When it comes to determining the strongest military in Africa, the keywords to consider are “not enough information.”
The Global Fire Power ranking, or GFP, measures countries’ military strength and assigns a power index number in order to compare them to other countries. Many factors are taken into consideration, and smaller countries can compete with larger ones due to points given for refinement and technological advancement.
Based on available information, the following countries represent the most powerful militaries in Africa as of Aug. 4 2014, according to GlobalFirepower.com.
Numbers reflect each country’s power index, derived from a unique algorithm developed by GFP. A perfect score is a 0.0000. The lower the number, the stronger the military, and bonuses and penalties are added to country scores as needed.
16. Zimbabwe – Power Index: 3.0955
The Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) include the Zimbabwe National Army and the Air Force of Zimbabwe. Being a landlocked country, they lack a naval force. The country also holds a strong paramilitary force with its own air wing. ZDF includes 30,000 active personnel, 20,000 reserves, 325 armored fighting vehicles, and 92 aircraft.
15. Ghana – Power Index: 2.9726
The Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) are supervised by the Ghanaian Ministry of Defense, and are under the command of President John Dramani Mahama. The GAF’s external operations since the 1960s have seen involvement in turbulent international situations including the Rwandan genocide, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Lebanese Civil War. Active front line personnel number 13,500, armored fighting vehicles for the land forces number 125, and the GAF has 24 aircraft, and 23 naval vessels.
14. South Sudan – Power Index: 2.7689
Founded as a guerrilla movement in 1983, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) played a large and violent role in the disastrous Second Sudanese Civil War. Its commander-in-chief is Salva Kiir Mayardit, and it has a land force with 110 tanks, 250 armored fighting vehicles, 210,000 active front line personnel, and a tiny air force with nine aircraft.
13. Uganda – Power Index: 2.6895
The Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) was formerly the National Resistance Army, renamed after the 1995 enactment of the constitution. It has almost managed to push the violent Lord’s Resistance Army — a children’s army — out of Uganda. UPDF relies heavily on Russian, Polish, and Chinese military materials. Its land systems consist of 350 armored fighting vehicles and 25 towed artillery pieces; 43 aircraft and eight naval vessels.
12. Democratic Republic of Congo – Power Index: 2.6642
The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) started coming into its own after peace was restored following the horrendous Second Congo War, which ended in 2003. The military’s greatest asset is its land forces, although it also holds small air and naval units. Because of massive ongoing instability in the region, the U.N. has deployed armed forces to assist the FARDC. Some features of the DRC’s military include 90 tanks, 200 armored fighting vehicles, 42 aircraft types, and 20 naval vessels.
11. Sudan – Power Index: 2.3465
The Sudanese Armed Forces serve and protect the Republic of Sudan. Their units are comprised of the land forces, air force, navy, and the Popular Defense Force–the military wing of National Islamic Front. Their enemies are the rebel group the Sudan People’s Liberation Army of the Republic of South Sudan — a result of two violent civil wars that split the nation. They receive most of their military equipment from Russia and China, including 360 tanks, 400 armed fighting vehicles, 168 aircraft, and 18 naval crafts.
10. Libya – Power Index: 2.3353
The strength of Libya’s military comes mainly from its large cache of equipment, despite a relatively small number of active troops. Further hampering Libya’s abilities is the continuing violence and unrest stemming from the revolution which began in 2011. A stable government has yet to emerge from it. Regardless, the country still has available 2,500 armored fighting vehicles, 500 tanks, 600 towed artillery pieces, 6,500 logistical vehicles, and much more.
9. Angola – Power Index: 2.2599
The Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), headed by Chief of Staff Geraldo Nunda, succeeded the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola in 1991. It has three components: the army, the navy, and the air force. Its involvement in training the armies of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau was controversial, especially as the leaders of the 2012 Guinea-Bissau coup d’etat cited Angola’s military mission as a primary reason for an uprising. The FAA owns 920 armored fighting vehicles, 140 tanks, 270 pieces of aircraft, and has a navy of 56 craft.
8. Tunisia – Power Index: 1.8635
The Tunisian Armed Forces is composed of three mechanized brigades, one Saharan territorial group, one special forces group, and one military police regiment. They have contributed to peacekeeping missions, including during the Rwandan genocide, and were forced into border clashes with Libyan rebels in 2011 during their civil war. They hold 900 armored fighting vehicles, 350 tanks, a manpower of over five million, 139 pieces of aircraft and a total naval strength of 50.
7. Morocco – Power Index: 1.8499
Highly dependent on foreign equipment, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces have been involved in the conflict with the POLISARO, a liberation movement fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. They are involved in numerous peacekeeping missions, including in Somalia. The military has at its disposal 2,120 armored fighting vehicles, 1,348 tanks, 323 total aircraft pieces, and a total naval strength of 121.
6. Kenya – Power Index: 1.7689
Kenya has established itself as a vital participant in international peacekeeping missions, and is able to do so due to its merchant marine strength and an enormous labor force – resulting in high available manpower. Though it doesn’t possess as much of its own equipment, its role as a member of international teams allows the Kenyan military to share resources with other countries, strengthening its own capabilities at the same time.
5. Nigeria – Power Index: 1.5261
Due to its size, it’s no surprise that several hundred thousand troops comprise the Nigerian Armed Forces — army, navy, and air force. Like Algeria, an abundant domestic oil supply eases the financial burden of involvement in military conflict. Nigeria has more than 1,400 armored vehicles, 360 tanks, and 6,000 logistical vehicles at its disposal, as well as nearly 300 aircraft and 25 high-powered naval vessels.
4. South Africa – Power Index: 1.3467
As it hasn’t been embroiled in an international military conflict for some time, South Africa uses its highly advanced military for peacekeeping and international cooperation. Its aircraft and naval vessels are notoriously well equipped with the latest technology, and though the country has less than 100,000 active front line personnel, it has the capabilities and manpower for much more. Add to that a vast array of land system technology, and the South African military is a force to be reckoned with.
3. Ethiopia – Power Index: 1.3229
As a landlocked country, Ethiopia has focused its resources on developing its army and air force to an impressive degree (the GFP doesn’t penalize landlocked countries for not having a naval force). Several hundred thousand personnel make up its current force, and it has significant numbers of land and air systems at its disposal. An enormous population allows Ethiopia to maintain a large fighting force, and gives the country one of the greatest militaries on the continent.
2. Algeria – Power Index: 1.1698
As Algeria has a large maritime border, it has developed all its military capabilities to an impressively modern degree, including its land, sea, and air forces. Algeria’s active frontline personnel number more than 127,000 troops and it has nearly 2,000 armored fighting vehicles at its disposal. Algeria also has the added benefit of its own oil reserves, allowing it to use its own fuel to power tanks, aircraft carriers, naval vessels, and more.
1. Egypt – Power Index: 0.6122
Egypt puts itself over the top with regard to military strength due to the sheer size of its armed forces. Nearly 500,000 personnel serve on its active frontline force, far surpassing all its African counterparts. It has nearly 10,000 armored fighting vehicles, 60,000 logistical vehicles, 900 aircraft, and large oil reserves from which to draw. The military has been somewhat undermined in the wake of the Egyptian Revolution, but some argue that its increased role in government has made it stronger than ever. Whether or not this is a cause for celebration or concern will remain debated for some time to come.