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Uganda, Sudan enter arms race

By Haggai Matsiko

Museveni doubles military expenditure, cuts education budget

The budget increase in Uganda’s military expenditure even amidst global and regional defence cuts might be the latest indication of President Museveni’s strategy to fasten his grip on power and his influence on the region.

As recent events have showed, a large military war-chest increases Museveni’s regional and international leverage, and helps cow opposition to him at home. Unfortunately, it also means more taxes must be paid to finance it.

In the 2013/14 budget due to be announced soon, about ten new taxes are to be introduced partly to finance the Ministry of Defence vote which is slated to hit an historic Shs 1 trillion, according to the national Budget Framework Paper (BFP) 2013/2014-2017/2018.

In the past, Museveni has spent even more than Shs 1 trillion on the army. He spent Shs 1.8 trillion off the budget on Su-30MK ex-Russian jets in 2011 alone. However, the budget for Defence in the BFP has always been smaller—last year it was Shs 649 billion and Shs 946 billion in the final budget.

But this year, in the BFP, the defence budget is a staggering Shs1,045.9 billion representing a 10% increment from last year’s Shs 946 billion.

While, the increment is under Shs 100 billion, in real terms that figure excludes monies accrued to Defence from external sources. The figure also does not include classified expenditure that is usually Defence’s biggest component. Because of national security, the army does not reveal certain expenditures.

The Independent could not verify specific information that even this year but Uganda received arms, and logistical, and financial support.

UPDF outspends regional armies

Military expenditure is critical, experts say, because it exposes the burden on taxpayers of a country’s military forces, and reveals the governments priorities especially looking at the trade-offs made for the army and in some cases, shows whether a country’s orientation is peaceful or militaristic.

In the 2013/14 budget, security and Defence is topmost priority. The question is why spend so much on the military especially at a time when projections for economic growth remain modest. In fact, for Defence to get more money critical areas like Education and Agriculture had to be slashed. These are areas, economists say, that need more money.

Uganda’s increase also comes at a time when a new report by a global arms expert, indicates that globally and regionally, military expenditure is declining.

2012 saw military expenditure in Sub-Saharan Africa drop by 3.2 %, notes a new report, Trends in international arms transfers 2012 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an international institute, an international institute that carries out research into conflict and arms control notes.

Globally, the drop was a paltry 0.5 percent but the World’s biggest military spender, the U.S. cut its spending by 6 percent.

On the other hand, President Museveni’s friends—Russia’s Vladmir Putin whom he visited last year and China’s new President, Xi Jinping who he recently met in South Africa—increased their military expenditure by 7.8 percent and 16 per cent respectively.

No surprise therefore that while China was the second largest global military spender; Uganda was the second largest importer in the Sub-Saharan region of arms between 2008-2012 accounting for 15 per cent after South Africa’s 24 percent.

This was mainly due to the delivery of the 6 Su-30 combat aircraft from Russia, which hiked Uganda’s import volumes by almost 1200 per cent in 2008-2012 compared 2003–2007.

Uganda also reportedly bagged 17 % of the of the small arms and light weapons; assault rifles and submachine guns, transferred in Sub-Saharan Africa and Kenya, Uganda’s other regional military competitor, 17% 23% in the Arms Flow to Sub-Saharan Africa report.

SIPRI data shows that it was President Idi Amin’s military expansion in the mid 1970s that first prompted Kenya to indulge in an arms race in preparation for an attack from Uganda. Kenya had for years overtaken Uganda as the region’s spender. But Kenya’s economy is four times bigger than Uganda’s.

The latest SIPRI data shows that the race for military supremacy is between mainly Uganda and Sudan. Sudan was the third largest importer in the region after South Africa and Uganda.

Regional Arms race

Sudan is always cited among what whets Museveni’s arms appetite. The same period Uganda purchased the 6 Su-30 combat aircraft, Sudan also purchased 20 Mi-24 combat helicopters from Russia, 15 Su-25 combat aircraft from Belarus, 160 T-72 and T-55 tanks from Ukraine.

Recently, the Sudan complained to the African Union that Uganda was supporting rebellion in Sudan.

On March 17, Sudanese media quoted Sudan’s National Assembly Speaker Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, announcing that Khartoum was in talks with forces opposed to President Museveni to bring about positive political influence.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa retorted: “They can try but they will never succeed.”

But with the Seleka rebels, believed to be sympathetic to the Lords Resistance Army, having kicked the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF)and other African Union forces from CAR, the likelihood of them [LRA] crossing to Sudan and getting support from there is even more apparent.

The LRA aside, competition for regional military superiority, the threat of spill-over from any feared war between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, Somalia operations against al Shabaab, the craze over oil and the quest to be Africa’s military champion are cited amongst reasons for Uganda’s ever burgeoning military expenditure.

Others are the DRC war with the M23 that can always spill over to Uganda, the Allied Defence Forces in the DR Congo and a potential conflict between Uganda and DRC over the Albertine oil fields.

“Despite gains in peace and security in the past decade, the region endures the chronic pressures of weak governance, ethnic cleavages, and active rebel groups,” a March 12 US Intelligence report notes, “US Government-sponsored modeling suggests that Burundi, Congo (Kinshasa), and Uganda are all at risk of violent instability during the next year.”

Because of such, the UPDF has in this period literally loomed over the region from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia in what critics call military adventurism.

Such threats automatically mean increased spending even in the face of economic dire straits.  In 2011, for instance, while the country was struggling with terrible economic figures, the country ousted Kenya as the region’s biggest military spender—spending $ 1.02 against Kenya’s US$735 million.

For keen observers, the fruits of Museveni’s military spending are clear.  The acquisition of 6 Su-30MK Russian jets elevated Uganda’s air force to one of the most advanced combat aircraft squadrons in East and Central Africa according to SIPRI.

Despite streaks of rigged elections, human rights abuses, and torture of opposition politicians, Museveni is a regional darling. He was the keynote speaker at the recent inauguration of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Having spent almost three decades in power and seen off two past Kenyan presidents, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki ; Museveni was probably not the best choice at function marking a smooth transition of power.

But regional observers were quick to say that Kenyatta and William Ruto both indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), needed to court Museveni whose international leverage in the region is not in dispute.

Museveni’s statements indeed fit this claim. He lambasted the ICC for alleged “blackmail” and pursuing “their own agenda”.

With the chairmanship the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market of East and South Africa (COMESA) and a regional security outfit, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) under his belt, President Museveni is mustering this international leverage.

Top U.S. officials; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman and Michael Pelletier, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Democracy for the Africa Bureau have all showered praise on Museveni for promoting regional security.


Somalia is the main source of that praise. When the UPDF succeeded in flushing out the al Shabaab from war-torn Somalia, they hoisted Museveni’s flag as the champion of security in the region.

The Somali mission has several other benefits. Museveni cashes in on the Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) monies or reimbursement for the equipment used in the missions and other costs of troops and self-sustainment. Peace keeping missions have big budgets.

A book, `Crafting an African Security Strategy: Addressing Peace and Conflict in the 21st Century’,  by Hane Besada, shows the AU in 2007 received 400 million Euros for peacekeeping and capacity building efforts and this was renewed with another 300 million Euros in 2008.

Uganda also benefits from goodwill from the donors as a result of these operations—18 percent of country’s defense budget is financed by donors, China last year handed Museveni more than US$2.3 million to support the UPDF and Uganda is also the sole partner of the European Union Training Mission in Somalia (EUTM-Somalia), a mission that has trained about 3000 Somali forces at Bihanga in western Uganda.

That is not to mention that while on a visit in Russia, Museveni was honored with “the highest public award order of valour, honour and glory as one of the eminent military-political leaders of Africa”.

But these missions have a huge cost too. Uganda’s three military choppers for instance crashed enroute to Somalia, the country has lost a number of fighters in Somalia and even those who have survived gruesome injuries take years to receive their compensation—they fault corruption.

For Museveni, however, mustering this regional influence means heavy military expenditure.

“For you to be seen as a power, it is determined by your defence and the budget that you put on defence…”Joseph Dube, the Africa coordinator for the International Action Network on Small Arms, said last year.

Being the region’s military giant is something Museveni envisioned when his government formulated its security policy in 2001.

Oil money

Oil money helped effect that vision—the first expenditure of oil revenues was on combat aircraft. Africa’s top oil producers from Angola, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and even mineral rich South Africa, which has not fought any wars, are military spenders.

With no one to question his military expenditure, Museveni silenced parliament last year when they tried to cut Defence money and beef up the ailing Health sector.

Former Defence spokesperson, Felix Kulayigye, who was promoted to National Political Commissar, said last year that those that complain about Uganda’s military expenditure want Uganda to keep the country weak and easy to over-run.

President Museveni had also defended the purchase of the jets saying Uganda had paid heavily for delaying to acquire high quality fighting equipment.

Muntu, Bategeka weigh in

But his former Army Commander, Mugisha Muntu, who has since joined the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) disagreed. He still does.

Muntu says that the NRM regime is “just being manipulative”.

“It never uses the money for what it is meant for,” he said in an interview.

“When you hear money for State House, the whole of it is not for State House, what is for State House is just a small component. The same applies to the Defence money,” Muntu says.

Muntu says that with that in mind, it becomes difficult to discuss whether the Defence budget should have increased and what the budget priorities should be.

“Because if money was spent on what it is meant for, then we would have the next discussion which is where we should be allocating more of it,” Muntu says, “It is even becoming useless to engage in these debates because the regime is not responsive. This regime has lost a sense of direction and focus. Its only focus now is how to survive”

He adds that what we are seeing is lack of discipline and transparency in the budget making process, being used by the regime.

Indeed, this year, Uganda performed poorly scoring an E in Transparency International’s Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, global analysis of corruption risk in defence establishments.

SIPRI notes that excessive military spending and arms imports flowing from weak budgetary and procurement processes fail to provide economic or security benefits while consuming scarce resources needed to address basic needs of the population.

“In many countries, the military tends to be one of the most corrupt sectors of government, and arms procurement-domestic and international-is especially subject to corruption, in both developed and developing countries,” SIPRI notes.

A senior army officer told The Independent that there is a legend in the UPDF about junior officers in charge of procurements who have amassed wealth through this blinding secrecy. After building estates, they reportedly taunt their colleagues from the battle fronts.

“Afande,” they reportedly ask them, “You have never built for yourself a house.”

That is why Muntu says that money like that should go to economic and socially productive areas like agriculture and education.

“If it is Defense; we should be seeing the soldiers’ welfare improving; we should be seeing government building houses for soldiers,” he says.

Lawrence Bategeka, an economist at the Makerere University based Economic Research Policy Centre (EPRC) told The Independent that while increasing the votes for Agriculture would not have been good because of lack of clear intervention strategies, neither was an increment in Defence justifiable.

“Historically, the Defence budget has been high, I cannot explain why they increased it that much, you need to know their planned activities to explain the increment,” Bategeka says, “but of course, I cannot justify it because we are a small country we should not be spending that much on defence.

We should be allocating more money to economic and social sectors like Education, we should not be cutting their vote yet they are already doing badly.”

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