Uganda tops East Africa in military hardware expenditure

Saturday March 17 2018

Uganda People's Defence Force soldiers man Juba International Airport in 2014. Uganda spent $18 million in 2017 against the previous year’s arms purchases that were below $1 million. PHOTO | DPU


East Africa’s military expenditure dropped by more than 60 per cent in the past three years, reaching $32 million in 2017, from a high of $92 million in 2015.

South Sudan, which has been the region’s biggest military spender, did not make any purchases last year, largely because of an ailing economy and threats of an arms embargo.

The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) shows that Uganda spent $18 million in 2017, against the previous year’s purchases that were below $1 million.

Kenya slashed its spending by half to $13 million from $28 million a year earlier, while Tanzania did not make purchases last year, after spending $20 million in 2016.

Uganda expects five helicopters from the United States later this year as part of a $87.6 million contract with Bell Helicopters signed in September 2016.

Bell Helicopters is to supply Kenya and Uganda with 13 helicopters and spares, which these two countries plan to use to boost their operations in neighbouring Somalia, where they are fighting al-Shabaab militants under the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) command.


Uganda’s expenditure is curious as it fights allegations, alongside Kenya, of secretly arming Juba. 

“Weapons continue to flow into South Sudan from diverse sources, often with the co-ordination of neighbouring countries. It is true that large quantities of weapons and ammunition are flowing into South Sudan through Kenya and Uganda,” Adama Dieng, UN special adviser for prevention of genocide told Voice of America.

But, both governments have denied the allegations.

“Kenya remains impartial in regard to the South Sudanese parties, including the political parties as well as the various armed and non-armed opposition groups, as it rallies the regional governments and the international community to sustain pressure on the parties to recommit to the peace process,” said Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma.

Arms embargo

On Thursday, the UN renewed the South Sudan peacekeeping mission mandate and threatened Juba with an arms embargo, barely a month after the US drafted a resolution pushing for an arms embargo against South Sudan to pile more pressure on President Salva Kiir.

“I urge my fellow Council members to support an arms embargo. This isn’t punishment. Nor is it a meaningless gesture. It is something we can do to actually help the people of South Sudan — to slow the violence, slow the flow of arms and ammunition, and protect innocent lives,” US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council.

In 2016, a confidential UN report also accused Egypt of selling military equipment, small arms, ammunition and armoured vehicles to Juba, a claim that the UN panel of experts say was corroborated by high-ranking South Sudanese military and intelligence officers. That same year, Juba acquired two fighter jets and truckloads of small arms ammunition.

“Two truckloads of ammunition were transferred to the capital Juba from Uganda in June 2016. Later that year, South Sudanese ex-army chief Paul Malong asked a Lebanese company to begin developing a small arms ammunition manufacturing facility in Juba,” the UN monitors said in their report, adding that they were investigating how the two L39 jets from Ukraine that were sold to Uganda ended up with the South Sudanese army.

Last year, confidential reports suggested that Kampala had purchased weapons from Russia, landing in early August at the Entebbe airport en route to Juba, a claim the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) denied. The 40-tonne consignment consisted of 31 tonnes of AK-47 rifles, bayonets, extra magazines and assorted weapons.

Head of the Sipri project on military expenditure in the arms transfers and military expenditure programme Sam Perlo-Freeman said that some of these purchases in the region had a direct relation to the conflict in Somalia, where Burundi, Uganda and Kenya are participating in the African Union mission against al-Shabaab.

Uganda has in the past two years lost military hardware in the Somalia conflict and is believed to have used part of the $18 million for armament.

According to UPDF records, since the 2011 incursion into Somalia, Uganda has lost two MI-24 helicopters worth around $10 million, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, earth moving equipment and ammunition.

In September 2017, Uganda’s contingent in Amisom got 19 Acmat Bastion armoured vehicles from the United States and in February this year, the same contingent received an unspecified number of unmanned aerial vehicles to be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The Sipri report shows that last year, Kenya bought a second-hand naval gun, AK-630 30mm, from Montenegro for the modernisation of Jasiri OPV (offshore patrol vessel). 

In February 2017, the Kenya Navy received the last six metal shark patrol boats. Another four were handed over last year bringing their total cost to $4.9 million.

Military partnership

Last year, Kenya also received an unknown number of AH-1 cobra attack helicopters as part of its military partnership with Jordan.

In July 2017, the country also received its last two Huey II helicopters. The aircraft is powered by a new Honeywell T53-L-703 engine, enabling it to have an improved hover performance in hot conditions, mirroring KDF’s needs in Somalia.

Kenya’s military expenditure in 2018 is expected to rise as it is awaiting a dozen MD 530F armed light helicopters from US-based MD Helicopters at a cost of $253 million, whose orders were placed in May 2017.

The order from Nairobi included the provision of MD 530F “cayuse warrior” light attack helicopters, 24 HMP 400 machine gun pod systems, 24 M260 rocket launcher systems and assorted ammunition.

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.

The Sipri report shows that arms imports by African states decreased by 22 per cent in the past five years. Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32 per cent although the country still accounted for 39 per cent of total imports to the continent.

On the other hand, China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55 per cent, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4 per cent to 17 per cent.

In the past three years, 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China which saw Beijing accounting for 27 per cent of sub-Saharan African arms imports.

The US accounted for 11 per cent of arms exports to Africa over the same period with its transfers mainly in small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid.