Africa is Arming Faster than the World

Military spending in Africa increased by 5.9 per cent in 2014, with the top two spenders Algeria and Angola, both major oil producers, increasing their spending by 12 and 6.7 per cent, respectively. According to the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), world military expenditure dropped between 2013 and 2014.
The institute noted that world military expenditure totaled $1.8 trillion in 2014 (2.3 per cent of global gross domestic product), a fall of 0.4 per cent in real terms since 2013. This is the third consecutive year that total global military expenditure has decreased. However, the falls during the previous two years have been comparatively small; world military expenditure is still only 1.7 per cent below its 2011 peak, and it remains significantly above the levels of the late 1980s, according to SIPRI. The organization also noted that, “World military spending, while falling for the third year in a row, has levelled off as reductions in the United States and Western Europe were largely matched by increases in Asia and Oceania, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. Spending in Latin America was virtually level.”
According to SIPRI’s Trends in World Military Expenditure 2014, Africa once again saw the largest year-on-year increase in military expenditure of any region, at 5.9 per cent, reaching $50.2 billion. Military spending in the region has increased by 91 per cent since 2005.

Africa’s two biggest spenders, Algeria and Angola, continued their rapid military spending increases financed by high oil revenues, with Algeria increasing by 12 per cent to reach $11.9 billion, and Angola by 6.7 per cent to hit $6.8 billion. These countries have respectively trebled and doubled their spending in real terms since 2005, and both now spend more than 5 per cent of their GDP on the military. It remains to be seen whether the crash in oil prices in late 2014 will halt this trend.

Nigeria’s budgeted military expenditure fell in 2014 for the third year running, by 9.3 per cent, to $2.3 billion. Nonetheless, the total is still 79 per cent higher than in 2005, and the budgeted figure does not include a $1 billion loan approved by the Nigerian Congress in October 2014 for military hardware and training to fight the militant group Boko Haram.

In its analysis the Institute reported that US military spending fell by 6.5 per cent in 2014 as part of ongoing budget deficit reduction measures; spending has now fallen by 20 per cent since its peak in 2010. However, current US military spending is still 45 per cent higher than in 2001, just before the 11 September terrorist attacks on the USA.

The next three highest spenders—China, Russia and Saudi Arabia—have all substantially increased their military expenditures, with Saudi Arabia’s increase of 17 per cent making it the largest increase of any of the top 15 spenders worldwide.

SPLA Officers at South Sudan Independence in 2011 . google pic

“While total world military spending is mostly unchanged, some regions, such as the Middle East and much of Africa, are continuing to see rapid build-ups that are placing an increasingly high burden on many economies”, said Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, Head of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure project. ‘’These increases partly reflect worsening security situations, but in many cases they are also the product of corruption, vested interests and autocratic governance.”

Apart from Angola that overtook South Africa as the biggest spender in sub-Saharan African 2013, other countries with rocketing defense budgets include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nature of Equipment

“Some countries are buying really amazing stuff,” says David Shinn, a former American diplomat, now a professor at George Washington University. Ethiopia in 2013 saw the delivery of the first of about 200 Ukrainian T-72 tanks. Neighboring South Sudan has bought about half as many. Coastal states such as Cameroon, Mozambique, Senegal and Tanzania are sprucing up their navies. Angola has even looked at buying a used aircraft-carrier from Spain or Italy.

Chad and Uganda are buying MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets. Cameroon and Ghana are importing transport planes to boost their ability to move troops around and deploy them abroad, which they have been ill-equipped to do. For peacekeeping duties they generally ask friendly Western governments for help in airlifting troops, or charter civilian planes.

A big issue is whether troops have enough training to handle sophisticated new gear. Chad makes good use of its Sukhoi SU-25 jets—with the help of mercenaries. On the other hand, Congo-Brazzaville only manages to get its Mirage fighter jets into the air for national-day celebrations. Uganda spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Sukhoi SU-30 combat aircraft but little on the precision weapons to go with them.


More traditional threats, internal as well as external, persist in countries such as South Sudan, where the government is fighting rebels while also facing a hostile northern neighbor.

Industrial ambition also plays a part. A number of countries hope to foster defense manufacturing at home. A huge South African purchase of arms from, among others, Germany and Britain, agreed to more than a decade ago, included promises of “offsets” whereby local firms would help assemble jets and ships. Angola plans to build its own warships. Nigeria and Sudan make ammunition. Four European arms manufacturers were supposed to set up African subsidiaries: Antonov is going into Sudan; Eurocopter is in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi; Fincantieri, an Italian shipbuilder, is in the country’s main port, Mombasa; and Saab is setting up a plant for its military aircraft in Botswana.


The Economist, Defenseweb and SIPRI

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