Secrecy in military issues in East Africa has cushioned the region from security loopholes that enemies could take advantage of.
But this secrecy, gaining prominence in the wake of the bloc’s rising defence and military spending, has left their economies bleeding, with millions of dollars being stolen in the procurement process.
Despite the World Bank’s attempts to enforce transparency in defence and military spending through its security sector reform strategies, it has emerged that corruption is still high the world over, and East Africa is part of it, a new report by Transparency International (TI) reveals.
Uganda — considered the region’s powerhouse for its military exploits especially in Somalia — failed TI’s Defence Anti-Corruption Index, getting the second worst rating (an E) of all East African countries; with a D-, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia fared marginally better.
That Kenya with a D+ comes out as the region’s most transparent, tells of the appalling levels of corruption in the defence and military sector in Eastern Africa.
READ: EA’s quiet arms race
Last on the list
The consolation for Uganda is that Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo were last of the 82 countries that were assessed.
According to TI, countries like Uganda, Eritrea and DRC in the E-F band have little or no transparency in their anti-corruption mechanisms and controls. There is centralised control and little or no public scrutiny, which enables graft.
In September last year, Uganda’s parliament tried to apply controls on spending when it wanted Ush15 billion ($5.69 million) slashed from the defence budget and given to the health budget. The argument then was that the health sector needed Ush39 billion ($14.8 million) to recruit health workers.
But President Yoweri Museveni said he would not sacrifice the defence budget for anything.
“Nobody can cut... we cannot agree to the cutting of defence. I cannot agree because defence is underfunded already,” President Museveni said.
He said there were “many other things” that the government is yet to accomplish in the defence sector, whose most recent deal was the purchase of six Sukhoi fighter jets worth $740 million from Russia in 2011.
The Independent news magazine reported that in addition to food, salaries and defence equipment that year, Uganda spent $1.02 billion, nearly twice as much as Kenya’s $735 million.
Uganda has continued to build a defence arsenal though the country is now peaceful, and has only a small fraction of its 46,000-strong force in Central Africa, Congo and South Sudan.
Kenya’s $5.8 billion budget for defence in 2012 reflects 5.3 per cent of the country’s GDP spent on a 24,120-strong military. This has had an impact on the economy in the long term as it eats into the budget for delivery of social services.
Largest active army
Ethiopia has the region’s biggest active army at 182,500 with a budget of $338 million as at 2012, which is 2.4 per cent of its GDP.
Tanzania’s military stands at 27,000 troops.
With the exception of the US, which, in spite of its huge defence bill, got a B rating, countries with a military expenditure in excess of four per cent of their GDP are in grade D and below, and categorised as fragile states. They are perceived to be open to corruption, have weak institutional structures and a high likelihood of conflict.
“This promotes corruption and consequently, more instability. Corruption and conflict are mutually enforcing,” the report reads, adding that parliaments should enable procurement oversight bodies to monitor the military’s deals.
In its face off with Museveni, for instance, the Uganda parliament argued that the money would be put to better use to provide health services for maternal health.
Women in Uganda die giving birth every 30 minutes, or when they survive, they often deliver in squalid conditions. In addition, Uganda is a signatory to international conventions and is required to scale up its health budget to 15 per cent of its GDP by 2015.
“Secret budgets were one of the most problematic areas. Only a few countries have found a good balance between necessary secrecy and secure legislative scrutiny,” the report says.
A source familiar with defence procurement systems who spoke to The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity, agrees with TI, saying arms dealers and agents have struck multimillion-dollar deals in Kampala and Kinshasa.
Chinese and Russian companies that routinely supply military hardware for armies in the region, but many of these deals are controversially awarded and riddled with graft, the report says.
Uganda shares its high corruption score with 17 other countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Besides Eritrea and DRC at the bottom, the other countries with critical levels of defence related graft are Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Kenya shares its score with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, India, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates.
TI underscores that this is only part of a global reality, as 70 per cent of governments have failed to protect themselves against corruption in the defence sector. Only Germany and Australia scored an A, which reflects low corruption.
Globally, 90 per cent of countries lack protection for whistleblowers, which makes it difficult and even dangerous to report corruption in the military.
Of the 82 countries assessed, half do not disclose their defence budget and those that do, publish it in a highly aggregated form that is difficult to make sense of.
“Corruption in defence undermines national and global security. It is dangerous, it is divisive and it is wasteful... Corruption often leads to impunity, undermining public trust. It threatens citizens’ security such as when the military’s ability to act with impunity puts people’s lives at risk... It matters for armed forces, soldiers, airmen and sailors... they are put at risk by unnecessary or poor quality defence equipment,” the report says, concluding that only 15 per cent of governments have oversight policies on defence that are comprehensive, accountable and effective.
TI’s programme manager for international defence and security Anne Christine Wagener says the index is the first review of corruption risk and vulnerability in defence ministries and armed forces.
The review provides governments, forces, civil society organisations and citizens with detailed knowledge and understanding of the corruption risks in their national defence and security sectors.
Areas in which the countries were assessed included defence and security policy, budgets, control of intelligence services, and export controls.
Others were ghost soldiers — the undoing of many armies around the region — salary chain, recruitment benchmarks and promotions, as well as secret budgets, classified procurement, sourcing and use of agents who then share kickbacks with military officers.