WASHINGTON - African military expenditures have finally slowed down after more than a decade of steady increases, according to a new report on global defense spending. The main reason, the report found, is a drop in oil prices.
“The sharp decreases in oil prices has affected quite a number of African countries, namely South Sudan and Angola. This has kind of driven almost the entire regional trend,” said Nan Tian, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Arms and Military Expenditure Program, the organization that authored the report.
The SIPRI report found military spending in Africa in 2016 was down by 1.3 percent from the previous year and totaled about $37.9 billion.
Despite the drop, Africa’s military spending remains 48 percent higher than it was a decade ago. “A few of the top spenders within these regions are generally oil economies, so the low oil prices have meant sharp cutbacks in government financing and that includes military spending,” he said.
Some of Africa’s biggest spenders in recent years have included oil-rich Angola, which has sought to modernize its air force and navy, and Algeria which has tried to preserve its stability amid the collapse of Libya and the rise of extremism in North Africa. Both of those countries have slowed spending recently, Tian said.
Weighing spending against needs
Tian said that perhaps the most important question to ask, is whether military spending in Africa is at appropriate levels.
Ten African countries have military expenditures greater than 3 percent of their GDP. The highest are the Republic of the Congo where military expenditures totaled 7 percent of GDP in 2016, and Algeria where military spending totaled 6.7 percent of GDP.
Globally, military spending is 2.2 percent of GDP or about $227 per person.
“You have the security aspect also in Africa. We have the opportunity costs,” Tian said. “It is the poorest continent. The question is: should this continent be spending? Are they spending enough or are they spending too much on military based on their current income levels? Should they rather be prioritizing other aspects of spending maybe health care, maybe education, maybe infrastructure?”
Not all African countries saw a decline in military spending. According to the report, Botswana’s military spending grew by 40 percent, or about $152 million. Botswana is regularly noted for having a long record of peace and good governance, and is undergoing a military modernization program.
Nigeria increased its military spending by 1.2 percent to $1.7 billion as it strives to defeat the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. Similarly, Kenya and Mali increased military spending due to extremist threats in their regions.