Monday, October 24, 2011

The real cost of war against Al-Shabaab terrorists

Kenya troops head for Liboi, near the border with Somalia, last week. File | Nation

Kenya troops head for Liboi, near the border with Somalia, last week. File | Nation 

By PAUL WAFULA [email protected]

Until last week, the Kenyan military had cut itself out as a privileged class of people exempted from taxation and fed well enough to show their might during public holidays, at least in the eyes of ordinary Kenyans.

This is why teachers won sympathy from the majority of Kenyans during their latest strike when it was revealed that Treasury had diverted Sh6.7 billion — meant to recruit new hands to alleviate a biting teacher shortage — to the Department of Defence (DoD) for a military pay rise.

Just weeks after Treasury moved to allay discontent in the defence forces over poor pay, Kenyan troops are pursuing Al-Shabab militia hundreds of kilometres into Somalia.

But as the troops capture more towns, taxpayers are faced with their first war bill since Independence, an expense that both the government and security experts reckon will be high.

Security experts admit that though it is too early to give an estimate of how much the country will spend on the military offensive, such battles have far reaching impacts on the economies of warring countries.

For example, the United States is estimated to have spent more than a trillion dollars in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“Money for war is never put in the development budgets. It comes from the contingency fund. If this is not enough, then governments start evaluating what project to suspend in development budgets,” said Mr Simiyu Werunga, a security analyst.

The government has already hinted that the war, if prolonged, will put pressure on the national budget, coming at a time when it is already facing a Sh236 billion deficit in the Sh1.2 trillion Budget that Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta read in June.

“We will look afresh at our Budget to ensure that we are able to fight this war without putting ourselves in a situation where expenditure starts to swell,” said Mr Joseph Kinyua, the permanent secretary at the ministry of Finance.

In counting the economic cost, players say the government will spend more money on security intelligence, planning the operation and putting up long-term measures to guard against retaliatory attacks from the terror group, than what the actual battlefront will consume.

It is no wonder the government gave the National Security Intelligence Service Sh13 billion three months before the military offensive, in a controversial decision that saw Security minister George Saitoti grilled in Parliament.

Mr Kinyua revealed in a meeting in Nairobi last week that the military action did not come as a surprise, meaning that the government was already spending money in preparation for the operation before then.

So what constitutes the budget in the field?

“Keeping an active battalion in the battlefield 24 hours a day costs three times more money that what the team would spend in the barracks training and keeping fit,” said Mr Werunga.

“It is at this time difficult to tell the economic impact of the war, now that details of how much time security forces will remain in the field is hazy. But what is for sure is that by the end of the first week, we will have spent millions of shillings,” he said.

It is estimated that it will cost taxpayers between Sh7,000 and Sh10,000 every day to keep each soldier in the battlefield.

This translates to upto Sh300,000 a month or Sh3.6 million a year. The amount includes the cost of moving the troops, temporary tents, personal amenities, food and water, as well as communication and medical care.

Given that the operation is still underway, it is difficult to get official figures of the exact money involved in the action.

The rough terrain and heavy rainfall in the battlefield is also likely to increase the time the country spends on the war and, in turn, inflate the costs.

“Tear and wear is another cost, how fast the troops are moving, the distance to be covered, and the equipment used. All these determine and add to the cost of the war. The more time they take the more the country will spend,” said Mr Werunga.

The weapons and machinery in the operation will constitute the largest cost of the war.

“All conventional weapons may be used in such an operation, from small arms to aircraft missiles. Ammunition, the rifles, bombs, armoured cars, and tanks and rockets will also constitute the budget,” Mr Werunga said.

Already, just a week into the operation, the country is counting the losses after a military helicopter crashed near the Somalia border and killed all the five crew on board.

Two more soldiers are reported to have been killed in accidents related to the war, making seven the cost of Kenyan lives lost by the close of the week.

The more lives the war claims, the more taxpayers will pay for compensating families of the victims. Medical care for the casualties will be the other cost.

Fuel that drives the helicopters, the trucks and tanks is also a significant cost of the war.

“The armoured vehicles and tanks can consume up to 10,000 litres of fuel a day, running into thousands of shillings at the current fuel prices,” Mr Andrew Franklin, a retired US marine who works in Nairobi as a financial consultant, told our sister paper, the Business Daily in an interview.

Fresh screening of camps hosting refugees from Somalia to rid them off sympathisers and members of the militant group has also presented the country with another expense.

Charity workers and volunteers also say the war has increased their cost of providing aid to deserving refugees.

“We are extremely concerned that the current fighting is likely to have a serious impact on communities left struggling to survive by the famine. The top priority at the moment must be making sure that people get aid quickly. But increased conflict will make it even more difficult to provide them with food, water and other life-saving assistance,” said Fran Equiza, Oxfam’s regional director.

Though the action against the terrorist group is meant to secure the country’s tourism in the long term, players in the industry say it could slow down the sector in the near time, especially now that the peak season is drawing close.

Warning to Americans

This was manifested after the US embassy in Kenya, at the weekend, warned American citizens that they are in danger in the country, a day after the US was reported to have joined the war, killing 44 people believed to be members of the Islamist terror group.

This at a time when tourism is already grappling with low confidence.

All this will cost the country the much needed foreign exchange to increase supply of dollars in the country to help meet growing demand that has pushed the Kenyan shilling to its weakest point in history in previous weeks.

Confidence in the sector that earned the country Sh73 billion last year in forex has plummeted since August when suspected Al-Shabaab killed a tourist and abducted his wife, before capping it up with the abduction of another French tourist in September.

The miraa (khat) business is also facing its worst scare of losing its greatest market (Somalia).

As the war goes on, Kenyans will have to wait until early next year to know the exact cost when Treasury tables the supplementary budget estimates in Parliament.

What is clear, though, is the estimates will be in billions of shillings. Until then, Kenyans should brace themselves for delays in service delivery, building infrastructure and other social amenities.

The pace of devolution could also suffer, given that infrastructural projects meant to support the new counties may be cash strapped.

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