Algeria tops African defence spending

Algeria is now Africa’s biggest military spender. That’s according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) just-released 2009 Yearbook that says the North African state’s spending increased 18% in real terms in 2008 to $5.2 billion, driven by strong economic growth and a mounting insurgency.

“Military expenditure in Africa increased by 10.2% in real terms in 2008 to reach $25.8 billion,” the Yearbook states, adding that this “is the highest increase since 2004, when military expenditure rose by 11% in real terms following a small decrease in 2003.

Over the past decade, military spending in Africa has increased by 40% mainly due to increases in North Africa. The two largest spenders are Algeria and South Africa, respectively, with 20% and 15% of African military spending,” SIPRI adds.

Despite African military spending reaching a new high, the average military burden (military expenditure as a share of a country`s GDP) has decreased over the past decade.

On average, military spending in African countries was 1.8% of GDP in 2007, down from 3.7% in 1999.

SIPRI says a few countries had shares well above the 2007 average, such as Burundi

(4.9%), Djibouti (4.1%) and Angola (3.9%). The military burden of some countries—including Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone—has fallen heavily since 1999 (e.g. Angola`s was 17.3%).

However, no data is available for 2007 for some of the countries with the highest military burdens in earlier years, including Eritrea whose military burden was 34.4% in 1999. Data for most countries in Africa should be viewed with caution as many have significant “off-budget” expenditure, SIPRI cautions.

“The impact of armed conflict on military expenditure is also not always fully reflected in the available data. In some countries, pressure from international institutions to improve budget balances has lowered the military burden. The decreasing economic burden of military expenditure also reflects rising GDP growth rates across the region, both in oil and resource exporters and in non-resource-rich countries.

In 2007 Africa`s economy grew at its fastest rate in decades, by 6.5%, partly due to rising oil production and prices, high global demand for commodities, and debt relief packages to many countries. Greater capital flows, particularly from emerging investors such as

China, also contributed to the growth.

Focusing on Algeria, the Yearbook cites the nation as “an example of a country whose military spending has increased sharply over the past 10 years while military spending as a share of GDP has fallen due to high economic growth.

Algeria, with its large oil and gas reserves, is a regional power in North Africa and it has been developing its political influence by becoming a main ally of the USA in the ‘global war on terrorism`,” SIPRI adds.

This year`s 18% increase is the largest in the last 1decade.

“As in previous budgets, allocations for national defence were higher than for any other sector; resources allocated for health were less than half those for the military. Major arms deals signed by Algeria since 2002–2004, including those for a large quantity of Russian military hardware, reflect this prioritisation…”

However, over the period 1999–2007 the military burden in Algeria has fallen from 3.8% to 3%.

“This is the result of strong economic growth driven mostly by high oil and gas production. Algeria produces 13% of Europe`s gas supplies and 1.46 million barrels of oil per day, and their prices have reached record peaks in recent years.”

SIPRI says two specific factors explain Algeria`s prioritisation of the military. “First, the increasing threat posed by attacks from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has put pressure on the Algerian security forces.

“Between 2006 and 2008 several hundred people were killed by terrorists attacks in Algeria, including bombings of UN installations, the prime minister`s office and police stations, and kidnappings of Western citizens. The government`s response to this low-intensity insurgency has been mainly military, by raising the operational military budget.

“The emergence of a group like AQIM—which has declared its intention to attack Western targets and send fighters to Iraq—has given the conflict in Algeria an international dimension and provided the military with further arguments to justify its importance.

“Second, there is strong military influence in Algerian politics. The Algerian military is a direct successor of the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN, National Liberation Army), the armed wing of the Front de Libération National (FLN, National Liberation Front) during the Algerian war of independence.

“Since independence, the revolutionary elite composed of members of the FLN and the ALN has dominated politics and the position of president has consequently been weak.

“While President Abdelaziz Bouteflika`s main agenda has been to bolster the president`s position by trying to demilitarise the Algerian Government, he has sought to keep the military`s support [which he needed as he was seeking to alter the constitution to run for a third presidential term] with high defence budgets and large military equipment deals.