First Ever Mapping of Activities of External Security Actors in Africa Confirms Trends Towards Multilateralism and ‘Africanization’

Over the past decade, major external actors have developed policy initiatives to advance their security, geopolitical and economic interests in Africa. Analysis of the security activities of seven major actors in Africa—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations—shows an increasing use of multilateral approaches, support for the ‘Africanization’ of African security, and the privatization of external security support. These are the main findings of a new SIPRI monograph edited by Olawale Ismail and Elisabeth Sköns (

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The book is the first attempt to make a comprehensive mapping of seven major external actors’ security activities in sub-Saharan Africa. It provides data and analysis of the official security-related activities of five states—China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA—and two organizations—the EU and the UN. It also identifies the security policies and strategies within which these activities have been developed. One of the main objectives of the book is to serve as a resource for civil society groups in Africa, which are increasingly engaging in security-related issues in their respective countries.

‘The form of external security activities in Africa has shifted over the past 10 to 20 years: from permanent military presence to temporary interventions, often within a multilateral framework; from direct military intervention to training of African security forces and other support for African security; and from large-scale arms transfers to allied African countries to lower levels of arms transfers linked to specific security programmes’, says Dr Elisabeth Sköns, Head of SIPRI’s Africa Security and Governance Project. ‘Of course there are major exceptions to this, such as the US military base in Djibouti and French bilateral interventions in West Africa, but by and large these are the main trends.’

Many external security activities in Africa are driven by self-interest

While the form is shifting, the drivers are basically unchanged. External actors in Africa continue to pursue policies based on their own self-interest, making lasting progress in African security issues problematic. ‘Many of their activities in Africa are part of policies to prevent security problems in Africa—such as transnational crime, violent radicalization and international terrorism—from spreading to their own countries, or to seek access to resources in Africa’, says Dr Olawale Ismail, co-editor of the book, and now Head of Research at International Alert.

Multilateralism and the need for true partnerships

External actors’ security activities in Africa take place within the context of a global trend towards multilateralism, especially in peace operations. Overall, between 1989 and 2013 the UN conducted 33 peace operations in Africa.

‘At the same time, we have seen that some actors revert to bilateral intervention when multilateral approaches are too slow’, says Dr Vincent Boulanin, a Researcher with the SIPRI European Security Programme and author of the chapter on France. ‘The recent interventions by France in Mali and other West African countries are cases in point.’

‘External actors increasingly emphasize the importance of local ownership and device policies to support African countries to help themselves. However, they often come with predefined programmes and they tend to interfere as things do not develop as they would like to see it. There is a need for true partnerships,’ says Ismail.



Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

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