Another Ugandan Weapons Procurement Scandal?

The East African reports:  “$740M fighter jets scam sneaks under the radar.”

In a deal reminiscent of previous purchases of military hardware in which the army bypassed civilian oversight, the Ministry of Defence and Bank of Uganda are in the news again following revelations that on the express instructions of President Yoweri Museveni, the ministry withdrew money from the central bank without due parliamentary approval, to buy six fighter jets and other military equipment from Russia worth $740 million.

It also emerged that this money is from the supplementary budget and that part of it — over $400 million — has already been spent. Hence government only wants parliament to rubberstamp the acquisition.

The deal marks a return to the late 1990s, when under the cover of classified expenditure, the country lost $6 million after shadowy middlemen sold the Uganda People’s Defence Forces attack helicopters that could not fly.

.  .  .  .

As usual, the president is once again on hand to let Defence off the hook.

On the night of March 24, Museveni met the National Resistance Movement parliamentary caucus at State House Entebbe and told the legislators to support the $740 million supplementary expenditure.

Although he did not mention the country the jets were bought from, the Daily Monitor reported last week that Russian defence websites claimed that Uganda and Algeria had gone shopping in the Russian capital.

It further revealed that the two countries paid a joint price of $1.2 billion for 22 jets — Uganda’s being only six.

Hence each of Uganda’s jets should have cost $54.5 million, translating into a total of $327 million.

.  .  .  .

The army also bought some 90 tanks from Bulgaria, only 10 of which proved operational.

The purchase earlier of another set of MiG jet fighters also followed a similar pattern: They arrived with one wing, had no spare parts nor bomb loading capacity.

Public policy analysts argue that these dubious procurements are not just bad luck hounding Uganda’s military.

Rather, they say, defence spending is the conduit through which public finances are channelled to fund politics.

 

In the meantime, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reports that the drought and increasing food prices leave 5 million people at risk of hunger in the greater Horn of Africa region:

The World Food Program – WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran has expressed fears that drought coupled by rising food prices could drive some 5 million people into hunger in the Horn of Africa sub-region.

Sheeran said the number of hungry people in the Horn of Africa was growing and WFP aims to assist 5.2 million people as drought, rising food and fuel prices and conflict take their toll.

“More and more people need help in the Horn and we’re now on high alert over the impact of the March to May long rains. The drought began with the failure of the October to December short rains last year in eastern parts of the Horn of Africa, pushing an additional 1.4 million people into hunger,” said Sheeran.

The World Food Program is also warning that the number of people in need of assistance may increase if the current long rains – from March to May – are poor.

Sheeran who is in Nairobi on a fact finding mission noted that farmers in producing areas that have abundant supplies are selling their produce to WFP so that it can be used to help the poorest in drought-stricken areas.

In 2010 WFP bought food worth a total of US$139 million in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Food prices have started rising in areas that relied on the failed short rains for food production, with increases for maize of 25 percent to 120 percent in some remote parts of the Horn.

Cereal prices in the region over the next six months are expected to increase by 40 to 50 percent.

Am I a “Do Gooder”? Assessing my “East Africa” Footprint

The VOA has a worthwhile five part series on increasing Western investment in Africa–start here.

A friend of mine recently suggested that I had become something of a “do gooder” while she had become more of a believer in free markets from a background more on the left politically.  Got me thinking about the totality of my interactions with East Africa.  I invest retirement savings in a U.S. traded fund of the stocks of companies with predominantly African business and the stocks of a few individual African companies and companies with significant African business.  Some of my retirement money is invested, outside of my desire or control, in the companies that market cigarettes in East Africa.  My wife and I make some private efforts to help with needs associated with a non-profit program serving underprivileged children in Nairobi, and helped raise some additional money for this through our church, where we also support the regular “mainstream” mission work.  We give a little bit of money to one of the big humanitarian relief organizations where I had some personal contact and a little bit of money to “The One Acre Fund“.  I pay my taxes toward the salary and benefits of the full spectrum of U.S. government employees and contractors living in Kenya from the Ambassador on down and all the infrastructure supporting them.  As a lawyer, my “day job” which I don’t write about here, is a matter of public record:  I work in a part of the “defense industry” in which we make the majority of the ships typically used to make up the U.S. Navy’s anti-piracy task force off the Horn of Africa.

When I lived in Kenya I tried to take advantage of the time I had to be among Kenyans rather than spending too much time among the expats, but my family and I did participate in a fair bit of tourism and patronized the usual Nairobi businesses that I have learned are to a substantial extent owned by people who got them through misuse of public office rather than through competition in a “free market”.  I do like the concept of free markets and will hope for more of them in Kenya in the future.

And I moralize on this blog, which is free.

So, on balance, I don’t think I make bona-fide “do gooder” status.   I will say that of all the problems and challenges at large in the world, the unintended consequences of the actions of “do gooders” don’t make it very high on my list at present.  I am all for skepticism and evaluation of effectiveness in aid programs, for instance, but I think ulterior or conflicting interests, and your basic greed and venality are much bigger problems than the negatives associated with well-intentioned but misguided or otherwise unsuccessful attempts to help people.  (Note that I don’t take responsibility for Government to Government assistance in my category of things that “do gooders” may be accountable for.)

Sea-based Piracy Responses and Proportionality

This weekend has seen successful special forces raids to re-take seized ships and rescue crews conducted by both South Korea and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that Samsung Heavy Industries, South Korea’s third largest shipbuilder, has rolled out a new anti-piracy system that

. . .  detects smaller boats in the vicinity often undetected under existing marine radar systems and issues an automatic alert when approached.

“The alert is issued when an approaching vessel does not respond to usual ship-to-ship radio communications or shows unusual navigating patterns and speed,” the company spokesman told AFP.

The system allows sailors in a navigation room to remotely control water cannons on the ship’s deck that can up to 70 metres (230 feet) when pirates attempt to climb aboard.

“That way, crew will be safe from potential shooting attacks from pirates when firing the water cannons,” said the spokesman, adding the system is applicable to most existing ships.

“We believe more of our clients want ships armed with such a system, considering what has been happening near Somalia recent years,” he said.

H/T Watershed Legal Somali News Magazine on Twitter.

In an AP story today from the Los Angeles Times:

The European Union‘s naval force refuses to raid hijacked ships out of concern for the safety of hostages, but frustration is rising. Despite patrols by an international flotilla of modern warships, drones patrolling the Indian Ocean off the east African coast and Arabian Gulf and diverse strategies employed including the sinking of pirate boats, Somali pirates have been relentless.

They captured a record 1,016 hostages in 2010 and currently hold 32 vessels and 746 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another six ships so far this year, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.

Eight crew members died and 13 were wounded in Somali pirate incidents in 2010, up from four dead and 10 wounded in 2009. There were no pirate killings elsewhere in the world in 2010.

Alan Cole, the head of the U.N.’s anti-piracy program at the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said the South Korean and Malaysian navies may have resorted to using the commando raids out of frustration that other strategies employed to tackle piracy were not working.

“There is a good chance that navies will increase the numbers of patrols and step up military activity to try and deal with this problem,” he said.

.  .  .  .

The maritime bureau says there was drop in the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden, leading to the Suez Canal, because of patrols by the international flotilla warships. Attacks in that area fell more than 50 percent, from 117 in 2009 to 53 in 2010.

At some point it seems clear to me that piracy continues to grow because it is so lucrative to the pirates and their sponsors while the costs are born disproportionately by national taxpayers as well as by crew members who are generally not paid much anyway.  The cheapest way to deal with piracy for vessel owners appears to be to risk an occasional ransom as a cost of doing business.  It might be cheaper, if a bit humiliating, for the taxpayers to buy systems like those developed by Samsung to defend vessels and give them to the vessel owners?

I am a long way from convinced that fighting a ground war in Somalia, whether using military or mercenary forces, is a rational way to address piracy–to the point of being highly skeptical of the actual motives of anyone claiming to undertake such a thing.

Somaliland Election status

From the Somaliland Press, positive news and photos of the voting in progress, now that it is closing time at the polls.

Progressio will issue a preliminary statement as the international observation coordinator tomorrow on how things are going so far at that time.

Burundi vote; Coke(TM) in Somaliland

“This is Africa” has a good new discussion of the state of things after the first round of elections in Burundi.

Meanwhile, with the presidential election in Somaliland now just less than a month away, plans for a local Coca-Cola bottling plant between Hargeisa and Berbera hit the media this week:

Coke will be supplied in Somaliland by SBI (Somaliland Beverages Industries) and after the launch of the factory, bottles of Coke products will be priced to compete with locally bottled no-name brands and all Somalilanders will be able to take advantage of the great Coke taste at a great price.

There is no word yet as to whether or not SBI has considered recycling options for their output, however, perhaps somewhere in the future we can read about another group of Somaliland Entrepreneurs opening the country’s first recycling plant.