SAAF essay competition initiative welcomed


A SA Air Force (SAAF) Book Club initiative aimed at developing writing and communication skills by way of an essay competition saw a young junior officer walk away with top honours for his contribution to “Agenda 2063: The SAAF’s role in creating the Africa we want”.

Lieutenant S Nkebe’s effort earned him full marks from respected defence analyst Helmoed Heitman. “He thought, researched, developed an idea and wrote it up,” was his summary of Nkebe’s effort.

Speaking at the writing competition prize giving, he is reported as saying it was a way of contributing to the SAAF vision and “a great feeling to know our colleagues and seniors appreciate our thought processes”.

His research and writing skills earned him R2 000 with the R1 000 second prize going to Major MBH Louw and third to Theolan Kuppan.

Nkebe’s essay starts: “The African continent is on a journey to rebuild itself post-colonial era, a similar endeavor like that of the Western powers post World War II, to rebuild Europe through the formation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), what is known as World Trade Organisation (WTO) today”.

“This move by Europe and aligned countries e.g. United States was driven by the aftermath and effects of the war. Similarly here at home, the states of Africa has come together to formulate a genesis of how post-colonial Africa should look like. It is for this reason that Agenda 2063: the Africa we Want exist. Agenda 2063 is African’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into a global powerhouse of the future. It is the continent’s strategic framework that aims to deliver on its goals for inclusive and sustainable development and a concrete manifestation of the pan-African drive for unity, self-determination, progress and collective prosperity (Agenda 2063: the Africa we want, 2015).

“For the past 60 years African leaders has developed programs to reimagine the African continent, these leaders include H.E. late president Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, H.E. late president Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, H.E. late president Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, H.E. former president Thabo Mbeki to name a few. These are the first African leaders to actively and intentionally advocate for the unification of the African continent based on pan-Africanist ideology and school of thought. The unification of Africa would amongst other things achieve: one unitary state of Africa with one currency and one military.

“Over the years, organisations and programs like the African Union (AU), Pan African Parliament, African renaissance, the latest formulation being the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) were formed to encourage interaction, foster brotherhood, trade among African states, promotion of free movement of goods and services and harmonizing standards and regulations. These efforts are for the realization of Agenda 2063.

“Other notable figures include renowned African scholars who contributed immensely, academically and in literature towards the African dream, including Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness Movement founder, Dr. Mahmood Mamdani of Ghana, Dr. Thandika Mkandawire of Malawi with a notable text titled “three generation of African scholars” highlighting the role of African academics in rebuilding Africa, Dr. Lwazi Lushaba and his notable work on de-colonization of the African school curriculum, Prof. Chabani Manganyi, the South African, African Clinical Psychologist, some of his work include a book titled ” Being Black In the World”. Prof. Chabani Manganyi as early as in the 1970s released his work on what it meant to be black in a colonized world from a psychologist point of view. The work is followed by Prof. Mamdani’s book titled ‘citizen and subject’ a text to detail legacy of colonialism in its structural context. The last but not least African scholar to have contributed to agenda 2063 one way or the other is Dr. Lwazi.

“Lushaba with his lectures and work on de-colonisation of the African school curriculum which must reflect our cultures, languages, feelings, values and way of African life. He correctly argues that our current school system alienates our being as African people and instills western thought. The works are important and relevant to today’s topic precisely because the Africa we Want must be built on understanding of Africa today and African past.

“These scholars enjoy commonality of pan-Africanism ideology and school of thought that is the foundation of the Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 has a broader scope covering almost all spheres of human life. For the purpose of this paper I wish to draw attention to two flagship projects and three goals of agenda 2063 as cited in the framework document.

“The two flagship projects and the three goals are important as their directly relate to the work of the SAAF. The two flagship projects are: 1) African outer space strategy and 2) Cyber Security. The three goals are: 1) Well educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation, 2) Peace, security and stability is preserved, and 3) Engaged and empowered youth and children.

“As we proceed to deliberate we will link the strategic objectives of the framework document and SAAF strategic goals as found in vision 2030 document to highlight a linkage and correlation. Secondly to highlight SAAF’s structural limitations in pursing its strategic goals that feeds to the continental agenda. We will be looking at organisation technology policy, the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and lastly the organization position using Kotter’s eight step organizational change model to give a sense of how far the SAAF has moved towards the strategy in action.

“The SAAF five strategic goals are: 1) Developing a safe, healthy, secure, innovative resilient, compliant and ethical workforce, which is aligned with complexity of air and space operations in the information age, 2) developing an integrated, agile and modernised order of battle shaped to provide effective and efficient air and space power capabilities as per the joint force employment strategy and requirements, 3) executing innovative, resilient and cost effective sustainment programs, adaptable to the fluid environment of operational requirements, 4) ensuring the air force is a major player in the development of military space power on the African continent and 5) ensuring that the air force is a major contributor towards national government’s nation building project.

“Maybe before we dive into discussing the SAAF’s suppose contribution to Agenda 2063 we should understand the role and the mandate of the SAAF and highlight some of the inherited responsibilities by virtue of being the oldest Air Force in Africa and second oldest in the world.

“The SAAF is the air warfare branch of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) established on 1 February 1920. The SAAF is mandated to protect the sovereignty and protection of the Republic’s territorial integrity. For Africa to prosper and achieve agenda 2063, the security forces in Africa must be strong, capable and ready to defend against any aggression aimed at Africa. Peace is a prerequisite to everything else that we seek to achieve as cited in the framework document. SAAF has found itself with added responsibilities to sister air forces both in SADC and other parts of Africa as we seek to integrate our efforts to safe guard the African continent. The air warfare has evolved since the rapid advancement in technology, for African air security agencies to adequately safeguard Africa they must evolve. The SAAF must align with Agenda 2063 as discussed below.

“The African outer space strategy talks to Africa using space technologies to bolster African development in spheres like but not limited to defense and security. The program is aligned with the SAAF’s endeavor of the next battle space. The evidence is found in our vision ‘the projection of effective air and space power capabilities through innovation in the theatre of our operations’.

“The SAAF by its mandate of securing the southern boarder space, it must be the first respondent or initiator of space operation. This is to guarantee the SAAF’s maintenance of air superiority and ability to safe guard against any aggression by space. The SAAF must continue aggressively to attend its space command programs. The SAAF’s space command program is the one that needs collaboration and sharing of expertise with industry peers. The visit by the Chief of the Air Force (CAF) to SANSA (SA National Space Agency) seeks to serve strong ties with the agency and take the SAAF to the next level. The SAAF must start investing in space related careers e.i Space observation, Space scientist, Space engineering and Space operations. The SAAF can without a doubt establish itself as a space air force leader in Africa. The investment will bear fruits when our space engineers, space scientists etc. are leading programs of Africa towards the realization of Agenda 2063: the Africa we Want. The early investment by the SAAF will also guarantee us and the country a sustained competitive advantage in space operations.”

Nkebe then details cyber security writing it “has been a buzz word for the past decade or so, the term by itself is in two, Cyber “’information technology’ and Security ‘safety’. Cyber security relates to information technology and its protection. The modern warfare has moved from hard power attrition to one that is more sophisticated using technology. This is made possible by the rapid advance in technology. It is predicted that the next wars will be based on Cyber-attacks, countries will be bankrupted by simply stealing their money reserves, power grids and food supplies will be attacked without a single bullet being fired. Africa is preparing for this warfare and SAAF has a huge role to play, as one of the oldest and biggest air force in Africa”.

“A concentrated effort within the SAAF is needed to fully understand the cyber space and development of cyber counter attack policies as digitalization is taking over the world.

“Well educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation. Since the year 2007 the world entered the fifth phase of globalization, this phase is driven and underpinned by digital technology and other new technologies. The new technology has been a driver in boosting many corporate’s and public entities productivity and efficiency in services. It becomes critical for the SAAF to embrace these technologies to avoid being left behind and becoming obsolete. The pictures below shows of new technologies and careers the SAAF must incorporate in its ranks. The careers are aligned to Agenda 2063: the Africa we Want and early investment by the SAAF will go a long way in helping to shape the Africa we Want.

“Cloud computing will enable the SAAF to host its infrastructure, air operations, and data on remote servers, providing scalability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency. This will integrate all the SAAF bases into an ecosystem to bolster our efficiency and effectiveness. The SAAF and the department at large has been receiving budget cuts with increased in mandate and objectives. It is then imperative to cut cost in our day to day operations by employing technology. Sharing of documents and information can be achieved through an ecosystem without printing, faxing and/or physically delivering the document which cost the SAAF money in terms of transportation cost and manpower cost.

“Cyber Security measures are crucial to protect sensitive data, ensure user privacy, prevent unauthorized access, and mitigate the risk of cyber-attacks. The modern to future warfare will be based on cyber-attack.

“Robotics infused with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning software robots or ‘bots’ to automate repetitive tasks within the SAAF’s operational systems. RPA helps improve efficiency, reduce errors, fraud detection and free up human resources to engage in more productive and non-routine tasks. In 2023 there are cost effective and efficient ways of distributing pays lips without printing and distributions cost (paper, cartridge, machines, manpower, distribution cost e.i fuel etc.). This function can be automated and it is just one function.

“The rise in digitalization provides opportunity for managers to understand and plan for their organization effectively and adequately. Big data and analytics helps to interpret and make meaning of large data to derive insights and patterns. This tool will be also important to understand the enemy during times of warfare.

“Block chain technology provides decentralized, secure, and transparent record-keeping capabilities.

“South Africa is a member state to the African Union and United Nations, it must continue deploying its agents in restoration, maintenance and preservation of peace and security in war torn African countries. A peaceful African would be a prosperous Africa for all. The SAAF is currently engaged in a number of peace maintenance missions in Africa. The endeavor is positively contributing towards world peace and the SAAF must continue in these missions and thrive for a peaceful united Africa. The SAAF must also continue its efforts in the southern region to unite the forces through exercise like Blue Okavango, SADC joint military exercises. The SAAF is a leader in the Sub-Saharan region in terms of air operations and power however this is still limited as we don’t have counter measures for the new technologies like drones.

“The future of any nation lies with its youth, it is for this reason that a nation must empower its youth and children to be the now and leaders of tomorrow. The organization and the SAAF in particular should relook the offerings on the Military Skills Development System (MSDS) to offer meaningful skills which talks to modern age needs. In order for the SAAF to achieve strategic goal five it must offer industry and marketable training and exciting careers. It must been known for Research, Development and Innovation to be an employer of choice. The Siyandiza youth program which hasn’t taken place since covid-19 was a platform for the SAAF to engage the youth and shape their tomorrow. The program itself even though was good but there is a disconnect between the program and SAAF recruitment strategy. Siyandiza played a positive role in marketing the SAAF, our reach to previously disadvantage communities and the SAAF’s compliance in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) duties.

“The budget cuts has been widely blamed for the SAAF’s undesirable state, however even though this is true however other elements are true as well. The lack of transformative technology and innovation policies, the Public Finance Management Act that governs our procurement systems is anti-innovation as it lacks agile. The organization is left behind by industry and this makes us unsupportable or the few organisations that support us to do so at a very high cost.”

Closing he wrote: “In this essay, two different documents (agenda 2063 framework document and SAAF vision 2030) were read and analyzed in case of each document’s goals and aspirations. The main aim of this essay was to highlight how the SAAF can play a role in shaping Agenda 2063: the Africa we Want.

“There is evidence of the SAAF being aligned to some of the agenda 2063 but still limited as the organization structure isn’t yet aligned to the new strategy. We talk of space operation but we haven’t talk about space careers. On the side of innovation and strategy in action using Kotter’s eight organizational change model, the SAAF has managed to move from step one to five, creating a compelling case for change to empowering others to act on the vision. Step six demand of quick wins. We know, inherently change is difficult creating quick wins will act as a motivator to get to difficult tasks and help the staff to persevere through hardships. The organization still operate like we did 10 years ago. We have to create these quick wins and build on them. The question of what must be done was answered at least covering the technology part in terms of SAAF recruitment of new careers and purchasing new technology to achieve the SAAF’s five strategic goals. The SAAF vision document serves as a good foundation to build on”.