Africa's domestic defence industry

A short history

Not many people are aware that Africa has a domestic defence industry. Much of it dates back to the 1960s, sometimes earlier. Due to the influence of the Cold War, technology came from either the East (e.g. Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, China) or the West (e.g. Belgium, Germany, Italy, U.S.A.). While some countries tried to manufacture a wide range of defence equipment (e.g. Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa), others had to settle for small arms and light weapons (SALW) or most commonly SALW munitions (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe). Some countries, such as South Africa, developed their local defence industry as a way to circumvent an international arms embargo.

At present many of these African prestige projects are struggling to survive - mostly due to low domestic defence spending or international competition. Sustainability of such defence industry is often tied to exports. Over the years whilst several countries (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania) have publicly expressed the willingness to grow into regional suppliers of small arms ammunition, the only current sizeable African exporter is South Africa (ref. DefenceWeb). The South African defence industry has seen major changes. In 2017 the South African National Defence Industry Council stated in a draft strategy paper that employment had dropped from 130,000 employees in 3,000 companies in 1990 to 15,000 employees in 120 companies in 2017. (Defence Industry Strategy Draft, NDIC, 2017: p. 7) This is a phenomenon seen in many countries: Since 1993, defence employment levels have declined substantially in most EU countries. In 2003, employment levels in Slovakia were only 10% of the 1993 level; in Hungary employment had fallen by 70%. In France, the reduction was 30% over the same ten-year period. (François Cauzic; Hélène Colas; Nathalie Leridon; Sofiène Lourimi; Elisabeth Waelbroeck-Rocha: Comprehensive analysis of emerging competences and skills needs for optimal preparation and management of change in the defence industry, Eurostrategies, 2009: p. 8 - link).

It is important to note that many of the companies listed are State owned, often directly under government ministries such as Defence or Industry. This gives the State concerned direct control and is an important factor in holding States to account for their obligations under international controls on the trade in arms such as the Arms Trade Treaty, the UN International Tracing Instrument or other international or regional agreements.

Compiling this database (updated: 01.01.2020)

We have included known importers of arms and ammunition, and explosives manufacturers for the mining industry. Some of the activities of these importers have been documented in media articles or United Nations Panel of Experts reports. The most common commercial explosive used in the mining industry is Ammonium Nitrate-Fuel Oil (ANFO), the basis of which is ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer. ANFO is cheap, easy to make and highly stable – and its ready availability makes it a prime explosive for terrorists and armed groups in general. Ammonium nitrate and trinitrotoluene (TNT) mixtures were used in World War I and II in military munitions (Amatol).

Data on the location sites of production and assembly facilities was collected up to city level. All facilities are displayed on the map at their city of operation, randomly scattered within a 5km radius of the city center. In some cases only the country of operation could be found. Those facilities are displayed in the center of their country, in a lighter shade.

The following abbreviations were used:


Our source materials include media articles, company brochures and PR-materials, websites and sporadic interviews over a 25 year span. This map is not comprehensive because of difficulties with obtaining data (secrecy, conflicting data, lack of data,...). We welcome all to send corrections, additions, … to Peter Danssaert (contact email), researcher at the International Peace Information Service IPIS, or to Omega Research Foundation (contact email).

Defence-related companies in Africa


Africa's domestic defence industry remains relatively unknown. Therefore, the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) and Omega Research Foundation compiled a database of the main entities comprising this industry: arms and ammunition production and assembly factories, companies responsible for management of said factories, as well as importing companies. This map was made to give a better overview of this industry's size and geographic layout.

Click on a factory icon to explore its various characteristics.