Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Armed Forces and the Challenges of Security Sector Transformation

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Armed Forces and the Challenges of Security Sector Transformation

Article excerpt


The wave of democratisation that has occurred in many African countries has also had direct and profound implications for the manner in which the security sector in general, and the armed forces in particular, are transformed. Transformation, if correctly pursued, is an ambitious undertaking which impacts upon virtually all aspects of an institution's well-being. To ensure that African armed forces are transformed in such a manner that their professional capabilities are strengthened and their subordination to civil authority is guaranteed, it is necessary to address a wide range of conceptual and strategic issues.

Of critical importance when undertaking a transformation agenda is to ensure that the scope of security sector transformation is manageable and does not set unrealistic objectives. It is equally critical to prioritise those key strategic interventions that need to be considered if such a transformation process is to be successful. Two such interventions are considered within the scope of this article. The first relates to the creation of civil-military relations architecture within African countries that are less Eurocentric than has traditionally been the case and more effective in ensuring a dialogue and partnership between the civil authorities and the command cadre of the armed forces. The second is to re-examine the roles and tasks for which African armed forces should be used to ensure that their activities are more fully supportive of the developmental and governance objectives of emerging African democracies.


A major shift within the thinking of bilateral donor organisations, international financial institutions and development agencies is beginning to occur around the issue of what is commonly referred to as "Security Sector Reform" (SSR). This is a significant development which carries with it both opportunities and nascent risks for the donor community. Traditionally donor bodies have tended to treat security sector issues in one of two ways. Firstly, they have tended to see security sector restructuring and assistance as being the preserve of either their foreign ministries or, more appropriately, their respective defence establishments.

Secondly, they have, when considering issues of a security nature, tended to adopt a zero-sum approach to military expenditure. This rather simplistic line of logic (best exemplified in the Structural Adjustment Programme interventions of the World Bank over the past two decades) maintains that a reduction in military expenditure (milex) is both a "good thing" in itself and, once effected, releases valuable resources required for the ongoing development of the country concerned.

The reality is, of course, infinitely more nuanced than implied by such mechanistic equations. There is no necessary correlation between reductions in force levels, their budgets and their respective armouries and the ongoing development of a country. Admittedly such reductions have, on many occasions, been accompanied by an increase in political stability and a redirection of military expenditure towards tangible developmental goals (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia during their postelection scenarios for instance). Yet there are compelling examples of countries where an ill-considered security sector restructuring programme has actually bedevilled political stability and, in some cases, worsened civil-military relations.

The relation between security sector downsizing on the one hand and the attainment of political stability and development on the other, is at best a contingent relationship conditioned by a host of political, economic, social and institutional factors which are utterly unique to the country concerned. It is only on the basis of a scientific and empathetic reading of these highly diverse contexts that appropriate interventions in the security sector can be made.

This article deals with some of the key issues that need to be explored if security sector programmes (as presently being articulated within the donor community) or various attempts by African governments to democratise their security sectors in general and their armed forces in particular, are to be successful. …

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