Speaking to a friend of mine a while ago, I was somewhat taken aback when he intimated that he had a good chuckle whenever he was sent to do training in Africa. He was a serving soldier in a European army and part of his country’s “aid package” to Africa, was – and still is - to train African armies. The reason for my surprise was not that he told me that the country they train becomes beholden to them for its weapons of war, political goodwill and aid – I have suspected this all along – but that their brief is to purposely train the African armies badly.
The more I thought about this sneaky approach to training, the more agitated I became – especially as I consider myself an African living in Africa.
I have, for a long time, known of both the West’s and the East’s efforts to continually sabotage Africa. I have also witnessed first-hand the betrayal of entire nations – African and otherwise- by the West when it suited their aims. But, as long as conflict rages in Africa, resources remain cheap and the desire for war material remains at an all-time high. The poorer these armies are trained, the easier it is to defeat them with insurgent forces – the rebels, in turn, often supported by the very people that trained the government forces. When I suggested the reason of their brief – to ensure instability - he very reluctantly agreed with me. It also made me understand why some African armies are often unable to contain even small rebel groups.
From my experience, a disciplined, well-trained, well-led African army is more than a match for any other army, let alone a rebel group. I base this comment on the time I served with 32 Battalion’s Reconnaissance Wing, the African Special Forces members I trained in covert operations, the work of 101 Battalion, Koevoet and the like. Many of these men later joined Executive Outcomes where they continued to give outstanding work. They never ran from a fight, followed their orders to the letter and never complained. They didn’t need to watch television every night, get “time out cards” when the going got tough, live off balanced diets, rely on technology to win the battles they fought and so on.
My experience of working with African soldiers is that they are men who are loyal to a fault, take well to discipline and harsh combat conditions, they are adaptable, they are willing to follow orders exactly, they fight like lions, they follow their commanders and yet when the smoke clears, they are still proud to be soldiers. But to achieve this, they need good training, leadership and discipline.
However, looking at the conflicts in Africa, it is very clear that the military “aid packages” foreign governments are keen to hand out are serving their purposes very well. African armies are poorly trained, poorly led and purposely kept weak.
When African governments realise what is happening, and dain to approach a PMC to ensure that they are given the best, non-political, no-strings-attached training they can get, they are very quickly condemned. Suddenly no consideration is given to the fact that the PMC is made up of ex-professional soldiers who want to ensure that the government in question gets the best training it can afford. The off-key chorus is then led by the “aid giving” government who, when it had a chance, did everything in its power to sabotage those armies with an evil agenda hidden behind a smile, condescension and false kindness.
The PMC industry does, however, have its own bad apples to contend with. It is the bad apples that create the stink surrounding the disciplined, efficient PMCs. Whereas PMCs are quick to blame the media for their problems, they will find their problems a lot closer to home than that. (The modern-day PMC does not have to fight the mass media as EO did). It is the PMC-poser companies that need to be exposed for what they are. But it is also a responsibility of the real PMCs to expose the fly-by-night companies out there operating on someone else’s reputation and in the process discrediting everyone.
The reality is that a professional, disciplined PMC will provide a better, more cost-effective and more efficient service than a government armed force, especially as they come with no hidden agenda. But, those that do get exposed for having a hidden agenda need to be taken to task and their contracts immediately terminated, along with international exposure.
An African government, like any other government, can decide on its own destiny. It can approach that destiny in a prepared or an unprepared manner. Yet, when it decides on its own destiny, it suddenly discovers that it is not allowed to do so unless it is willing to pay the price of international condemnation, sanctions and isolation. Obviously, the UN does not want this to happen as their incompetent and corrupt peacekeepers will be without work. NGOs will, likewise, condemn this as they will be caught with reduced funding.
The African Union’s dismal performance is further testimony to this “strategy” of “train badly, lose easily”. But where does the blame lie and who benefits from this? One need look no further that the military-aid giving government.
I believe the time has come for African governments to look at a “no-strings-attached” professional PMC to train to their armed forces. The result will be a better trained and led armed force, increased stability and no international political-, financial-, and social blackmail threats to contend with.
My next post will take a look at the difference between strategy and tactics.
Added on 7 February 2009: Please see http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=nw20090207091706646C101041&set_id=1&click_id=68&sf= This illustrates, as a recent example, what I had written about. Poorly planned and Western encouraged to ensure even more problems in the Great Lakes area…no doubt the blame will be placed on the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force while the US military will claim its innocence at the incident. But until such time as African governments decide on their own destiny, these things will continue to happen.