Africa defies gloom to spend $30bn on arms

Tuesday April 12 2011

Libyan civilians during instruction on weapon use by former officers in the Libyan army who defected in the rebel stronghold of the eastern city of Benghazi on April 03, 2011. New data from Swedish-based think tank SIPRI shows Africa increased its military spend in 2010. Photo/AFP

In defiance of a global recession that halved Africa’s growth, military spending on the continent rose by 5.2 per cent, a new study shows.

The region's total military expenditure in 2010 in real terms was an estimated $30.1 billion, according to new analysis from the Stockhom International Peace Research Institute.

Angola, recovering from three decades of civil war, set the pace with a 19 per cent increase in real terms, or $600 million in 2009 prices. This figure is 4.2 per cent of its gross domestic product. During the civil war, its vast oil wealth and diamonds paid for arms.

Figures for Cote d’Ivoire are missing, but in 2008 the West African country spent 1.5 per cent of its GDP on its military. The effect of the five-month unrest in the country on new spending is unlikely to be known, while the United Nations also placed an arms embargo on it.

Four of the continent’s five top spenders—Angola, Morocco, Algeria and Nigeria—provided for the bulk of the spending increase, mainly influenced by gas and oil revenues.

Protracted war


Spending in the fifth, South Africa, which went into recession in 2009, fell slightly. Chad, mired in internal strife, recorded a bigger dip in its military spending after the oil-fuelled highs of 2008.

SIPRI, an independent organisation, tracks conflict armament and disarmament and also researches arms control.

The report, however, adds that figures for Africa may be uncertain as data for some countries such as Sudan, Libya and Eritrea are missing.

SIPRI last month said there had been a rush to sell arms to Libya, which has seen protracted war between Col Muammar Gaddafi loyalist and rebels based in the east.

"Although Libya placed only limited orders for major conventional weapons following the lifting of the UN arms embargo in 2003, in recent years, it has served as an excellent illustration of the competition between major suppliers France, Italy, Russia and Britain for orders," Pieter Wezeman of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme said last month.

The UN also has a broad embargo out on Libya, which in 2008 spent an equivalent of 1.2 per cent of its GDP on its military.

The data showed that world military spending reached $1.63 trillion in 2010 an increase of 1.3 per cent over the year before. However, this represented the slowest increase since 2001, when the current surge in military spending begun.

Economic crisis

The US, which accounts for 48 per cent of total world military spending, accounted for the vast majority of this rise-- $19.6 billion of the $20.6 billion real terms increase.

This means that the rest of the world barely made a dent on global military spend, increasing by only 0.1 per cent.

“In many cases, the falls or slower increases represent a delayed reaction to the global financial and economic crisis that broke in 2008,” said the institute in its analysis.

Many countries sought to rebalance their books after budget deficits widened due to the stimulus packages rolled out, while in others growth was slower than expected. The study notes that China, the second largest spender, specifically linked its reduced spending on weaker economic growth in 2009.

Last month, the institute said that India was the world’s largest net importer of arms over the past five years. The US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons, accounting for 30 per cent of global trade.