Kenya’s use in Somalia of attack helicopters from China, fighter jets from Jordan and armoured vehicles from Israel is evidence that the country has been upgrading its military capabilities in response to new threats.
The latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), analysing arms deals by African countries said that Operation Linda Nchi illustrates “the importance of arms imports for facilitating military responses to threats to security.”
The Sweden-based global monitoring group also notes in its study of arms flows to black Africa that Kenya is showing “promising signs that transparency in arms procurement is developing.”
However, the Kenyan military would not confirm reports that the air force has been shopping for superior, affordable, more easily serviceable fighter jets. Defence Minister Yusuf Haji said any comment on such matters would compromise the country’s national security.
There have been whispers within local intelligence circles that Kenya has been negotiating with the United States for a grant to upgrade its fleet of fighter jets, with the F-15 being the main target.
The F-5Es currently in use in Somalia were acquired from Jordan for about $23 million, but experts argue they are now old and cannot serve Kenya’s future security needs. There is also talk that Kenya could be given US military hardware that was used in Iraq.
But Defence Minister Yusuf Haji dismissed the talks as rumours and maintained that Kenya does not intend to buy new fighter jets.
“We have a strong air force and our F-5Es are adequate. We are ready to accept any donations but are not looking to make any purchases,” he said.
According to the Sipri report, Kenya has also done substantial weapons business with Ukraine, citing the embarrassing saga of the T-72 tanks hijacked by Somali pirates in 2008 before they could be trans-shipped to the government of South Sudan. Kenya also imported a total of 655 grenade launchers, 44,500 assault rifles and 550 machine guns from Ukraine between 2007 and 2010, Sipri indicates.
“On the international stage,” the report says, “Kenya has been a prominent supporter of the proposed arms trade treaty.” But the government has not reported the T-72 tank deal to the UN arms registry despite promises to do so, the group notes.
Uganda, meanwhile, “shows how a once relatively transparent government has fallen back on habits of secrecy at a time when its arms procurement has drastically increased.”
Uganda has never reported its weapons deals to a United Nations registry of conventional arms transfers, the Sipri study says.
It recounts the Museveni government’s purchase of six Russian combat jets in 2010 and lists Uganda’s procurement that same year of machine guns and grenade launchers from both Bulgaria and Ukraine. Uganda also imported nearly 37,000 assault rifles from Ukraine in 2010, the report adds.
Lack of transparency about arms flows “obstructs an informed debate” on the proposed treaty and “would be a serious obstacle to its verification,” the report adds. Sipri is hopeful, however, that Kenya’s new Constitution will ensure greater accountability to parliament regarding arms deals.
The report notes that a parliamentary committee did question the defence minister in November 2010 regarding the condition of the second-hand F-5Es.
Ukraine ranks as the second-leading supplier of major weapons to black African countries, accounting for a 20 per cent share of that market, Sipri reports. China, with a 25 per cent share, ranks first.
Sipri cautions against viewing China’s weapons deals as invariably a part of its effort to secure access to African resources. “China’s delivery of arms and military assistance to Tanzania, from which it imports few natural resources, shows that access to resources cannot be China’s only motive for supplying arms to Africa,” the report says. It also refers to Chinese military sales to Kenya and Uganda.
The United States conducts a much smaller arms trade with black Africa than does China, with the US share of the market amounting to only 3 per cent.
“The supply of arms does not appear to have played a prominent role for France, the UK and the USA in their security-related policies on sub-Saharan Africa, even though they are important external actors in security issues in sub-Saharan Africa,” Sipri points out.
Among importers, Nigeria ranks first in black Africa with a 20 per cent share of the market during the 2006-2010 period, while Sudan is placed second with a 16 per cent share.
Kenya is listed eighth on the table, with a 5 per cent share.
Uganda and Tanzania do not appear among the top 10 importers, but that is likely to change due to Uganda’s sizable arms procurements over the past two years.
Black Africa is heavy reliant on imports for arming its countries’ military forces because, with the exception of South Africa, it lacks significant production capacity of its own, the report adds.
Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda all do have some capacity, however.
Sipri points to the Kenya Ordnance Factories Corporation and Mzinga Corporation in Tanzania, both of which manufacture rounds of ammunition.
Luwero Industries in Uganda refurbishes Kalashnikov-type rifles and uses South African equipment and cartridge cases, propellant, primer caps and bullets imported from China to produce ammunition, the report adds.