Kenya increases spending on defence

Kenya’s combat helicopters leave Tabda in Somalia to attack Al-Shaabab fighters on January 16. Military spending often diverts money from urgent social needs. File

Kenya increased spending on military equipment last year with the importation of eight war ships and six armoured vehicles, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) shows.

Kenya’s overall military spend rose to Sh52.2 billion ($594 million) in 2010 from Sh47.5 billion ($580 million) in 2009. The figures are adjusted for inflation and are based on a mean annual exchange rate of Sh88 to the dollar.

The institute says Kenya imported the armoured vehicles from South Africa and aircraft from France but does not directly link the acquisitions to Operation Linda Nchi, the incursion deep into Somalia meant to flush out Al-Shabaab militia which had started attacking tourist facilities in Kenya.

Urgent social needs

The institute says the increase in military spending consolidated Kenya’s position as the biggest spender on defence in the region. Military spending often diverts money from urgent social needs in developing countries like Kenya which have high budget deficits.

Uganda spent 14 per cent less in 2010 at $276 million from $315 million in 2009. Rwanda spent $77.2 million last year up from $75.3 million in 2009. Although data for Tanzania and Burundi was not available, Tanzania has recorded the lowest expenditure on defence as a percentage of GDP, averaging at 1.1 per cent for the last five years. Data from Sipri shows that Kenya spent an average of two per cent of her national income on defence compared to Uganda and Rwanda at 1.8 per cent and 1.4 per cent respectively. “Kenya’s growing spending is taking up a rising share of its GDP from 1.6 per cent in 2004 to two per cent in 2010,” commented the Society for International Development (Sid) in a report. Kenya’s inflation dropped to 15.6 per cent in March from 16.6 per cent, but the cost of living has remained high compared to 9.9 per cent at the same period last year with energy being the main driver of inflation.

One armoured vehicle is estimated to cost about Sh10 million. A single war ship costs more than Sh5 billion. Kenya also imported 93 aircraft in 2010 from China, Jordan, and Russia.

Kenya faces a growing public debt that hit Sh1.4 trillion last December as it seeks to finance infrastructure and the war in Somalia together with financing elections.

Threats of terrorism

Kenya’s military spend is expected to surge as its military incursion into Somalia continues with threats of terrorism higher than ever before. The country is banking on the Somalia war to boost security, increase tourist numbers, and open up the north eastern region to foreign direct investments.

Tanzania’s military spending as a percentage of GDP was the lowest among the East African member states in the last five years with Burundi being the highest spender followed by Kenya. The military expenditure as a ratio of GDP normally indicates the amount of money being diverted away from basic national needs especially at times when the country is not at war.

Between 2007 and 2010 Kenya bought 655 grenade launchers, 44,500 assault rifles, and 550 machine guns from Ukraine.

The country also bought 6,964 assault rifles from the United States. Kenya and Uganda are the largest spenders on weapon imports in the region.

Sipri is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armament, arms control, and disarmament. It is based in Switzerland.

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