8. The processes of budgeting for the military sector in Africa
The 1990s witnessed a strong interest in military spending in Africa by external actors, especially donors of economic aid to the continent. Three main factors accounted for this: first, the end of the cold war allowed donors to become involved in non-traditional matters such as national security and the cost of maintaining military establishments; second, the widespread armed conflict in Africa; and third, the establishment of a linkage between good governance and development in the 1990s, which led development actors to question 'excessive' or 'unproductive' expenditure, such as military spending, at the expense of the social sector and the alleviation of poverty.
The initial policy choice of donors to force a change in priorities in public sector spending was to impose a predetermined level of military spending in recipient countries. However, this policy had the unintended consequence of increasing the secrecy surrounding military budgets in aid-dependent countries which wanted to hide the true cost of their military expenditure, and thus reduced the reliability of the military expenditure data on which donors’ judgements were based.
Another deficiency of the policy of imposing a maximum level of military spending on recipient countries was that it did not take into consideration the legitimate security needs of the countries concerned. Having realized the limitations of the level approach, from 1997 donor countries began to discuss alternative ways of addressing the issue of excessive military spending.
By the early 2000s a new approach emerged, articulated primarily by the British Department for International Development (DFID). This approach emphasizes the process of arriving at military spending rather than the level of military spending. It also emphasizes the importance of applying sound financial management principles to the whole of the public sector, including defence. However, the process approach has not been universally accepted by donors and its details are yet to be fully understood by all donor countries.
A SIPRI study, launched in 2001, has examined the processes of budgeting for the military sector in eight African countries with a view to understanding how military spending decisions are made, and how to contribute to the improvement of the processes for military sector management in these countries. The study identifies a number of challenges that must be overcome before the process approach can take root as a tool of military spending management. These challenges include the need for proper policy development in the military sector in the countries as a necessary first step towards an integrated defence planning system.
The absence of a defence policy in many of the countries hinders planning and makes budgetary allocation to defence ad hoc. The problem is partly lack of expertise and partly lack of an enabling environment. To correct this, many of the states require capacity building not just in the defence sector but also in the other policy areas that defence interacts with.
Institutions that need to be strengthened include the parliament, the ministries of finance and defence, and the audit departments. Another major challenge is the need to develop clear rules to guide the budgeting process and to specify clear roles for the various actors involved. A third major challenge is to overcome the lack of transparency in the military budgets. There is a need to have a sufficiently detailed budget that will allow for proper scrutiny of every aspect of the budget. This challenge is as much a problem of capacity as it is a result of lack of policy.
These challenges have several implications for donor countries, including a need for enhanced policy dialogue between them and recipient countries on how to correct existing deficiencies in order to boost the chances of the process approach taking firm root. Furthermore, helping to address some of the present shortcomings in the systems will require long-term commitment as opposed to the short-term initiatives donors are used to.
Wuyi Omitoogun (Nigeria) is a Researcher on the SIPRI Military Expenditure and Arms Production Project. He is the coordinator of a new project on the Defence Budgeting Process in Africa. He is the author of ‘Arms control and conflict in Africa’ in Arms Control and Disarmament: A New Conceptual Approach (UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, 2000) and the forthcoming SIPRI Research Report no. 17, Military Expenditure of African States—A Survey.