KITAU: Military industrial complex can boost Kenya's international trade

I should say right from the onset that I am not writing about the US proxy war in Ukraine or the next US proxy war in Taiwan. Instead, my discourse is about the deteriorating geopolitical logic and realpolitik situation in the world, which is getting increasingly dangerous but also creating an intervening opportunity for Kenya to nurture her nascent military-industrial complex (MIC) and transform into an economic juggernaut.

In his “let’s finish the job” State of the Union (SOTU) speech on February 7, 2023, President Biden embraced a conclusion which confirm that the U.S. foreign policy has not changed since 1949: regime change, containment, détente.

The President ended his SOTU address with the sentence: “May God protect our troops.” This is distinctly a deterministic war cry.

Chairman McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee emphatically beat the war drums the next day when he delivered the opening remarks at the full committee organizational meeting for the 118th Congress.

He reiterated that the committee is so important because it deals with issues of war and peace.

“We manage the foreign military sales. We manage foreign military financing. We are involved in what’s happening in Ukraine, and Taiwan. And all across the globe, helping our allies defeat our enemies.”

Then he dropped the bombshell: “We have a defence industrial base problem in this country. That means we can’t make weapons fast enough.” This epiphany should inspire Kenya to move at full throttle and develop her MIC. There is a ready market.

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military expenditure rose for the seventh consecutive year in 2021 to reach USD 2,113 billion. This is the first time this figure has exceeded US$ 2 trillion and accounts for 2.2% of global GDP. This makes the military the 10th largest global industry ahead of telecoms which is at about US$ 1.7 trillion.

The development of a MIC in Kenya will contribute to the country’s rapid economic development in several ways. To start with, the establishment of military production facilities and related businesses will create new job opportunities and support economic growth, through diversification. We have been promoting agricultural exports since independence until our trade deficit is unsustainable.

Secondly, it will boost exports, and provide a new source of income. Let me put this into context, Kenya has been struggling to export bananas and broccoli to South Korea since 2018 when a Market Access Authorization was granted. Competition from nearby China and Philippines has made it impractical. However, what South Korea realistically needs from Kenya is armaments.

South Korea’s military expenditure last year was US$ 47 billion. This is larger than Kenya’s USD 30 billion national budget by more than 50 per cent. There is no doubt this figure will cross the US$ 50 billion mark. Growing intimidations from recalcitrant and nuclear sabre-rattling KIM Jong-un will lead to higher demand for weapons.

Third, the development of MIC will spur technological advancement. MIC requires high-level technological expertise. The required know-how can be achieved through triangular cooperation with countries such as the United States, or South Korea. The people with a need. The alternative truth is also naked.

Three African countries, namely Algeria, Egypt and South Africa have made good progress in the MIC sector. Some of the weapons and equipment they produce include rockets and missiles, naval vessels, armoured vehicles, electronic warfare systems, artillery defence systems and air defence systems. South Africa also produces fighter jets and submarines. Kenya can start the lucrative venture with stealth drones and Anti Drone Radars.

Finally, this narrative is not ignis fatuus. A strong defence industry will significantly enhance Kenya’s ability to maintain its national and regional security. This is important for the stability and rapid growth of Kenya’s economy.

Ngovi Kitau

First Kenyan Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (2009-2014)

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