Study exposes Zambia as the largest recipient of Chinese loans for military gear
Zambia is the largest recipient of Chinese loans for military procurement in Africa, according to a new study.
Of the US$1.5 billion worth of such financing advanced by Beijing to African nations between 2000 and 2017, US$600 million went to Zambia, Jyhjong Hwang, a China-Africa researcher at Ohio State University in the US, said in a report.
Unlike other African countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, the southern nation is a country that “suffers neither war nor civil unrest … nor is it a geostrategic hotspot for world superpowers”, like Djibouti, where many countries, including the United States, Japan, France and China have set up military bases.
Most of the money, which funded the procurement of aircraft for the Zambian Air Force, came from China Exim Bank, the state-owned aerospace and defence giant Aviation Industry Corporation of China and China Poly Technologies.
China has supplied a range of aircraft to Zambia, including J-6 fighter jets, MA60 and Y-12 transporters and combat helicopters, and also provided pilot training.
Each Chinese aircraft purchase by Zambia, and other African nations, came with some form of financial support, either in the form of a loan or line of credit, the study said. The availability of financing options might help to explain why Zambia was so reliant on China for the expansion of its air force, she said.
Besides funding for military deals, China has also helped Zambia with the financing for the Tanzania-Zambia railway, which enables the country to move its copper to the sea for export. Many other countries, including Britain, the US and Russia, refused to help.
“Chinese support left a very positive impression on the Zambian leadership that will last for decades to come,” Hwang said at this year’s China-Africa Research Initiative conference.
As well as providing funding, China is the second-largest supplier of military hardware to Africa, after Russia.
Elijah Munyi, an assistant professor of international relations at the United States International University in Nairobi, said that over the past decade there had been a shift towards China and away from Western countries.
Between 2005-10, China accounted for 10 per cent of the market for arms sales to sub-Saharan countries, but that has since risen to 19 per cent (or US$3.2 billion), according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Munyi said that between 2014-19 China was only the fifth-largest seller of arms to Africa’s top importers, but the largest to “second-tier states”, including Sudan, Cameroon, Zambia and Tanzania, where it held a more than 40 per cent market share.
Nigeria imports about a fifth of its arms from China, but its biggest supplier is Russia, he said. Munyi said he was told by military chiefs in Kenya and Uganda that cost was the most important factor for African countries when considering arms purchases.
He said also that unlike some suppliers, like the US, China appeared unconcerned about how the arms and military equipment it sold to African countries might be used.
Buying from the US involved “so much oversight from the state, defence and Congress”, he said. “By the time you have made progress, it is three years down the line.”
David Shinn, a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said: “China sells arms to any country and maintains little oversight of end-use.”
Tom Bayes, a China-Africa researcher and visiting fellow at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, said that while China mostly sold small arms, it was increasingly exporting larger, more sophisticated systems, including tanks, aircraft and combat drones – all at low prices.
But recurring quality problems limited the potential for China to reliably enhance African militaries’ capabilities, he said.
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