The future conflicts and wars in Africa will seldom, if ever comprise large conventional forces pitted against one another.
Whereas conventional engagements will occur in primarily government-versus-government actions, they will be on a much smaller scale than witnessed in the past decades. Mobility, manoeuvre, surprise, speed and firepower will still remain of critical importance yet these operations will be hampered by a lack of intelligence, unreliable air support and inadequate logistics coupled to challenging terrain and varying climatic conditions.
The presence of the local population and other non-combatants has always – and will always – add a very real and unavoidable complexity to the battlefield. Whereas the government forces will attempt to co-opt and win over the support of the population, the enemy will attempt to take control over the population to force and maintain their support.
However, when the populace believe and feel they have been forgotten, failed and neglected or oppressed by their government, their support for an insurgency or an invading enemy will be more energised. This in itself ought to be cause for alarm to African governments.
In the early stages of an internal uprising or revolution, there is often a common popular belief that the coming conflict will provide the populace with “freedom” and “a better life”, hence their tentative support for the insurgency or revolution. As the conflict escalates, the enemy will take steps to protect their gains by tightening their control over the populace. This can result in the populace being subject to physical abuse, torture, executions, forced labour and recruitment. Any attempt by the populace to rid themselves of this yoke of control will result in vicious and swift retribution from the enemy.
Regardless, the populace – along with refugees - will form an integral part of the battlefield and will play a large role in the plans of both the government and the enemy as they will become both the prize and the victim of the opposing forces.
The future conflicts and wars in Africa will comprise a host of different threats, groups and forces utilising both urban and rural terrain. They will be driven by different actions and motivators employing both unconventional and limited conventional methods. These actions and motivators will cover the spectrum of general civil disobedience, violent and non-violent protests, political anxiety and isolation, violent criminal activities, insurgencies, proxy wars, state-sponsored cross-border actions, religious differences, terrorism, tribal and ethnic anger and xenophobia, territorial and resource greed along with poverty and hunger and so forth.
Attacks on tourist areas, shopping malls, business enterprises, hotels, resource mining and production areas, industrial areas, airports and harbours, isolated farms and villages, energy-supply systems, transport networks, government buildings and communication systems will become prime enemy targets. These attacks will be aimed at eroding the economy, over-stretching the security forces, creating negative national and international perceptions and sapping the will of the populace whilst creating a sense of panic.
Enemy successes will be widely proclaimed using the mainstream and social media networks to market their successes, however limited, and instil a sense of despondency and fear in the populace. Marketing of successes will also be aimed at showing the inability of the government forces to successfully counter or stop the enemy.
When unconventional enemy forces sense defeat, they will withdraw and call for a “cease fire” and “negotiations” – a tactic aimed at gaining time, replenishing losses and creating the impression that they want peace. This tactic was and has been used in Angola, Sierra Leone, DRC, CAR, Nigeria, Mali, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Mozambique and so forth. However, peace is the very last objective they have in mind, especially when the enemy forces are acting as proxy forces on behalf of foreign sponsors to secure foreign interests. Governments will heed these calls for negotiations and unconditional ceasefires at their own peril.
Whereas both the armed forces and the law enforcement agencies will play a significant role in defeating these groups and forces in the field, they will need to be correctly trained and equipped and have access to actionable intelligence. Without intelligence, the enemy will always retain the initiative and government forces will remain unbalanced and blind to enemy plans, trends and shifts and thus remain reactive as opposed to proactive.
To ensure success, government forces will require political, military and populace will along with resolute leadership to defeat the enemy. Furthermore, African armies will need to break-away from their current organisational structures and reshape themselves to take the battle to the enemy and rapidly respond to enemy plans, actions and threats. Current structures prohibit rapid, proactive actions.
African governments will, additionally, need to reassess the manner in which governance is applied and maximise their use of the Pillars of State to identify, locate and neutralise these threats. It is at the political level that serious actions will need to be coordinated and integrated with the other Pillars.
Unless governments begin serious preparations to protect and defend themselves, their territory and the populace, they will be ill-prepared to face the coming conflicts and wars – and they are coming.