Report reveals arms imports

Posted Saturday, October 4 2008 at 21:11

A Soviet tank on display. A report says Kenya has been importing tanks, submachine guns and automatic rifles without reporting to the UN, in defiance of international agreements. Photo/FILE
A Soviet tank on display. A report says Kenya has been importing tanks, submachine guns and automatic rifles without reporting to the UN, in defiance of international agreements. Photo/FILE

Kenya is sourrounded by good neighbours unlikely to invade Kenya. At most they have internal squabbles for which they sometimes seek Kenyas assistance. Kenya does have many domestic needs including: settling Internally Displaced Persons, lack of water in Nairobi, poor roads, more attention to education.

A total of 77 tanks and 15 jet fighters were secretly imported by Kenya last year alone, according to official documents.

Two rocket launchers and more than 40,000 automatic rifles and machine guns were also brought in, the United Nations says.

Yet the government has not reported its arms purchases to the United Nations, as required by international agreements, the Sunday Nation can reveal.

Instead, Kenya told the UN it had not imported any arms at all.

The purchases are detailed in a report by Ukraine to the United Nations in which it said it had exported the tanks and guns, among other weapons.

The jet fighter imports from Jordan are shown in a report published on the internet this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which tracks the international movement of arms.

Ukraine’s reports of exports to Kenya were filed by the source country to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, UNROCA.

Since 1993 when the register was first compiled, Kenya has been reporting that it made no imports and no exports of arms.

The purchases represent a significant rearming of Kenya’s military. As a sovereign nation, Kenya has a right to buy and sell arms.

Kenya treats virtually all information about its military as classified, though a lot of information about its strength and armaments can be gleaned from official and academic sources.

The report by the Stockholm Institute shows that Ukraine inherited millions of small arms and light weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, ending up with over seven million small arms and light weapons which it has over the years exported to different countries.

Top five importers

The top five importers were the United States, the UK, Libya, Azerbaijan and Georgia, itself previously part of the Soviet Union.

“Ukraine has made significant progress in improving transparency and controlling exports in recent years,” wrote Paul Holtom of the institute.

According to the latest report released by the Ukrainian government, Kenya imported 40,000 automatic rifles and submachine guns and 405 grenade launchers last year.

“Although Kenyan officials made it clear that the 33 T-72 tanks, grenade launchers and ammunition aboard the hijacked Ukrainian ship MV Faina were part of a larger deal under which tanks, artillery and small arms and light weapons were delivered by Ukraine in 2007, these weapons did not appear in Kenya’s recent submission to UNROCA for 2007,” Mr Holtom wrote.

Significantly, he pointed out, the report to UNROCA of no imports or exports was made on September 26 this year, the same day that MV Faina was hijacked off the coast of Somalia and just hours before it was expected to dock at the port of Mombasa.

The international mechanism for reporting imports and exports of arms and light weapons was established in 1992, the Sunday Nation established, but Kenya has always reported to the UN that it neither imported nor exported small arms and light weapons.

Invited to comment on the unreported imports, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said: “The government is not going to discuss its defence strategy, weapons acquisitions and deployment and its military plans with the media or anybody else for that matter.”

But he added: “Any purchases will be reflected in the government’s report to the UN next year.”

And as the mystery over the hijacked cargo deepened, a Nairobi-based businessman was said to be at the centre of the row over its final destination.

The 33 T-72 Ukrainian tanks, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition were said to have been imported by a Tanzanian with a stake in a company in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

Military sources said the businessman enjoys close links with influential personalities and business people.

He has in the past been involved in supplying military equipment to countries in the East Africa region.

Dr Mutua commented: “The most recent purchases were directly government to government, and normally we do not involve a broker in direct transactions.”

As attempts continue to release the crew and cargo from the clutches of the Somali pirates, questions were being asked about why the MV Faina with its sensitive cargo was travelling unescorted through waters ranked among the most dangerous in the world.

The ship was seized a week ago last Thursday, only hours before it was due to be met by Kenya Navy warships which were to escort it to Mombasa where the cargo was to be offloaded.

One military expert told the Sunday Nation that apart from escorting cargo ships carrying military equipment, the Navy has on numerous occasions been used to escort cruise ships bringing high-spending tourists to Mombasa.

“The question that needs to be asked is, was the Kenya Navy aware of the coming of MV Faina and was its itinerary given to them in time as is the normal practice during such occasions?” the expert said.

The spotlight on the Navy comes at a time when stakeholders in the maritime industry united in condemning governments and naval powers for failing to protect merchant shipping from piracy off Somalia and in the strategic Gulf of Aden.

Oil tanker group

The International Chamber of Shipping and the oil tanker group, Intercargo, commented jointly: “If civil aircraft were being hijacked on a daily basis, the response of governments would be very different.

“Yet ships, which are the lifeblood of the global economy, are seemingly out of sight and out of mind.”

More than 90 per cent of the world’s traded goods by volume are carried by sea.

“This apparent indifference to the lives of merchant seafarers and the consequences for society at large is simply unacceptable,” they said.

The statement added that they were “utterly amazed” that governments were unable to secure one of the world’s most important seaways.

The European Union is assembling a force to deal with the pirates which will be deployed next month. The US, Malaysia, Russia and France have naval vessels and forces in the area.

Reported by Fred Mukinda, Patrick Mayoyo, David Okwemba and Mugumo Munene