Military influence in politics remains widespread across Africa

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The Washington DC-based Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) says evidence of military influence in politics remains widespread across the continent. In a new report it says a spate of military coups from 2008 to 2010 in Mauritania, Guinea, Niger, and Madagascar has again raised the spectre of a return to military rule in Africa.

“While the subsequent resumption of civilian government in Guinea and Niger has reduced these concerns, evidence of military influence in politics remains widespread across the continent,” the report, titled Africa’s Militaries: A Missing Link in Democratic Transitions says. .
“This is prominently in view in Egypt where, in the midst of political transition, the military is attempting to maintain a privileged role for itself despite the widespread demands for genuine democratic reform,” it adds. In Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Angola, Rwanda, and many other African states, democratisation or the consolidation of political reforms has been severely inhibited by armed forces that regularly intervene in political and economic matters. In Uganda, for instance, the military is permitted to select 10 officers to serve as members of parliament.

In some cases, the armed forces operate autonomously and even maintain commercial interests outside the military budget. “In Rwanda, the military grows, buys, processes, and exports commercial crops through a military-owned company. Military officers in Angola participate in contract negotiations with foreign companies, sit on corporate boards, and are majority shareholders in telecommunications firms. Such practices are not only counter-productive to democratic governance, but also undermine stability, economic development, and even the interests of the militaries themselves,” the report, written by Mathurin Houngnikpo, added.
“In cases where militaries have assumed total control over government, the results have usually been disastrous. Annual economic growth rates in Nigeria and Mali, for example, have been on average a full 3% lower during periods of military versus civilian rule. While lauded for their discipline and quick decision-making, militaries have little background in job creation, macroeconomic policy, public health, or the many other complex challenges of governing. More generally, military decision-making is rigidly hierarchical and beyond appeal, whereas in the public domain, policy implementation tends to be more effective when built through a consultative, transparent, and deliberative process.
“Beyond the blunt military putsch, increasingly prevalent and sinister developments in Africa are the emergence of “democratic” and “creeping” coups. In the former, a military coup is staged, followed by a tactical withdrawal to hold elections that are “won” by a recently retired military officer—to the accolades of both regional and international organisations.Such was the case following the 2008 coup in Mauritania by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
“In creeping coups, civilian leaders will slowly erode the powers and authorities of legislatures, judiciaries, civil society groups, and other potential sources of opposition. This was the pattern followed by the now deposed President Mamadou Tandja in Niger and is, arguably, the process under way currently in Djibouti and Malawi, among other places.
“Co-opting security leaders or counterbalancing the military with special presidential security units is key to the success of such extra-constitutional exercises of authority. The level of such co-optation is extensive in some countries. The use of force against peaceful demonstrations in recent years by security units in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, and Cameroon, among others, is case in point. The shooting of unarmed civilians clearly indicates that some security sector leaders in Africa continue to see their role as defending the regime in power rather than the constitution — contravening even basic codes of military conduct and emerging democratic norms on the continent,” the report says. “Upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Kenya may pose similar dilemmas for these countries’ military and police leadership.”

Even where legitimate civilian rule predominates, civil-military relations remain strained in much of Africa. “Given its unique institutional dynamics, responsibilities, and standard procedures, the military can find it challenging to interact with parliament, civil society organisations, or other civilian entities. Likewise, most African civilian officials lack a deep understanding of security issues and institutions. Productive engagement, cooperation, and mutual respect are elusive and frustration is common. In Nigeria, for example, the President of the Senate explained in a 2008 speech to fellow legislators that one of the country’s greatest national security threats was a lack of familiarity between civilian and military agencies that demanded a ‘consistent and coherent process of engagement with a view to strengthening the security agencies’ work vis-à-vis the legislature, particularly in the areas of appropriation, constitutional reforms, oversight functions, foreign policy, and national security.’ Put simply, Africa’s civilian and military leaders barely know one another.”

Many African parliaments have recently become more open and responsive to their electorates and increasingly active in developing and approving legislation, the report said. “However, most have yet to fully incorporate oversight as a core activity. Even where parliamentarians have demonstrated
legislative aptitude and capacity, oversight has not been prioritised. In Ghana, for example, roughly 70% of Ghanaian members of parliament rate as poor the body’s performance on oversight. Among parliamentary committees, defence and security portfolios are not very active. In Benin, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda, members of parliament rarely focus primarily on matters of national security. Not a single bill was proposed in Ghana’s Defence and Interior Parliamentary Committee from 2007 through 2009.
“National security is a priority for any state and merits adequate support. Legislators should not be reticent in justifying these outlays. At the same time, many African states need to recalibrate their force structures to meet contemporarysecurity challenges. This includes scrutiny of the role and cost of presidential guards. To do so, parliamentarians must cultivate their expertise in security sector issues. Civilian leaders that are versed in the nuances and complexities of military strategy, policing, intelligence, threat assessment, and similar facets of national security will gain the trust and respect of military leaders, as well as more ably judge the qualities of policy options. A growing number of African research institutes and civil society organisations specialise in security issues. Africa’s parliaments should engage more with such organisations and sponsor members’ participation in their programmes and exchanges.”