Uganda: Why Is Museveni Building Region's Strongest Army?
By Haggai Matsiko, 9 April 2012
Uganda's expenditure on arms surpassed Kenya's for the first in 2011, a new
global arms expert report shows. Uganda spent US$1.02 billion; about double
Kenya's US$735 million.
Details show that Uganda spent US$270 million on its usual defense budget
items (food, salaries etc) and US$ 750 million on jets pushing its
officially disclosed expenditure to US$1.02 billion.
Uganda's acquisition of 6 Su-30MK Russian jets elevated its air force to one
of the most advanced combat aircraft squadrons in East and Central Africa,
the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an international
institute that carries out research into conflict and arms control notes.
In its recent report, Trends in international arms transfers, 2011, SIPRI
notes that the purchase of the fighter jets and other arms increased
Uganda's military expenditure by 300 percent dwarfing Africa's 9 and the
world's 24 percent expenditure on arms.
The revelation comes amidst reports that Uganda has this year ordered a new
batch of weapons--tanks and ant-tank missiles.
When asked about the new order, Army Spokesman Felix Kulayigye refused to
either confirm or deny it. This is not unusual because defense purchases of
this nature are classified security information. The purchase of the fighter
jets, for example, was only confirmed in Uganda after Russian and North
African media reported it.
Why all these weapons?
Competition for regional military superiority with especially Kenya, the
threat of spill-over from any feared war between Sudan and the Republic of
South Sudan, and its operation in Somalia against al Shabaab and against
Joseph Kony rebels in the DR Congo are quoted as incentives from Uganda's
ballooning military expenditure.
Of the small arms and light Weapons; assault rifles and submachine guns,
transferred in Sub-Saharan Africa estimated in the last four years Uganda
received 17% and Kenya, which remains the biggest military spender in the
region took 23%.
In actual numbers estimated to be at least 220 000, Uganda is reported to
have procured 38, 000 and Kenya 51, 500 of the arms amongst other countries,
the Arms Flow to Sub-Saharan Africa report notes.
Joseph Dube, the Africa coordinator for the International Action Network on
Small Arms, says that the increase in global arms trade is driven by
governments facing opposition that arm themselves in preparation to attack
"For you to be seen as a power, it is determined by your defence and the
budget that you put on defence... We are powerful, we are able to defend,
engage not only on South Africa soil but in peace missions on the
continent," Dube said of South Africa. Despite being peaceful for decades,
it accounts for 70% of the continent's arms imports.
In Uganda's case, Museveni has always wanted to be seen as the military
giant of the region. He has wanted a strong well-equipped army ever since
his government formulated its security policy in 2001.
Experts have questioned such heavy military expenditure considering that
Uganda has been relatively peaceful and most importantly in economic
doldrums, too unfavorable for such expenditure.
New oil mania
Critics say that Uganda's arms appetite has been whetted by its oil
discovery with the world's weapon manufacturers increasingly seeing it as a
potential buyer and Uganda not disappointing them.
High military spending is synonymous with Africa's top oil producers from
Angola, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and even mineral rich South Africa which
despite not having any wars, is Africa's biggest military spender.
Lack of constitutional checks in terms of having parliament scrutinise
military expenditure, they say, explains why President Museveni has been
able to build his arsenal unimpeded.
But Kulaigye says those who complain about Uganda's military expenditure
want Uganda to keep weak and easy to over-run.
President Yoweri Museveni in August last year defended the purchase of the
jets saying they would ease fighting insurgents especially the Lord's
Resistance Army. He said Uganda had paid heavily for delaying to acquire
high quality fighting equipment.
"We suffered a lot fighting the LRA because of poor equipment. The UPDF was
on foot just like the rebels and it became hard to flush them out easily,
Museveni said, "The jets are meant for bad elements in the country that
would surface to destabilise the peace in Uganda."
But his former Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), Mugisha Muntu, who has since
joined the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) says combat wars
like that against the LRA in the Congo jungles, does not require aircrafts
but well equipped soldiers who are defensible.
He refused to speculate on Museveni's arms purchases. One needs to be sure,
for instance, that the US$750m was actually spent on the Russian fighter
jets. He says of the earmarked money, only 50% might have been spent on the
army and the rest "diverted into other things".
"It is after we have answered that that one can make an argument on whether
this should have been spent on other critical areas like ensuring that
soldiers have good health care, insurance, good accommodation and are well
equipped during the war so as to ensure that the army is well off," Muntu
Muntu says that Uganda's potential threats both external and internal do not
even correlate with the kind of expenditure that is being made.
"Uganda's potential threats have been the al Shabaab and possibly Khartoum
but when the SPLA took over South Sudan, the dynamics changed," Muntu says,
"and for the al Shaabab, Uganda does not need aircraft and tanks but other
strengths like well trained soldiers and high intelligence expertise."
For Muntu, the frenzy in buying arms has largely to do with regime longevity
and creating fear "to show that look we can do anything if you get in our
way". He says this is not the solution to the country's threats given the
Uganda's engagement in Somalia reinvigorated it as Uganda sought to show the
region and the world that it is a military force to reckon with.
Since then, Uganda's military has proved to be double-blessing for Museveni;
it keeps him as a strategic ally of the U.S in the war against terrorism and
earns him dollars. For instance, 17.3% of Uganda's defense budget is from
donor partners on the Somalia mission.
Under the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping agreements,
troop-contributing countries are reimbursed if they deploy with their own
equipment, both lethal and non-lethal under an arrangement named
reimbursement of Contingent Own Equipment (COE).
Sources say Uganda has been raking in millions because it has tanks in
Somalia, while Burundi, the only other partner before Kenyan joined, had
only a few light arms.
Some estimates say last year Uganda was reimbursed up to US $7million
compared to Burundi's US$100,000.
A military analyst told The Independent, unlike before when Uganda was the
sole force, donors are increasingly seeing a partner in Kenya in case Uganda
Uganda's position appears to be that for the war in Somalia to end, pirates
in the Indian Ocean have to be dealt with because they furnish the al
shaabab with supplies. Army Kulayigye agrees with this view and Uganda's
Second Deputy Prime Minister, Eriya Kategaya, has been pushing it in
summits. Kenya has also increased its defense expenditure to deal with the
Shaabab and al Qaeda.
Dr. Fredrick Gooloba Muteebi, an independent researcher on regional issues,
says ever since the South broke off from Sudan, there has been a likelihood
of war and Uganda knows that the moment it breaks, it is likely to be sucked
He says that there is likelihood that with Kony still out there, Sudan could
use him in a proxy war against Uganda.
Recently, Sudan President Omar Bashir's advisor, Mustafa Osman Ismail, was
quoted saying that Khartoum would not stand idle while Kampala and Juba
continue to backing rebels in Darfur. Uganda has rubbished these claims
saying that it is a signatory to the Great Lakes security Pact that
prohibits such behaviour.
Military experts say that this gives Museveni reason to arm especially
knowing Sudan is reputed to have one of the strongest aircrafts in Africa.
In African Military ranks, Sudan ranks among the top 5 ahead of Uganda in
Recently, army officials from South Sudan arrested six Ugandan MPs that had
gone on a fact finding mission on March 1 over parts of Moyo district that
South Sudan claims.
Security Minister Muruli Mukasa says the Presidents of the two countries
have talks planned. The situation is explosive, experts say.
In the DR Congo where the central government is not in control of the whole
country, Uganda military sources have been reporting that militia groups
opposed to Museveni, like the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), are
In mid-March, Uganda's Chief of Defence Forces Aronda Nyakairima rerpotedly
travelled to DRC to talk to his counterpart there about the possibility of
jointly dealing with ADF, a rebel group that caused havoc in Kampala with
bomb attacks in the 1990s.
Uganda also almost exchanged fire at the border with DR Congo forces a few
years ago over the oil Albertine oil fields and experts say it remains a
potential cause for conflict between the two. Military experts have
attributed the buying of jets to need to protect the oil fields.
Friction with Kenya over the Migingo Island almost sparked a military
confrontation between Kenya and Uganda.
In final efforts to wipe out the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), including the
group's leader, Joseph Kony who has terrorised the region with frequent
attacks over the past two decades, Uganda, Central African Republic, South
Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo have put together a 5000--strong
force backed by the UN and AU.
Of all these, Uganda is the big boy on the battle front having fought a
number of wars and some of them especially South Sudan and CAR have the
weakest of armies in the region, therefore Uganda needs its hardware if its
foot is to be felt.
To compile details of the arms purchases, SIPRI's senior researcher, Pieter
Wezeman told Aljazeera that the organisation gets information from several
open sources and focuses on major arms deals. He admitted that the
information is not complete and that there are deals that they missed.
"It is likely that more weapons and ammunition have been imported into the
region from countries that do not report on their arms exports in sufficient
detail or at all," a SIPRI report notes.
But Kulayigye said the report findings are "skewed and not balanced". Unless
whatever new arms have been acquired, however, they will only be money well
spent if they are used soon. As Dr. Fredrick Golooba Mutebi warned, weapons
easily become obsolete. Apart from the Kalishnokovs, all the guns that were
manufactured in the 60's are no longer in use and Russia stopped
manufacturing them in 2011.
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Received on Mon Apr 09 2012 - 11:16:45 EDT