Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Kenya's military budget baffling

I published this article in the Daily Nation (03/01/2006):

Did you know that Kenya is the biggest military spender in East Africa? Our military budget has always dwarfed those of our sister states, Uganda and Tanzania. Moreover, we have been spending more per military personnel than Ethiopia did during its war with Eritrea, Sudan with SPLA and now in Darfur, and Uganda with the LRA.

Interestingly by 1999, Kenya's army of 24,000 personnel was the smallest in the region. This is according to the World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, a 2003 study by the United States Department of State. Ethiopia's army of 300,000 personnel was the largest, followed by Sudan's 105,000. Uganda and Tanzania had 50,000 and 35,000 military personnel respectively.

You would expect that our small army and relative peace within our borders would translate to a smaller military budget. But that has never been the case, at least, since 1989 when the US Department of State started collecting East African military expenditure data. In 1999, Kenya spent $8,000 (Sh560,000) for every military personnel. This was more than four times that of Ethiopia (Sh120,000), almost three times that of Uganda (Sh200,000), two and a half times that of Tanzania (Sh244,000), and double that of Sudan (Sh280,000).

Kenya's military budget has since 1999 skyrocketed to significant levels. The above military expenditures indicate that Kenya has surely been spending as if she was at war. However, we have had peace, which makes one wonder how the Department of Defense (DoD) ended up spending Sh150 billion between 1989 and 1999.

The answers are buried in the secrecy surrounding these budgets, which are never disclosed to the public for "security" reasons. Worse still, the Parliament's Defence and Security committee, currently chaired by Embakasi MP David Mwenje, lacks power to scrutinise defence spending.
Doesn't that provide a perfect recipe for fraudulent defence deals? It does. Those who have read John Githongo's dossier would agree that lack of transparency has historically made successive defence budgets a perfect haven for corruption. And that's how Anglo Leasing organisers found their way into our nation's coffers.

While hoping that those named in vague defence contracts will face justice, something has to be done differently: Transparency in defence spending. To achieve that goal, Parliament must grant its Defence and Security committee powers to scrutinise military budgets. Failure to do so would make attempts to protect our sovereignty an illusion.

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