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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. Until recently, I was a contributing editor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Friday, September 13, 2013


As no two fragile or failed states are the same, there can be no universal template to bring about positive change or a reversal from the brink of collapse to a stable and prosperous state. Rather, it requires a series of coordinated actions and activities to bring about this change.

However, when studying fragile or failed states, there will be certain common characteristics that these states share. In my previous posting, I listed several of the common characteristics we have witnessed within certain fragile states we have worked in.

When I look at the concept of a state in Africa, I view it as a group of people (usually an ethnic, cultural or religious majority) positioned to rule as a government within a defined territory and implementing a defined constitution. Whether or not we view that constitution as “good” or “bad” does not detract from the fact that that grouping of people exercise influence over those who reside in that territory.

In turn, this influence - whether positive or negative - can spill across national borders and impact on the region. An example of influence impacting on a region is the current instability witnessed in the Great Lakes region and its effect on several neighbouring states.

We should not sugar-coat problems simply to be politically-correct. Nor, I believe, should we try to be politically-correct when large tracts of Africa are in crisis as we only deceive ourselves and do a disservice to Africa. It does, however, depend on who is defining the state as either fragile or failed and who stands to gain what from the state in question’s collapse.

Africa has many examples of states bordering on fragile and/or failed. It also has numerous examples of states that are transitioning from a failed/fragile state to a more palatable revolutionary government. However, some fragile or failed states have the resources to turn the tide but are hampered from doing so by corruption, tenderpreneurship and local, regional and international influences and pressures, some overt and some not so overt.

As decolonisation wound down, many government departments found themselves unable to cope with the lack of service-savvy administrators. This void was rapidly filled by family and friends of the ruling-party who had no training in what to do and/or how to do it. This resulted in a decrease/collapse of essential services, including education. As governments changed, so too did the personnel in these institutions. This lack of continuity and experience has ultimately resulted in a lack of a professional civil service coupled to a lack of accountability.

I firmly believe the much-used/abused term of “nation-building” – when it has been passed to the armed forces to accomplish - is nothing other than a blame-shifting exercise where politicians do not want to take responsibility for their actions and instead try to implicate the armed forces in the failure that will follow.

Rebuilding a fragile or failed state is not the responsibility of the armed forces. The armed forces, in support of the law enforcement agencies, need to create a climate of stability and security to enable government departments and agencies to fulfil their missions.

A common sight in a fragile state…

Therefore, assuming the state is not engaged in a civil war, rectification requires inter alia the following:

1.     Strong political will that drives ever-improving governance
2.     Reassessment of Grand/National Strategy, National Security Strategies and Policies
3.     Cross-party political communication to reach consensus
4.     Strong national will
5.     An acceptance of accountability
6.     Popular support ie recognition of government legitimacy
7.     Development of national pride/patriotism
8.     Refocused monetary and fiscal policies
9.     Attractive, secure foreign investment opportunities
10.  Establishment of industries (creating job opportunities)
11.  Increased and improved service delivery
12.  Increased productivity
13.  Increased and improved (objective) law enforcement
14.  An objective judiciary
15.  Improved international perceptions/relations
16.  Increased effectiveness of - and pride in - the armed forces
17.  Increased effectiveness of intelligence services
18.  A combination of the above. 

In order to efficiently manage themselves, these states ought to:

1.     Identify and neutralise internal threat-drivers
2.     Work at neutralising external threat-drivers
3.     Avoid appointing substandard and incompetent “advisors”
4.     Continually re-evaluate national strategy and adjust where necessary
5.     Increase legitimacy of state
6.     Focus efforts to reduce/eradicate corruption
7.     Find a balance between austerity measures and reduce unnecessary government spending
8.     Implement, develop and expand affordable economic and political reforms
9.     Increase efficiency in terms of service delivery
10.  Reduce violent and non-violent political actions
11.  Target programmes aimed at increased education and poverty reduction and so forth.

It can be argued that many fragile and failed states in Africa only have themselves to blame for the situation they find themselves in – as they allowed it to happen whilst fostering a culture of non-accountability. However, on closer inspection, a portion of the blame can be laid before the door of regional and international forces.

Unless Africa takes responsibility for itself and its leaders become accountable to the people they govern, states will continue to find themselves on the cusp of fragile or failed - or civil war - and the legacy left to our children will be shameful. However, there is no quick fix – only hard work, dedication and positive commitment and drive.

But, Africa needs to start somewhere before it is too late.


Unknown said...

National pride and patriotism is key to any countries success.

If however the country has a fragile politically segregated populace then the inevitability of falling into chaos is almost guaranteed. It takes cohesion of the population and government to make things work, if one of the two are faulty then the machine will not and cannot work.

Here power and pride seem to be bed fellows and they are closely related to the other "cousins" arrogance and ignorance + stupidity & intolerance.

It would be so nice if just one struggling country could genuinely embrace the points in your article.

It would be nice for once to see an example of true hope emerge from the worlds hot spots instead of seeing entire generations being forced backwards through power driven conflict as opposed to growth and nurturing of the countries own population by its own leaders.

It`s all a pipe dream unfortunately and until the day that an election can be held without intimidation and open corruption rearing it`s ugly head we will just see despots cling to power by force till they die of old age instead of being voted out at the end of their tenure. Africa has perfected this once voted in "I am here to stay" technique.

The third world has ensured the arms suppliers around the globe are kept in business and these manufacturers would certainly shut doors and go out of business if god forbid peace broke out!

The UN and aid agencies would be of no use to the world and a lot of jobs would be lost. So in the interest of keeping employment up it is better that the third world be kept in turmoil. There is a lot of money at stake for the UN and all the others who benefit from war. Really, who are we to just want a little peace?

With 6+ billion people on the planet I suspect that allowing civil wars to drag on is simply an efficient and "politically correct" way to thin the herd so to speak.

The planet cannot sustain all these third "worldians" and it would be politically incorrect to suggest mass sterilisation to save our planet from the impending tipping point where the earth can no longer supply the demand for food. Thus, civil wars are "promoted" and encouraged so that the herd can be "naturally" thinned and a whole pile of people can make a buck at the same time.



PS** I truly try to be patriotic but when I see our buffoon leaders and wanna be leaders I simply find it impossible. In my uninformed opinion, we are currently being run as a "Kakistocracy" ( a government led by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens)or colloquially known as a Banana Republic.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Some good points, thank you Mike.

I am fortunate to be talking to several countries. However, bear in mind that they have been lied to, deceived and misled for so long that they too need to discover that illusive factor called “trust”. Then of course, there are some who are trying very hard to stop governments from talking to us as the fear is that we want to solve problems, not force them to continue indefinitely to suit agendas.



Unknown said...

Hi Eeben. Some unfortunate events over in Kenya at the West gate mall!

The single biggest threat to countries is the unchecked and unpredictable religious zealots and extremists active in their own borders.

This attack with it`s body count surpassing 60 is a harsh lesson to the Kenyan government and it`s population. Terrorism can quickly destabilize an already fragile state and lead the population to doubt their governments abilities to keep them safe in places like the mall!

The loss of life will climb as the cornered extremists begin executing hostages to add to the terror. The security forces must never give in and in my mind should already consider those still trapped as deceased and obliterate the mall completely. It sounds harsh but the public relations fiasco of storming the mall and trying to free hostages who will ultimately perish in the cross fire or by summary execution is just as bad if not worse than showing an iron fist now. The majority of the civilians have been cleared from the scene and to allow the pocket of Al Shabbab boobs to start using the hostages they have left as target practice only entrenches their victory.

Those clowns did not storm the mall with any intention of a GETAWAY plan.

Decisive choices need to be made to show the terrorists that their crap will not be tolerated. The public need to know that their government is strong and willing to take a bite out of the poo sandwich.

Terrorists are the lowest form of crabastic heathen turds known to man. It is amazing just how porous borders are that a large cell can waltz in with an assortment of weapons and a seemingly endless supply of ammunition. I suspect that INTEL was the first victim here.

I truly hope you have these guys in Kenya on your to advise list? They need oodles of assistance right about now.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I too am deeply saddened by what we have witnessed in Kenya, Mike. However, I suspect that there is far more to this very tragic incident than just a group of armed terrorists storming a shopping mall.

In a recent conversation – about 3 or 4 weeks ago - with some Kenyans who are particularly loyal to their government, they mentioned that they are increasingly concerned that the Kenyan military is now being used as a proxy force to further foreign interests. Their major concern was that as a proxy force with no real and tangible benefit to Kenya, this would ultimately result in their country being targeted by hostile forces. In this conversation, many other concerns were raised which I shall not list here.

An attack such as witnessed in Nairobi has also shed light on intelligence gaps that the attackers were able to exploit and thereby achieve maximum surprise. Couple that to a situation where normal day-to-day shoppers enter freely without being scanned or searched and a problem is going to occur.

We also need to remind ourselves that there are pockets of fragmentation in the Kenyan society – the same as we have here. It is this fragmentation that allows bad guys to move like fish through water.

Whereas I am not pointing a finger at the Kenyan military and police forces, it appears as though they were not trained in hostage release operations. Despite this apparent gap in combat training, they tried to do what they could – and that deserves a hat tip. However, I disagree with accepting those still held hostage must be considered lost and thereby adopt the approach of “let’s destroy the mall”. Every life that is and can be saved is a victory.



Unknown said...

I wonder how many of the "frock wearing" terrorists ditched their disguises and "stumbled" out the mall in the chaos and got away?

They were wearing "dresses" going in to obviously help hide their weapons and make CCTV video identification very difficult but with smoke and confusion reigning supreme it is easy to disrobe and waltz out with the clothing they had on underneath with other terrified hostages.

Kenyan government officials have made it clear that they are going to remain in Somalia so this will most certainly not be the last attack. They best get their security forces in order and vet them to ensure who are Kenyan loyalists and who may harbour feelings of "love" for Somalia, Al Shabbab, Al Qaeda and the Mujahadeen. These elements need to routed out before there is a Coup D` Etat in Kenya that plunges them from fragile to failed.

Just a thought.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

If they did indeed enter the mall like that, then they successfully executed a pseudo operation, Mike.

Whereas this may be seen as a tactical victory for the gunmen, it will most probably be a Pyrrhic victory. I however doubt if this will force the Kenyan government to pull its forces out of Somalia but if anything, it will make them realise that there are gaps in intelligence gathering as well as in certain tactical operations. It may also have the reverse effect making Kenyan soldiers all the more determined to succeed in Somalia.

One of the hallmarks of a fragile state is the inability of law enforcement to execute its mission. In this instance, the army had to be called in to assist the police. We witnessed the same here in SA with the Marikana incident – which also places us in the realm of fragility.

Given the extensive involvement of the UK and the US in Kenya, it is unlikely that they would allow a coup to take place. Kenya is and will remain a strategic East African partner to them.



Unknown said...

There is still a pocket of resistance in the mall even after the military had cleared the last of the terrorists and they have hostages.

This turn of events does not bode well for those poor unfortunate people.Al Qaeda, Taliban, Mujahadeen are well noted for their lopping off of heads with sharp knives. This practice has rubbed off on the drug cartels in Mexico too.

They are holed up in a mall with supermarkets and a vast supply of supplies so it could drag out for quite sometime. The military will hold back on storming the terrorists because of the hostages and every time the army try the terrorists will execute a hostage to delay the authorities attack.

Unless all cellular comms have been suspended I truly believe that the Al Shabbab morons will make use of cellular tech to upload these executions onto You tube for maximum effect.

Malls are an easy target for criminality and criminals need only to start firing in order to facilitate their getaway by creating chaos. Here in South Africa the minister of police recently announce that mall robberies were on the increase. Using chaos as a diversion to facilitate escape is a given.

I am quite surprised that Al Qaeda has not launched another attack in Mumbai.

After these dastardly attacks security is stepped up to the hilt but eventually wanes after about a year. The cost for eternal vigilance is prohibitive and eventually goes by the way side.

So much for the Kenyan press releases that they had secured the mall. It is Tuesday and the attack commenced on Saturday and they still have reports from Al Qaeda that their operatives are still in the mall and all this is done through through Twitter!

I still maintain that this is going to end very messy and become a headache for the Kenyan government. Simple things like tourism which generates Billions in revenue will be affected.

I would not be at all surprised if Al Qaeda launches another European attack or rehashes a Mumbai style attack. They are in the media and are generating massive publicity.

I am far from being an aficianado on terrorism but certain things just seem to be common sense when dealing with crazy nut jobs like this.

My heart genuinely goes out to any hostages being held at this time as their tenure on earth is about to come to a terrible conclusion. Nobody wants to see their loved ones subjected to execution in the most crass fashion via youtube. That is where it will end up.

The Kenyan government are at a cross roads and need to make big boy decisions. I think the next crowd to see an attack of this kind could be Nigeria who also have a large population divided along the religious zealot divide as is evident by past attacks. These attacks in Kenya will only spur on these idiots to out do the numbers from Nairobi.

Like I said I am no Nostradamus but I just see this as the start to a new wave of shock tactics by Al Qaeda and it`s many splinter groups.

Mike. my 1 cents worth.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I have heard that the siege is over now Mike but obviously the damage to the Kenyan nation will be there for a long time. Of course, the pain will increase as they begin to clear the rubble as there may be victims buried under the collapsed roof.

The problem all countries face is how do you secure a large shopping mall without being so obtrusive that you scare shoppers away? As we in SA know, malls are and will remain easy targets for not just criminals but also for terror groups as we have just witnessed in Kenya.

Security and intelligence are those things no one wants to think about when things are going well but when the wheels come off, it is the first thing everyone shouts for. Social media such as Twitter and other platforms can be easily exploited by terror groups to sow disinformation and panic. Sadly, as we know, the media can be very effectively used as a tool to suit the agendas of anyone. As you also know, terror groups thrive on the publicity they generate as it gives them a perceived ability and power they do not deserve.

You are correct – these groups feed off one another’s actions and others will probably want to out-do them. The very nature of these acts does however show some desperation within their ranks as I still think this will be a Pyrrhic victory for them. However, I do not think it will have a massive effect on the Kenyan tourism industry. Although the terrorists slaughtered so many innocents over a four-day period, the murder rate here is higher than that – and it has not really impacted negatively on our tourism trade.

This approach is not a new method of conducting terror. We lived through it in SA – remember the Poyntons bombing, the mining of farm roads, the bombing of churches and restaurants and so forth? It is a form of (cowardly) armed action against those who are unable to defend themselves in order to validate their aims and beliefs.

Yes, Kenya will need to make big decisions and I believe that they should make them sooner rather than later - starting with a very offensive intelligence gathering operation and training specialist groups to cope with situations like these. But, I think many questions will need to be answered after this action by many African states. Let us hope that we never have to witness this again on our continent.



Unknown said...

Al Shabbab are still riding high on their pseudo "success" in Nairobi and launched a quick shoot and scoot attack on a border town that killed a few police men.

Those that were arrested at the mall were most certainly not the dedicated die hard Jihad types. It is noted that they were from all walks of life and many different countries which makes me think that they are not super dedicated Islamist Jihadist extremists but just a bunch of murderous psychopaths who just want to murder.

I am sure they will all be handed the death penalty for their crimes but not before some "tactical questioning" saps them of all Intel which then can be disseminated to parties who 'seek" out terrorists.

These pseudo terrs were not to the bitter end variety and still value their lives which shows that AL Shabbab are using just about any misguided easily manipulated fools out there.

Kenya need to strike at Al Shabbab decisively to rally morale not only among the army but with the nation in general.

A truly sad mess this was. I trust your associates and friends in Kenya are okay.

Unknown said...

Kenyan troops have revealed gory mall attack details, saying that some of the hostages in the massacre had their eyes gouged out by Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants, a report says.

Daily Mali reported on Friday that there were horrific claims of torture meted out by terrorists in the mall massacre with some hostages said to have been dismembered and that some were left hanging from hooks in the ceiling.

The report also said children were found dead in the food court fridges with knives still embedded in their bodies.

The report comes as Kenya entered its third and final day of official mourning following the attack on the Westgate shopping mall on Saturday that left at least 67 people dead.

- News24

What more can one say? The only way to deal with Al Shabbab is to obliterate them decisively on their home turf in Somalia??? The world needs to send a very Direct message to these thug whether these reports are fictitious or fact. It is just going to get uglier and uglier.

They are like a cancer.


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Good to know you are still okay, Private. Thank you for your note.

Take care and rgds,


Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am posting this in response to both of your comments, Mike.

I initially gave a hat tip to the KDF for attempting something until I read this article: http://www.kenyanewsonline.net/national/westgate-how-kenya-military-looted-from-the-dead I now obviously view the situation in a totally different light and find the behaviour mentioned here, if the article is true, both disturbing and disgusting.

Regardless of the situation now, it still begs the questions:

1. What happened to intelligence?
2. Who trained them?

Obviously, intelligence without the ability to act or react is an exercise in futility. Without intelligence, there can be no strategy, no operational plan and no prediction of who, what, where, why, etc. That said, I see this entire episode as a failure of massive proportions on more than one level.

It can be argued that you do not get “bad” troops – only “bad” leaders as troops do what they are taught to do – or ordered to do. This situation appears to have been a good example of an absolute and total lack of command and control, leadership, doctrine, planning, discipline and so forth. Perhaps this ought to raise some concerns over the “free” training African armies are being misled with.

Troops that are poorly-trained and ill-disciplined are prone to acting in ways that categorise them as thugs with guns.

Again, one can debate the reasons for this failure in leadership as well as ask the question again and again – who trained these men??

The article beggars belief.

That said, you cannot gain local and international respect from either friend or foe if you project a poor image. Having good equipment and “looking the part” does not constitute well-trained troops – and never will. It is how men behave that distinguishes them from either professionals or prats.

To say I am disgusted is an understatement.



Unknown said...

My worry is more about the motivations behind this murderous act: to instigate a cascade of reactions against Kenyan Somalis by enraged citizens, thereby giving such Somalis little choice but to,panic defensively. Moreover it would be politically difficult for the Kenyan government to resist calls for extreme military intervention in Somalia itself. This in my opinion would be disastrous as whatever existing atmosphere of trust and stability will disappear overnight. That would only benefit an already beleaguered Al Shabab. We should not make the mistake of stereotyping these guys as merely psychopathic extremists, as the threat is more significant in the longer term. Anyone with a grievance and little regard for life can be the tipping point in fragile, failing states. As Eeben has previously stated, proactivity is preferable to reaction, no matter how effective or spectacularly pride-serving. African governments still do not realize the critical need for a continuous and detailed intelligence management architecture, drawing on trained indigenous analysts across the military-civilian law enforcement community. By the time military reaction becomes necessary, national security failures have had the most egregious impact. Sadly, this view makes little headway with those for whom national security simply means "who should I kill to solve this". My two cents worth...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for your comment, Leonard.

I think there are many reasons the social scientists will give us for motivation but the sad fact is that ultimately, in Africa’s conflicts, it boils down to anger, xenophobia, marginalisation, fanaticism and so forth. By exploiting these factors, groups build up sympathy for their causes within the affected communities. In turn, this makes intelligence gathering more and more difficult as the very communities that can support the intelligence effort, feel they are neglected.

Unfortunately, many governments – through poor governance – have created the condition that gives rise to an insurgency by ruling only for themselves and on occasion their proxy masters. In the process, this encourages xenophobia, intolerance and extremism.

Kenya is indeed an example of a country that apparently did not take its national security situation to heart. There are many reasons for this but in failing on this front, it created a false sense of security within its population and allowed the opposition to exploit this Potemkin condition. What happened in Kenya certainly requires a mass of questions to be answered and some very honest soul-searching.

I fully agree with your view on intelligence architecture. I also believe that by not approaching intelligence as they should, governments will remain reactive and give the opposition every opportunity to exploit weaknesses. These failures are, however, unforgivable.

Again, regarding the Kenya tragedy, I think questions need to be asked on WHERE was the intelligence and WHO trained the soldiers. I think the answers to those two questions will make any government realise that they do not have the friends they think they have.