As has become quite usual and an almost daily occurrence, rebel forces throughout central Africa have gained momentum and succeeded in defeating government forces. Often, the government forces appear to be very well trained in running away whilst the rebel forces appear to be better trained, have more cohesion, are better armed and even have better mobility than the government forces.
I am also amazed at how easily - and quickly - governments dismiss intelligence in favour of disinformation. Could it be that they believe the “advice” given them by foreign governments or so-called “subject matter experts” is more credible than that given by people who do actually have “ears on the ground”?
The escalation of tensions in the so-called Great Lakes region is a fine example of governments’ failure to listen. It appears they are advised to adopt the ostrich approach (sticking their heads in the sand and hoping the problem will simply go away) – an approach that is apparently becoming the norm. This approach apparently assures governments that the problem will indeed “go away” if it is simply ignored.
Often these rumours are clustered around other rumours that give credibility to the false sense of security that an interested party is trying to develop. Selected “leaks” to the media result in these rumour-clusters being given more credibility – and this is then fed back to the government as fact “as the media said so”.
The end-result is that when they finally pull their heads out of the sand, the problem has become a crisis. Those who so generously misadvised at great financial cost have by then long flown the coup. The crisis rapidly escalates into a blood-letting of aggrieved citizens and ill-disciplined troops and the entire system of government collapses.
The culture of failing to listen is partly the result of being fed so much rubbish that it becomes literally impossible for governments to distinguish fact from fiction.
Without naming and shaming governments, we warned four different governments of threats being developed in their countries long before the threats manifested themselves. This intelligence (by the time we advised them, we were no longer giving them simple information) was discarded as rumours, whilst rumours and innuendo that painted a rosy picture were seen a “credible intelligence”. We are still trying to warn another government that a coup is imminent. No doubt they are also being advised it is nothing other than a rumour.
The impact this “intelligence” (rumours, innuendo and false stories) has on the Pillars of State is enormous in that it ultimately alters the perceptions of the populace and leads to a reaction that the governments have often not anticipated. The collapse of the armed forces simply adds to the unanticipated reaction as soldiers and civilians alike join rebel forces and begin a campaign of looting and intimidation.
Then of course, we have the SANDF’s 2013 misadventure into Central African Republic (CAR). Again, a badly advised government force, ill-trained and totally unprepared for the rebel assault on the government of CAR. Needless to say, this has irreparably tarnished the reputation of the SANDF.
Whereas I mourn the death of every soldier, we must not forget that the SANDF has also been the beneficiary of “free advice” and “free training”. Sadly, this resulted in the Seleka rebel coalition outgunning and out-manoeuvring the SANDF. This confirms that not only was the overall SANDF strategy flawed but that the strategy had its foundation resting on poor intelligence – and no strategy can succeed if it is developed off assumptions and rumours.
Additionally, even the best strategy and operational designs will fail if the armed forces are not trained and equipped to implement the operational plans. Inadequately trained forces with poor leadership simply add fuel to the fire.
This all goes back to failing to listen to good advice and instead opting for bad advice aimed at disadvantaging the recipient.
As long as governments fail to listen – instead relying on disinformation – this cycle of chaos will continue.