Conflict Trends | 1999/2

Protecting Sub-Saharan Africa: The Military Challenge

Reviewed By  9 Nov 2009

This book examines how policies adopted by states after independence influenced the enhancement of security through investment in and development of the armed forces. Coincidentally most states in this region attained independence by armed struggle. The desire and temptation to enhance security through the rapid and massive development of military strength was so high on the agendas of most of these states, that it over-shadowed the need to rationalise distribution of available resources.

The authors note that in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, armed units existed for protection, (police forces) rather than as professional armies prior to independence.

On attainment of independence, most Sub-Saharan governments poured available resources into defence projects at the expense of other needy areas. Whilst their intended objective was the establishment of national peace, the reverse was the outcome. Few state resources were channelled into social and developmental projects resulting in poverty, disease and destitution for the majority of citizens.

The authors argument that prior to colonialism, there were no armies in Africa, cannot go unchallenged. Historians have recorded numerous wars fought by men and women using spears, bows and arrows, fighting on horse back and on foot. These wars have been acclaimed as having been fought by organised armies that fought great battles. Many of the men and women who took part therein, were regarded as brave and honourable. Wars fought by African kingdoms were waged in similar fashion. The men who partook in these conflicts were equally led and organised. The fact that these wars were fought by Africans cannot be used as the basis for concluding and misprinting facts about the non-existence of armies in the Sub-Saharan region prior to colonialism. Historians owe it to the world to present facts accurately. In the same manner that the world acknowledges what the Roman and Ottoman empire armies stood for, it should recognise the professionalism with which the kingdoms of Monomotapa, Tshaka, Lobengula and Mzilikazi organised their armies in or out of the battle field.

In Chapter 2, the book outlines the relationship between historical military development and economic development. Numerous variables are sighted as conditional to the attainment, by any Sub-Saharan State, of modern military professionalism. South African’s armed forces stand out as having managed a standard comparable to a number of armies in countries of the North. The professionalism of other regional armies is however, constrained by financial and technological constraints. Ironically many regional military personnel have gained modern military professionalism through direct participation in the conflicts that continue to exacerbate regional and international peace efforts.

In Chapter 5, the authors note the predicament most Sub-Saharan states face in trying to achieve the military standards such as those of countries of the North and South Africa. Selected countries such as Angola, Nigeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe, have managed a measure of modernisation in air power. Dependence on the foreign military industry undermines sustained improvement. Most Sub-Saharan countries possess old aircraft in their inventories. These weapons are often not maintained due to financial constraints.

The authors undertook substantial research. Information pertaining to equipment related analysis and equipment usability in most Sub-Saharan African countries is accurate and informative. The authors analysis and argument does not lose sight of the delicate balance required between national economic competence, maintenance of prestige and resource allocation between military, social, economic and cultural sectors. The ability to formulate policies that addresses this important balance has been starkly absent in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the resultant economic ruin, social unrest and increase in conflicts that continue to perpetuate poor governance, human migration, poverty, hunger, disease, industrial decline and increased weapons trafficking.

In Chapter 8, the authors accurately narrate the history of the emergence of the idea of collective security and the arguments which defeated the idea of an African High Command (AHC). Of serious concern were the difficulties associated with the management, financing and maintenance of such an organ within the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). This is compounded by the varied differences in culture, languages, and training doctrines amongst those seconded forces. The authors noted how the external threat posed by South Africa and Rhodesia during the 1960s and 1970s influenced the focus and definition of external threat within the OAU. Since that threat has fallen away, leaders need to develop an understanding of contemporary threats to peace in Africa. The authors argue that threats to peace today emanate from crime, corruption, hunger, civil wars, dictatorships internal and external refugees, coup d’etats, lack of democracy and bad governance.

The book argues in favour of regional security arrangements in place of a continental effort co-ordinated through relevant OAU and UN mechanisms. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are notable developments towards the realisation of regional peace. Recent developments in the security of the SADC region however, have surfaced to challenge the authors’ theory, argument and conviction. Despite the existence of various agreements to guarantee collective security in the region, some leaders have entered into arrangements that undermine original efforts.

The book was well researched and paints an accurate picture of contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa. The authors painstakingly elaborate on the state of civil – military relations, identify most of the causes of under development and conflict as they relate to the economy and military build up within the region. Threats to peace in the Sub-Saharan African region revolve primarily around tribal, religious and ethnic issues. The book further argues that power rivalry and political exclusiveness encourages secessionist attempts and coup d’etats. The authors argue that some of these problems can be traced back to the colonial period. The myopic and impractical political policies implemented by the post colonial ruling elite have inadvertently fuelled and worsened other inherent societal differences.

The book places further emphasise on the need for enhancing state co-operation. The issue of state sovereignty is no longer a valid argument for leaders to argue for non-intervention in internal matters of a state by another state. Contemporary problems have an international dimension. This compels states to co-operate and co-ordinate responses. The book suggests that to obviate this dilemma, co-ordination, co-operation, consultation, tolerance, good governance and freedom of the press, democracy and observance of human rights are guidelines engendering regional stability and peace.

The book concludes by forecasting that economic and technological constraints would not present an improved military picture for most Sub-Saharan African states in the 21st century. However, the adoption of the concept of regional security arrangements through joint training for peacekeeping, the fight against drug trafficking and smuggling of weapons would remove misplaced individual threat perceptions and enhance mutual understanding among neighbours. The authors suggest that a gradual realisation of common goals and agendas amongst Sub-Saharan countries would influence the needed reduction in military build-ups. Hopefully leaders would be able to address development and give the African Renaissance a chance.

  • SADC
  • Poverty
  • Colonialism
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