Saudi Arabia and France struck a deal in December 2018 whereby Saudi Arabia would buy about US$100 million worth of armored vehicles of French design to donate to the G5 Sahel armies, aiding them in their fight against terrorist and rebel groups operating in the Sahara Desert and remote border regions. However, the money has never been cleared and is effectively locked away in Riyadh. This blockage originates in a separate 2016 deal between Saudi Arabia and France.
To the tune of US$3 billion, Saudi Arabia intended to purchase French arms in order to help arm the Lebanese army. After being approached by Israel and warned of the possibility of some arms falling into the hands of Hezbollah, the group which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran, Saudi Arabia dropped the deal. Since then, both France and Saudi Arabia have been trying in vain to strike a new deal to offset the losses from that failed 2016 arrangement, complicated further after Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in June 2017.
Why It Matters
The G5 Sahel military alliance holds a poor record against al-Qaida and Islamic State-affiliated terror groups that are destabilizing the region. Of the many factors limiting their efficacy, insufficient funding has been one of the loudest complaints issued by the heads of state of Sahel countries as well as France. US$100 million would not necessarily change the tide of the war overnight, but the circumstances by which these funds are being withheld reveals how complicated and messy arms procurement and deliveries are. It also demonstrates how countries seek to profit off of perpetual conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, especially when arms manufacturers hail from the same country that is directly involved in training, logistics, and combat operations in the theater in question.