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Africa's Militaries: A Missing Link in Democratic Transitions

Africa's Militaries: A Missing Link in Democratic Transitions

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Published by Davin O'Regan
Despite important democratic advances in Africa over the past several years, democratic institutionalization of Africa's militaries is often lagging behind. This has generated situations recently (such as in Côte d'Ivoire and the DRC, among others) where security sectors have actively aligned themselves with incumbent leaders seeking to stay in power. Such positioning is discrediting security sector institutions and marginalizing the role they can play when transitions do occur.
Despite important democratic advances in Africa over the past several years, democratic institutionalization of Africa's militaries is often lagging behind. This has generated situations recently (such as in Côte d'Ivoire and the DRC, among others) where security sectors have actively aligned themselves with incumbent leaders seeking to stay in power. Such positioning is discrediting security sector institutions and marginalizing the role they can play when transitions do occur.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Davin O'Regan on Jan 27, 2012
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AfricA Security Brief
Afca’s Mltaes: A Mss L Demcatc Tasts
A PublicAtion of the AfricA center for StrAtegic StudieS
Mlta accetace f cvla att emas a mss ece f Afca’s demcatc tast zzle. 
 Wle fte eceved as a wated estct  te vew f te sect sect, te dctef demcatc cvla ctl f te mlta bsts te letmac, caabltes, ad efmace f teamed fces. 
 Te actcal ealzat f ts dcte eqes Afca’s alamets t asset ad execse me bstctl ad vest f te sect sect.
no. 17 / JAnuAry 2012
politics remains widespread across the continent.This is prominently in view in Egypt where, inthe midst o political transition, the military isattempting to maintain a privileged role or it-sel despite the widespread demands or genuinedemocratic reorm.A spate o military coups rom 2008 to 2010in Mauritania, Guinea, Niger, and Madagascarraised the specter o a return to military rule inArica. While the subsequent resumption o civil-ian government in Guinea and Niger has reducedthese concerns, evidence o military inluence in
War is too important to be let to the generals.
—Georges Clemenceau, ormer prime minister o France
It is a difcult period or everybody, but we believe that it is a political thing. We are not politicians. Weare military proessionals and we are determined to remain so. Nobody, no matter what, no matter the eort, willdrag us into it.
—Nigerian Army Chie o Sta Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Dambazzau in May 2010 shortlyater the oce and authorities o the Nigerian presidency were transerred to Vice PresidentGoodluck Jonathan by the National Assembly ollowing the death o President Umaru Yar’Adua
2In Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Ethiopia,the Central Arican Republic, Chad, Sudan, Angola,Rwanda, and many other Arican states, democrati-zation or the consolidation o political reorms hasbeen severely inhibited by armed orces that regu-larly intervene in political and economic matters. InUganda, or instance, the military is permitted to se-lect 10 ocers to serve as members o parliament. Insome cases, the armed orces operate autonomouslyand even maintain commercial interests outside themilitary budget. In Rwanda, the military grows, buys,processes, and exports commercial crops through amilitary-owned company.
Military ocers in An-gola participate in contract negotiations with oreigncompanies, sit on corporate boards, and are majorityshareholders in telecommunications rms.
Such practices are not only counterproductiveto democratic governance, but also undermine stabil-ity, economic development, and even the interests o the militaries themselves. In cases where militarieshave assumed total control over government, the re-sults have usually been disastrous. Annual economicgrowth rates in Nigeria and Mali, or example, havebeen on average a ull 3 percentage points lower dur-ing periods o military versus civilian rule. Whilelauded or their discipline and quick decisionmak-ing, militaries have little background in job creation,macroeconomic policy, public health, or the manyother complex challenges o governing. More gener-ally, military decisionmaking is rigidly hierarchicaland beyond appeal, whereas in the public domain,policy implementation tends to be more eectivewhen built through a consultative, transparent, anddeliberative process.Beyond the blunt military putsch, increasinglyprevalent and sinister developments in Arica are theemergence o “democratic” and “creeping” coups. Inthe ormer, a military coup is staged, ollowed by atactical withdrawal to hold elections that are “won”by a recently retired military ocer—to the acco-lades o both regional and international organiza-tions. Such was the case ollowing the 2008 coup inMauritania by General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.In creeping coups, civilian leaders will slowly erodethe powers and authorities o legislatures, judiciaries,civil society groups, and other potential sources o opposition. This was the pattern ollowed by the nowdeposed President Mamadou Tandja in Niger and is,arguably, the process under way currently in Djiboutiand Malawi, among other places. Co-opting securityleaders or counterbalancing the military with specialpresidential security units is key to the success o suchextra-constitutional exercises o authority.The level o such co-optation is extensive insome countries. The use o orce against peaceuldemonstrations in recent years by security units inthe Democratic Republic o the Congo, Ethiopia,Uganda, Malawi, and Cameroon, among others, iscase in point. The shooting o unarmed civiliansclearly indicates that some security sector leadersin Arica continue to see their role as deendingthe regime in power rather than the constitution—contravening even basic codes o military conductand emerging democratic norms on the continent.Upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, Senegal, BurkinaFaso, and Kenya may pose similar dilemmas or thesecountries’ military and police leadership.Even where legitimate civilian rule predomi-nates, civil-military relations remain strained inmuch o Arica. Given its unique institutional dy-namics, responsibilities, and standard procedures,the military can nd it challenging to interact withparliament, civil society organizations, or other ci-vilian entities. Likewise, most Arican civilian o-cials lack a deep understanding o security issuesand institutions. Productive engagement, coopera-tion, and mutual respect are elusive and rustrationis common.In Nigeria, or example, the President o the Senate explained in a 2008 speech to ellow
D. Mat C. h s te Academc Ca fCvl-Mlta relats  te Afca Cete f State-c Stdes at te natal Defese uvest.
“f demcac t s deets  te ctet, tesect sect eeds t be awll ate  te cess fdemcatc csldat”
3legislators that one o the country’s greatest nationalsecurity threats was a lack o amiliarity between ci-vilian and military agencies that demanded a “con-sistent and coherent process o engagement with aview to strengthening the security agencies’ workvis-à-vis the legislature, particularly in the areaso appropriation, constitutional reorms, oversightunctions, oreign policy, and national security.”
 Put simply, Arica’s civilian and military leadersbarely know one another.Despite noteworthy progress toward democracysince the end o the Cold War, the infuence o thesecurity services in Arica continues to overshadowdemocratic development on the continent. Compli-cations resulting rom military overreach are not onlylimited to Arica’s ragile or autocratic countries butalso continue to be a challenge in the continent’sbetter governed states. Military acceptance o civil-ian authority—the doctrine o civilian control—re-mains a missing piece o Arica’s democratic transi-tion puzzle. For democracy to sink deep roots on thecontinent, the security sector needs to be a willingpartner in the process o democratic consolidation.
inculcAting A doctrine of civiliAn,democrAtic Authority
The legitimacy o the security sector is ultimate-ly derived rom the authority vested in it by demo-cratically elected civilian leaders under the rule o law. This, in turn, helps ensure that the use o orce,the most authoritative demonstration o nationalpower, is seen as justiied and thereore supportedby the general population. Recognizing the power o this legitimacy is the basis o the doctrine o civiliancontrol o the military.However, this doctrine is typically poorly un-derstood or respected in Arica.
This is a conse-quence o many complex actors, including coloniallegacies, weak oversight, and corruption. Colonialadministrations typically structured and mandatedArican security orces to protect executive ocesand strategic resources as well as to control and sup-press Aricans perceived as threats to the status quo.Remnants o these structures and outlooks still lingerin Arica. Persistent weak governance has also meantthat checks and balances to constrain public sectoragencies to their ocial remit are easily breeched.Since they tend to be comparatively well unded andare oten one o the biggest sectors o government inArica, the armed orces oten overstep their boundswith little opposition.To be clear, it is not always leaders o the armedorces who attempt to seize power. Many civilianauthoritarians have intentionally used the securityservices to weaken political opposition and protecttheir authority and patronage networks.Strengthening the doctrine o civilian controlo the military, then, requires institutional adjust-ments on the part o both military and civilian au-thorities. Such adjustments commence by aligningthe distinct but complementary core strengths o civilian authorities and the armed orces. By con-structively applying orce or the threat o orce, dis-ciplined security orces are able to infuence, man-age, or control events, the principal purpose beingto protect national security. Yet such actions onlyhave credibility to the extent that they are seen assupporting a democratic leadership.By contrast, a civilian government derives itspowers directly rom the governed. This generatesa political authority that can more eectively man-age and sustain security, as well as economic andsocial development. Legitimate governments areinherently more stable because they have relativelygreater societal support to address internal prob-lems, adapt to change, and navigate confict thataects individual and collective well-being.
Like-wise, coercion can be applied more credibly whendecisions to use orce are made by democraticallyelected civilians. Thus, the armed orces and theiractions are deemed legitimate
throughtheir deerence to legitimate civilian authoritiesand civilian governing structures.In a similar manner, the doctrine o civiliancontrol recognizes that the military, as a specialized
“te amed fces ad teacts ae deemed letmate
t te defeecet letmate cvla attesad cvla ve stctes”

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