Ethiopia, DR Congo lead East Africa's arms race

ea arms race

Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan have been catching up and are now some of the biggest spenders in the East African Community (EAC) region.

Photo credit: Graphics | Gennevieve Awino Omondi

A new report has ranked Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as East Africa’s military powers based on their military strength.

The 2024 GlobaFirepower (GFP), an index that ranks countries based on their war-making capability potential across land, sea and air, factors values related to manpower, equipment, and finances among others to formulate its rankings.

But Ethiopia and DRC are not the only countries heavily spending on their military.

Their neighbours, including Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan have been catching up and are now some of the biggest spenders in the East African Community (EAC) region.

 There exists no publicly available and official EAC data on military strength since most countries prefer to keep the information secret on national security interests, and only disclose what is considered 'harmless' information that is often outdated.

But even smaller countries in the region including Eritrea, Uganda and Rwanda have also been spending significant portions of their budgets building their military strength as the Horn of Africa region becomes more volatile.


Though the country’s defence budget is below $1 billion, the country’s stock of armoury is enormous. First, the country has 162,000 active military workforce second after DRC with 207,580. Moreover, the nation boasts of a fleet of combat aircraft, 29 in total comprising 23 fighters and 6 attack helicopters.

The country’s tactical advantage in warfare is supplemented by its investment in battle tanks (680), armoured vehicles (10,028) and possession of rocket artillery (79).


 The country has suffered for decades due to rebel groups fighting to get a share of the country’s rich minerals. With a defence budget of $0.3 billion and more than 200,000 active military personnel, the country has the largest workforce in the Eastern bloc.

The nation prides itself on having at least 210 battle tanks and 50 rocket artillery, claiming second place after Ethiopia.DRC’s navy is not to be underestimated given the numerous patrol vessels,16 making it the leader on this front.


Despite being one of the economic powerhouses in the eastern region, the nation boasts as a haven for refugees from war-torn regions in South Sudan and Somalia. The country has solidified its position in combat matters. According to GFP, Kenya has an estimated 75,000 active military workforce.

With a more than $2 billion defence budget, the country comes first in the region by its fleet of helicopters (87) and second after Ethiopia in combat aircraft (19) and armoured vehicles (4856).

While GFP estimates Kenya’s defence budget at $2.2 billion, the largest in the region, the country’s ranking falls behind its peers, Ethiopia and DRC.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.