Kenya’s military spending last year rose to a new high of Sh96 billion to stand above those of neighbouring Ethiopia and Uganda combined for the first time, according to a newly released global report.
Nairobi spent $933 million (or nearly Sh100 billion) on its military last year, a 10.5 per cent growth from $844 million (Sh86.9 billion) in 2015 — a move that is seen as having the potential to upset the power balance in the region.
The data released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), an independent global security think tank, yesterday shows Kenya’s Defence bill is the eighth largest in Africa.
The report shows that Kenya has more recently continued to lead its East African peers both in budget size and annual spending growth, causing fear that it could spark an arms race in the volatile region.
“Kenya’s expenditure increase can be related to the country improving its capabilities against terrorists. There is also the issue of regional security in the context of neighbouring countries, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan,” said Nan Tian, an arms researcher at Sipri, in an email response to questions on the report.
“A key point made by (Kenyan) government is the need to improve security in order to boost economic growth and employment.”
Kenya has in recent years suffered deadly gun and bomb attacks from Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants demanding withdrawal of the country’s troops from the war-torn Horn of Africa nation.
At $933 million, Kenya’s military spending is more than the $469 million that Ethiopia and the $403 million that Uganda spent on their Defence last year, the Sipri report shows.
Tanzania stands behind Kenya in the region’s military spending order, having spent $544 million (Sh56 billion) on its Defence, followed by Ethiopia and Uganda.
Efforts to get a breakdown of Kenya’s military spending were unsuccessful.
“Unfortunately due to transparency issues in many African countries, it is very difficult to get breakdowns on the spending. This is the case for Kenya. The government provides only a total figure,” Dr Tian said.
Kenya does not make public its military purchases, and only Parliament is mandated to scrutinise the classified expenditure by security organs.
Some of Kenya’s largest expenditure items are, however, known having been revealed through other international sources.
Last December, for instance, Kenya received six Huey II helicopters from the US at a cost of $106 million (Sh10.9 billion).
The aircraft, mostly used for deployment of troops in battlefields, are designed to reinforce Kenya’s use of drones in waging intelligent warfare.
Nairobi also received a Sh1 billion drone dubbed ScanEagle from the US last year, enabling the army to conduct real-time surveillance on terrorists’ hideouts and stage pre-emptive attacks.
The Sipri report shows that Nairobi’s military bill accounts for 1.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and five per cent of the total government spending. The military expenditure has nearly doubled in the last decade from Sh50 billion in 2007 to Sh96 billion last year.
Last year, Tanzania grew its Defence budget 5.2 per cent to Sh56 billion, making it the second-biggest rise behind Kenya’s while Uganda’s increased 3.5 per cent – the lowest rate in the region.
“This (Tanzania’s) increase could be related to the recent announcement of the military cooperation between China and Tanzania. The case here could be the procurement of Chinese weapons at a much cheaper price than before. This might incentivise Tanzania to spend extra on procurement that they might not need, but will do so because it is now more affordable,” Sipri said, even as it expressed surprise at the sluggish growth of Uganda’s military spending.
“This is actually a surprise given its relationship with South Sudan and the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. One reason for the low increase has to do with oil prices hampering government revenue and its ability to spend on the military,” says the report.
Kenya’s $933 million military expenditure accounted for 2.4 per cent of Africa’s total military spending of Sh3.9 trillion ($37.9 billion) last year.
Morocco leads in Africa with a Defence budget of Sh339 billion ($3.3 billion), followed by South Africa ($3.1 billion) and Angola $2.8 billion (Sh288 billion).
Sudan is fourth at $2.7 billion while Nigeria is fifth at $1.7 billion. Kenya is eighth behind Tunisia and Algeria, excluding Egypt and Libya whose data were not made public.
Globally, the US retains the pole position as the highest military spender at $611 billion (Sh62.9 trillion), which is nine times Kenya’s GDP, with China coming a distant second ($215 billion) and Russia third with a $69.2 billion budget.
Global Firepower, an agency that assesses military strength of nations, last year ranked Kenya’s military the eleventh most powerful in Africa and the best in East Africa.
Kenya’s arms stockpile, according to the agency, comprises 76 battle tanks, 591 armoured fighting vehicles, 30 self-propelled guns, 25 towed artillery, 132 aircraft, 17 fighter jets, and 62 helicopters.