Kenya's military spending last year rose to a new high of Sh109.7 billion to exceed the amount spent by neighbours Tanzania and Uganda combined for the first time, according to a new global report.
Nairobi's spending on its military last year rose by Sh8.2 billion - from Sh101.5 billion in 2017 - pushing its defence bill to the sixth largest in Africa
Data released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), an independent global security think tank, shows that the country's budget dwarfs its peers in the region: Tanzania's spending last year rose to Sh67.5 billion while Uganda came in third at Sh40.8 billion.
"Kenya's military spending for last year really didn't increase much as compared to its neighbours. The increase in Uganda could be related to equipment purchases, this is stated in the budget but exactly what it is spent on is unknown," Dr Nan Tian, a researcher on the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at Sippri, told the Nation.
The report shows that Kenya has in the past five years continued to top its regional neighbours both in budget size and annual spending growth, causing fear that it could spark an arms race in a volatile region.
Kenya and Uganda's militaries have been upgrading their firepower, either through purchases or donations, as they lead the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) battle against Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia.
"Equipment was donated, as aid or peace keeping operations, to Uganda and Kenya last year, with Kampala bagging five Bell Huey helicopters worth Sh40 billion. It also received the Bastion APC from France that was leased and financed by the US for AMISOM operations.
"In Kenya, there were also the Bell helicopters and AS-350 Fennec helicopters given as aid. These are likely to be used in the fight against Al-Shabaab," Dr Tian said.
Nairobi made six aircraft orders last year, expected to be delivered this year, coming barely months after receiving eight second-hand Airbus AS-550C3 light helicopters in aid.
Of the six planes, three are C-27J Spartan transport aircraft ordered from Italian firm Leonardo. The aircraft were ordered in late June 2018 at a cost of Sh20 billion, having placed an order late 2017.
They are expected to replace the ageing fleet of De Havilland Canada DHC-5 Buffalo. The other three are M28 Skytruck light transport and passenger planes from Poland. They were ordered in 2016 and are expected in Nairobi later this year.
Last year also saw the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) receive 12 Bastion armoured personnel carriers (APCs) donated by the United States.
For the 12 APCs, the government acquired 12 MD5 diesel engines from France, which were delivered in November last year to help secure its borders and promote Amisom troops in Somalia.
"We hope that these APCs will support Kenya's efforts in the fight against extremists, including the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the border region.
"Defeating the threat of IEDs is a critical component of denying violent extremists freedom of movement," Colonel Kevin Balisky, the US Defence Attaché, said.
South Sudan had the lowest military spending in the region at Sh5.9 billion, from a high of Sh100 billion in 2016, mainly due to the severe economic problems the country faces.
"Hyperinflation has caused its spending to drop substantially. But there is evidence that the military and security forces have been funded outside the state budget by an oil company. However, the amount is unknown," Dr Tian said.
Kenya's Sh109 billion expenditure accounted for 40 per cent of the region's total military spending of Sh298 billion last year.
Within the continent, Algeria leads with a defence budget of Sh980, followed by Morocco at Sh369 billion, and South Africa at Sh339 billion.
Nigeria is fourth-placed at Sh201.4 billion, while Angola is fifth at Sh198 billion. Globally, the US retained the top position as the highest military spender at Sh64.8 trillion, with China coming a distant second at Sh24.99 trillion, followed by Russia (Sh61.38 trillion).
Global Firepower, an agency that assesses military the strength of nations, last year ranked Kenya's military the 14th most powerful in Africa and the best in the region.
The country's arms stockpile, according to Global Firepower, comprises 76 battle tanks, 500 armoured fighting vehicles, 30 self-propelled guns, 25 towed artilleries, three attack helicopters, 150 aircraft, including 34 fighter and attack jets, 19 transporter aircraft, and 80 helicopters. It also has 19 naval assets, including seven patrol vessels.