”African Executive”
30 January 2008

Germany's Unseen Hand in Kenya Crisis

by Roman Deckert

Hundreds of people have been killed during the recent post-election unrest in Kenya, many of them from bullet wounds. The UN-news-agency IRIN reported that in Kisumu alone, 44 people were shot dead, some of them apparently in the back on escaping. Many pictures from the fighting scenes carry the G3 assault-rifle of Heckler & Koch (H&K), the standard weapon of the Kenyan army and police for more than thirty years. According to the well-informed Jane’s Intelligence, those ‘security forces’ also use considerable quantities of the MP5 submachine gun and the HK21 machine gun, both based on the G3-design. 

Military cooperation between Kenya and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) started in 1965, one year after Kenya achieved her independence from the United Kingdom. Initially, the FRG financed English arms transfers for DM 10 Mio through the off-set agreement that compensated the British army units based in West Germany for its expenses in Deutschmark. This discreet way was used for military aid to Kenya’s neighbour Sudan as well.

In 1967, H&K exported the first 500 G3s to the Kenyan police. No subsequent direct arms sales from the FRG to Kenya were recorded. The official aid programme only featured ‘soft’ equipment like Mercedes-trucks. However, according to the small arms expert, Edward Ezell, Kenya allegedly purchased 200 000 G3s from English licence production instead. The cooperation agreement of 1970 between H&K and the Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF) in Enfield ( a copy exists at the British National Archive) provides evidence that H&K entered the partnership in order to get access to markets that were barred under German law. The Federal Ministry of Defence in Bonn, which had financed the development costs of the G3 and held the intellectual property on its design, sold the necessary licence to ROF.

In the same fashion, H&K had already set up a cooperation with the French Manufacture Nationale dīArmes de St. Etienne. Documents from the archives of the West German Foreign Office give proof that H&K used this roundabout way to sell arms to Uganda. When the Federal government in Bonn denied the licence for sale of G3s to Idi Amin in 1971, the French state company jumped in. Some of the original G3s can be seen in the Academy-Award winning movie "The Last King of Scotland." The documentary film General Idi Amin Dada by Barbet Schroeder (available on DVD) shows the dictator firing a G3 himself. At the same time, the Federal government gave H&K green light for exports to Tanzania, wherefore Aminīs enemies could rely on G3 for their fight too. The Kenyan governments under Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, on the other side, felt threatened by the arms race and increased their own purchases of the same weapons.

In Kenya, the G3 has fuelled socio-political tensions. Since the beginning of the Nineties reports about the devastating effects of the German assault rifle have increased especially in the North of the country where rivalling ethnic groups trust in the power of the G3. The National Council of Churches of Kenya reports that young herdsmen openly display their G3s. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Kenyan authorities have been arming village community militias with G3, while corrupt officials sell G3 to criminals. In addition, there has been a constant inflow of G3s from rebels in Somalia and Sudan where the G3 is No. 2 as well. The violence does not spare clerics who try to mediate in the conflicts. In 2005 for example, the Catholic bishop Luigi Locati was apparently shot with a G3 in Isiolo, a region awash with small arms. Even wildlife is suffering from the proliferation of these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ since poachers use the G3 (as do game park rangers).

HRW has found that a G3 costs about US$ 200 on the Kenyan black market. Although the G3’s  price is considerably higher than that of a Kalashnikov, its ammunition is said to be much cheaper and easily available. In the first half of the Nineties, the Belgian company Fabrique National de Herstal (FN) set up an ammunition plant in the city of Eldoret – which has now suffered the highest number of casualties. According to Jane’s Intelligence, the factory has got a capacity for an annual production of 20 Million rounds which by far exceeds the normal demand of the Kenyan armed forces. It produces ammunition for G3, MP5 and other types, but not for Kalashnikovs.

 Former German Federal governments have replied to parliamentary inquests that no more documents about the licence production of G3 exist. The agreement of cooperation between H&K and ROF at the British National Archive however provides evidence that the Federal Ministry of Defence charged DM 5 per rifle manufactured under those provisions. Any German government that claims to keep up to its moral standards should use this blood-money with its compound interest to finance large-scale disarmament programmes.


is a researcher in the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS). He writes his PhD-thesis on the history of German-Sudanese Relations.