Uganda is buying fighter jets from Russia worth US$740 million, after a false start last year. The aircraft are believed to be Sukhoi Su-30 Flankers.
On April 7 the Wall Street Journal reported that Uganda bought between six and eight fighters and other military equipment from Russia, worth US$744 million.
Uganda is preparing to begin oil production in the Lake Albert region and is buying the military hardware to safeguard oil activities along the border with Congo, according to Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye.
“Acquiring a high air force capacity is in line with that defence policy of protecting territorial integrity and wealth. However, I need to add that this is not a threat to our neighbours. Our policy is defensive and not offensive or aggressive,” he said.
Last December Uganda’s ministry of defence paid US$446m (sh1 trillion) as a first part payment to an ‘unidentified supplier’ for the aircraft as well as tanks, AllAfrica reports. It adds that the equipment is believed to be coming from Russia.
According to The East African, the money came from the supplementary budget and was withdrawn from the central bank without parliamentary approval. “Although the money was not allocated in the 2010/11 financial year, parliament will approve it in the form of a supplementary budget and this is normal,” said Kabakumba Matsiko, Uganda’s information minister. Permission was later granted by parliament, according to The East African.
Matsiko said that the equipment would enable the country to deal with any ‘eventuality’ arising from threats to Uganda’s security. “Every country needs to be well equipped to defend its strategic interests,” she said. Uganda is concerned about instability from neighbouring South Sudan’s secession from Khartoum and instability along the Congolese border.
Uganda has previously accused Sudan and Congo of arming its foes, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Jamil Mukulu’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Uganda itself keeps numerous troops in Central African Republic (CAR) and northeastern Congo to hunt for Lord’s Resistance Army rebels who waged a long-running insurgency against Kampala and are now roaming the jungles there.
The UK’s Tullow Oil Plc, France’s Total SA and China’s Cnooc Ltd will spend US$10b project to develop Uganda’s oil fields this year. Uganda discovered oil in commercial quantities in 2006 in the Albertine Rift Basin on its border with Congo. The two countries share the basin. Tension flared in 2007 when armed Congolese killed a geologist contracted by Heritage Oil after accusing the company of prospecting in their territorial waters.
“The executive arm of government which is mandated with the security matters of this country took a decision to buy these jets because we need them,” Matsiko told Reuters last month. She declined to give more details of the “highly sensitive and classified matter,” or to say how many jets were ordered.
“A government that stealthily withdraws money from the consolidated fund (treasury) and spends it on war machines while its hospitals lack essential drugs — how can one describe that government? Insanity,” said shadow finance minister Oduman Okello.
In April last year, Russian media reported that Uganda had agreed to buy six Su-30 fighters while Algeria had agreed to buy another 16 for a combined price of US$1.2 billion. Uganda supposedly agreed to pay for the aircraft with oil. However, Kulayigye last year dismissed the reports as false.
“We had negotiations with the Russians over the jet fighters but upon realising that the cost was too high, we decided otherwise,” he said. “We never entered into an agreement with them.” Instead, Kulayigye said that Uganda had sent its six MiG-21 for overhaul in Russia. This time government ministers are adamant the deal is going ahead.