The World’s Poorest Continent Spent an Extra $50 Billion on Weapons Last Year
African nations dramatically increased military spending … again
Originally published on April 16, 2015.
Good news, world military spending declined last year.
According to several new reports published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, global military spending decreased by 0.4 percent in 2014.
Unfortunately, that decrease is due to America’s military spending cuts. Excluding the United States, spending actually went up 3.1 percent across the globe — and nowhere did it increase more dramatically than in Africa.
Driven by regional rivalries and asymmetric threats, African governments today spend billions more on munitions than a decade ago.
African military budgets increase at an average yearly rate close to six percent. That’s the largest increase of any continent and translates to a little more than $50 billion. That’s still a pittance compared to many national military budgets.
Africa’s biggest spenders are all oil rich. Military budgets in Algeria, Angola and Nigeria grew the most. The largest increase — by far — was in the Republic of the Congo, which spent a whopping 88 percent more on munitions in 2014 than it did in 2013.
SIPRI’s data indicated that global military spending is leveling off since 2007. But arms sales are trending upward, though it’s still far below the historical highs of the early ’80s. Here again, Africa leads the pack.
African governments buy a lot of military hardware abroad. Which makes sense given that most African states lack the supplies, industrial knowledge and infrastructure to manufacture sophisticated weaponry. Most of them can’t even produce low-tech basics such as armored vehicles and rifles.
Which means that the rest of the world is making a lot of money selling weapons to some of the poorest countries on Earth.
Global arms transfers — which includes both sales and gifts — increased by 16 percent from 2010 to 2014. Arms sales to Africa increased by 45 percent during that same period. Algeria imported the most arms, followed by Morocco, Sudan and Uganda.
According to the SIPRI, African states were most interested in helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers. Sophisticated Russian multi-role fighter jets also ranked high for some countries.
But a close reading of the SIRPI reports reveal that African countries that spent a lot of money on their militaries did not necessarily spend that cash importing weapons.
Namibia, for example, had the second largest year-over-year increase in military spending, but spent little money on weapons imports. Instead, it invested the money into new and refurbished infrastructure and better living conditions for its soldiers.
But other countries — such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria and Sudan — invested in imported weapons to use against rebel groups. All of these countries face insurgencies either within or along their borders.
Nigeria and Cameroon are both fighting the child-kidnapping Boko Haram terrorist group. Algeria struggles with a regional insurgency, and Sudan and South Sudan are awash in rebel groups. These states have all bought large amounts of helicopters and APCs to help in those fights.
Other governments are preparing for more conventional conflicts.
Morocco invested in modern equipment, possibly designed to counter the armament build-up of its neighboring Algeria. Similarly, Uganda and Angola spent money on sophisticated military hardware, which will allow their governments to squash internal dissent and project power in the region.
Worldwide, 20 countries had a military burden comprise more than four percent of their GDP in 2014. Only three states from this category — Israel, Lebanon and Namibia — are democratic and Lebanon is best described as a “fledgling” democracy. The other 17 states are autocracies, failed states or somewhere in between.
Israel and Lebanon’s high military spending makes sense, but Namibia is an oddity. It’s a stable democracy that hasn’t seen armed conflict since the ’90s. SIPRI theorized that the country’s sparse population and long borders contribute to its high military spending.
Despite all of this spending, violence and conflict is down in Africa. But it’s safe to say increased spending on the continent will continue. Insurgencies and regional conflicts are problems in many places on the continent — and most show no signs of abating.
International peacekeepers increasingly rely on support from African troops. Heavy contributors — such as South Africa — will have to invest considerable resources in the coming years to keep their armed forces relevant.
In short, Africa will continue to spend billions on arms. But Algeria, Angola, Sudan, Nigeria and some other big spenders rely on oil revenue to refill their military coffers. If oil prices stay low, these countries will spend less.
But they probably won’t cut military spending unless oil tanks below $40 a barrel. Military establishments are too politically important in many African states for that to happen.
SIPRI uses a derived trend-indicator value and not plain currency to calculate the value of arms transfers, so we can’t rank countries in terms of dollars spent.
But we need to put the spending in perspective. As a continent of 52 nations, all African nations combined still spend only about as much on their militaries as India, which ranks seventh in the world.