NEWS INDEPTH: Kenya military spending disclosures among most clear in sub-Saharan Africa

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Kenya is among sub-Saharan African nations with relatively high public disclosures in military expenditure, a new survey by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show

Kenya, South Africa and Sierra Leone and South Sudan are the only sub-Saharan Africa countries that produce clearly defined white papers on defence planning and expenditure, the institute said.

The publication of a publicly available military policy such as a defence white paper is deemed a crucial component of transparent budgeting for the military sector.

“Publicly available defence policies that have been sufficiently debated are important tools for informing the population of the state’s security goals, how these will be achieved, the length of time this will take and the amount of resources that will be required,” the SIPRI said.

“This process demonstrates to the public that government policies have taken account of both security and economic considerations. Moreover, it confirms that planning and budgeting are conducted not in a vacuum but with real-world scenarios and outcomes in mind. This should increase trust among the general population.”

Kenya published its latest defence white paper in 2017, becoming the latest to do so in sub-Saharan African after South Sudan in 2013, Sierra Leone (2002) and South Africa (1996). Other nations that have published military budgeting documents are Burundi which published a defence policy in 2013, Ethiopia which published a national security and foreign affairs policy in 2002, Liberia in 2014 and Mauritius in 2012.

“However, many of the defence policies and papers, such as Kenya’s Defence White Paper, offer little information of value for the formal assessment of a state’s security requirements and the appropriate way to address them,” the SIPRI said.

Somalia published a security and development policy in 2016 while Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe published defence policies in 2004,2016 and 2009 respectively.


“Of these 10 states, only four — Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa and South Sudan produce clearly defined white papers. The remaining six states have published documents on defence policies. South Africa has the most comprehensive white paper, as well as a related defence policy that is accessible to the public and regularly debated in parliament,” the SIPRI said.

The institute in March revealed that Kenya slashed its spending on military hardware by half to Sh1.3 billion ($13 million) in 2017 from Sh2.8 billion the previous year.

Overall, the level of transparency in military spending in sub-Saharan Africa is greater than previously thought, the SIPRI report said, noting that between 2012 and 2017, 45 of the 47 states surveyed published at least one official budget document in a timely manner online.

“Contrary to common belief, countries in sub-Saharan Africa show a high degree of transparency in how they spend money on their military,” said Dr Nan Tian, researcher in the SIPRI Arms Transfers and Military Expenditure Programme in a statement.

“Citizens everywhere should know where and how public money is spent. It is encouraging that national reporting in sub-Saharan Africa has improved.”


Governments of states in sub-Saharan African now make a large amount of military information available on the Internet.

“Since 2012, SIPRI has found some form of information on military spending for at least 45 of the 47 states in SSA in the military expenditure database. In 2017 military spending figures were available for 41 of the 47 states. States in SSA also performed very well in the criterion of information reliability,” said the SIPRI.

“In 2012—17, of the 47 states surveyed, 42 published official budget documents in a timely manner either on their government websites or websites affiliated with the finance ministry. SIPRI found the reporting of military spending information to be generally quite detailed.”

For the year 2017, 31 of the 41 states with available information provided at least some level of disaggregation of the data, ranging from a simple single level of disaggregation to multilevel breakdowns categorising spending or budgets based on economic activity, programmes and functions.

This increases to 33 states when the assessment period is expanded to 2012—2017. States in sub-Saharan African also generally perform well in the criterion of ease of access to military spending information. Of the 47 states in the database, 32 have official government websites where spending information is readily accessible and downloadable. Only eight have no spending information on their websites and a further seven have no official government website. However, of these 15 states, information on 12 can be found on websites of other organisations that are affiliated with the government.

While SIPRI’s study shows that there is generally a high degree of transparency in the military sector in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea have not published any official information on military spending since 2009 and 2003 respectively. Botswana was one of the very few states to show a deterioration in transparency.

Recently in Botswana, official budgetary reports have become increasingly difficult to obtain, there is a lack of a national defence policy and almost no government information or dialogue exists on issues such as arms procurement.

“While these issues are worrying, the main cause for concern is the decreased public engagement on military-related matters,” said Dr Tian.

Botswana had the third highest percentage increase in military spending between 2014 and 2017. Military spending grew by 60 per cent (or $182 million) in that period as part of several military procurement programmes involving France and Switzerland.

“This military spending increase has occurred despite the fact that Botswana is located in one of the least conflict-prone areas of Africa and is one of the few states in sub-Saharan Africa to have never been involved in an armed conflict,’ says Dr Tian.

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the standout cases with substantial improvements in military sector transparency. There is evidence of improved oversight and accountability in budget reporting, such as implementing an official budget formulation process and publishing budget execution reports both quarterly and biannually. Although improvements are still needed in the areas of accessibility and disaggregation, military sector transparency has increased substantially.

“The publication of accessible spending information is a major step towards greater transparency and accountability in the military sector,” said Dr Tian.

Unlike Europe and South America, there are currently no regional reporting mechanisms in place in sub-Saharan Africa for exchanging information on military expenditure between states. The UN Report on Military Expenditures is the only international reporting system to which states in sub-Saharan Africa have agreed to participate. In the period 2008—17, only five states in sub-Saharan Africa reported at least once, and no reports were submitted during the years 2015—17.

“It is clear from SIPRI’s study that the lack of UN reporting is not due to a lack of information. Rather, the challenge is to encourage countries to submit data to the UN,” Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers and Military Expenditure Programme said in a statement. “Government transparency at the international level is key to reinforcing trust and encouraging dialogue between countries,” Jan Eliasson, chair of the SIPRI governing board and former UN deputy secretary-general said in a statement. “Therefore, UN member states need to work together on implementing and improving reporting.”

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By Kenyan Digest

The Kenyan Digest Team