The level of transparency in military spending in sub-Saharan Africa is greater than previously thought, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Between 2012 and 2017, 45 of 47 states surveyed published at least one official budget document online in a timely manner.
“Contrary to common belief, countries in sub-Saharan Africa show a high degree of transparency in how they spend money on their military. Citizens everywhere should know where and how public money is spent. It is encouraging that national reporting in sub-Saharan Africa has improved,” Dr Nan Tian, Researcher in the SIPRI Arms Transfers and Military Expenditure Programme, said.
While SIPRI’s study shows there is generally a high degree of transparency in the military sector in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea have not published any official information on military spending since 2009 and 2003 respectively and Botswana was one of very few states to show a deterioration in transparency.
In Botswana, official budgetary reports are increasingly difficult to obtain, there is a lack of a national defence policy and almost no government information or dialogue exists on issues such as arms procurement.
“While these issues are worrying the main cause for concern is decreased public engagement on military related matters,” Tian said.
Botswana had the third highest percentage increase in military spending between 2014 and 2017. Military spending grew by 60% (or $182 million) in that period as part of several military procurement programmes involving France and Switzerland.
“This military spending increase occurred despite Botswana being in one of the least conflict-prone areas of Africa and one of the few states in sub-Saharan Africa to have never been involved in an armed conflict,” Tian said.
The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the stand-out cases with substantial improvements in military sector transparency.
There is evidence of improved oversight and accountability in budget reporting, such as implementing an official budget formulation process and publishing budget execution reports both quarterly and biannually. Improvements are still needed in the areas of accessibility and disaggregation, military sector transparency has increased substantially.
“The publication of accessible spending information is a major step towards greater transparency and accountability in the military sector,” Tian said.
Reporting to the UN needs to improve
Unlike Europe and South America, there are currently no regional reporting mechanisms in place in sub-Saharan Africa for exchanging information on military expenditure between states.
The UN Report on Military Expenditures is the only international reporting system to which states in sub-Saharan Africa have agreed to participate. In the period 2008–17, only five states in sub-Saharan Africa reported at least once, and no reports were submitted during the years 2015–17.
“It is clear from SIPRI’s study the lack of UN reporting is not due to a lack of information. The challenge rather is to encourage countries to submit data to the UN,” Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers and Military Expenditure Programme, said.
“Government transparency at international level is key to reinforcing trust and encouraging dialogue between countries. Therefore, UN member states need to work together on implementing and improving reporting,” Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board and former UN Deputy Secretary-General, said.