Military Red Tape In Africa

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

The slogan that Africa is rising has been lingering around for a while now, with many multi-nationals wanting to invest in the continent. 

The region is marketed by many business leaders of the west as the next generation economy. However, these slogans have been tired of late because of the increasing social ills eating into the system, which is directly affecting nearly 1.1 billion inhabitants.

Only in September last year, about sixty-seven people died in Kenya in a Westgate seize where country showed to the world that it was unable to police itself. In Nigeria, about 200 school children were abducted by Boko Haram militants in series of calculating attacks, where its army took the toll of failing their freedom.

The armies of Africa are regarded as one of the best assets in these countries. In fact, such is their pride and confidence that in the year 1994, when Rwandan genocide happened, Africans were bold enough to recognise their own security, by gradually phasing out of the alliance on armed interventions from the west. Countries like Nigeria and Kenya proved pivotal in such an effort.

Nigeria, which has recently taken over South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa, has provided the regional muscle for the community of West African States (Ecowas) serving both Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Its joint task force (JTF) has contributed to peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and East Timor and has even dispatched soldiers to Somalia, Darfur and Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. The Kenyan Defense Forces, which was widely acclaimed in keeping the 2007 election in a favourable light are viewed in the west as important instruments against the Al Shahbab infiltration – KDF has more than 3000 men deployed in southern Somalia. Having said this, many questions have been raised against their operational reliability. When Islamic extremists attacked the Westgate shopping mall in September last year, KDF actually shot the elite counterintelligence units who had secured the area, which was followed by extensive frisking and investigation in the area.

A fortnight later, Nigerian parents whose children were abducted by some Boko Haram militants, were so infuriated by the local army, that they actually set out to the jungle hideouts of these militias in the hope of finding their kids. The social media campaigns against these instances have turned more vocal than ever, and there are even reports where military fails to launch successful operations against Boko Haram.

The African States, in general, haven’t shared intimate relations with the army powers. In fact, it has been the Nigerian army of the 1990’s that was involved in the diamond smuggling and drug trafficking. The green men in uniform that actually symbolise law and order have actually being victimized by various factions in the society. The institutions it has constructed are rudimentary and fragile due to weak civilian governments. Presidents like Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko, has himself staged two successful coups and deliberately kept national armies divided and faction-ridden. Zimbabwe’s generals became deeply involved in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s diamond and gold mining.

When we talk of Nigeria, the military coups stretch back to 1966, after the country gained independence from Britain. It only ended in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He retired more than 400 army officers who seemingly were more interested in politics than military, thereby bringing armed forces back into the command.  Uganda’s generals, also, have been accused of unnecessarily prolonging the war on the Lord’s Resistance Army, in the north of their country.

Today, the debate rages whether army face logistical challenges in order to rescue the abducted school girls from these forests, which are twice in size of Belgium, as narrated by authors like Michela Wrong, who has published books on the politics that have plagued countries like Kenya, Eritrea and Republic of Congo. The debate has even extended to topics like Boko Haram militants having good knowledge of military movements, budgetary failures where living conditions of the army, unpaid wages, weaker types of equipment have contributed to pitiful army operations.

Police in Kenya has been a product of systematic sleaze where bribery is extracted routinely. One of the characteristics that lead to Westgate seizes was the absence of any prior intelligence about the imminent attack – country’s immigration posts and police stations were functionally useless. For this reason, many strategists have argued that traditional training has to go, and skills in dealing with these sensitive situations should come from abroad – like anti-terrorist experts from France.


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