Reports in Kenya’s media indicate that the country’s airforce will spend US$23 million acquiring obsolete fighter jets to revamp its fleet.
According to the Standard newspaper, Kenya will replace its own aging F-5 fighter jets with 15 F-5s being disposed by the Jordanian Airforce. The government will pay Kshs1.5 billion ($23 million at current rates) for acquisition and transportation of the craft from Jordan. The money will also cater for spare parts and the training of Kenyan crews.
The $23 million price tag for used, obsolete fighter craft may raise more than a little eyebrows. Kenya’s economy was badly affected by violence early this year following disputed elections in December 2007. Though the government has pledged to rebuild vandalized properties and to compensate those affected by the clashes, funds are difficult to come by. Government estimates put the reconstruction budget at Shs31 billion ($500 million).
Corruption allegations in government circles may hinder the flow of funds from traditional donor nations. At the same time, uncertainty caused by political wrangling is expected to slow down investment, further undermining economic performance. Rising food and oil prices are hitting the population especially hard, further worsening the effects of poverty and 60% unemployment.
The F-5 fighter jet was developed by Northrop Corporation in the 1950s as a light combat aircraft. During the Cold War, the F-5 proved popular with allies of the United States especially in the developing world. Kenya acquired its F-5 fleet in the 1970s and 80s and probably wants to replace its aging aircraft by acquiring the same model elsewhere.
However, the last F-5 was built in 1989, indicating that the Jordanian jets are at least 20 years old. Airforce top brass are yet to explain why they could not buy new fighter jets that are readily available in the international arms market.
This would not be the first time that a purchase of military hardware in Kenya is causing scandal. An ally of President Mwai Kibaki was forced to resign several years ago, after it emerged that a ship the Navy had ordered was a converted civilian vessel. Kenya’s Police force has also come under heavy criticism for buying oversized, second hand helicopters from Russia, and whose maintenance is becoming very expensive.
Within East Africa, Uganda, has experienced a “junk helicopters” scandal. The government of President Yoweri Museveni bought obsolete helicopters from Russia at above-average prices. One of the helicopters crashed in 2006, killing among other people the new President of Southern Sudan, Dr John Garang.