African Union: The Need for a Common Defence System. (Viewpoint)

Article excerpt

Africa can only ignore organising a workable defence system at its peril. The lack of such a system has made Africa open and vulnerable to the hazards of unending armed conflicts.

We know about the fashionable argument that says poor African countries don't need armed forces. "We need hospitals, roads, food, education, not armies; afterall armies only stage coup d'etats and make our conditions worse."

This would have been the greatest of all arguments if it did not mimic textbook conditions. In the real world, you need a security system to ensure and assure the safety of your hospitals, roads, food and education. "What use is a full stomach today," a friend of mine reminds me, "if the owner of that stomach can be, or is, captured tomorrow by a rebel army or a foreign predator?"

The continent has been exposed to a protracted regime of insecurity since time immemorial. Even before the onset of the colonial era, Africans lost Ancient Egypt because they neglected their own defence and security requirements. Intruders owing mainly to the lack of organised credible defence systems overran all subsequent African empires. The situation degraded to a point where in the early 1500s the continent fell to the ignoble history of slavery.

We like to think that a nation is the aggregate of the individuals in it. If the individual, after eating to his fill, goes to bed at night and locks his door (for security), then the nation has even more reason to have a solid system of doors (or security) to protect the individual from rebel and outside predators. There are economic, political and other benefits that flow from a solid national (in the case of this article, continental) security system.

Throughout history, Africa's failure to defend itself from others has not only led to loss of territory, resources and young men and women to slavery, but it has also created the oppressive assumptions, prejudices, beliefs, attitudes and paradigms about Africans as a people, and what they can and cannot do.

Those who held superior arms subdued our ancestors who had only spears and shields to back their courage and determination to remain free.

The Africans resisted and even won significant battles from Southern Africa (Zulus, 1879), to Ghana (the Asantes) and Ethiopia (Emperor Menilik).

Invariably, all the African empires and chiefs lost the war despite winning some battles, and came mostly under the direct occupation of a colonial power or under its equally pernicious indirect pressure (e.g. Ethiopia).

Modern times

In Africa's current armed conflicts, all the patterns set by colonial slavery appear to be re-enacted and replayed. Today, few African countries manufacture the weapons that Africans use to kill other Africans. The arms are purchased from the outside.

Behind almost every African armed conflict is an external actor who self-justifies its interference either to make profit or by allusions to humanitarian and moral reasons. The external world continues to patronise Africa, describe and analyse the continent's armed conflicts and armies with nothing short of a violent contempt.

That ugly model of constructing the African as the stupid other has not changed. What is remarkable is that this same chapter has not been completely closed along the important achievements of the continent's numerous states raising flags of independence.

Africans are yet to unfurl the one flag to symbolise their iron-clad solidarity and to express the overriding purpose of unity, where an attack upon one of them is taken truly -- not simply rhetorically -- as an attack on all.

That destiny of collective security is what Africans must organise, shape and create together as the African Union evolves.

This is what Kwame Nkrumah foresaw 40 years ago and called it, in his famous speech in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) on the eve of the founding of the OAU, "a common defence system , a common African army with an African high command". …