Feeding Hungry People with More Weapons

In his recent address to the nation, President Dos Santos conveyed the idea that the Angolan Armed Forces and the National Police must produce their own food and uniforms to tackle the current economic crisis.

He made no mention of a more practical solution. One obvious way to solve this problem is to purchase less military equipment. In the end it comes down to a question of priorities and values.  For many years Angola (in peacetime) has spent more money on military equipment than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. Also, one has to question why Angola needs to maintain an army of 100,000 soldiers and not, for example, 50,000 or 25,000? Under no imminent military threat near or far, the President has prioritized spending on military equipment over feeding and clothing his soldiers and police.  In some African countries this has been a recipe for a coup!

It is important to put Angola’s military spending into perspective.

Since the civil war ended in 2002 Angolan military expenditures have skyrocketed to the point that it spends more on defense than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010 Angola spent $3.5 billion on defense.  Four years later the military budget almost doubled to $6.8 billion dollars and it is projected to reach $13 billion in the next 3 years.  How do these expenditures compare with other African countries?  Take Nigeria as one instructive example.  Nigeria’s population is 8.5 times greater than Angola and it has been suffering devastating attacks from Boko Haram almost daily. Yet its entire military budget is less than Angola’s!  In fact, since the civil war ended in 2002 Angola has spent a higher percentage of its GNP on Defense than US, China, Russia, UK, and France. Why?

It is necessary start with the question: what, if any, real external threats does Angola face?  Is there any current or future threat from any country in Africa or even in the world? Only those suffering from an acute case of paranoia would argue that Angola faces any military threat from anywhere in the near or distant future.

One device that dos Santos has used to stay in power so long is to coddle his senior military officers with rich kickbacks from arms purchases for his generals — correctly assuming that they will not bite the hand that feeds them. One internal consequence is that the security budget dwarfs those of health, education, and agriculture combined. In the end it comes down to a question of values and priorities. President dos Santos has practically written his own epitaph: “He always prioritized purchasing expensive military equipment (with its lucrative kickbacks) over feeding his own people!”