The arms bazaar reopens for business.


Although large-scale civil conflicts, such as the Angolan and Mozambiqan wars are winding down, Africa's spending on arms remains high as old equipment is replaced with more modern means of destruction. DEXTER JEROME SMITH delves into the secret world of arms purchases to bring you this report.

After a lull following the end of the Cold War era when sub-Sahara African defence budgets, particularly spending on arms, had been falling, expenditure is now beginning to level off and even, in some cases, to increase. This is not necessarily due to an upsurge in conflict in the region; rather old equipment wears out and needs to be replaced by newer equipment that is cheaper to maintain and more capable.

On the whole, the intensity of conflict south of the Sahara has been diminishing -- some longer term conflicts like those in Chad or across southern Africa have gradually wound down, though the number of civil wars, border disputes, ethnic genocides and military coups has, if anything, gone up.

Tanks and fighter aircraft of course are less efficient against civilians. On the other hand, as neighbours and potential adversaries get new arms -- particularly if they are moving ahead a generation or two in arms technology -- more countries are being forced to "catch up."

Most countries in the region are in fact spending about 3% of their national incomes on defence. That is actually as much as NATO countries targeted during the depths of the Cold War and almost invariably failed to achieve. However, the country with the biggest defence budget in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, only spends about 2% of GDP on defence; its economy being head and shoulders above the rest, and its defence spending amounting to a relatively staggering $2.5bn per annum.

Although the region is one of the world's least transparent when it comes to information about its arms trade -- with virtually every country failing to respond to United Nations' questionnaires on defence spending and arm transfers, broad trends are observable and larger purchases virtually impossible to hide.

The largest buyer of foreign arms, despite being boycotted now by many Western and erstwhile ally nations, is Nigeria which spends about $180m annually on its defence imports. Uganda, surprisingly, has come up to second position, spending about $140m annually on foreign arms. This may be in part due to fears of conflict spilling over its borders from Sudan to the north and Rwanda to the south. Botswana too is a surprising number three in these rankings, spending perhaps $100m annually on foreign arms in an effort to anchor its internal stability along with its new found prosperity (defence being cited as one of three national priorities along with education and land reform).


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