Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shifting Military Powers in Africa

I've been invited to present a paper at the Boston University Graduate Research Conference in International Relations 24-25 Feb 2012 and will be on an Africa panel.  Here is my paper proposal: 
Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa gained their independence in the 1960s but their former colonial masters maintained great influence over the affairs of the fledgling countries.  The newly independent countries were then swept up in the competing interests of the cold war and exploitation by world powers.  In the case of Senegal and other former French colonies the French military maintained garrisons and intervened to protect their interests.  However, since the Cold War Africa has begun to experience a shift to greater military control of their destinies with some countries becoming dominant military powers in their regions. 
Traditional military powers in Africa are reducing their footprint in Africa or withdrawing completely due to pressure at home and from African host nations.  In 2011 the French turned over multiple garrisons to the Senegalese and reduced troop levels to 300 Soldiers.  Belgian troops have left the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), few British garrisons exist on the continent outside of Sierra Leone and a training center in Kenya, and no Portuguese troops have a permanent garrison in Africa.  African nations have also been resistant to allowing permanent garrisons in their territories and have rejected proposals to base the United States Africa Command Headquarters on the continent. The only US permanent garrison in Africa is in Djibouti on a former French Foreign Legion base, which now supports US efforts in the Horn of Africa.
The Cold War changed dynamics in Africa as Western and Communist forces spent millions on arms and training in countries such as DRC, Mozambique, and Angola.  Upon the fall of the Soviet Union Cold War funding was cut off and programs in Africa were terminated. As a result weak governments that had been propped up by Cold War powers fell and their countries descended into civil war. 
The United Nations and regional economic organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) intervened and traditional colonial powers took on supporting roles of providing aid, funds, transport, and some training.  Regional peacekeeping training centers were established on the continent and the US established the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program in 21 countries and provides training and equipment for African troops.  ACOTA trained troops have deployed to African Union (AU) and UN operations on the continent including Somalia, DRC, Liberia, Ethiopia-Eritrea but also to Beirut and Kosovo.  Other international programs such as Africa Partnership Station (APS) train African nations to patrol their waters and anti-piracy.  Western partners also support regional exercises such as Flintlock in West Africa and Natural Fire in East Africa that allow the African forces to cooperate and coordinate joint action. In these exercises Africans lead their forces and outsiders only advise as requested.
Rising military powers in Africa who have profited from assistance and have become battle hardened on the continent include South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. Rwanda, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, and Tanzania are also developing significant capacities and anchor regional security efforts.


  1. What an interesting topic. I think the best example of how Western organisation have helped civilians is the project in the Congo. They have achieved a mapping program of the LRA which the military themselves have failed to do.

  2. Sounds like a great opportunity for you! Congrats on the invitation.