How Kenya and Uganda compare on military firepower: KDF vs UPDF

Kenya Defence Forces soldiers (left)  under Africa Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) patrol Kisimayu town on November 22, 2015 and Uganda People's Defense Force (UPDF) return  after withdrawing from the DRC embattled Ituri region in this file photo taken on May 19, 2003.

What you need to know:

  • Kenya’s air power ranks better than Uganda’s, though Kampala recently acquired at least three Mil Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopters from Russia.

Uganda People’s Defence Forces Commander General Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s Monday Twitter meltdown warning that he and his army would only take two weeks to capture Nairobi may have been a terrible “joke”, but it reignited the debate on which of the two countries has the best military to guard against external aggression.

Global Firepower, which assesses countries’ military strengths, ranks Kenya 81st out of 142 in its latest annual review, 11 slots above Uganda’s 92 at the beginning of this year.

The agency says Uganda has 47,000 active military personnel with an additional 10,000 reservists, while Kenya has 24,000 with no reserves. Kenya’s paramilitary forces, however, rank better at 5,000 compared with Uganda’s 1,500.

Air power

Kenya’s air power ranks better than Uganda’s, though Kampala recently acquired at least three Mil Mi-28 Havoc attack helicopters from Russia.

Kenya has fighters/interceptors (17), helicopters (87) and attack helicopters (2) for a total air fleet of 151, while Uganda has fighters/interceptors (10), helicopters (25) and attack helicopters (5) for a total air fleet of 49.

Uganda is yet to release the findings of investigations into three fatal crashes of its air force helicopters on Mt Kenya on August 12, 2012 that killed seven of its Air Force personnel and injured 23 crew members. They were allegedly en route to Mogadishu for the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom).

The Global Firepower website states that Kenya has 959 armoured vehicles, while Uganda has 1,056. This, however, does not include the 118 new armoured military vehicles that Kenya is acquiring from Turkey in a deal worth KSh9.87 billion.

The vehicles are expected in Kenya starting this year, with the last batch expected to arrive next year for deployment in counter-terrorism operations.

Regarding finances, Kenya’s purchasing power is rated higher than Uganda’s.

For a long time, Uganda has claimed ownership of parts of Kenya’s 580,367 kilometre square land mass, a dispute that dates back to the era of the later President Idi Amin Dada, who, in his attempt to redraw the boundaries between the two countries in 1976 claimed Turkana, West Pokot, Trans Nzoia all the way to Naivasha.

Amin claimed that those areas had been transferred to Kenya by British colonialists as they demarcated territorial boundaries in East Africa. Uganda sits on a land mass of 241,038 square kilometres.

He also claimed the whole of South Sudan, saying it was annexed from them around 1914 through an order of the secretary of state under the 1902 Uganda Order in Council.

It was not until President Jomo Kenyatta threatened to block Uganda’s imports through the port of Mombasa that Amin backed down, assuring his neighbors that he had no intention of claiming an inch of their territories. He added that he was just enriching Ugandans on their history.

The Mombasa port remains Uganda’s leading gateway to the world as volumes of its exports and imports increasingly pass through it.

In June 2004, Kenya reported that Ugandan marine police had pitched a tent on Migingo island and raised that country’s flag, reigniting a dispute that saw Kenya police officers deployed to the island.

The dispute deepened when Kenyan fishermen were asked to pay for special permits from the Ugandan government, but Kenya signed an MOU with Ugandan authorities to enable fishermen and other Lake Victoria users to access either side of the boundary. The agreement allowed both countries to share the waters.

Territorial integrity

“Kenyans must know the territorial integrity of the country will never be negotiated away,” Monica Juma, the Cabinet secretary for Foreign Affairs at the time, said in 2019.

In his series of tweets, General Muhoozi wrote that these colonial borders must fall.

“To all compatriots, fellow country men and women. Uganda and Kenya. I say we must all conquer our fears. These colonial borders must fall!”

Despite these differences, the two countries have maintained a cordial relationship over time and shared security responsibilities on the border and in external missions.

For instance, they co-guard the border in Busia, are cooperating in peacekeeping missions under the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They will also soon be jointly deployed to the East African Standby Force (EASF) in the DRC.