African militaries need to re-evaluate themselves


The role and organization of African militaries requires a thorough re-think as on the whole most armies in Africa are not fit for their purpose, according to retired Nigerian Major General Olasehinde Ishola Williams.

Williams served for 30 years in the Nigerian army and is now Executive Secretary of the Panafstrag International Secretariat. The Lagos based think tank conducts studies for bodies such as The Economic Community of West African States.

He is well known for being highly outspoken on a range of issues and has served as the President of the Nigerian chapter of the anti-corruption organization Transparency International.

Williams proposes a new security model for African states based on community policing, a type of gendarmerie to deal with public order and terrorism, and a far leaner but better equipped and more unified military.
“Whenever there is a crisis, the mentality is to run to Europe or the US and say help us,” instead of dealing with the situation Williams said. “If you look at African armies you see that most of the time they are forced to ask for foreign help before they can engage the enemy.”

Williams made the comments to DefenceWeb at the Second Annual Africa Security and Counter-Terrorism Summit in London yesterday.

Williams said that “far too much money is being spent on old fashioned conventional forces,” with conventional western military doctrine being followed.

Part of the reason for the current problems faced by many African militaries is due to the advice governments took to curb defence to boost social spending. When Nigeria was pushed to send forces to help ECOWAS peacekeeping efforts during the Liberian civil war, the army, “were begging for boots and socks,” Williams said.

He added that the Nigerian Army was neglected after it suppressed the Maitatsine Uprisings (1980-85) in Kano and Borno states. “The political masters thought these uprisings could not recur and the army was unprepared” to deal with Boko Haram.

The retired general believes that public pressure on Nigerian politicians will mean that the army will, after a period of ineffectiveness in dealing with the threat from Boko Haram, soon step up to the challenge.
“People do not realize that you need a defence policy review every few years when a new government comes in to determine what threats and structure we need. Then you determine what to buy and the structure,” he said.

The new security model he proposes for most African states would rely heavily on community policing for local law enforcement. Each state or province in a country would have its own police force and a body, modelled along the lines of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), would be in charge of serious and cross border crime. A force modelled along the lines of the French Gendarmerie would have authority over public order and counter-terrorism issues.

The country’s military force would largely have a rapid special operations force role. The smaller and more focused forces would permit a reduced defence budget, “but it would be smart, well equipped, and affordable,” said Williams. Such a force would be able to deal with emergencies internally and externally, and the army signallers and engineers could also be seconded to work in a development role.

Williams also believes that to ensure greater efficiency armies, navies, and air forces, should be unified along the lines of the Canadian Armed Forces or the Australian Defence Force, which has a single headquarters.