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China Is Donating Military Equipment To Somalia

April 27, 2022
Via Chinese state media.

The gradual establishment of a viable state in the troubled country remains a work in progress. But with the US having scaled down its role helping Mogadishu contain the terrorist group Al Shabaab, which controls territory in the south and southwest, other international allies have stepped in to help. Since 2011 Turkey has gone above and beyond to ensure the government remains functional and even runs a long-term program for training civil servants, law enforcement, and soldiers. But China is also restoring its ties with Somalia using established methods: generous security assistance.

In late March dozens of trucks were gathered at Mogadishu’s port for an official handover ceremony attended by China’s ambassador and Somalia’s defense minister. These consisted of 20 Shacman 6×6 trucks, five water tankers or “water wagons,” five fuel tankers, and five “high mobility field ambulances.” The last category were Dongfeng “Humvees” of the EQ2050 model but with a single cab layout to fit the medical compartment that has space for at least two reclining passengers. The logistical package, none of which are suited for combat, included 22 handheld mine detectors. The arrival of Dongfeng trucks in Somalia comes years after a dozen Baoji Tiger armored trucks and other military vehicles were donated to the Somali National Army (SNA). The Dongfeng EQ2050 in particular is a type of diplomatic token that China has sent to many countries it wants an alliance with.

The People’s Republic of China has consistently bolstered Mogadishu for the past 62 years and this commitment extended to the civil war era in the 1990s. The scale of military support was believed to be substantial when Mohammed Siad Barre ruled Somalia as a dictator from 1969 to 1991. But records have now vanished and traces of this bygone era got wiped out by decades of war and drought. Chinese weaponry still proliferated in Somalia, however, as these were accessible through many different sources. The AMISOM peacekeeping force that scaled down its operations last year–the mission has since been renamed to ATMIS–were equipped with Chinese-made small arms. The uninterrupted spread of Chinese weapons was so far-reaching that US-trained Somali special forces were issued Type 56-2 rifles.

But despite these advantages China has kept its aid to Somalia within specific boundaries and there are no indications a Chinese military contingent will soon arrive. Persistent rumors that negotiations are underway for a military base to house a PLA garrison are without merit although the point is often raised by American commanders. The reality of China-Somalia ties is quite mundane. Mogadishu is a recipient of humanitarian aid delivered by China such as food supplies; there are ongoing plans to integrate Somalia with the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program; there are occasional “gifts” to help rebuild the armed forces. The NATO member and controversial US ally Turkey established a commitment to Somalia that’s many times greater than China’s at the moment. Since 2020 deliveries of arms and vehicles to the SNA have built up its size and reach. Once again, rumors are circulating that Turkey plans on transferring more advanced weapons to Somalia. The TURKSOM facility in Mogadishu is helping train a new generation of Somali law enforcement personnel while further training for select candidates takes place in Turkey.

For China to supply new vehicles for Somalia’s armed forces strengthens an old bilateral relationship and improves the latter’s inventory. Dongfeng EQ2050’s in particular are similar to their US-made originals but have been adapted for more roles. It’s possible additional Dongfengs are scheduled to arrive in the coming months as these give Somalia’s troops an ideal cross-country vehicle for establishing its visibility outside the capital. At this point Beijing’s reputation in the continent makes it an ideal partner for beleaguered or vulnerable countries who need a wide variety of military equipment. China is known to have supplied or assisted the militaries of at least 30 African countries.

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