Africa’s combined military spending increase rate has been reported to be the fastest of any continent in 2014. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in its 2015 Yearbook recorded a 5.9% increase in African military spending. From 2004 to 2013, there has been a cumulative 81% increase in spending. In absolute terms, the figures are not as monstrous as they look but they sadly still have a damning effect on the livelihoods of the citizenship made to finance this spending through taxes. The level of spending necessitates the question of what is really being done with this money.
Algeria, Africa’s biggest spender has an annual budget of nothing less than $10 billion which translates to 4.8% of its GDP. One is tempted to think this is not at all for the peace and security of the ordinary Algerian but rather the security of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Is this a reasonable suspicion? Maybe yes…maybe not. The unrest in the Sahel region and North Africa has surely been a cause for concern and decisive action has to be taken to protect citizens. As a country sandwiched by the sandstorms of the two regions, Algeria is in the eye of the storm and the best defence is to be prepared for spillages of the internecine violence surrounding the country. Algeria has bought unmanned drones, self-propelled artillery, an amphibious vessel “Kalaat Bani-Abbes” armoured vehicles and essentially all manner of armoury. Chad and Uganda are also said to have bought MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets. Much like Goodluck Jonathan’s rumoured proposals in the years gone by to buy about 40 advanced fighter jets to fight off Boko Haram, one begins to question the whole spending spree. It all seems to become a case of overgrown, grey haired boys tickling their fancy using state money. Yes, there might be need to militarise countries lest they be caught in the vortex of nascent but growing terrorism and uprisings but some of the heavy toys being bought are not the most expedient manner to spend tax-payers’ money.
Transparency International’s surveys of 47 out of the 54 African countries proved all countries to be very corrupt or very close to being very corrupt. This means they are all generally open to corrupt black arms deals and pilferage of money. There is no better man to talk to about pilferage of military funds than Goodluck Jonathan, a man who was arrested for corruptly siphoning about $5.5 billion out of the system using underhand, dirty and illegal schemes. When the world was screaming “Bring back our girls” hoarse, here is a man who was allegedly using resources meant for that fight to further his own ends together with his cronies. Leah Wawro, Trasnparency International’s program manager for conflict and security aptly put the whole situation into perspective, “With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region.”
This year when at least 29 people lost their lives in a Burkina Faso hotel siege, 10 in a Nigerian Mosque, five in the Nigerian Gwoza attacks, five at Libyan oil ports (and the list goes on and on), it is really suspect that the spending rises and terrorism’s rampage actually seems to increase in intensity. Maybe expectations are too high and unrealistic or maybe something downright dirty is happening on the ground. Wawro says with great confidence that, “Absolutely, corruption is undermining the fight against Boko Haram. When soldiers’ salaries are pocketed, when they see their commanders driving fancy cars while they struggle to ear, they are more likely to sell weapons and other supplies.”
There are no prizes for guessing who they sell the weapons to. Boko Haram of course! All thanks to some fat cats in the corridors of power. President Buhari, please descend on these insatiable pot-bellied enemies of Africa. One is also left with a bitter taste in the mouth by the fact that Burkina Faso scored a Fail in the Transparency report at a time when 29 people lost their lives in the hotel siege. Surely something should be said for the fail and its possible connection with the terrorist attacks. It is even sadder that the United States and its acolytes continue to provide military aid for countries in Africa where the corruption of the military is a matter of public knowledge. They are complicit in a chain that ends up feeding the enemy and are thus sponsoring terrorism through the corrupt officials who are as jihadist as they come. One way to go around this accountability. Do the aid providers even follow up on what their aid was used for? Their negligence is costing Africa.
The rising military budgets are not translating to rising efficiency in the actual battlefields. In addition, there is a real growing fear that Chief Officers in the military are becoming politically powerful as a result of the military developments. They forget the weapons they have, those big grand toys belong to the state and they cannot be used to victimise the people who sponsored their purchase. Is that not a clear logical fact? After all, if governments are going to be buying imposing fighter-jets that do not do much on the ground where the war is being lost, maybe that money would rather be used to alleviate poverty. The “we’ve got a bigger weapon” syndrome should stop. Priorities should be clearly set out. Increases in spending should result in concrete quantifiable results, if not, then it is only wise to stop them and refocus on other areas of development which Africa is surely not short of.