Africa has been at war with itself for centuries.
I believe that this is not likely to end within the short or even the medium term. There are numerous reasons for this continued state of conflict and it will not lessen, no matter how hard the outside world wishes it to as there are many agendas that drive this continued state of conflict.
Many countries on the African continent have faced numerous types of warfare in the past – and will face similar – or expanded - threats in the future. Over decades, the continent has witnessed hot wars as well as cold wars – all aimed at achieving political-ethnical, tribal, religious, economical and even criminal goals. Countries will go to war with one another over water, food, resources, territorial disputes and so forth. Others will use proxy forces to achieve their aims and ambitions. Some will resort to the tactics of terror to achieve their aims. But they all have one common aim: Power.
This places the senior command cadre of the African armed forces in a position of having to contend with both regional and domestic political, social and military matters.
The threats that governments in Africa face are diverse, multi-layered and complex. Countering these threats, therefore, extends beyond the normally accepted role of the armed forces. This requires military strategists and planners to have access to intelligence as well as foresight and vision (based on sound intelligence) of the geo-political and military developments in the region. If they cannot “see over the hill”, they will be caught unawares by what comes down the valley.
In the African context, the armed forces are an instrument of not only foreign policy but also of domestic policy. Therefore, to conduct effective military operations, the armed forces must be organised, trained, postured and correctly equipped and prepared for deployments and actions both within and/or beyond the country’s borders. These actions must cover the ambit of Military Operations Related to War (MORW), Military Operations other than War (MOOTW) and also Military Intelligence Operations (MIOs).
Most African armies are structured along the lines of the old colonial armies, ie sections, platoons, companies, battalions and so forth. Whereas this structure gives some continuity to the rotation of units and sub-units, it is in my opinion, not the type of structure that is entirely valid for Africa. Added to this are numerous fractured colonial-era doctrines mainly unsuitable for war and conflict in Africa. In turn, this hampers the operational effectiveness of the armed forces more than is given cognisance to.
With few exceptions, most wars in Africa tend to be so-called small wars. Most African armies tend to be “conventional heavy” with little emphasis given to unconventional warfare units. The terrain in many countries is unsuitable for mechanised and armoured warfare. Where terrain allows it and the infrastructure exists, these units tend to be mainly road-bound, making them easy targets for ambushes and IEDs.
I am not advocating that African armies do away with their conventional units. These units need to be kept but reduced in size to make them more efficient fighting units. Conventional units remain important as African armed forces must be able to carry out multiple missions in order to give the government options.
However, in containing future wars and conflicts, I believe the time has come for African armies to seriously assess the validity of small war units, ie unconventional forces capable to operating in smaller sized units with sufficient helicopter support to sustain deployments, conduct air assaults and the leap-frogging of units as well as conduct casevac missions. Where necessary, terrain permitting, they must be supported by mechanised and armoured units. Close air support using sophisticated strike aircraft may have a significant role to play in a conventional clash of arms but in most unconventional operations, soldiers need slower low-flying aircraft to provide close air support.
Nations don’t need a military that can only do one mission at a time. They need a military that can conduct multiple missions to give the nation’s leaders and general officers as many options as possible. To achieve this, there needs to be a carefully assessed balance between conventional units and unconventional units, this balance being guided primarily by the threat and the terrain.
However, a lack of focus on both the enemy and the political objectives that need to be attained will result in a strategic failure.
What remains a fact is that wars will continue in Africa and the armed forces of African governments will need to carefully asses their future missions and responses. They will also need to reassess the structure, training and equipping of their armed forces.
Until this balance is achieved, many conflicts and wars in Africa will simply continue to simmer.