AFRICANGLOBE – With African militaries increasingly working together to fight extremist groups and other destabilising forces, experts say joint purchases of arms and sharing of capabilities should be next.
African nations have been spending more on their armed forces — despite the continent being mostly peaceful—due to the emergence of insurgents and armed non-state actors, including terrorist groups like Al Shabaab and Boko Haram and rebel groups like M23, LRA, the White Army and FDLR.
Last year, African nations collectively spent $47 billion on defence, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
But as the continent continues to face rising existential threats amid funding shortfalls, the London-based Think Security Africa research firm is urging African nations to “pool and share” their military resources.
As governments expand the operational remit of their militaries — from hunting down poachers to suppressing street protests — national treasuries across the continent will have to become innovative in how they plug gaps in their military budgets.
Think Security Africa founder Adunola Abiola said her report is informed by the “rising regional trend towards threat-centric military cooperation, which has propelled militaries across the region to engage in joint operations (sometimes reluctantly) in order to defend against mutual threats.”
African militaries are working together on border security issues, anti-poaching operations and counter-insurgency.
According to the report, this kind of co-operation “presents an opportunity for African militaries to exercise collective bargaining power… to acquire tactical capabilities… at a reduced cost.”
“If the rise in military operations in Africa continues, alongside rising budgetary uncertainties, militaries and donors will have to change funding priorities to enhance the sustainability of operations,” said Ms Abiola.
“In addition, militaries will have to co-operate more closely on the administrative and operational levels, and defence contractors will have to amend the way they market and supply.”
Besides funding shortfalls, African militaries could also be limited by sanctions, aid cuts and arms embargoes. For “African militaries to retain and develop the capacity to guarantee national defence,” they may have to look for new funding approaches, said Ms Abiola.
Currently, Think Security Africa says 18 per cent of African militaries are being rebuilt or restructured, while 35 per cent are engaged in operations beyond normal peacetime activity.
In East Africa, Uganda has the biggest military deployments in the region, having 2,000 troops in CAR, 6,700 in Somalia, and 850 in South Sudan. Ethiopia has an unknown number of troops in Somalia but 2,600 troops in Sudan and 4,000 in the disputed Abyei region.
Kenya has 5,000 troops in Somalia, 3,600 in Sudan, about 730 in South Sudan and 100 in Sudan, while Burundi has 5,400 troops in Somalia, the biggest contributor, and about 1,200 in CAR plus one or two battalions deployed to put down the armed resistance in the country’s north.
Rwanda has about 850 troops in CAR, 1,000 in South Sudan and 3,500 in Sudan’s Darfur region.
Nigeria has deployed about three battalions to hunt down Boko Haram militias in West Africa.
In North Africa, Algeria has deployed more than 10,000 troops to protect its borders with Libya.
Lt-Col Paddy Ankunda, the spokesperson of Uganda People’s Defence Forces, while supporting the idea of joint operations, said, “The biggest challenge we have is response; how do we respond on time to avert a crisis?” he asked.
Adding that the regional “joint standby forces are the way to go… if we did not quickly move to South Sudan when the crisis broke out in 2013, the situation in the country could have been far worse.”
Under the African Union security plan, each region should have its own standby force ready for deployment in case of any humanitarian or security crisis, but the process has been muddled by domestic politics and lack of goodwill from national leaders.
However, Ms Abiola said that while the operational remit of regional standby brigades is limited to humanitarian issues, in cases where nations are combating a common threat “It makes sense to engage in joint threat-centric procurement.”
“It is also important to make a distinction between the procurement of operational equipment and strategic capabilities,” she added.
In most countries, defence budgets are top secret, without any form of oversight.
“It would be sensible for them to look at the joint procurement of boots, tents, fuel and water tanks, light weapons, operational vehicles, and possibly even communications equipment,” Ms Abiola said.
If joint procurement and pooling of military resources is to work, African defence ministers will have to overcome reservations over what this approach means for national sovereignty.
“Buying together, does not necessarily result in joint ownership. It means that funds are being pooled to raise order quantities and thereby reduce the price of individual equipment or systems,” says Abiola.
However, regional forces could agree to partner up for cost savings and jointly procure capabilities as part of long-term defence strategy.
Globally, NATO jointly procures defence capabilities for the 28-member military alliance while in northeastern Europe; the Baltic States — comprising Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have greatly strengthened their co-operation through joint procurements of armament and military equipment.
By: Trevor Analo