Sub-Saharan Africa spending less on defence


Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have been spending less on defence over the last five years, down from a 2014 peak, research has found.

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), published late last year and entitled Military Expenditure Transparency in Sub-Saharan Africa, although the absolute value of military spending in the region is the lowest of all the global regions, military spending accounts for a substantial portion of both the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) and overall government expenditure. SIPRI examined trends in military expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) between 1966 and 2017.

At 1.7 per cent of GDP, SSA had the third highest regional military burden (military spending as a share of GDP) in the world in 2017, behind only North Africa (3.6 per cent of GDP) and the Middle East (5.2 per cent of GDP). The same can be seen in spending as a share of government expenditure (6.9 per cent of government spending). This reflects a greater burden on the economy than that seen in other developing or developed regions, SIPRI said.

“Since 1966 there have been three distinct patterns of military spending in SSA. Each pattern is linked with economic, security and political changes. First, in 1966–77 military expenditure almost quadrupled in real terms from $3.7 billion to $14.4 billion. The increase partly reflects the development of national military capabilities in many countries following independence, but can largely be attributed to the sharp rise in spending of one state — Nigeria. This post-independence period in SSA was dominated by patrimonial states that were characterized by the use of force in political control or personal enrichment, patron–client relationships, poor governance and a lack of transparency or accountability.

“Second, between 1977 and 1996 military spending in SSA generally decreased or remained stagnant. Although there were some periods of increase, overall regional military expenditure fell by almost $7 billion to $7.4 billion. The decrease coincided with the first wave of post-independence democratization, starting in the 1980s and continuing into the 1990s. Part of this process was the widespread adoption of ‘structural adjustment’ policies implemented with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to help African countries liberalize their political and economic systems.

“Third, a period of rapid increase followed from 1997 until 2014, when spending more than tripled in real terms to $22.8 billion. However, the economic growth (driven by factors such as infrastructure development, trade and improved provision of financial services) achieved by many states in SSA meant that the regional military burden decreased from 3.5 per cent of GDP in 1999 to 1.8 per cent in 2014. Since 2015, falling oil prices have had a substantial impact on national and military finances in many oil-export dependent countries in SSA. By 2017 military spending in SSA had fallen in real terms to $19.6 billion, 14 per cent lower than its 2014 peak,” SIPRI said in its report.

South Africa

“South Africa was one of the leading spenders throughout the period. Military spending increased rapidly during the apartheid era until 1988. South Africa’s high level of military spending was related to the country’s internationally isolated government attempting to maintain the apartheid system, including involvement in conflicts with Angola and Namibia. After the political change in 1994 there was a substantial ‘peace dividend’ with decreased military expenditure up until 1999, after which spending rose again.

“Since 2012, South Africa’s annual military expenditure has levelled out at around $3.1 billion. The recent low level of volatility in spending is linked to the fact that states in Southern Africa are generally politically stable and have experienced almost no violent conflict (except Mozambique’s civil conflict in 2013–14) and only one case of violence involving an Islamist militant group since 2010. In addition, South Africa has a diverse economy—including a large financial services sector— and is therefore not overly reliant on income from its natural resources (e.g. oil, copper and diamonds) to fund its military and non-military expenditures,” SIPRI stated.


“Nigeria was the largest military spender in the region in 1969–80. Its soaring military expenditure in the period was initially due to the Biafran War (1967–70) and later funded by increasing oil revenues. The numerous military coups since the state’s independence also gave the military enormous power and likely partly explain the sustained high level of military expenditure. Nigeria’s military spending peaked in 1975 at $7.0 billion, having grown by 1943 per cent in real terms since 1966. After 1975 it fell rapidly to a low of $395 million in 1989, a 94 per cent decline. With military spending of $1.7 billion in 2017, Nigeria was the fourth largest spender in SSA, behind Sudan, South Africa and Angola.

“Changes in military spending in SSA over the past five years can be linked to the price volatility of natural resources (e.g. oil) and violent conflicts. After the international oil price slump in late 2014 military spending in the region fell by $3.2 billion to $19.6 billion by 2017. The two states with the largest real-terms decreases in military spending between 2014 and 2017 were Angola and South Sudan.

“South Sudan, which has been affected by civil war since 2013, substantially increased its nominal military spending between 2015 and 2017. In 2017 military expenditure was the government’s largest budget allocation (information on actual spending was not available), accounting for 22 per cent of the state’s budget.

“Although South Sudan’s military budget has increased in nominal terms since 2014, various factors such as violent conflict, falling oil production and oil prices and surging food prices have fuelled currency depreciation and hyperinflation.

“This, in turn, has led to large decreases in military spending in real terms, when calculated in constant US dollars. South Sudan’s 90 per cent ($509 million) drop in military spending between 2014 and 2017 was the largest percentage decrease in SSA in that period.

“Like South Sudan, the fall in oil prices has had a profound impact on Angola’s military spending. Between 2014 and 2017 Angola’s military expenditure fell by 61 per cent ($3.7 billion) in real terms to its lowest level since 2004. It dropped from being the highest spender in SSA in 2014 to the third highest in 2017. The impact of low oil prices on Angola’s economy may lead to further reductions in military spending.

“Elsewhere in SSA, violent conflicts are among the prime reasons for increases in military spending. The military spending of most of the states involved in conflict rose substantially between 2014 and 2017. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) military expenditure rose by 29 per cent over the period. This growth was linked to continued political violence involving various militias in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale.

“Mali’s military expenditure rose by 152 per cent between 2014 and 2017, as it continued its fight against armed Islamist extremists. This was the largest increase in military expenditure by any state in SSA over the period. In Sudan, the renewed conflict contributed to the 20 per cent rise in its military spending to $3.7 billion in 2017,” SIPRI stated.

In a new report released in April 2019, SIPRI noted that military spending across the whole of Africa has fallen for a fourth consecutive year. Whilst world military spending rose to $1.822 trillion in 2018, representing a 2.6% increase from 2017, spending in Africa fell by 8.4% last year to an estimated $40.6 billion or 2.2% of global military spending. This was the largest relative annual decrease since the post-cold war peak reached in 2014, SIPRI noted.

Despite four consecutive years of decreases, military expenditure in Africa was still 9.2% higher in 2018 than in 2009. Military spending in North Africa totalled $22.2 billion in 2018. This was a decrease of 5.5% compared with 2017 and the second consecutive year of decline. Nonetheless, spending in 2018 was 74% higher than in 2009.

In sub-Saharan Africa, military spending was $18.4 billion in 2018, down by 11% from 2017 and 21% lower than in 2009. The large decrease meant that, for the first time, North Africa (with only four countries) spent more than sub-Saharan Africa (with 45 countries). With a total of $9.6 billion in 2018, Algeria had by far the highest military spending in Africa. While in nominal terms Algeria’s military spending has remained the same since 2016, inflation meant that military expenditure fell in real terms by 6.1% between 2017 and 2018.