African Defense and Security: Looking Forward
Those interested in Africa and Defense are ahead of the crowd. They understand that the nations and people of Africa are future great powers and Defense and Security will play a major role, which seems an appropriate subject of the first guest column for www.defenseafrica.com, the online forum dedicated to this important conversation as well as the web's leading portal on African Defense and Security. What is the future of defense and security forces in Africa?
African defense and security roles and responsibilities are increasing. The importance of African defense will undoubtedly expand—in size, scope, and significance. Africa is characterized by its enormous size, incredible diversity, dizzying complexity, and vibrant dynamism. These signature characteristics, the same indicators of globalism and economic growth, will likely make African defense and security issues the avant garde for future defense, security, and political relations globally. However, three competing and compelling narratives have led many, particularly in the West, to believe otherwise: 1) Africa is in chaos; 2) Non-state actors will define the future of international politics; 3) War, and by implication the defense and security sector, is obsolete. Despite their popularity, these influential arguments are misleading, discredit the very real and increasing role of Africa in the world—economically, culturally, and politically—and diminish the continued importance of defense and security in uncertain times.
Everyone has seen and heard the usual news story of an Africa out-of-control. Often starring helpless Africans in need of salvation—from something—these stories build upon the premise that Africa is in a nebulous state of chaos or perpetual disorder, a very old idea indeed. Yet the advanced age of Africa’s supposed helplessness does not point toward any advanced truth. These well-worn ideas derive from preexisting prejudices and ignorance which are reminiscent of debunked scientific theories such as the “Hamitic Hypothesis” or racist moral imperatives like the “White Man’s Burden.” The self-serving argument that Africans desperately need help and are dependent upon others continues thanks largely to the purveyors of today’s media…often shamelessly peddling sensationalism. Many people equate different with bad, and the majority of Westerners regard African society and politics through its lack of familiar norms, institutions, and customs. The West continues to remain in ignorance, if not cognitive dissonance, of Africa’s colonial history and contemporary meddling. Analysts and commentators remain confused and conflicted about Africa’s future, mistaking the absence of a familiar order for the lack of any order, conflating social and political entropy with cultural diversity and complexity. What one man concludes as “chaos,” therefore, tells you more about his point of view than his conclusion is an accurate observation and description of the current state of affairs. Africa is not chaotic, but complex; Africa is not out-of-control, but dynamic. In an increasingly complex, dynamic, and interconnected world, Africans now find themselves well-positioned to seize control of their future and chart their own destiny. Defense and security will be an important part of that destiny.
The end of the Cold War left a generation of professors, political scientists, politicians, and pundits—none whom had predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union—contemplating the future of international politics and military affairs. For example, American General Wesley Clark's autobiography is entitled Waging Modern War, Israeli military historian Martin Van Creveld has written The Changing Face of War, and Henry Kissinger recently published a book simply named World Order. While much contemporary discourse questions the future of the state, the complexities of multilateral relationships, and the rise of non-state actors—this discourse has failed to posit any viable alternative to governance without the state, as exemplified by "failed states" or "state-building" in the absence of clearly defined government. The state will continue its monopoly on the legitimate use of force while security will remain a public good. Even if corporations and private parties will play a future role in providing security goods and services, the state will continue to provide critical regulatory responsibilities. Most importantly, the concept of justice which legal systems and the use of force ultimately serve will remain in the public sphere. Governments will be the principle entities in matters of defense, security, and public safety, a fact of life which has remained largely unchanged since the Hammurabi Code of the 17th Century BC, almost four thousand years ago. Finally, other states have vested interests in the defense and security of government in Africa: today’s headlines are dominated by panoply of transnational terrorist groups, a garden of exotic diseases, the distressing migration of refugees, and breathtaking foreign direct investment. The significance of the state and its various branches including the defense and security services should not be undervalued in spite of ongoing rhetoric from the current generation of professors, political scientists, politicians, and pundits. It is the state, and not private interests or corporate profits, which are most closely intertwined with defense and security. In Africa, the state is here to stay.
It should come as little surprise that the conclusion War really is going out of style, a provocative newspaper headline touted by The New York Times several years ago, has been largely based on deductions from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. The frequency and intensity of interstate war, globally as well as in Africa, has declined precipitously in the decades since the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, however, violence has not become démodé. In fact, pressures from food insecurity and rapid population growth combined with violent extremists in Africa have made localized violence more prevalent, more lethal, and less predictable. This violence, while statistically less destructive than in Cold War conflicts, does have the potential to upscale into larger violence, as the Boko Haram movement in Nigeria and IS movement in Libya have demonstrated. The everyday security implications are clear and unfortunate: one cannot safely cross the Sahara in an old four-wheel drive truck today to visit Timbuktu, as the Dutch photographer Frits Lemaire did in 1951 and recounted in The Cocoa Ambassador: Amsterdam- Accra. Even the most famous off-road rally race in world, the "Paris-Dakar," stopped operating in Africa in 2008 as it had since 1978 due to security concerns. The role of African defense and security forces will only increase, as has already been seen in interventions such as those in Somalia, Mali, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. African defense and security forces are growing to become the principle tool across the continent to check violence, enforce the rule of law, and promote security.
Looking forward, Africa's importance on the world scene continues to expand due to its natural resources, immense size and diversity, and rapidly growing population. Defense and security forces will prove to be an immeasurable part of this growing importance. Thank you for being part of this this important conversation.