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Who’s buying the biggest guns in East Africa?

African delegates checking out arms at the Russia-Africa summit.

Latest in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi firepower

Kampala, Uganda | INDEPENDENT TEAM | Countries in the East African region continue to spend more on strengthening their armed forces, according to latest data. Although Kenya and Tanzania are the biggest spenders because of their relatively big budgets, most attention is on Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi which are experiencing tense potential cross-border situations.

According to latest data, Uganda has made the biggest expenditure on its military at US$408 million in 2018, Rwanda follows at US$119.5 million and Burundi US$66.9 million.

Uganda has been listed among the top 15 countries in percentage increase in military expenditure globally in 2018. Burkina Faso led with 52% increase. Uganda was number 14 with 17% increase to US$408 million in 2018. For comparison, South Sudan spent US$59.4million in 2018, which was a 50% drop from 2017.

These figures are in constant 2017 dollar rates and are picked from data by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which compiles them from official data of governments, UN reports, and country expenditure reports by global agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), expert analysis of country budgets, and defense journals and publications.

These numbers are significant because, generally, military expenditure in Africa fell by 8.4% in 2018. According to SIPRI, African governments spent an estimated US$40.6 billion on their armies or 2.2 per cent of global military spending. This was the largest relative annual decrease since the post-cold war peak reached in 2014.  Despite four consecutive years of decreases, military expenditure in Africa was still 9.2 per cent higher in 2018 than in 2009. According to SIPRI, military expenditure does not reflect military capability and the data is incomplete for some countries.

The numbers also come at a time of increasing tension in the Great Lakes Region countries; mainly Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and DR Congo but has sucked in Tanzania, Angola, and Congo.

In one illustrative case on Nov.14, Rwandan President Paul Kagame spoke strongly about people he said are trying to destabilise Rwanda. He said some are backed by foreign forces and that they will pay heavily for their actions.

“We are going to raise the cost on the part of anybody who wants to destabilise our security,” said Kagame, who was officiating at a swearing in ceremony of new cabinet ministers and senior military officers at parliament in Kigali.

Following this, on Nov.15, rebel leader Musabimana Juvenal aka Gen. Jean-Michel Africa of the ethnic Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and four of his bodyguards were killed in a security operation in Rutshuru, in the North Kivu region of eastern DR Congo. Rwanda Special Forces are deployed there in joint operations with the DR Congo army. Uganda was asked to join them in the operations but in an Oct.25 meeting in Beni declined the offer. Instead, Uganda said it would secure its border against militia forces and only join bilateral military arrangements with DRC.

Almost simultaneously, on Nov.17, on the eastern side of Rwanda, Burundian soldiers were hit in a night attack on their base near the border with Rwanda.

Burundi’s Ministry of Defense published reports of the attack in which eight Burundian soldiers were reportedly killed, including the company commander. The company is said to have had 90 soldiers. Many were injured while the rest fled in confusion. Military sources quoted by the media said it was one of the largest and deadliest attacks for several years.

Informed sources described how the assailants, wearing bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles, pounced on the Burundian soldiers on Mount Twinyoni which is a thick forested area about 10km from the Rwanda border.

Initial reports said the attackers retreated in Rwanda and that their level of sophisticated equipment went beyond that of a rebel outfit. Burundi accuses Rwanda of backing rebels opposed to the Bujumbura government but Kigali denied involvement.

“It is not true that the attacks were made from people who came from Rwanda,” Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for East African Community (EAC) Affairs told AFP, “These are unfounded allegations being made from Burundi – as they have done previously for the last four years. We have other things to do.”

Before that, on Nov.10, two alleged Ugandan smugglers of tobacco into Rwanda were shot dead by the Kigali security forces at Nyagatare, just a few metres from the Uganda-Rwanda border.


  1. The mother of all question is: why should poor neighboring countries e.g.; Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda members of the EAC go int arms race? It is simply the culture of poverty and dishonesty that we spend our most valuable meager resources on self-destruction and false self-importance.

    E.g., in 2011 Mr. Museveni raided the treasury and bought 6 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MK2 jet fighters worth US$740 million. 9 years down the road, the jets are parked to rust away in the tropical heat and rain. Only once in a while, but still piloted by Russians experts (pilots); they are flown around to burn tons of jet fuel/hr.

    If the US$740 were put to a productive use, thousands of the 87% unemployed Ugandan youths would have been employed.

    • Well thought out comment.Actually I keep wondering why we have very few state partnerships.If indeed we were strategic we would be having partnerships in many areas including boarder to boarder patrols.

  2. Sincerely I would call this irresponsible journalism. the un ending confilict in the great lakes region with Uganda at the centre should not be amplifed by any responsible citizens. If it was Bukedde newspaper with this kind of news, it would be understandable but for the Independent, you should rise above this. most people don’t underestimate the role of the mass media during tension and conflict among societies or states and like I have always said it is the arms merchants in the relative safety of the European capitals who celebrate all the way to the bank. In the remote jungles of conflict arena I know you journalist will tell the public what your funders want to hear but for the millions of souls to whom this place is home, your war drums can only presage those sinister motives of the smooth talking leaders of the nations that are involved. Bankrupt would in my words describe these leaders who think firepower is all that is requiered.
    And I know for most ugandans who read the figures in this article they feel it is safe but if one looks at conflicts and their progression ,tactics play a significant role in any eventuality. It is for that reason that as a country it makes sense to have friends as neighbours or if need be to avoid conflict with neighbours at all costs .
    Guns of whatever make are made for the sole purpose of killingand that is not one thing any country should be proud of. thank you

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