From: Biniam Tekle (email@example.com)
Date: Mon May 02 2011 - 08:14:34 EDT
In East Africa, a silent drama is unfolding and no one is paying attention
Kenya is the highest spender in the region on its military. File Photo Kenya
is the highest spender in the region on its military. File Photo
By Charles Onyango-Obbo
Posted Monday, May 2 2011 at 00:00
In many parts of Africa today, everything is going boom! But even as the
street protests play out, in the wider East Africa a power and arms race is
unfolding largely out of sight.
Just as Tunisia and Egypt seemed to be beginning to calm down, Libya erupted
in an uprising that turned messy and has now become a bloody civil war.
In Ivory Coast, the usurper president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to hand
over power to his rival Alassane Ouattara, stubbornly clang to power. Fed
up, Ouattarra, the UN and the French called out the dogs and bombed the
presidential residential where Gbagbo was hiding.
Next door, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore had to run for the hills for a few
days, after his soldiers mutinied over unpaid salaries.
Then it came to East Africa – but not all in the way observers expected. In
Kenya, protests at the high cost of living were quickly deflated when the
government quickly made two sharp cuts in duty on diesel and kerosene. In
Uganda, the opposition decided to “Walk to Work” to protest high fuel
prices, and were met by bullets and teargas.
Part of Ugandans’ anger arises from the fact that while they suffer, the
Museveni government seems to have lost its senses as far as taxpayers’ money
goes. His election campaign is thought to have cost a record $700 million,
not too far off from the estimated $1 billion that US President Barack Obama
spent in his 2008 presidential bid.
As the rumblings in Uganda gathered steam, it emerged that the government
was spending $740 million on sophisticated fighter jets, and planning to
lavish $1.3 million on the upcoming swearing-in ceremony of the president.
Yet, dramatic as all these events were, and destined to transform East
African politics, the stories that could truly shake up the region went
First, in Uganda, state media reported that the $740 million jets were meant
to “protect the oilfields” that are expected to be sending oil to the market
in three or so years. People sneered briefly, and forgot about it.
Then, on April 21, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said, “We
have embarked on regime change in Eritrea. This regime change is not by
invading Eritrea, but by supporting the Eritrean people and groups, which
want to dismantle the regime.”
It is remarkable that his statements didn’t make the slightest ripple.
However, at least the news agencies bothered. Two days earlier, in the
Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, there was an event that was totally ignored
by international and most East African media. It was the communiqué by the
East Africa Community leaders from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and
Uganda following their summit.
Inside it, East Africa’s chiefs had buried dynamite. Item 16 in the
communiqué said, in part, “The summit supports the African Union and Igad
(the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) on a one-year extension for
the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia to enable the
government to draft a new Constitution and intensify its war against the al
Shabaab terrorist insurgency.”
It then continued, in item 18, “The summit expressed support for the African
Union and Igad positions backing the request that the Transitional
Government extend its tenure for one year before elections in order to allow
for the maintenance of security and stabilisation.”
There is nothing unusual there, until one realises that the AU (at least
publicly) has not yet made a decision about the end of the transition in
The Igad position has been more public. It decided to support the extension
of the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP), not the Government (TFG).
Indeed, speaking at a meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council in
Addis Ababa on April 26 (a week after the Dar es Salaam summit), Ramtane
Lamamra, its Commissioner for Peace and Security, did not mention the TFG
and his remarks implied that the extension of its term is not on the cards:
“Amisom [the AU peace-keeping force in Somalia] has contributed to the
stabilisation of Mogadishu, and some parts of central Somalia, among other
gains,” he said, adding that; “However, wrangling among the Transitional
Federal Institutions (TFIs) remains a major impediment, more so as the
country approaches the end of the transitional period in August 2011.”
Burundi and Uganda, almost exclusively, contribute the troops to Amisom.
With the recent gains Amisom has made in Somalia, they seem to be afraid
that the debate and pussyfooting over the transition there is creating
confusion on the ground. Even the pro-government forces in Somalia seem
finally to have found the military momentum that had eluded them for years,
and the al Shabaab are falling into disarray.
Last Thursday, April 28, the forces of Somalia’s TFG Government and
combatants loyal to the moderate Islamist group, Ahlu Sunna wal-Jamea,
captured Garbaharey town, the capital of Gedo region, 360km southwest of
Mogadishu.It is the first regional capital to fall into the hands of
Kenya too is up to its neck in the “Jubaland Initiative” in southern
Somalia, where it is supporting local forces to establish and hold a buffer
area that some analysts think is likely to morph into a Puntland-style
Though Kenya has not entered Somalia directly, analysts say it has been
backing the 2,500 Kenyan-trained Juba Defense Forces soldiers with artillery
from its side of the border. It has also sent Kenyan Somali officers to
“guide” them in their advance.
Burundi, Kenya and Uganda thus have entrenched interests in Somalia and
don’t want the initiative that seems to have swung in their favour, to be
lost in regional politicking.
For that reason, it looks like they used the Dar es Salaam summit to jump
the gun and force the AU and Igad’s hand when they come round to making a
decision about the end of the transition. Matters were further complicated
by the EU threatening to cut off Amisom funding if the TFG did not
This move is significant, because the EAC has traditionally been shy when it
comes to dealing with other African regional bodies. By so doing, not only
has the EAC thrown its weight behind its members who have dogs in the
Somalia fight, but they are also appeasing anti-Ethiopian nationalists in
Somalia, even in its present state of disarray, has been asking to join the
EAC, in part to get another regional bloc to counter-balance Igad’s
influence in external interventions in Somalia. They think Igad is little
more than an Ethiopian vehicle.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a man with an astute strategic nose,
cannot be happy with the EAC meddling in what he sees as his backyard.
It might well be that Foreign Minister Desalegn’s comments that Addis Ababa
would actively support regime change in Eritrea, was Ethiopia’s way of
saying it had noticed.
However, it is a view that is in line with a second line of thinking about
how to end the chaos in Somalia — deal with Eritrea, which in its
anti-Ethiopian zeal, is supporting extremist militias to give Zenawi
If Meles can bring Eritrea’s hard man Isaias Afewerki to heel, then
Ethiopian-friendly forces will easily prevail in a post-conflict Somalia.
For Burundi and Uganda, an extension of the TFG will bring them under
pressure to increase their troop levels in Amisom. But more specifically, to
have delivered a decisive military victory against what the EAC communiqué
described as the “al Shabaab terrorist insurgency” by the time the renewed
extension expires in August 2012.
Between Burundi and Uganda, only Uganda can bring to bear the firepower
needed to make that happen. Hence, perhaps, the decision to spend $740
million on fighter jets.
Indeed, military analysts says that the fighter jets may not cost Uganda
much, as Museveni seems to have succeeded in arm-twisting Nato and the EU
into offering more support for the Somalia peace effort after President
Museveni lambasted the West for their attack on Libya, while neglecting
This is where Museveni’s game face shows up; on a regional level, he is
seeing an opportunity to upgrade Uganda’s military capability. This has been
Uganda’s stated objective since 2001, but the programme has faltered over
the past decade, hobbled by procurement corruption.
Under the UN and AU peacekeeping agreements, troop-contributing countries
are reimbursed if they deploy with their own equipment, both lethal and
non-lethal. It is known as the reimbursement of Contingent Own Equipment
In UN peacekeeping operations across the world, countries like Bangladesh,
India and Pakistan have made millions by the deployment of their troops in
various missions such as the DRC, Burundi, Liberia etc. In Somalia, Uganda
and Burundi also claim COE for their equipment.
According to diplomatic sources, because Uganda has the tanks in Somalia,
but Burundi doesn’t, it has pocketed the lion’s share of COE reimbursements,
which are nearly $7 million over the past year, against Burundi’s paltry
$108,000 for its AK47 rifles.
If Museveni were to throw jets into the Somalia operation, he could
literally have the international community subsidise his expensive military
Secondly, the stabilisation of Somalia cannot happen without ending the
scourge of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Not only are they disrupting East African economies that depend on the Dar
es Salaam and Mombasa ports for the bulk of their exports and imports; as
long as they can seize ships and collect ransom in the millions of dollars
they will also have money to fund the insurgency for a very long time to
come, and a constituency that is vested in a lawless Somalia, as the return
of the rule of law and order would mean a government that must necessarily
The total costs of piracy in 2010 are estimated to have been between $7
billion and $12 billion, which includes ransoms, insurance payments, the
cost of naval operations.
For as long as that cash pipeline keeps flowing, piracy will thrive. Last
November, Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Regional
Co-operation Eriya Kategaya told The EastAfrican that the EAC needs to do
more to combat piracy and do more to secure its Indian Ocean trade routes
for its own long-term economic security and credibility.
As it is now, the policing of the Indian Ocean and the battle against the
Somali pirates has been left to the navies of what is called Combined Task
Force 151. It includes ships, on a regular basis, from 12 countries — the
US, France, China, UK, Canada, Denmark, Turkey, the Netherlands, India,
Russia, South Korea, and Singapore.
The big navies are keeping the pirates away from the big ships with millions
of litres of crude oil, but are largely uninterested in the smaller, but
equally disruptive attacks on tiny targets, that affect countries like
Kenya. The ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam are the most strategic entry
points on the eastern seaboard of Africa. In 2008, they handled a combined
cargo of 25 million tonnes.
Thus it is not surprising that Kenya, though with less drama, has moved to
shore up its military spending. The Indian Ocean Newsletter reported
recently that Kenya and France had completed negotiations to buy a French
naval patrol boat, La Rieuse. It is expected that Kenya will buy a second
boat from France that the navy will use to patrol its territorial waters.
And here is where matters take a curious twist. Unlike Burundi, Rwanda or
Uganda, Kenya’s military is no longer as active in UN peacekeeping
operations as it used to be during the reign of president Daniel arap Moi.
Since 2006, Kenya has not played a major role in peacekeeping, falling
behind Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria.
According to the latest data from the Stockholm Institute of International
Peace Research Institute annual database, and its Military Balance report,
Kenya has the smallest army in the region.
It lags behind Eritrea, which at 201,750 has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest
army, and other countries in the wider East African region like DR Congo,
which has 151,251, Ethiopia with 138,00, Sudan with 190,300, Uganda with
45,000, Rwanda with 33,000, and Tanzania with 27,000. It has 24,000, only
marginally ahead of Burundi at 17,000 (figures from Burundi, though,
indicate its army is 29,000 strong).
Despite that, Kenya trumps all these countries in defence spending, at $735
million annually and rising. This is equivalent to 2.1 per cent of Kenya’s
$35 billion GDP. Analysts say most of this money has gone to upgrading
military capability — which was becoming obsolete — and force readiness in
the face of growing terror threats from al Shaabab and al Qaeda.
So beyond the immorality of a poor country spending millions of dollars on
arms while its people go hungry, military expenditure has fundamentally gone
up in the region because of heightened unease about hotspots.
At one point, the Nile River Basin countries like Ethiopia and Uganda
justified these high expenditures by citing the security dilemma posed by
Egypt, which spends $4.6 billion annually on defence. Most of this money is
military aid from the US.
But now the Tahrir Square uprising uprooted the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and
looks set to usher in a less hardline pan-Arabist regime beholden to the
military, the fears of an aggressive Egypt seem to have receded.
That has given to rise to a shift of focus to more local threats. Eritrea in
the case of Ethiopia.
Indian Ocean piracy for Kenya and Tanzania. And, besides Somalia, for Uganda
which briefly exchanged fire at the border with DR Congo forces nearly two
years ago when the oil finds around Lake Albert were making big headlines,
one can also bet that the DRC will not look on across the border and watch
Uganda drain the Albertine oil and party with the proceeds, and not try to
express their displeasure in a muscular way.
If one had a Mwai Kibaki as president in Uganda and Tanzania’s Jakaya
Kikwete in DRC, cooler heads might have prevailed. But in Museveni and
Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, you have two leaders who did not got where they
are without firing their guns.
(Additional reporting by Christine Mungai)
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