By Stephen Twinoburyo
According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an institute that tracks military spending of 173 countries around the world, in their Background Paper released in January 2011, Uganda in 2009 imported from S Africa arms worth SA Rand 169.2 million ($24 m). Uganda was by far the highest of the 32 African countries SA exported arms to. The 2nd highest country, Senegal, bought less than half (Rand 84 m) and the 3rd highest, Kenya, approx a third (Rand 55 m).
Uganda’s armed purchase from 2009 alone dwarfed what many Africa countries had spent on S African arms over a period of 10 years from 2000.
The transfer of major conventional weapons by South Africa to Uganda between 2000 to 2009 included the following APC/ISV type military vehicles:
2002 15 RG-31 NYALAS
2OO4 5 MAMBAS
2005 31 BUFFELS
2009 6 GILLAS
According to SIPRI, armoured vehicles supplied from South Africa were also used in the violent suppression of demonstrations in Uganda in 2006.
Information from the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), presented in a report by Peter Bachelor titled “South Africa’s Arms Trade and the Commonwealth: A Cause for Concern?” (http://carecon.org.uk/Leverhulme/P12.pdf) , shows that Uganda’s arms imports from post-apartheid South Africa between 1996 and 1998 amounted to only Rand 41.8 million. This however was second only to Congo-Brazzaville in Africa.
The BBC, on 1 March 2006 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4762386.stm), cited an Oxfarm report that showed how a South African subsidiary of the British company BAE Systems sold Mamba armoured personnel carriers to the Ugandan government ahead of the country’s general elections. The report said at least 32 such vehicles had been sold to Uganda by the subsidiary, called Land Systems OMC, since 2002, with the most recent consignment before the release of the report arriving just ahead of polling day. The report went further to say that at least three people had been killed when the vehicles were used to quell demonstrations a week before the elections.
Uganda’s overall military expenditure has risen from UG Shillings 234 billion to 583 billion (US $268 million).
There is concern in some circles about the sale of arms to African countries like Uganda. Peter Bachelor in his report quotes James Speth, an administrator at the United Nations Development Programme, as saying “ The world cannot ask Africa to develop and then blight its development efforts through the sale of arms and ammunition that fuel Africa’s civil conflicts”
South African armoured personnel carriers have been very prominent in the recent brutal crackdowns on the peaceful walk-to work protests which have seen the death of at least 10 people.
Recently, the country signed a deal for delivery of Russian military fighter jets worth US $740 million. But the real question should be, why is the Uganda government buying arms at such a massive level when their people are living in wallowing poverty? According to the International Monetary Fund, the country, GDP per capita stands at a lowly US $509. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling and public health is non-existent. Quality education is a thing of the past. Why then does the government need to spend heavily on arms?
Because of the threat of Lord Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony and the war on terror, the world was quick to give Uganda arms without strict scrutiny. It’s now questionable whether the imported arms were indeed for these purposes. Following what has been witnessed in Uganda over the past few weeks, it’s prudent that developed democracies restrict arms sales to Uganda.
On 5 May 2011, a Ugandan newspaper, the Red Pepper, reported that the Ugandan Police Force had imported more that 40 South African made anti riot trucks called Nyalas (type RG-31) to bolster their already rich collection (http://redpepper.co.ug/welcome/?p=7753).
Ugandans in South Africa, in a petition to President Zuma, requested that South Africa puts a stop to the sale of arms to the present government of Uganda (https://ugandaspeaks.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/petition-to-president-jacob-zuma-by-the-ugandan-community-in-s-africa/). Recent events in Uganda have shown that the weapons Uganda imports are for use against her people rather than advance their well-being. Unconfirmed reports say that much of the teargas used against demonstrators and the dyed spray used against opposition leaders are imported from South Africa. International media reported that the coloured spray was a common tool used by the apartheid police and what is being used in Uganda could be remnants of that.
The 2011 arms purchases are likely to be alarmingly high considering President Museveni’s controversial re-election and the subsequent walk-to-work protests. Now, more than ever, countries like South Africa that promote highly democracy and human rights both within and outside their boarders should take a moral step and stop the sale of arms to countries like Uganda that are blatantly and severely repressing their people.