05.11.2011 Feature Article

Africa's military must be a force for stability, peace, prosperity and positive change

Civilians always bear the brunt of military excesses in Africa — Getty ImagesCivilians always bear the brunt of military excesses in Africa — Getty Images
05.11.2011 LISTEN

A reflection of the role of the army in the past

The Arab Uprising in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as well as the recent deadly civil war in Ivory Coast have shown the paradoxes within the Africa military establishment. The uprising and wars have brought to the fore how the military in Africa could be a force for peace, stability and prosperity and at the same time a force for destabilization, chaos, mayhem and destruction. In Egypt the army won the respect of not only Egyptians but also the entire world when they refused to slaughter their countrymen in their thousands. They realised that it would be sensible for Hosni Mubarak and his sons to leave the throne of power rather than butcher thousands of their own people. However, in Libya and Ivory Coast the army chose to side with the powers that be and subjected their own people to extreme brutalities. When the military in Africa is critically examined not too many positive things can be associated with it.

The role of the military everywhere, Africa included, is not to rule but to secure the democratic institutions; protect the territorial integrity of their nations; and prevent outside predators from preying them.

Unfortunately in Africa the armies have ignored their traditional mandate of safeguarding the territorial integrity of their nations and have adopted positions that have been detrimental to Africa's development and progress. Like the German army that raped, tortured and killed six million Jews in the 1940s, the armies in Africa have been associated with extreme barbarity, massacre, rape, torture, genocide, summary executions, economic sabotage, infringement of civil liberty, dictatorship, corruption, pillage, force imprisonment, social havoc, brute force, political instability, usurpation of constitutions, reversal of democratic values including the overthrow of constitutionally elected governments.

According to Patrick J. McGowan of the Arizona State University, between January 1956 and December 2001 the African military carried out more than 80 successful coups, another 108 failed coups, and 139 attempted and reported coup plots.

It is difficult to find a single country in Africa where the armed forces and the security institutions have not had excesses against the country and the civilian population. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, the militaries in Africa have become a destabilising force preventing Africa from catching up with the rest of the world. In South Africa and Namibia where apartheid was brutally and religiously enforced for by the white minority government, the armed forces were the enforcing power. The genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 which resulted in the death of some 800,000 people could not have taken place without the strategic involvement of the armed forces. The horrors of the Biafra war in which tens of thousands of Nigerians especially Igbos died was made possible by the incursion of the military into civilian rule.

Throughout the continent the military sees itself as alternative to civilian rule, a wrong notion that has had profound and devastated impact on Africa's development and progress.

Immediately after independence many of the armies in Africa joined forces with American and European intelligence agencies to forcefully overthrow governments that they were mandated to protect. Throughout the 1960s,1970s, 1980s and even 1990s the armies in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, DRC and Algeria among others took their countries hostage and reversed decades of economic, social and political progress. In Ghana despite the massive economic and social infrastructural projects carried out by Kwame Nkrumah's government the military connived with Western imperialists and abruptly stopped Nkrumah's effort to industrialise the country. In the process they helped to reverse the many successes that were chalked under Nkrumah's presidency. Ghana today is still struggling to attain a middle income status while her contemporaries like South Korea and Malaysia enjoy one of the best standards of living in the world.

Since Egypt became a republic in 1953 the army has been in power most of the time with Gen Hosni Mubarak in charge for 30 years until the people's revolution swept him aside in 2011. During his 30 year reign Egypt, its leadership and its institutions became more corrupt, and inequality between the people and the ruling elite and their cronies widened exponentially. In the early years of her independence the Egyptian army adhered to its original role and fought aggressively against British, French and Israeli invasion but after Mubarak came to power the army as they have done everywhere on the continent, increasingly turned its attention to its citizens treating them as if though they were an invasion force. Although there appears to be a revolution in Egypt that effectively ended the dictatorship of Mubarak, but a closer look at the country suggests that there has not been any revolution at all. The army headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a longtime ally of Mubarak is still in charge. There are reports that the number of civilians tried in military courts has increased under the supposed revolution and that the army is unwilling to relinquish power which is a clear indication that the army still have a disregard for democracy and civil institutions.

The Nigerian armed forces have done more harm than good to their country. The harm which begun in January 1966 ushered in a period of brutalities, assassinations, coups, counter coups, civil war, official corruption, human right violation, economic decline, and impunity that the country has still not recovered from. Dubbed Africa's sleeping giant because of her economic and political potential, Nigeria is often ridiculed in international circles and is now considered a failed state thanks to the role of its military. Since independence in 1960 there have been six major coups in the country with most of the country's 50 years of independence being ruled by corrupt military dictators. By metamorphosing and constituting itself into civil and political power and entrenching corruption and impunity the armed forces of Nigeria helped to lay the foundation for what has become a hopeless and desperate security situation in the country. Since oil was discovered, the armed forces have backed corrupt multinational corporations like Royal Shell that are destroying Nigeria's environment and endangering the livelihoods of millions of people in the Niger Delta region. The threat of the military taking over power was heightened when Omaru Yar'Dua died and even the current administration lives in fear of the armed forces as is indicated by a recent speech by Nigeria's vice President. In the speech he pleaded with the army to respect the constitution and remain loyal to the government.

Col Al Gaddafi of Libya toiled for 42 years to develop Libya into the Switzerland of Africa but used seven months to destroy what he painstakingly helped to build. Despite the good works he did in Africa he also supervised a government based on terror, fear, intimidation, torture, imprisonment, assassinations, terrorism and killings. In the spring of 2011 the Libyan army under the command of Gaddafi and his sons were in fact ready to slaughter their own citizens in order to maintain their grip on power until they were crashed by the rebels but not until 25,000 Libyans have been sacrificed. In Ivory Coast, Gen Robert Gay and Laurent Gbagbo both used the military to achieve their political ambitions and succeeded in plunging one of Africa's successful economies into civil war that killed about 3000 people and shattered the economic successes of the country.

The security forces in the Horn of Africa remain one of the feared armies on the continent. Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Isaiah Afeweki of Eritrea and their security architecture continue to engage in wars, kidnapping, assassination, torture and imprisonment of people critical of their regime. Many Eritreans and Ethiopians are freeing their countries in their thousands to escape the brutalities of the forces. In Cameroon the feared military unit called Jean Damme has been used by Paul Biya to intimidate and terrorise the civilian population rather than protecting them from the dictatorship of Biya.

Uganda's Iddi Amin and his henchmen seized power and begun deporting Asian business owners destroyed the country's economy. Museve's 25 year dictatorship has not helped to place the country on the path of economic prosperity, social cohesion and cultural advancement. In Ethiopia Mengistu and his army officers succeeded in turning the country into a country of hunger, famine and total destitution. The sad story of Somalia where a brutal civil war is still ongoing was the making of Siad Barre and his military dictatorship that begun in 1969 and ended in 1991.

The military in Togo and Guinea have had their faire share of the atrocities suffered by Africa and her citizens. The military in both countries have engaged in repression, massacre, corruption, and reversal of freedoms. In Guinea for example Lansana Conte and his bunch of military officers ruled the country as their personal fiefdom for more than two decades and succeeded in reducing the country to a beggar state despite being rich in gold, bauxite and other minerals. In September 2009 the Captain Moussa Camara military government that took over power when Lansana Conte died succeeded in shooting, stabbing, assaulting, raping women and massacring 157 innocent members of their own population. The New York Times describes Guinea as a "lush coastal nation of 10 million, rich in minerals and tropical fruits". The country is "dark at night from lack of electricity, has known harsh dictators and army shooting sprees in its 51 years of independence". In Togo also Gen Eyadema retarded the country's development for 32 years until his death in 2005. The army quickly installed his son as his successor to ensure that the legacy of corruption of the father continues.

Gen Mobutu Sese Seku's Zaire (now DRC) suffered the same fate as any of the African countries mentioned above. Backed by his country's armed forces, the United States and her European allies, Gen Mobutu made poverty and corruption one of the entrenched symbols of his country. For 32 years he led the armed forces to turn their guns on Zairians killing as many as he could and stealing billions of dollars worth of DRC assets and stacking them in American and European banks. The DRC army has been accused of rape, extortion of money from civilians and killing them. The DRC armed forces are considered one of the most indisciplined armies in the whole of Africa. Since the late 1990s more than five million Congolese have perished in the hands of the military, the various rebel groups, and Rwanda and Uganda armed forces.

The brutal and dictatorial regimes of Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso, Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Dos Santos of Angola, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Republic; their abysmal economic performance; and the inability of the people to raise their voice have been made possible through their alliance with the military who have been used as war dogs to pounce on the populace and deny them economic, political, social and cultural freedom. The so called strong men of Africa have been able to bring Africa to economic and political standstill because of their use of the armed forces and other security institutions to instill fear in the population. Today Africa remains the only continent where military dictatorship and dictatorial regimes backed by the army is still dominant. In other words the military in Africa have been largely a distracting force. In the name of national security which can be interpreted as regime protection these military governments implemented oppressive dictatorial laws that turned their own citizens into slaves without rights.

Surrounded by their kind these army officers like Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babangida, Hosni Mubarak, Gaddafi, Jerry Rawlings, Iddi Amin, were never and have never been concerned about the welfare of the people but rather their stomach and there is enough evidence to proof it. The evidence about how Africa has suffered in the hands of the military is clear when countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Libya are considered. From Sani Abacha who stole more than 3 billion dollars in five years, to Mobutu who bankrupt Zaire, to Hosni Mubarak whose ill-gotten wealth was pegged at 75 billion dollars, to Omar Bongo who stole Gabon's money to financed French political parties, to Obiang Nguema, Paul Biya, Blaise Campore, Denis Nguesso, Omar Bongo and Dos Santos accused by civil society organisations of corrupt, flamboyant and extravagance lifestyle the evidence of why Africa is a paralysed continent is clear.

Some of the periods in which the army took over power remain one of the darkest and wasted years in Africa's effort to fight illiteracy, poverty, hunger and diseases. In many of these military takeovers many businessmen and women lost their investments as businesses were confiscated, sold or given to their cronies. In countries like Ghana state owned businesses were sold to cronies and allies of the regime. In Nigeria for instance Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha among others succeeded in draining the country's coffers by using money meant for electricity, education, health, water, roads to buy expensive military machines for their own protection. Gaddafi for example bought several billions of dollars worth of weapons from France and the United Kingdom while cities such as Benghazi were crying for infrastructure.

In most of the countries like Ghana the armed forces have never fought external aggressor rather they have often been used as instrument through which external aggressors (particularly Belgium, Britain, France and United States) get their hold on Africa's resources and their people. The armies in Algeria, Gabon, Egypt, Rwanda, Tunisia and Uganda have been the main instrument through which countries like United States, France, Belgium, have achieved their foreign policy objectives in Africa. France for instance used her troops stationed in Gabon and Senegal to gather intelligence and used the armies in Africa to carry out more than 40 coups against the people of the continent. The billions of dollars that Egyptian armed forces receive from the US annually is the main reason why the armed forces protected the regime of Hosni Mubarak for 30 years because he was seen as useful weapon and counter force against Iran and Iraq.

From a closer look one can easily see why and how Africa (one of the resource endowed continent in the world) has been reduced to a beggar and a desperate hopeless continent. The Armed forces incursion into civil power destroyed economic progress that was made in the early periods of independence. Political, economic and social institutions were destroyed as the armed regimes implemented policies without thinking about their impact. The army backing of the dictatorial regimes such as those in Zimbabwe, Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Angola has endangered Africa's economic growth as well as her social and political progress.

Wind of Change
There is no doubt Hosni Mubarak and his sons would have been in power and amassing wealth to the detriment of the Egyptian masses if the armed forces had chosen to back them. Unlike Libya where an estimated 25000 souls have perished, the refusal of the armed forces in Egypt to kill protesters at Tahir's Square helped to avoid a possible bloodbath. The armed forces' refusal is a sign of how the army can be a force for good, a force peace, stability and positive change. In Ghana the armed forces are seeking a different role that will not only contribute to improving the overall security situation but also the economic development of the nation. The armed forces in Ghana are considering entering into business ventures. This new concept is an indication of the positive thinking that is emerging in the African security command. These ambitions by the army should be nurtured as it has the potential of helping the armed forces to generate extra money outside the traditional sources. In Rwanda and Uganda the United States is helping the armed forces with training and reorganisation. Though many doubts the real intentions of the United States, it is hoped that such training will inculcate a sense of discipline and professionalism in the psyche of the army and help protect the countries from the instability that have come to defined them.

The 21st Century has come with new security challenges that demand new strategies and tactics. These challenges also demand an army which is well trained and well resourced to respond to the threats and challenges. The emergence of Boko Haram in Bauchi and Borno States in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia; the threats posed by pirates in West, East and Southern Africa and its impact on the safety of international maritime transport all demands that the army in Africa undergo serious transformation and reorganisation to respond to these emerging threats.

Therefore many of the armies in Africa need reforming to reflect their role in this 21st century and also to respond to the emerging security threats such as piracy and terrorism. Democratic values, human rights, and respect for contitutional order must be at the centre of any training offered to the men and women in uniform. This will help them to understand the need not to derail the wheel of democracy and economic progress being made in Africa. It will help them to be on the side of the people always and not back dictators and power hungry individuals who seek to perpetuate their rule through violence and intimidation.

Rather than seeing itself as an alternative to civil power, the army in Africa must work closely with other security agencies to protect the institutions of governance, democracy, civil liberty and rule of law. Therefore they must not allow themselves to be used by unscrupulous politicians to the detriment of the security and wellbeing of their countries. And they must adhere to their mandate as the protector of the territorial infrastructures of the countries and refrain from acts that destroy the very nations they are supposed to protect. The military must do more to improve their relationship with the citizens of their respect countries. It is not in the interest of the army that they are feared rather than respected by the people. The 21st century global security arrangement demands that the armed forces become more professional, less power hungry and ready to protect the interest of their countries.Africa is bigger than any single individual and the armed forces must ensure that they will not be a bastion for insecurity, but rather a force for economic and political stability, peace, prosperity and positive change.

By Lord Aikins Adusei
[email protected]

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