Impact of Transnational Issues on Stability and the Evolution of African Militaries

Many of the major transnational issues confronting African militaries today either did not exist or were relatively unimportant when most African countries became independent in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
TRANSCRIPT: Remarks Presented During Conference on Evolution of African Militaries
By David H. Shinn, adjunct professor, George Washington University
The Elliott School of International Affairs
GARMISCH, Germany, Feb 11, 2009 The following remarks were delivered by David H. Shinn, adjunct professor for George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs, during a conference on “The Evolution of African Militaries,” February 7-8, 2009, co-hosted by U.S. Africa Command and the U.S. Department of State. The remarks below reflect the views of David Shinn, and are not necessarily the views of U.S. Africa Command.
For more about the conference, visit Conference Discusses Evolution of African Militaries

Impact of Transnational Issues on Stability and the Evolution of African Militaries

Many of the major transnational issues confronting African militaries today either did not exist or were relatively unimportant when most African countries became independent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. International terrorism, HIV/AIDS, climate change, massive refugee movements, conflict over oil, drug smuggling, pressure for economic policy reform and the brain drain, among others, just did not register as important problems. Urbanization, high population growth rates, lack of access to clean water, famine, easy availability of small arms and local arms production presented challenges but less so than today. Other concerns were important more than a half century ago and continue to be troubling. They include cross border ethnic conflict, deteriorating economic conditions, domestic terrorism, criminal activity and human rights abuses. External intervention and arms supply have long had an impact on African armies although the role of some of the outside players has changed over the years.

Terrorism, Criminal Activity and Drug Smuggling
International terrorism is a relatively recent phenomenon in Africa and has been especially virulent in North Africa and East Africa. These are acts perpetrated by groups or states against another state or acts against foreign interests in the state. An early example was the 1980 bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. More recently al-Qaeda attacked in 1998 the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. While international terrorism presents new challenges for African militaries, it is the least important part of the African terrorist problem. It receives so much attention because countries like the United States put it at the top of their list of concerns.

Domestic terrorism, i.e. terrorist acts usually conducted by local groups within the state for the purpose of overthrowing a government or achieving local political advantage, is far more common and harmful to African non-combatants. In some cases, African states and their militaries respond in kind. Domestic terrorism has a long history. Early examples occurred during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya from 1952 to 1959 and the Algerian independence struggle from 1954 to 1962. It was not uncommon for African independence movements and their colonial opponents to resort to tactics that today could only be described as terrorist in nature. African groups that currently use terrorist tactics to achieve their goals include the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, southern Sudan and the eastern Congo and al-Shabaab in Somalia. While some of these groups received considerable support from the local people, the fact is that their tactics sometimes constituted terrorism and posed a special challenge for African militaries, especially whether to respond in kind.

It is important to understand what terrorism is and is not. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband commented in January 2009 that “terrorism is a deadly tactic, not an institution or an ideology.” He is correct. In the same way, criminal activity and drug smuggling are harmful tactics aimed at achieving nefarious goals. Africa is increasingly subject to both scourges, usually with involvement by outside parties. Criminal activity tends to follow the money and, as a result, is found more frequently in wealthier countries such as South Africa and Nigeria. Money laundering has been a particular problem in southern Africa. Criminal elements have also engaged in the illegal exploitation of diamonds, tanzanite and coltan. But even states with almost no valuable resources can find a way to engage in criminal activity. For example, enterprising Somalis have discovered there is a lot of money to be made in piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Historically, the major drug smuggling problem involved the movement of heroin from South Asia to East and West Africa and then on to Europe and North America. Local drug usage has become a growing problem in wealthy pockets of Africa.

Demographic and Social Factors

High population growth rates, a younger population, urbanization, high levels of unemployment and the brain drain all affect political stability and make more difficult, even if indirectly, the ability of the military to maintain security.

Since 1990, the average annual population growth rate for all of Africa has been running at about 2.4 percent. It is slightly higher for sub-Saharan Africa and lower for North Africa. Although the population growth rate is slowly decreasing, it is much higher for Africa than any other world region. There are enormous variations from country to country, often depending upon the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.
Rapidly growing populations in most African countries put additional pressure on the food supply and employment opportunities. Today, the continent supports just under one billion people; by 2050 it is projected to host about two billion. Africa’s fifty-three countries will nearly reach China’s projected population by 2025 and account for 25 percent of the world’s population by 2050. Africa’s population is also by far the youngest in the world; about 44 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of fifteen. The percentage for North Africa is lower. A high growth rate and a very young population usually lead to greater volatility.

Nearly all threats to African regimes occur in urban areas and usually in the capital city. I don’t think rural Africans have ever overthrown a government, although rebellion occasionally began in rural areas and eventually reached the capital as in the case of Ethiopia in 1991. The average annual urbanization growth rate for sub-Saharan Africa since 1990 is over 4 percent, the highest for any region of the world. Between 1990 and 2005, sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled the number of people living in an urban environment. In 1990, 28 percent of the population lived in urban areas. By 2005, the figure increased to 35 percent. While the percentage of urban dwellers is still low by global standards, seething urban centres put additional pressure on security forces.

While country-by-country unemployment figures in Africa are both elusive and unreliable, the rates are believed to be among the highest in the world, especially urban unemployment. Perhaps more than any other factor, unemployment, especially among young people, leads to disenchantment with government and agitation for change. It serves as another challenge facing security forces.

The attraction of more lucrative employment outside Africa has led to a serious brain drain that has had negative implications for Africa. An estimated 300,000 African professionals live and work outside the continent. Since 1990, Africa has lost some 20,000 professionals annually. About one-fifth of all African-born physicians and one-tenth of African-born professional nurses now work in a country outside Africa. To fill the gap caused by this brain drain, Africa employs up to 150,000 expatriate professionals at a cost of $4 billion annually. There is one silver lining as a result of the African brain drain and the migration of non-professionals to other parts of the world. The World Bank estimated that remittances to sub-Saharan Africa in 2007 reached $20 billion, more than the total foreign direct investment flow and nearly equal to foreign aid. Remittances to North Africa totalled an impressive $35 billion. In addition, these professionals may eventually transfer skills and information back to Africa.

HIV/AIDS and the Military
Africa accounts for almost 70 percent of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases. The pandemic poses a threat to stability in some African countries and a particular challenge to the integrity of African militaries and their ability to engage effectively in peacekeeping operations. While the incidence of HIV is especially high in southern Africa and along the eastern side of the continent, no region has escaped the burden.
Although the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in African militaries is not as high as once believed, it is higher than the general population in most African countries and unacceptably high in some armies. A December 2008 analysis in Pambazuka News reported the most recent estimate for the Angolan defence forces as 11 percent, 17 percent for Zambian forces, 23 percent for South African forces and 55 percent for Zimbabwe’s forces. (The estimate for Zimbabwe seems excessively high and should be treated with care.) The rate of infection for Nigerian soldiers is about double that for the civilian population while in Cameroon it is three times the civilian rate of 5 percent.
This situation has had a negative impact on efficiency and had onerous budgetary effects. The defence forces of some countries, for example, Ethiopia, Morocco, Senegal, Namibia, Zambia, and Botswana, have developed holistic programs to counter the disease in the military. Most African forces now screen military recruits for HIV and do not accept those who are positive. Others hold back promotions for those who become HIV positive. This raises, however, serious human rights issues. At the same time, there is some evidence that prevalence rates quickly rise even if HIV positive recruits have been screened out during the enlistment process. HIV has also reduced the effectiveness of African soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers and created moral issues for the UN, which recommends the testing of soldiers before and after deployment.

Cross Border Ethnic Conflicts

Ethnic groups that straddle artificial boundaries have long been a source of conflict in Africa. Somalis living in Somalia, Somaliland, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya have agitated for political and/or border realignment since independence. Afars in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea occasionally manifest their unhappiness with the borders that divide them. Zaghawa living in Sudan and Chad have contributed to ongoing conflict in both countries. Hutu in the eastern Congo are part of the conflict in that region and account for Rwandan military retaliations. Some organized groups use neighbouring countries as a base from which to attack their country of origin. Ethiopia’s Oromo Liberation Front has its headquarters in neighbouring Eritrea. The Lord’s Resistance Army, consisting of Acholi from northern Uganda, also operates out of southern Sudan and the eastern Congo. Historically, there have been numerous other cross border ethnic conflicts on the continent.

Refugee Movements and Internally Displaced Persons
Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) pose challenges for African militaries. They can lead to unstable conditions in areas where they are located, serve as recruiting grounds for dissident groups and require the services of security personnel to protect or confine them. Arguably, IDPs pose a greater problem for African militaries than refugees. IDPs receive less international assistance and are unhappy residents in their own country. Refugees are usually cared for in UNHCR camps and have a vested interest in staying out of trouble.
Africa has long had a disproportionate number of the world’s refugees. In recent years, however, the percentage has been declining. In sub-Saharan Africa, it fell 6 percent in 2007 compared to 2006. Even with this reduction, however, sub-Saharan Africa had 2.3 million refugees or almost a quarter of the world’s total. The major refugee producing countries were Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The principal African refugee hosting countries were Tanzania and Chad.
There were about 14 million IDPs worldwide in 2007. More than a quarter of this number resided in Africa. Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo each had a million or more IDPs. Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and the Central African Republic had smaller but significant numbers of IDPs.
Environmental Factors

Some argue that there is a strong correlation between stability and environmental sustainability. Changes in rainfall patterns have existed in Africa since the beginning of written records and caused periodic famines. Some parts of the continent, however, are experiencing increasingly more frequent famines due to a combination of changing weather conditions, high population growth rates and poor environmental practices. Desertification continues inexorably and is being exacerbated by global climate change. Most experts believe tropical regions will experience the worst effects of climate change, and Africa occupies much of the world’s tropical zone. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the effect on Africa will be especially harsh because of low adaptive capacity caused by weak governments with limited capacity, high rates of poverty, unequal access to resources, continuing conflicts and the widespread existence of endemic disease such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Climate change will probably increase instability and result in more conflict and challenges for African security forces.

Ethiopia‘s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently stated that half of Africa’s nations may become failed or failing states over the next decade if their governments don’t address the global financial crisis and climate change. He added that Africa should demand compensation from industrialized nations for the damage they have caused by global warming.

Much of Africa is short of water for human consumption and/or agricultural purposes. Although clean water is available to most urban residents in sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of rural residents have access to clean water. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest access to an improved water source of any region of the world. In North Africa, about 90 percent of residents can rely on clean water. High population growth and the need for additional irrigated agricultural is leading in some parts of the continent to increased competition for fresh water. For example, the ten riparian states of the Nile Basin constitute a potential conflict zone if ways are not found to allocate amicably a relatively constant amount of water among ever increasing populations that demand greater quantities of water. Ten years of negotiations on a new protocol governing shared use of Nile water recently stalled following objections from Egypt and Sudan.

Rising Consumer Costs, Falling Commodity Prices and Inflation

Although it is impossible to generalize about the effect of rising consumer costs, falling commodity prices and inflation in fifty-three different African economies, these have been troubling issues for many countries. Major African producers of oil and minerals benefit from high prices of those products while non-producing countries suffer. Most African countries do not have significant quantities of oil or minerals. Economies that earn foreign exchange based largely on one crop such as coffee, cocoa or cotton are constantly subject to the vicissitudes of the commodity price. When prices fall, this tends to put enormous pressure on their economies and increases instability.

Inflation is periodically a threat to stability in parts of Africa. A few African economies operate so close to the margins that sharp rises in the price of a staple such as bread can bring the government down. A historically wealthy country, Zimbabwe, today faces the highest inflation in the world. Early in 2008, the IMF calculated the inflation rate at 150,000 percent. It subsequently rose much higher. Zimbabwe recently issued a $1 billion note that is worth little more than the equivalent of US$1. This situation is not sustainable and the government will probably hold on to power only if it continues to have support of the military.

Governance, Democracy, Transparency and Human Rights

Enlightened leadership, good governance, basic democratic principles, transparency and observance of sound human rights practices are generally believed to contribute to long-term stability. At the same time, studies have shown that the transition between dictatorial or ineffective governance and the achievement of democratic rule can be a highly unstable period. The rise of democracy has led to a decline in conflict in parts of Africa, especially southern Africa. In resource rich countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Nigeria the mishandling of democratization increased the prospect for conflict. In Rwanda, Burundi, Gabon and Chad democratization and the realignment of power were sufficiently traumatic that they led to fear and insecurity.

The West needs to exercise patience when pressing for good governance and democratization. In most cases, it will not happen quickly. Elections are a necessary part of the democratic process, but they are not a panacea. If rushed and held without adequate preparation, they can result in political conflict and aggravate rather than heal divisions in a society. Strong civil society also takes years to develop, especially in states with an unusually weak tradition of democratic principles. The encouragement of transparency, underscoring the evils of corruption and rewarding regimes for better human rights practices can help move the process forward. It is particularly important to teach these principles as part of African security force training programs.

Resource Disparities and Conflicts
Resource disparities across the continent are huge and range from necessary commodities (fresh water, good soil and fuel for cooking) to those that earn significant export income (oil, minerals, precious stones and cash crops). A few countries are blessed with most of these resources; most are lucky if they have one or two of them. Disparities between countries and even imbalances within a single country have led to numerous conflicts. Climate change aggravates the problem. In the dryer parts of the continent, there is often conflict over control of water sources for people and good pasturage for animals. This has been a particular challenge in the Horn of Africa for generations. The existence of good soil has exacerbated ethnic conflict by attracting members of one tribe to an area traditionally farmed by another. This has occurred, for example, in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The most publicized resource disputes centre, however, on valuable commodities like oil, diamonds and coltan. Control over oil was one of the factors contributing to Sudan’s long-standing civil war. The way in which Nigeria uses its oil revenue has led to protests from the people living in one of the oil producing areas. Some of them have created a group to oppose the government and sabotage the oil facilities. Attempts to develop oil and gas in Ethiopia’s Ogaden by China and Malaysia resulted in attacks on their camp by a group that opposes control of the oil by the government in Addis Ababa. A similar problem recently occurred in Sudan’s South Kordofan region. Conflict diamonds were major factors in the now resolved wars in Angola and Sierra Leone. Coltan and other precious resources in the eastern part of the DRC have been exploited by parties from Rwanda and Uganda.

Availability of Small Arms and Local Weapons Production
Many African security forces have had to cope for decades with the existence of large numbers of small arms in the hands of dissidents. More and longer African conflicts result in a greater likelihood there will be even more small arms outside governmental control. Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991, is an extreme case. Nearly every adult Somali has a weapon. Long-running civil wars in the DRC, Sudan, Angola, and Sierra Leone left a legacy of numerous weapons in the hands of potential malcontents. Most of the weapons originated outside Africa, provided either by foreign governments, sympathetic non-governmental groups or arms merchants.
The major suppliers of arms to Africa (excluding Egypt) are Russia, Germany, China, the UK and France. One of the most dangerous situations occurred in 1998 when war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Russia sold Eritrea MiG-29 aircraft, which came with Ukrainian pilots. Ethiopia purchased SU-27 aircraft and the services of Russian pilots. The Russians and the Ukrainians never fought each other, but the absurdity of the situation was palpable. In addition, both Ethiopia and Eritrea purchased a large quantity of conventional weaponry from a variety of countries.
Increasingly, Africa is manufacturing its own weapons, especially small arms, light weapons and ammunition. South Africa has a long history of producing sophisticated weapons and small arms. Egypt has been an important arms manufacturer for decades, occasionally drawing on outside help as in the case of K-8E jet aircraft co-produced with China. Sudan recently became the third largest manufacturer of arms in Africa. It has the capacity to produce ammunition and mortars and to assemble tanks and armored personnel carriers. A number of countries, reportedly including China, Germany, Bulgaria and Iran, helped establish this manufacturing capability. Nigeria has produced small arms and ammunition since 1964. Former President Obasanjo stated he wanted to produce enough arms and ammunition to supply the sub region. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe all produce ammunition.
External Influences
Even after the end of colonial rule, African countries experienced many cases of direct and indirect foreign involvement, sometimes including direct military engagement. In most cases, at least one African government requested this foreign intervention. The most dramatic examples occurred during the Cold War. France occasionally propped up a failing, friendly francophone regime with the assistance of French forces. The United States provided large quantities of military equipment to countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, and Egypt when they were close Cold War allies. The Soviet Union provided enormous amounts of military equipment and some advisers to countries such as Ethiopia and Angola in support of existing governments. Cuba sent large numbers of troops to Angola and Ethiopia to strengthen threatened governments. China established camps in countries such as Ghana and Congo-Brazzaville in the 1960s to provide military training for African liberation groups and revolutionary movements committed to toppling existing independent governments.
Once the Cold War ended, outside countries reduced the level of direct military intervention, although participation in UN-sanctioned peacekeeping operations became more common. France still maintains four small military bases in Africa and the United States established in 2002 a military base in Djibouti primarily to counter terrorism in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Except for the continuing provision of weapons, foreign involvement in Africa has become more benign and focused mainly on economic linkages. The former colonial powers remain engaged on the continent. The United States, after backing away following the end of the Cold War, has returned as a major influence. Russia, the former Soviet republics and the eastern European countries significantly reduced interaction with Africa but Russia is now reasserting its presence. Japan and South Korea maintained their commercial links with Africa while Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and the Nordic countries have continued important assistance programs and commercial ties.
The most significant development, however, has been the growing importance of China in Africa followed by India. China is projected to pass the United States by 2010 as Africa’s largest trading partner. It has diplomatic relations with forty-nine of Africa’s fifty-three countries (four countries still recognize Taiwan) and has an embassy in all forty-nine countries except Somalia. That equals the number of U.S. embassies in Africa, and China has more independent consulates than the United States. India is expanding rapidly in Africa and plans in five years to reach China’s current level of trade with the continent, which exceeds $100 billion. Brazil has made a major push into the continent in recent years, especially with lusophone countries. Several Gulf States, Iran and Turkey are also expanding their ties with Africa. The playing field is much more crowded than it was just ten years ago. This gives the Africans more options, but it also complicates the nature of Africa’s interaction with outside interests.
A Final Comment

It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to demonstrate a direct link between all of these structural issues and stability generally or their impact on the challenges for security forces. Some, such as ethnic groups divided by arbitrary borders, clearly result in occasional outbreaks of conflict. Disappearing pasturage and water sources can also be shown to lead to local conflict. It is probably not possible to prove a direct link between high unemployment, population and urbanization growth rates and conflict. The goal of this paper, however, was simply to identify for analysts working on Africa those issues that should also be considered as they look at stability on the continent and the challenges facing African security forces in the years ahead.