As Oil Prices Dip, East African Countries Spend Less on Military

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By Agencies

East Africa military spending recorded its biggest drop 2016, pushed down by South Sudan which cut back its expenditure by more than 50 per cent, in a year its economy tanked due to a prolonged political crisis than turned into a civil war.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent resource on global security, indicates that east African  economies spent $2.5 billion on their military expenditure last year, a drop from the previous year of $3.1 billion, even as countries sought to modernise their weapons while also tackling the surging terrorism threat.

Africa’s overall spending fell by 1.3 per cent to $37.9 billion in 2016, the second year of decreasing military spending, after 12 consecutive years of increased military spending.

Kenya and South Sudan continued to be the region’s top spenders. Kenya spent $908 million in 2016, up from $844 the previous year, while South Sudan saw its spending drop to $525 million, from $1.14 billion the previous year.

African military expenditures have finally slowed down after more than a decade of steady increases, according to a new report on global defense spending. The main reason, the report found, is a drop in oil prices.

“The sharp decreases in oil prices has affected quite a number of African countries, namely South Sudan and Angola. This has kind of driven almost the entire regional trend,” said Nan Tian, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Arms and Military Expenditure Program, the organization that authored the report.

The SIPRI report found military spending in Africa in 2016 was down by 1.3 percent from the previous year and totaled about $37.9 billion.

Despite the drop, Africa’s military spending remains 48 percent higher than it was a decade ago. “A few of the top spenders within these regions are generally oil economies, so the low oil prices have meant sharp cutbacks in government financing and that includes military spending,” he said.

Some of Africa’s biggest spenders in recent years have included oil-rich Angola, which has sought to modernize its air force and navy, and Algeria which has tried to preserve its stability amid the collapse of Libya and the rise of extremism in North Africa. Both of those countries have slowed spending recently, Tian said.

Weighing spending against needs

Tian said that perhaps the most important question to ask, is whether military spending in Africa is at appropriate levels.

Ten African countries have military expenditures greater than 3 percent of their GDP. The highest are the Republic of the Congo where military expenditures totaled 7 percent of GDP in 2016, and Algeria where military spending totaled 6.7 percent of GDP.

Globally, military spending is 2.2 percent of GDP or about $227 per person.

“You have the security aspect also in Africa. We have the opportunity costs,” Tian said. “It is the poorest continent. The question is: should this continent be spending? Are they spending enough or are they spending too much on military based on their current income levels? Should they rather be prioritizing other aspects of spending maybe health care, maybe education, maybe infrastructure?”

Not all African countries saw a decline in military spending. According to the report, Botswana’s military spending grew by 40 percent, or about $152 million. Botswana is regularly noted for having a long record of peace and good governance, and is undergoing a military modernization program.

Nigeria increased its military spending by 1.2 percent to $1.7 billion as it strives to defeat the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. Similarly, Kenya and Mali increased military spending due to extremist threats in their regions.



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