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Nigerian soldiers in Damboa
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Heunis

More transparency in sub-Saharan military spending

November 19, 2018

The "Stockholm International Peace Research Institute" (SIPRI) has published a study on the availability of information on military spending in sub-Saharan Africa. Its findings show that transparency is increasing.


International organizations' knowledge about arms expenditure is, at times, limited. Not all information makes it to international forums such as the United Nations. But this does not mean that this information does not exist. It is collected but not easy to find. According to the SIPRI study, this leads to a general underestimation of the quantity of publicly available data on government spending in certain regions of the world.

"We found that 45 out of 47 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have themselves reported military spending to their own country through either the Ministry of Finance or research and transparency websites," Dr. Nan Tian, one of the study's authors, told DW. However, Tian believes that if they have this information, "it is important that they then report it to the United Nations, because transparency, in this case, leads to increased trust between states, to their potentially working together."

Read more: SIPRI: Nuclear weapons are still being developed

Soldiers in Mali
Mali is fighting to keep the country undividedImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Steffen

Inconsistent expenditure levels

The available numbers indicate that expenditure is comparatively high, and highest in Sudan, South Africa, Angola and Nigeria. On average, states in the region put 1.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) into military expenditure. As a comparison, according to the World Bank, Germany spent 1.2 percent on armaments in 2017.

In addition, sub-Saharan states' military expenditure varies greatly. According to the SIPRI report, this is due mainly to two factors: the slump in prices for natural resources and armed conflicts in the region. The decline in oil prices — which particularly affects Nigeria — has led to a drastic drop in expenditure. In total, the countries in the region raised $3.2 billion (€2.9 billion) less capital in 2017 than three years earlier.

Poster in Mali warning civilians not to touch weapons and explosives
Malian authorities warn civilians of the dangers posed by unexploded ordnanceImage: DW/K. Gänsler

Conversely, armed conflicts have increased military spending in some sub-Saharan states. In the fight against Islamic extremists, Mali, for example, threatened by the country's division, increased its military expenditure by 152 percent to $275 million between 2014 and 2017.

Read more: Germany boosts foreign aid amid rising global crises

Diverse burdens due to armed conflicts

Researchers at the SIPRI Institute have also observed that the financial and human costs of conflicts in the region are ever-increasing. They say this is leading businesses to move elsewhere and to a lack of direct foreign investment. This development has been recorded by almost all states in the region. Researchers attribute this trend to the political culture of the respective states.

Soldiers in South Sudan
Conflicts such as that in South Sudan drives up military expenditureImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Knowles-Coursin

Where democracy is lacking, leaders put "less effort into things like transparency and accountability," Nan Tian told DW. "There's more room for the leaders of these countries to allocate resources in ways that are probably not in the best interest of the people." Tian believes this is doubly harmful: On the one hand, it strengthens authoritarian regimes' position; on the other, it deprives the countries of useful investments for civilian purposes.

According to the SIPRI report's author, because the contest for power is not always conducted using civil and democratic means, these regimes rely primarily on the military to secure and retain power. Ultimately, this clouds the transparency of spending, the author explained, as these regimes try to hide the costs of military spending out of public view.

Nevertheless, the SIPRI Institute has reached a positive overall assessment in its study. The increasing transparency means a start has been made towards general democratic development — provided the trend continues.Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East
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