Kenya bought a huge consignment of arms last year from Serbia, a Russian ally that was once part of Soviet-bloc nation Yugoslavia, after a lull in purchases of heavy artillery in 2013, a new global report has revealed.
The military acquired heavy arms valued at Sh2.6 billion ($29 million) from Serbia as per the report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
The country also forked out $20 million (about Sh1.8 billion) to Russia for arms in the same year.
In 2013, the government spent a paltry Sh91.9 million ($1 million) on weaponry purchased from Germany, the data shows.
The weapons purchased last year included 18 self-propelled guns (B-52 NORA 155mm) and 15 armoured personnel carriers (APC).
“Some of these purchases (in East Africa) may be related to the conflict in Somalia, or to perceived threats resulting from participation in the AU (African Union) mission there,” said the Sipri military expenditure programme director Samuel Perlo-Freeman in a response to the Business Daily queries.
This is the first time Kenya has procured weapons from Serbia away from its long-time source markets of Spain, Germany, Jordan and Russia — which has emerged as the major supplier of arms for neighbouring East African nations.
Serbia is a close political, trade and military ally of the increasingly isolated Russia, whose alleged role in the unfolding Ukrainian crisis has seen it slapped with global sanctions including an arms export embargo.
In October last year, Russian President Vladmir Putin visited Belgrade in the heat of the Ukrainian crisis, where he received the country’s highest honour, “The award of the Order of The Republic of Serbia.”
The Kenyan government does not make public its military purchases, and only Parliament is mandated to scrutinise classified expenditure of the security organs.
The security organs have come under pressure to step up their military might to combat emerging threats particularly from Somali militants involved in terrorism, arms smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking.
Kenya, the report shows, acquired Sh19.8 billion worth of new stock of arms in five years between 2010 and last year, compared to Sh919.4 million expenditure between 2005 and 2009 — marking a huge jump in the period — which is the highest in the East Africa.
The report, however, shows that Kenya trails Tanzania and Uganda, which have been on a spending spree in the arms market in terms of the value of their consignments.
In the four–year period to 2014, Uganda sunk KSh68.6 billion ($747 million) in acquiring additional stock largely sourced from Russia while Tanzania’s new stockpile was valued at KSh27.9 billion ($304 million) whose origin was China.
The Sweden-based institute researches on conflict and arms control. The report, which was released last Monday, shows that all East African countries have ramped up weapons stockpiles over the years, underlining the arms race in the region.
Kenya formally sent 4,660 soldiers to Somalia in October 2011 in response to incessant attacks by Al-Shabaab militants within its territory — a decision that has recently seen the militants retaliate with deadly gun and bomb attacks.
The report shows that Kenya also procured five panther helicopters from China and a Sh4.6 billion naval ship from Spain dubbed KNS Jasiri, which is the largest vessel in the Kenya Navy fleet.
The stockpile also includes 67 units of Puma M26 armoured personnel carrier (APC) from South Africa valued at Sh1.6 billion that are immune to explosion from land mines and improvised explosive devices (IED).
The value of Kenya’s arms consignment from the US — which feeds the local market with capital goods — stood at a paltry Sh91.9 million ($1 million) in the period.
Kenya’s modest trade with the world’s largest economy on the military equipment market comes even as Nairobi’s imports from the US last year rose 165.3 per cent to $1.5 billion (Sh137.9 billion), largely driven by acquisition of equipment and machinery.
But the Sipri report says that most of Kenya’s military equipment modernisation is done by US companies.
For instance, Kenya’s consignment of 15 second-hand fixed-wing fighter ground attack (FGA) aircraft from Jordan was modernised by a US firm before delivery in 2012.
The used aircraft were valued at Sh1.3 billion ($14.9 million), but the cost was inflated to Sh3.4 billion ($38 million) after the upgrade — highlighting the Kenyan government’s penchant for second-hand equipment.
Sipri officials, however, raised concerns over Uganda’s apparent over-expenditure on military equipment saying interventions by Ugandan troops in Somalia and South Sudan fell short of justifying the country’s spending spree.
The country acquired six units of Su-30 Flanker combat aircraft valued at Sh58.3 billion ($635 million) from Russia, 25 anti-ship missiles and 100 guided bombs to be mounted on combat aircraft and 15 anti-tank missiles from Ukraine.
“Uganda’s SU-30s, do not appear to meet any obvious security need and, therefore, raise concerns over the use of resources,” said Dr Perlo-Freeman.
To compile details of the arms purchases, Sipri researchers get information from several open sources and focus only on major arms deals.
The report focused on what it considered as major weapons including military aircraft, armoured vehicles, artillery, missiles, rocket launchers and satellites — leaving out small military equipment such as trucks, artillery under 100-mm calibre and ammunition.
Russia, currently locked in a tussle with the US over aggression against Ukraine, has emerged as the darling of Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan which sourced nearly half of its Sh72.7 billion ($791 million) consignment from the European nation.
Sipri says that Kenya increased its defence budget 20 per cent in the year to June to Sh74.1 billion ($861 million), which was higher than Africa’s average spend.
The new report shows that Kenya has not purchased any heavy military equipment from the UK since 2010 despite the two nations having a long-standing defence co-operation agreement which allowed Britain to establish the British Army Training Unit Kenya (Batuk) in Nanyuki. Around 10,000 British soldiers train in Kenya every year.
Algeria topped Africa’s list of heavy acquisition of military hardware valued at $3.6 billion followed by Egypt ($2.5 billion).
“This reflects the size of their economy and the fact that they devote a relatively high share of GDP to the military. Algeria could also have had a lot of funds at its disposal due to the high price of oil in recent years (until the end of last year), and have been in a state of more or less continual internal conflict,” said Dr Perlo-Freeman.
Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, which is troubled by the incursion by Boko Haram religious extremists, spent $495 million.