Rebuilt and Reborn: Challenges of Cooperating with African Armies

Written by | Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Nowadays, numerous actors are involved in military cooperation programs aimed at strengthening African armies and building special partnerships. These programs provide trainings and the deployment of military counselors, as well as material and financial support to different sub- Saharan African armies. Military cooperation may, however, encounter a number of constraints due to the “patchwork” nature of many African armies and, often, to their lack of professionalization.

Although this military cooperation may sometimes leave counselors frustrated, its impact in Africa is undeniable and perceptible in the long run, making it a highly strategic tool. Nevertheless, military cooperation is facing serious challenges and there is still a long way to go. To that end, cooperation will have to be dealt from the bottom up with the deployment of advisors at the operational level, as well as from the top down with the introduction of security sector reforms which will enable to bring progressive yet intensive changes that African armies need.

In the context of the challenging sub-Saharan reality ranging from terrorism to organized crime, insurgencies and piracy, African armies can no longer confine their role to be mere prestige tools, to take part in parades at the national holidays or to allow themselves be used to destabilize the democratically elected political powers by coups d’etat. African armies need to take on new roles in specific missions as they are being confronted with numerous conflicts and bloody wars – examples include the difficulties with peace operations in Mali, South Sudan and Somalia, all of whom clearly show that a failure to empower the armies in the right direction may easily lead to a state’s collapse (like the Malian army against the jihadists in 2012).

African armies are, however, not alone to face the new challenges. They can rely on many initiatives in military cooperation including with both private and public actors. Historically, this form of assistance varied in nature and importance, which is why during the Cold War, African armies were subjects of great interest for the world powers, be it France, the UK, the USSR and the countries of the communist bloc or the United States. Following the end of the Cold War, there was a sharp decline in the interest in other parts of the world in Africa.

However, with the new millennium, an increased significance of the newly emerging issues such as terrorism, as well as an influx of new investments from Asia and the West and the accelerating economic growth on the continent have spawned a renewed interest in Africa that is nowadays seen as a new land of economic opportunity. This has also resulted in renewed competition between countries and private actors to “rebuild” African armies and subsequently cooperate with them.

The contemporary African armies are shaped by the history – mostly colonial, though they have “not been modeled on European forces” – but there are also other important factors. To understand the current dynamics, we need to focus on the cooperation especially in ground forces, but some collaboration takes place among the navies and air forces as well. However, the particular situations of the African armies, mainly those south of Sahara, are the biggest challenge to understanding the possible biases of these cooperations within the continent and beyond. The field of intelligence is mostly excluded from the studies on this topic, due to a lack of available data and information, although it is an important part of cooperation with the African armies.

This comprehensive study presents the different types of military cooperation whose ambitions can range from the ex nihilo construction of an army, such as in Somalia, to the simple support for the export of military equipment. It also involves establishing a sociology of cooperation actors: who cooperates with these armies and how? The study also highlights the difficulties in which a large part of these African armies find themselves and what this implies for the actors who try to reform them. It also ponders the question of evaluating the results of these military cooperation policies and, finally, the study returns to two avenues that seem essential to a profound reform, “from below” and “from above”, of the African armies: operational cooperation and security sector reform (SSR).

‘Coopérer avec les armées africaines’ – Research Paper by Aline Leboeuf – Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI).
(The Research Paper can be downloaded here)

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