—to aid the embattled South Sudanese government.
South Africa, on the other hand, faces a possible collapse of its armed forces due to two decades of neglect and is now scrambling to refit and reorganize its armed forces to assume the role of the continental peacekeeper.
With pirates in the east and west, Islamist insurgencies in Mali and Nigeria and ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, Africa’s defense strategists from Algiers to Johannesburg will continue to find good reasons to spend money on new tanks, planes and helicopters.
But they shouldn’t overlook the possibility that in the long run, strong militaries probably won’t do them a lot of good if they can’t also manage to put bread on their citizens’ tables and develop their local economies. Tanks and planes only help as long as you can pay for them.