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Five Second Tier Non-Western External Actors in Africa

21 May 2018

David H. Shinn

George Washington University


This paper discusses five non-Western second tier actors in Africa: India, Brazil, Russia,
Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The figures used in the paper refer to the 54 countries in Sub-
Saharan and North Africa. Three statistics—number of embassies, total trade, and personnel
contributions to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa—are reliable and useful for comparing
across countries. The trade figures are from the International Monetary Fund Direction of
Trade Statistics.

All five countries want to expand exports to Africa. The fall in commodity prices,
especially oil, in recent years accounts for much of the recent decline in the dollar value of
trade figures. All five countries seek profitable foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa,
although reliable FDI figures are elusive.

Compared to large Western donors, none of the five is a major source of aid for Africa
although several have significantly increased their aid in recent years. As the five countries
have different definitions for what constitutes aid, it is difficult to compare their contributions.
They all eschew Western-style political conditionality but implicitly factor any African criticism
of their internal policies into their aid decisions.

All five countries seek maximum political support from as many as possible of the 54
African countries on issues before the UN General Assembly and other international forums
such as the World Trade Organization. They have widely varying security interests in Africa.


While India has the most comprehensive relations with Africa of these five countries, it
has surprisingly few embassies because of a generally weak foreign ministry and diplomatic
service. India has only 29 embassies in Africa, the second fewest of the 5 countries. In recent
years, India has significantly stepped up its visits to Africa by the president, vice president, and
prime minister. India seeks African support for its bid to become a permanent member of the
UN Security Council.

At $46 billion dollars in 2016, India is by far the largest trading partner of the five
countries and Africa’s second largest trading partner after China. India is the only one of the
five countries that has a trade deficit with Africa, due primarily to large oil imports from Nigeria
and Angola; it also has robust two-way trade with South Africa.

Estimates of Indian FDI stock for Africa range between $14 billion and $35 billion; the
overwhelming majority of the FDI goes to Mauritius. But Mauritius is a tax haven and it is
believed much of the Indian FDI going there actually round trips to India.

In recent decades, India has provided a total of about $1 billion in technical assistance
and training to African countries, especially Ethiopia, under the Indian Technical and Economic
Cooperation program. In 2015, at the last India-Africa summit, India announced $10 billion for
lines of credit, which do not qualify as aid, and $600 million in grant aid, both over a five-year

Of the five countries, India is the only country that has significant numbers of personnel
serving in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa; more than 5,300 serve primarily in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

Safeguarding Indian Ocean sea lanes is a critical issue for India, which is concerned by
China’s growing naval presence in the region. It has defense agreements with Kenya,
Madagascar, and Mozambique and joint training programs with Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania
and South Africa. Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles cooperate on maritime surveillance
and intelligence gathering. India and Seychelles have signed an agreement that will allow India
to build a military facility on Assumption Island, likely a counterpoint to China’s military base in


Brazil has 37 embassies in Africa, far more than India. From 2003 through 2010, former
President Lula da Silva made 12 trips to Africa, visiting 29 countries; following his replacement,
Brazilian presidential trips to Africa declined sharply.

Brazil’s trade with Africa in 2016 was $10 billion, less than a quarter of India’s trade. Its
exports to Africa and imports from Africa have dropped sharply in recent years. Estimates for
Brazil’s FDI stock in Africa range between $10 and $20 billion, mainly in energy, mining, and the
construction sector.

Brazil is a modest source of aid to Africa although unlike China and India it does not tie
its aid to export promotion. It has a more robust program for extending lines of credit to
companies willing to invest in Africa and to back the export of its products to Africa. It has also
emphasized sharing of agricultural technology with Africa, sometimes in cooperation with

Brazil has only 33 personnel serving in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. It seeks
African support for its bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Domestic political and economic issues in Brazil have forced it to pull back from Africa recently.


Russia has 40 embassies in Africa. The Russian president and prime minister have
periodically visited Africa, but each new effort to strengthen relations seems to be followed by
another period of limited engagement. Russia wants to counter Western influence in Africa
and have access to certain strategic minerals located there.

Russia’s trade with Africa in 2016 was a surprisingly small $8 billion. On the other hand,
Russia supplies about 35 percent of Africa’s conventional arms, far more than any other
country; most of them go to North Africa. Russia’s exports to Africa have been growing
modestly in recent years; imports from Africa have been static.

Russia has invested more than $20 billion in Africa’s energy and minerals sector.
Russia’s annual average aid to Africa from 2011 to 2015 was about $30 million, a rounding error
compared to aid from many Western countries. Russia has, however, cancelled a significant
amount of old African debt.

Russia has surprisingly few personnel, only 44, assigned to UN peacekeeping operations
in Africa, but it has trained hundreds of African police for UN operations. At the same time, it
makes money on UN peacekeeping operations globally; from 2012 to 2016 it earned almost $1
billion by providing logistical services, especially air transport.

Russia has carved out some niche relationships in Africa. For example, Nigeria and
Angola have launched communications satellites using Russian rockets and Russia signed a $2
billion agreement with Egypt to build a nuclear plant on the Mediterranean coast.


Turkey has an astoundingly high 41 embassies in Africa, even more than Russia. Since
2005, Turkish leaders, especially President Erdogan, have made frequent visits to Africa.

Its trade with Africa in 2016 was $12 billion, well above Russia’s but only a quarter of
India’s. More than half of Turkey’s trade takes place with the five North African countries.
Turkey’s trade with both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa has been declining in recent

Turkish contractors had contracts in Africa between the early 1970s and 2015 worth an
estimated $55 billion. A couple of years ago, Turkey’s FDI stock in Africa was estimated at

between $6 and $8 billion, much of it in Ethiopia. In 2016, Turkey claimed that its official
development assistance to Africa reached about $600 million, most of it going to Somalia and
Niger; scholarships are an important part of the program.

One of Turkey’s most important engagements is service by Turkish Airways to about 50
destinations in 31 African countries. Its directorate of religious affairs hosts meetings for
African Islamic leaders and provides training for African imams. Turkey co-chaired with Egypt
an international donor’s conference for the reconstruction of Darfur and led unsuccessful
efforts to reconcile Somalia and Somaliland.

Turkey has only 26 peacekeepers serving in UN missions in Africa but has a military
facility in Somalia with 200 Turkish forces for training Somali military personnel. Turkey has
become Somalia’s single most important non-African bilateral partner.

Turkey has military cooperation agreements with South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and
Sudan and is trying to increase arms sales to Africa. Turkey has significantly increased its naval
visits to African ports and in 2017 reached an agreement with Sudan to rebuild the port of
Suakin in the Red Sea. This will include a new dock for civilian and military ships, presumably
including Turkish navy vessels.

Turkey is making every effort to eliminate from Africa all vestiges of the Gülen
movement, which it claims was behind the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has 27 embassies in Africa. Senior members of the Saudi royal family do
not visit Africa often; but African leaders are frequent guests in Saudi Arabia.

In 2016, Saudi Arabia’s trade with Africa totaled $11 billion, most of it Saudi exports,
which have dropped sharply in recent years; imports from Africa have been static. Saudi Arabia
has upwards of $5 billion in FDI stock in Africa, most of it in Egypt and South Africa.
Increasingly, Saudi Arabia, which imports 70 percent of its food, is looking to invest in food
producing projects in Africa so that it can ensure adequate food for its people.

For the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017, Saudi Arabia says it provided almost
$10 billion in aid to Africa, half of it going to Egypt, Niger, Mauritania, and Tunisia. It has a
history of building mosques and supporting Wahhabi Islam in Africa. In the 1990s, Saudi money
also funded organizations such as the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation linked to al-Qaeda
activity in Africa. Saudi Arabia provides no personnel in support of UN peacekeeping
operations in Africa.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, using financial incentives, have increasingly
added fuel to disputes in East Africa and the Horn in an effort to split these countries from Iran,
support their war in Yemen, and support their isolation of Qatar. It has had some success in
this effort. Several nations in the Horn have severed relations with Iran. Saudi Arabia and the
United Arab Emirates have been granted naval access at Eritrea’s port of Assab and Saudi
Arabia reportedly is being permitted to develop a military base at Djibouti. Sudan sent a
battalion of troops to Yemen in support of the United Arab Emirates. These developments have
significantly complicated relationships among countries in East Africa and the Horn.