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.

State Dept Press Conference in Rome to Respond to Media Reports on Somalia–Carson speaks to NY Times piece

The State Department held a press conference Friday in Rome (and quickly released the transcript) with Asst. Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and Ambassador to the UN Mission in Rome Ertharin Cousin to respond to media reports about US Somalia policy. In response to the first question, from the AP, to be specific about the media they were responding to, Amb. Carson said:

the most prominent article was one that appeared approximately a week ago in The New York Times, written by Jeff Gettleman, and I think co-authored by one of his colleagues, which asserted or carried the assertion that the U.S. Government had military advisors assisting and aiding the TFG, that the U.S. Government was, in fact, helping to coordinate the strategic offensive that is apparently underway now, or may be underway now, in Mogadishu, and that we were, in effect, guiding the hand and the operations of the TFG military. All of those are incorrect. All of those do not reflect the accuracy of our policy, and all of those need to be refuted very strongly. I think my statement clearly outlined what we are doing and why we are doing it.

In a nutshell, Carson is saying that the US strongly endorses the TFG; the TFG is a reflection of the “Djibouti peace process”; that the “Djibouti peace process” is an African-initiated process supported by the IGAD and “the key states in the region” as well as the African Union, and the EU and the other various international powers that be–along with the US. BUT, don’t blame us for whatever the TFG is talking about doing, or is in the process of doing, militarily to escalate an offensive against the extremist Al-Shabaab. (“However, the United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG, and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives. Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisors for the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.”)

As for details of US spending:

But with respect to U.S. support for AMISOM, the United States, as a member of the Contact Group and as a member of the international community, has provided something in the neighborhood of $185 million over the last 18 or 19 months.[2] And that is in support of the AMISOM peacekeeping effort – Uganda, primarily, but Burundi and Djibouti as well. Funding going to the TFG from the United States has been substantially smaller, and that number is approximately $12 million over the last fiscal year.[3] So the amounts of money that we are talking about are really relatively small. [the footnotes say that Carson’s figure for AMISOM is cumulative to 2007; that Djiboutian troops aren’t there yet; and that the $12M to the TFG is “in kind” with about $2M in direct cash]

In other words, we spend most of our money on the military peacekeeper mission.  Short press conference, no follow up on this.  Like, why so little money for the TFG when we so strongly endorse it rhetorically?

On TFG requests for US military assistance:

I have not, in my office, received any formal or informal request from the TFG for airstrikes or operations in support of the offensive that may be underway right now. I have seen newspaper comments of TFG leaders responding to questions that have been posed to them about whether they would be willing to accept outside support. But we have not received any, I have not received any, my office has not received any requests for airstrikes or air support or people on the ground to assist the TFG in its operations. The TFG military operations are the responsibilities of the TFG government.

That seems quite clear, and explicitly narrow.

On the Somalia Monitoring Group report leaked to the NY Times about the diversion of food aid, no claim that the report itself is inaccurate or that the reporting is inaccurate.  The report will be reviewed by the Security Council next week.  The issues are not new.  The World Food Program has taken some action in the recent past.  The World Food Program board decided just this morning that it would apply and follow all its policies in Somalia. The World Food Program follows its policies in all countries, etc, etc. . . .