Africa is buying arms big time, new data shows, but low oil prices could slam the door

The two biggest spenders were Algeria and Angola, which have since that year respectively trebled and doubled their military spending.

AFRICA spent $50.2 billion on military expenditure last year, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows.

While this was just 2.85% of the global bill of $1.78 trillion, it was the largest year-on-year increase of any region worldwide, the Sweden-based research institution  said.

This adds to  data released last month that showed the region increased its uptake of global arms 45% between 2005-2009.

Military spending in the region has increased by 91% since 2005,  despite data that shows the magnitude of general armed conflict has fallen over that time, though at a slower pace than in the rest of the world.

The two biggest spenders were Algeria and Angola, which have since that year respectively trebled and doubled their military spending.

Algeria, which is in conflict with rebel groups, increased its spending 12% to fork out $11.9 billion last year, while Angola spent $6.8 billion, raising its spending by 6.7% on the year before. They both financed their expenditure using high oil revenues, but prices have since fallen precipitously, and could this year see major reversals in their spending.

Russia, which spent $84.5 billion last year, has already cut planned spending for  this year by 5%, even as it remained involved in the conflict in the Ukraine and frosty ties with the West persist.

The two African countries are part of 20 countries globally with the highest military burden—a measure of a state’s defence expenditure as a share of its Gross Domestic Product—of more than 4%. Half of these had military burdens of more than five percent of their GDP. 

Seven African countries—South Sudan, Chad, Libya, Republic of Congo, Algeria, Angola and Namibia—form part of this group that is led by Oman and Saudia Arabia.

While SIPRI highlights the lack of an effective democracy in the majority of these countries, Namibia would appear out of place, as it is recognised as a functioning African democracy.

The southern African country made a two-thirds increase in its defence budget last year, but this is attributed to an increased provision to improve the living conditions of its soldiers.

It also has a significantly large geographical area, which on the back of a small population of just 2.3 million, increases the cost of defending its space. 

Africa’s biggest trading partner, China, grew its military expenditure 9.7%, but its bill of $216 billion is still only a third of the United States’, which spent $610 billion last year.

The US has cut expenditure nearly 20% since 2010, but remains the top spender globally, accounting for a third of all military outlay. Together with China and Russia, it is among the biggest suppliers of arms to Africa.

A recent  study, titled Chinese Aid and Africa’s Pariah States, found that political violence by the state increases with receipt of Chinese aid. The same effect was not observed with western aid. ( Read:China does not support rogue African states, it creates them —new study says)

Its authors ,Roudabeh Kishi and Clionadh Raleigh, of the University of Sussex’s Department of Geography, say this effect is largely because aid from China is fungible, with its use determined by recipient countries.

Because Chinese aid is disbursed under a “non-interference policy” that does not seek to influence the domestic policies of recipient states, leaders have a lot of leeway over where it is used, including on arms, giving rise to the claim that Beijing prop’s Africa’s pariah states.

China refutes this, and while the study found that it was an “equal-opportunity” lender, giving to those countries which meet its diplomatic and economic needs, the fungibility of its aid was cited for the “significantly” higher rates of violence by African states, both against competitors and against civilians.

“Though China isn’t specifically giving aid to ‘pariah states’, it is making states into pariahs through providing resources to state leaders who are unafraid to use repression as a means to quell competition,” the researchers argued.

Nigeria, which has been battling Boko Haram insurgents, was also a top spender regionally with $2.3 billion in costs, while a loan of $1 billion for further purchases was approved late in the year.

The group appears on the back foot, as Nigeria’s neighbours further piled in.

Further SIPRI data showed states in sub-Saharan Africa received 42%  of all imports into the continent, led by Sudan and Uganda.

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