10:16 pm
23 October 2016

Nigeria, beaten by ‘small’ countries: ranking Africa’s most powerful militaries

Over the weekend, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, a move seen as a cry for help as regional armies move hard to defeat the militants.

Niger and Chad have been keeping up the pressure on Boko Haram, and on Sunday launched a major ground and air offensive against the terror group in northeastern Nigeria.

But it seems Nigeria isn’t happy at being bailed out by “smaller” armies.

An article on global defence journal IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly indicates that Nigerian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade has said the role that Chadian armies are playing in the Boko Haram operations is being “exaggerated” by the media.

He is quoted to have said that “some theorists who are still bent on orchestrating a well-rehearsed smear campaign against the Nigerian military [are] struggling to attribute the recent defeats inflicted on the terrorists to the invincibility of other forces or military outfits other than Nigeria’s”.

This is primarily a reference to the Chadian forces that entered Gambaru, a Nigerian town on the border with Cameroon, on 3 February. Chadian President Idriss Déby said on 4 March that the force then advanced another 50 km into Nigeria to take the town of Dikwa.

“We are going to win the war and we are going to wipe out Boko Haram,” Déby said during a press conference. “The Chadian and Niger forces will continue their mission to finally put an end to this shadowy group.”

It’s understandable that a country of Nigeria’s size and stature would be “embarrassed” at being helped out by underlings. Nigeria’s GDP is 32 times that of Chad, and 63 times that of Niger.

But the battle isn’t always for the strong. Nigeria’s bumbling military response to the Boko Haram insurgency is well documented, reports indicate Nigerian soldiers dropping their weapons and fleeing with villagers in the face of Boko Haram attacks, sometimes with no boots or uniforms on.

A new ranking of Africa’s military capabilities puts Egypt’s forces as the most formidable in among 30 African countries ranked. The Global Fire Power Index makes use of over 50 factors to determine each nation’s Power Index score; it allows small, technologically advanced countries to compete with larger, less-developed ones.

Nuclear capability is not taken into account; instead, it focuses on conventional war-making capabilities across land, sea and air, as well as active troops, population fit for military service, defence budget, oil supply and geography. Landlocked countries are not penalised for having a navy, but countries with a coastline are penalised for not investing in naval power.

Egypt’s sheer strength of nearly half a million active frontline personnel and 800,000 trained reserve troops gives it an edge in simply out-manning the rest of Africa. It also has nearly 14,000 armoured fighting vehicles, 4,624 tanks, 1,107 aircraft and 245 naval vessels, the largest fleets in Africa, according to the GFP data.

The military has been somewhat undermined in the wake of the Egyptian Revolution, but its increased role in government under President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has made it stronger than ever; a few weeks ago, Egypt launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants in neighbouring Libya.

African countries by military strength | Create infographics

Algeria is in second place with 127,000 active frontline troops and 400,000 trained reserves; it has 975 tanks, 448 aircraft and 60 naval vessels. Its huge oil reserves of 12.2 billion barrels are to its advantage because theoretically, it can fuel its fleet independently of the global market.

South Africa’s modern and technologically advanced equipment make its forces the third most formidable in Africa, according to the ranking, with 88,565 active troops and 17,000 reserves, as well as 195 tanks, 98 aircraft and 30 naval vessels.

Much-maligned Nigeria is actually in fourth place. Its huge population – 177 million – is to its advantage as war is as much a battle of logistics as it is direct combat; its labour force reflects possible wartime industry strength. Like Algeria, an abundant domestic oil supply eases the financial burden of involvement in military conflict.

The country has 130,000 active troops and 32,000 reserve personnel; 148 tanks, 98 aircraft and 75 naval vessels, according to the GFP data.

In fifth place is Ethiopia. Like Nigeria, it has a large potential wartime industry thanks to its large population of 95 million; it also has the second biggest tank fleet in Africa, at 2,300 tanks, as well as 800 armoured fighting vehicles. Ethiopia has 81 aircraft, but has no naval capability as it is a landlocked country.

When Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993, the Ethiopian navy was in an unusual position of having no home bases; the vessels were operating from Djibouti and Yemen across the Red Sea. But Yemen and Djibouti halted hosting the vessels when Ethiopia fell behind on port fees, the ships were seized and auctioned – Eritrea bought four ships and the rest were sold for scrap.

Niger and Chad – the forces currently shining in the Boko Haram offensive – are in tenth and twelfth place respectively in the GFP rankings. No wonder Nigeria is embarrassed.