Military spending in the East Africa recorded its biggest drop last year, pushed down by South Sudan which cut back its expenditure by more than 50 per cent, in a year its economy tanked due to a prolonged political crisis than turned into a civil war.
Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent resource on global security, shows that regional economies spent $2.5 billion on their military expenditure last year, a drop from the previous year of $3.1 billion, even as countries sought to modernise their weapons while also tackling the surging terrorism threat.
Africa’s overall spending fell by 1.3 per cent to $37.9 billion in 2016, the second year of decreasing military spending, after 12 consecutive years of increased military spending.
Kenya and South Sudan continued to be the region’s top spenders. Kenya spent $908 million in 2016, up from $844 the previous year, while South Sudan saw its spending drop to $525 million, from $1.14 billion the previous year.
Tanzania also recorded an increase in its spending from $517 million the previous year to $561 million. Uganda recorded a rise to $398 million from $389 million, with Rwanda’s spending rising to $106 million from $104 million. Burundi’s spending, however, from by $1 million to $65 million.
In January, the US State Department approved a $418 million foreign military sales contract that has since turned controversial after several US lawmakers questioned it.
Kenya spent $790 million on arms from China, placing the latter in the league of its largest sources of arms outside of Russia, Germany, the United States, Spain, Jordan and South Africa.
South Sudan, which saw its budget drop from $1.8 billion in 2014/2015 to $1.64 billion in 2016/17, still remained the region’s heaviest military spender. In the 2014/15 budget, Juba allocated $737.8 million to the national army but ended up spending $1.08 billion.
“The security sector has the largest budget allocation of $101.11 million or 29 per cent, entirely funded from the government’s own resources. The bulk of this will be used to pay salaries for the army and veterans,” Stephen Dau, the South Sudan Finance Minister said in October.
A January 2016 UN report showed that Israel supplied the South Sudan military with wiretapping devices, as well as Israeli-made weapons that included ACE assault rifles. Uganda has also been one of the country’s supplier of weapons on a second-hand basis while Ukraine sold South Sudan 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns. Chinese arms company Norinco sold 100 antitank missiles and about 10,000 automatic rifles to the government army.
A recent UN report showed that weapons continue to flow into South Sudan from diverse sources, often with the co-ordination of neighbouring countries.
“There is a preponderance of evidence that shows continued procurement of weapons by the leadership in Juba for the army, the security services, militias and other associated forces,” the UN experts said in their report.
South Sudan’s government rejected the allegations in the report, saying that the country had other priorities.
In the past three years, Tanzania has acquired 14 new J-7Gs fighter jets, Type 63A amphibious tanks, A100 multiple rocket launchers and Type 07PA self-propelled mortars from China.
Uganda, which saw a minimal rise in its spending last year, is expecting to procure more weapons this year in a bid to improve its infrastructure, mainly communication, medical, and transport, with no information about any combat hardware orders. In its 2017/18, its allocation for defence will increase from $414 million to $524.4 million.