The age of colonialism and the subsequent decolonisation of Africa along with the Cold War has long past and despite the geographical tragedies that occurred in terms of arbitrary borders, the continent needs to come to terms with itself. It also needs to take responsibility for both its internal and external security.
Africa can no longer afford to lay the blame for its woes outside of the continent. Whereas several of Africa’s problems may indeed originate from beyond its shores, countries need to review their national security strategies and act accordingly. Failure to do so simply renders them more vulnerable to the numerous threats and threat networks that are able to penetrate and exploit the numerous security lapses that exist.
Cooperation between the threats operating in Africa is increasing as criminal, insurgent and terrorist networks cross and even join paths. Indeed, in several places across Africa, criminal networks support insurgent and terror networks and visa versa and on occasion, they are part of the same threat network. In parts of Africa, they have morphed into proxy forces under the control of foreign governments. On occasion, foreign interests coincide with the aims of the threats and/or threat networks and either wittingly or unwittingly support these networks.
As the threats and the threat networks across the continent have increased, so too has Africa’s military capacity to deal with them been gradually reduced – due in part to a lack of focussed intelligence and foresight, incoherent strategies, incorrect structures, inadequate doctrine, substandard training and obsolete equipment. This slow decay becomes very difficult, costly and time consuming to reverse – time that is often not available. Added to this has been the rise of ethnic and political tensions infused with religious extremism.
African countries need to strengthen their defensive and offensive intelligence gathering capabilities in order to provide early warning to strategists and planners. A strong intelligence capability will furthermore allow predictions to be made in terms of real or potential threats that may or will manifest themselves. This ought to act as a guideline in terms of organisational structures, training and equipment.
To enter into a conflict or a war implies a progressive move towards economic, political and populace exhaustion. This exhaustion becomes even more evident when the conflict or the war is allowed to drag on indefinitely due to a lack of actionable intelligence along with an inability of the armed forces to contain/destroy the threat and both military and civilian casualties increase and infrastructure and equipment is either damaged or destroyed. This damages the economy which is needed to sustain the efforts of the armed forces.
However, without wide intelligence coverage and a coherent strategy, the exhaustion is multiplied – especially if the means to achieve the ends are not present or the means are lacking in ability, equipment and the political and national will is eroded or non-existent.
The primary problem however lays with the means: most African armies are organisational clones of their once colonial masters or their later East Bloc allies. This has resulted in incorrect organisational structures, incorrect training, inadequate doctrine, terrain and enemy-irrelevant TTPs and incorrect – often obsolete - equipment and so forth.
An incorrect organisational structure that is poorly prepared and postured prohibits rapid deployment and response and is usually accompanied by cumbersome command and control lines, inadequate logistics, inadequate personnel administration and that, in turn, impacts on morale and forces armies to become reactive as opposed to proactive.
The current structures most African armies follow are not conducive to rapid deployment or focussed effort. We have proven the concept that smaller, more agile units, correctly structured and trained and well-led are able to manoeuvre at speed – if they have the necessary assets at their disposal. These forces are able to operate independently and yet rapidly regroup to form a larger, very aggressive, efficient and potent fighting force.
Whether mechanised, motorised, riverine or air delivered, these forces are able to conduct numerous offensive tasks from a single large-scale conventional attack to smaller swarm attacks, COIN operations, raids and ambushes and so forth. It is this very concept that allows for the relentless pursuit of an enemy force.
This structure furthermore enables dispersed defence, forcing any enemy to attack over a very wide front whilst simultaneously dispersing his forces and exposing them to numerous flank and swarm attacks.
Unfortunately, many African armies have tried to clone foreign armies or have been ill-advised and misled in terms of intelligence, strategy, organisational structure, training, equipment and other related defence and security issues. Additionally, African armies have become very political in terms of appointments and missions. In turn, this has allowed numerous threats to be ignored, misjudged and subsequently not taken seriously until it has become almost too late. It has also resulted in a hesitancy to adapt their forces to deal with the current and future threat networks.
However, these remain mere factors that are often overlooked but that impact negatively on the abilities of African armies to achieve mission success.
For African armed forces to engage a threat or a threat network efficiently, rapidly and with economy of force, serious consideration needs to be given to restructuring the armies and training and equipping them accordingly.