Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Towards a Taxonomy of Militaries in Contemporary Africa

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Towards a Taxonomy of Militaries in Contemporary Africa

Article excerpt

"What a society gets in its armed forces is exactly what it asks for, no more no less. What it asks for tends to be a reflection of what it is. When a country looks at its fighting forces, it is looking in a mirror; the mirror is a true one and the face that it sees will he its own. "

General Sir John Hackett2

The African development and governance picture is today highly differentiated with some countries developing successful democracies while riding a wave of growth, others facing outright institutional failure, and a great number in-between. Critical to understanding the different paths that countries have taken, and the likely even greater divergences in the future, is the relationship between civilians and soldiers. Starting soon after independence in the early 1960s, the seizure of power by soldiers was emblematic of the problems African states faced in promoting good governance. Now, at a time when most soldiers are back in their barracks, economic growth has accelerated and democratization has progressed. However, the picture varies greatly from country-to-country. In this paper, we develop a taxonomy of African militaries to understand why some countries have better civil-military relations than others, what is the likely path in the future, and the potential role, if any, for outsiders. African militaries are characterised, just as African states themselves, by different capacities and civil-military records.

While sub-Saharan Africa has enjoyed the best post-independence growth decade on record during the 2000s, at over 6%, it remains an exceedingly poor continent, with an annual per capita income level of just over US$1,200 (in current terms). The patterns of growth have however been highly differentiated between states: some have got richer, while others have faltered or failed. This is, however, overall a positive phenomenon, showing that African countries no longer fall into a single category (if they ever did), but, as in other developing regions, there are all kinds: performers and failures; big and small (which usually perform much better in Africa); landlocked and littoral; autocratic and democratic (by now the overwhelming majority). In particular, Africa's larger and resource rich countries (the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, for example) have generally had a poor development record since independence, which in part is due to the extent of territory and the complex make-up of their societies, consisting of many groups within a single state, which has made effective governance that much harder.

The state of democracy is also healthier in Africa today than 20 years ago, with more than 40 countries regularly conducting multiparty elections although, again, across the region there are significant variations in the integrity of these elections. Extreme predatory warlordism, once evident in Sierra Leone and Liberia, is also apparently on the decline. However, there are, as will be argued, less obvious but no less insidious ways in which military actors engage in the political economy of African societies. Indeed, such a role is not only made possible by the liberation credentials of some militaries and by their relative monopoly on violence, but by the contemporary African trend towards state involvement in economies as evident for example in the resource nationalism debate.

Continued differentiation is therefore perhaps the most important "master narrative" in Africa. Accordingly, this paper considers the abovementioned taxonomy of African militaries, highlighting in turn where and how external parties might play a useful role. But, first, how has the role of African militaries changed and how does this relate to the overall governance record?

African Militaries and Security

One consequence of the degeneration of politics during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s was the high incidence of violence in Africa. The end of the Cold War enabled some conflicts (e.g. in Angola, Namibia and Mozambique) to eventually wind down, but there was also an intense period of strife after 1990, as the geopolitical cards were reshuffled. …

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