Africa has been wracked by numerous wars, civil wars, rebellions and insurgencies, conflicts that have all been very similar in progression - a progression that closely follows Mao Zedong’s views on how these actions ought to be conducted.
This does not imply that those insurgencies have all been Maoist in thought and deed but rather that the Maoist progression model has been relatively easy to implement.
In the West, those who ferment such a revolution with the aim of overthrowing a government are often viewed as “freedom fighters” or “non-state actors”. Within Africa they are not viewed as such as the term itself gives those who turn to armed conflict a legitimacy that is often undeserved. As such revolutions inevitably make use of extreme torture of captured opponents, brutality towards the innocent and extreme terrorisation of the local populace, they are instead referred to as “rebels”, “terrorists” or “criminals”.
Africa has also been witness to numerous coup d’etats, the results which have often led to the establishment of military juntas that are inexperienced in political matters and therefore prone to mismanaging the political responsibilities associated with government. This has been partly due to the large influence of politics within the military as well as the quest for ultimate power.
Conventional wars, as understood in the Western sense of conventional land battles, are not common to Africa. Although there have been large, isolated classical conventional battles on the continent post 1945, it is the manner of conduct and approach to war that differs vastly from Western military thinking. Examples of such conventional battles are the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania in 1978-79 and the South African Defence Force battles against Cuban and Angolan forces in 1987. Such conventional actions have all followed the same progression:
· Antagonism, anger or perceived danger/threat
· Failed diplomacy
· Build-up of forces
The African model for revolution is often misunderstood by Western military thinkers. This model invariably follows the following progression:
· The mobilisation of the people against real or perceived oppression
· A phase of armed struggle utilising the operational environment as well as the political environment. This is usually in the form of guerrilla warfare and may include acts of terrorism. However, soft targets are of primary importance to show results and get mass media attention. It is this phase of war that is referred to as an insurgency and the fight against it is referred to as counter-insurgency. Engagements are of short duration and the insurgent will then melt away into the bush and blend into local population concentrations
· Mobile warfare aimed primarily at rear areas with the aim of cutting supply lines and capturing arms and ammunition. This is not a phase where Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) are employed but should rather be viewed as a phase in which the insurgents mount large-scale operations. Vehicles or motorcycles may be used to deliver them to close proximity of their targets
· Conventional warfare – a phase where mass support from the people has been given to the insurgent movement – a phase where numbers and anger will tell.
As can be noted, the above progression closely follows the Maoist model for revolution despite the fact that many insurgent groups are not Maoist organisations.
This type of progression, with variations, has become a very successful conflict-model and has proven itself in numerous armed insurrections in Africa. Although not every revolution in Africa has been successful, many important lessons are evident – lessons that remain applicable to counter-insurgency students – regardless of origin.
It is only by knowing and understanding this progression of conflict that an effective counter can be designed and implemented.