Kenya tops region’s military ranking

Thursday May 18 2017

Rankings show Kenya’s army size has changed little since 2015, retaining the badge as the continent’s eleventh most superior force for the second year. PHOTO | BD GRAPHIC

Kenya’s military has for the second time been ranked as Africa’s eleventh most powerful force ahead of its Ugandan and Tanzanian counterparts, despite the neighbouring countries’ bigger personnel count.

Global Firepower, an agency that assesses the military strength of nations, ranks Kenya as the most powerful nation in East Africa based on its manpower, range of weaponry, logistical flexibility and budgets.

Kenya’s military is, however, ranked below Ethiopia and is also smaller than its East African peers based on personnel headcount.

Kenya has 24,150 military personnel, slightly more than half of Uganda’s 45,000 while Tanzania commands 30,000 servicemen.

“Going beyond military equipment totals and perceived fighting strength, is the actual manpower that drives a given military. Wars of attrition favour those with more,” the study says.

The rankings show that Kenya’s army size has changed little since 2015, retaining the badge as the continent’s eleventh most superior force for the second year.



Neighbouring Ethiopia is more powerful and commands a bigger force of 185,500 personnel, which is seven times Kenya’s.

Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Sudan are also ranked ahead of Kenya.

Despite having a larger pool of personnel, Uganda ranks behind Kenya in military strength at position 16 in Africa while Tanzania comes in 17th.

Kenya has an arms stockpile of 76 battle tanks, 591 armoured fighting vehicles, 30 self-propelled guns, 25 towed artillery, 131 aircraft, 17 fighter jets, and 61 helicopters, according to Global Firepower.

Uganda’s weapons stock comprises 240 tanks, 43 aircraft, 1,060 armoured fighting vehicles, nearly twice Kenya’s cache, and 26 multiple-launch rocket systems.

Kenya and Tanzania currently lack the multiple launch rockets. Tanzania’s arsenal includes 30 tanks, 150 armoured fighting vehicles and 30 aircraft.

Military spending

Kenya, which is the region’s largest economy, has over the years led its East African neighbours in military spending.

Kenya’s defence bill last year grew 10.5 per cent to $933 million, shooting above those of Ethiopia and Uganda combined, according to last month’s report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Egypt, which receives billions of dollars in US military aid, tops the list of Africa’s fearsome armies, followed by Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa in that order.

Egypt had 470,000 military personnel last year, behind Algeria which has the largest army size at 520,000.

Cairo boasts 4,624 tanks, 13,949 armoured fighting vehicles, 889 self-propelled guns, 337 fighter jets, 2,360 towed artillery and 1,481 multiple-launch rocket systems.

Other African countries that are ranked militarily superior to Kenya are DR Congo, Morocco, and Angola.

“The Global Firepower ranking is largely on each nation’s potential conventional war-making capability across land, sea and air,” the agency says.

Most powerful military

It adds that a country’s score is not simply based on its size of arms stockpile “but rather focuses on weapon diversity within the number totals to provide a better balance of firepower available.”

Globally, the US still commands the most powerful military with 19 aircraft/helicopter carriers, 5,884 tanks, 13,762 aircraft, 6,065 helicopters, 41,062 armoured fighting vehicles and 1.4 million active frontline army personnel.

Russia is second, followed by China. The two countries have one aircraft carrier each.

Analysts reckon that possession of an aircraft carrier is the hallmark of a country’s military superiority.

The carriers allow armies to navigate the international waters, reaching all corners and serving as mobile naval and air force bases.

No African nation has an aircraft carrier.

Kenya’s military expenditure has nearly doubled in the last decade from $500 million in 2007 to $933 billion last year. 

Last December, Kenya received six Huey II helicopters from the US at a cost of $106 million.

The aircraft, mostly used for deployment of troops in battlefields, are designed to reinforce Kenya’s use of drones in waging intelligent warfare.

Nairobi also received a $9.7 million drone dubbed ScanEagle from the US last year, enabling the army to conduct real-time surveillance on terrorists’ hideouts and stage pre-emptive attacks.

Ugandan, Kenyan and Ethiopian are fighting Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants in the war-torn nation under UN-sponsored Amisom.