News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Community News Network

June 9, 2014

Why Africa's militaries are so bad

The optimistic "Africa Rising" slogan has been looking a little tired of late, as its critics point out that higher growth rates do not necessarily deliver either jobs or poverty alleviation. There's been less focus on another area where the "Africa Rising" narrative also seems to be failing to deliver: improved security for the continent's 1.1 billion inhabitants.

 The last year has seen a spate of high-profile, hugely embarrassing domestic-security lapses in two of sub-Saharan Africa's key economies, each regarded in the West as trusted partners and regional anchor states. The notion that the continent was growing increasingly capable of policing itself took a knock during the Westgate siege in Kenya last September, in which 67 people died. More recently, Nigeria's armed forces have been publicly humiliated by the failure to free more than 200 schoolgirls taken hostage by Boko Haram militants and a series of escalating attacks in that seizure's wake.

What's striking about both episodes, on opposite sides of the continent, is that they have involved national armies ordinarily regarded as amongst the continent's best. In the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Africans were determined to take responsibility for their own security by gradually phasing out reliance on armed interventions paid for and mounted by the West. Nigeria and Kenya are seen as crucial in that effort.

Nigeria, which recently supplanted South Africa as the continent's biggest economy, has long provided the muscle for regional interventions blessed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), serving in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Its Joint Task Force (JTF) has contributed to international peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and East Timor, and dispatched soldiers to Somalia, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali. Meanwhile, the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), widely attributed with having held the country together after elections in 2007 exploded into ethnic factionalism, are viewed in Washington as a vital East African bulwark against al-Shabab infiltration from the north. The KDF currently has more than 3,000 men deployed in southern Somalia.

Yet both armies have botched key domestic interventions when crises hit, exposing weaknesses that raise fundamental question marks about operational reliability.

When Islamic terrorists attacked the Westgate shopping mall in central Nairobi last September, KDF troops actually shot members of the elite counter-intelligence paramilitary unit that had already secured the area; a row over jurisdiction suddenly took precedence over securing the area. The KDF then devoted much of the four-day siege that followed to shooting open shop owners' safes, emptying fridges of beer and looting designer outlets -- removing men's suits, jewelry, mobile phones, and frilly underwear as survivors cowered in toilets, waiting to be freed.

All this was done in the heart of Nairobi, just meters from where the world's media stood watching and waiting. If the KDF behaved like this at home, what, wondered many Kenyans, did it get up to when no prying eyes were around? A simultaneously draconian and sloppily executed roundup of thousands of Somalis suspected of living illicitly in Nairobi's Eastleigh district, ordered at the beginning of April by the government, has since probably done more to radicalize Kenya's Muslim community, human rights groups say, than al-Shabab ever achieved.

 In Nigeria, a fortnight later, scores of parents of the kidnapped girls became so exasperated by army assurances that the situation was in hand, they resorted themselves to exploring the Sambisa forest where Boko Haram were believed to be hiding the children. Anti-government demonstrations in Abuja are getting angrier, Twitter campaigns and denunciations of the government and military elite ever more vocal -- but reports continue to stream in of soldiers either fleeing when Boko Haram fighters attack or failing to deploy in the first place.

Experts say too that the JTF played a part in creating the current crisis. Back in 2009, when Boko Haram took far less radical a form, the army handed over its captured spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf to police, who summarily executed him. The JTF has since alienated the Muslim community of northeastern Nigeria with the indiscriminate detention of hundreds of locals.

Why are two key African forces proving so disappointing? And what do their failings signal for the African Union's long-touted ambition of using regional troops to stop genocide, hunt down jihadists, and neutralize pirates, among other things, while reducing Africa's reliance on the U.N. and the militaries of friendly former colonial powers?

The answers, unfortunately, offer little cause for optimism.

Africa's relationship to its military could be defined as one of long-standing, uneasy intimacy. First-time Western visitors are often struck by two things: how much camouflage they see around them, and local inhabitants' knee-jerk response to men in uniform, who are viewed not as reassuring symbols of law and order but as potential predators.

Such attitudes stem from the post-independence era, when the military coup became a standard method for alternating executive power. The new nation states were weak, inexperienced political parties squabbling, and institutions embryonic. The African armies established by France, Britain, and Portugal, which the colonial powers had used as fodder during the two World Wars, easily came to dominate their societies, representing both possible threats and vested interests clamoring for attention.

"The West has this model of a disciplined, neutral army that stands on the sidelines, independent of domestic politics," explains Jakkie Cilliers of the Pretoria-based Institute for Strategic Studies (ISS). "But the African model is of a military that is used internally and is part and parcel of domestic politics and resource allocation."

Presidents like Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, who himself staged two successful coups, warded off likely repeats by deliberately keeping national armies divided and faction-ridden. Mobutu was a great believer in building up and then running down competing elite forces, relying in a real crisis on Western paratroopers and white mercenaries to do his fighting for him.

Elsewhere on the continent, fragile, twitchy civilian governments often encouraged the generals they feared to become de facto businessmen, with foreign sorties seen as particularly lucrative forms of distraction. None of this encouraged discipline, nor was it healthy for rank-and-file morale.

During its intervention in Liberia in the 1990s, for instance, Nigeria's army became firmly associated with diamond smuggling and drug trafficking. After coming to the rescue of Laurent Kabila in 1998, Zimbabwe's generals became deeply embroiled in the Democratic Republic of Congo's diamond and gold mining.

These scenarios are dated now. Today, the AU does not look kindly on putschists, regional powers have turned concerted cold shoulders on juntas, and coup leaders swiftly learn to embrace the rhetoric of multiparty democracy. But many scars remain, explaining what can seem like baffling levels of confusion and incompetence in the continent's security forces.

"One of the legacies of the 1960s and 1970s in many African countries is: to what extent can you trust your military not to threaten the government?" says Knox Chitiyo, an associate fellow at Chatham House's Africa program.

Nigeria's history of military coups stretches back to 1966, two years after independence from Britain. It only ended in 1999 with the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo. One of Obasanjo's first moves was to try and render the army coup-proof by retiring 400 senior officers deemed more interested in politics than military campaigns, bringing the armed forces back under civilian command.

That history renders the civilian government's reluctance to meet generals' demands for new kit -- the reason, many officers now claim, for its inability to bring Boko Haram to heel -- thoroughly comprehensible. "The army has been a massive factor in Nigeria," says Cilliers, "and if it's too well run and effective, there's the danger it becomes a big problem at home."

Some military experts argue that it's easy to underestimate the logistical challenges facing troops trying to locate the kidnapped girls. "The three states that Boko Haram has attacked most frequently cover a geographical area more than five times bigger than Switzerland," says Max Siollun, a Nigerian military historian. "The Sambisa forest is also vast. It would be difficult for any army to track schoolgirls in a forest twice the size of Belgium."

Unnerved by the ruthlessness of the radicalism they are encountering, soldiers feel under siege. "It is likely that Boko Haram has been more adept at infiltrating the security forces than the other way around. There is frustration in some units that soldiers are being picked off by seemingly invisible Boko Haram fighters who have a suspiciously good knowledge of the military's movements," Siollun says.

Others dismiss these as excuses, placing the emphasis for the army's failures on decades of budgetary "leakage" in a country routinely ranked as one of the world's most venal. Even before the kidnapping placed Boko Haram on Michelle Obama's radar, the Nigerian media were recounting how unpaid allowances, miserly rations, and Spartan living conditions were undermining morale among soldiers -- who complained militants went into battle far better equipped than they.

At one barracks in Maiduguri, a flashpoint for Boko Haram attacks, soldiers mutinied twice in May alone, with recruits on one occasion opening fire on a major general's car.

Observers say soldiers manning road blocks often lack radios that would allow them to communicate with colleagues, and the JTF lack the capacity to air lift forces to conflict zones, dooming troops to days of travel to even reach Nigeria's northeast.

"We spend billions of pounds a year on the Nigerian army, but you have to bribe the armory to get a round for your AK47," Nigerian blogger Kayode Ogundamisi told an audience at London's Frontline club this week. "Corruption, let's be frank, is at the core of this issue."

In Kenya, by contrast, the armed forces have long been respected for their apolitical stance and operational efficiency. But analysts say that professionalism was slowly eaten away by a pattern of ethnic appointments under President Daniel arap Moi, an ethnic Kalenjin, and then his successor, President Mwai Kibaki, an ethnic Kikuyu. "After 2007, Kibaki made sure that every strategic post, all the top jobs, rested in Kikuyu hands," says a Nairobi-based security analyst who prefers to remain anonymous.

Giant procurement scandals such as the recent $1 billion Anglo Leasing scam, which involved 18 bloated military and security contracts signed off on by Kibaki's ministers, also bled the state treasury of funds while doing nothing to provide armed forces with the equipment required for modern warfare. "If you're going into action with junk equipment, and you know that your fat general is sitting at his desk having made a nice profit from buying that junk, well, that's not very motivating, now, is it?" says the security analyst. (Two of the firms involved in Anglo Leasing were recently paid off by the government after going to court, a bitter irony for Kenyans who feel security in key cities has never been worse.)

In an echo of previous African conflicts, the KDF today also stands accused by a U.N. monitoring group of becoming invested in charcoal trading in Somalia -- a business which, ironically, benefits the very al-Shabab militants the KDF is fighting.

Another issue that has surfaced is the state of Kenya's domestic police, corroded by decades of systemic sleaze and ethnic favoritism. A good police force is the interface between a state's security apparatus and the public, providing it with the data that allows effective grass roots monitoring of communities. But in Kenya, roadblocks are used primarily to extract bribes, not information.

One of the characteristics of the Westgate siege, some security experts say, was the absence of any prior intelligence indicating imminent attack. This was a sign not only that intelligence systems had failed, but that the country's network of immigration posts and police stations were functionally useless.

"You could make the case that Africa doesn't need militaries, it needs gendarmeries," says Cilliers. "But we've got into this pattern in which the army is called in automatically, because no one trusts the police."     

For his part, Chatham House's Knox Chitiyo believes a more fundamental problem has recently been exposed: The changing nature of today's security challenges are catching off guard what, at heart, are old-fashioned former colonial armies, set up and trained on traditional lines. "These armies are good at handling either conventional warfare or counterinsurgency," Chitiyo says. "But now, you have a new dynamic, a nexus of domestic terrorism -- rural and urban -- coming together with counterinsurgency, and they are not equipped to deal with that new type of warfare."

Both Westgate and the school kidnapping, he argues, highlight the growing need for African special forces, boasting sophisticated skills in hostage negotiations and extraction. At the moment, these skills often come from abroad: Nigeria, for instance, accepted them after an international meeting hosted in Paris by President Francois Hollande. Anti-terror experts and specialists in hostage negotiation from France, Britain, and the United States are reported to be in Nigeria now, using aerial and other surveillance to try and locate the girls.

But such cooperation raises the risk of prolonging the continent's continuing dependency. "Are African governments going to have to rely on the West again, and for how long?" asks Chitiyo, warning of "delicate sovereignty issues."

The AU has plans for a 25,000-person African Standby Force, meant to fill the role of, variously, U.N. and American, French, and British forces. It will be based on existing national forces, and despite recent debacles at home, incompetence abroad by African troops is by no means assured. When airlifted to an African crisis zone by the U.N. and provided with Western salaries, decent kit, sophisticated intelligence backup, and clear lines of command, blue-helmeted African forces can dramatically raise their games. Uganda's generals, for example, have been accused of needlessly prolonging the war on the Lord's Resistance Army in the north of their own country, the better to pocket ghost salaries, run hotels, and engage in the timber trade. But the army's performance in Somalia as part of the AU mission in Somalia has been exemplary.

Still, the Nigerian and Kenyan episodes clearly do not bode well for AU strategists. (The launch of the standby force has been delayed to 2015 after repeated reschedulings.) "If you have problems associated with underfunding, low morale, and corruption in a national force, it washes across everything else," Cilliers says. "Anyone thinking of pulling together a peacekeeping operation in Africa should be seriously concerned about what's happened in these two countries."

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: New story emerges about Texas children locked in hot car

    After footage showed Texas shoppers breaking the windows of a hot car to rescue children trapped inside, additional witnesses have come forward to correct the story behind what has become a viral video.

    July 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 2.12.33 PM.png Gunshots narrowly miss TV reporter

    A reporter for a West Virginia television station narrowly escaped injury or worse Monday while covering a fatal weekend shooting in Beckley.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25 hidden secrets in "Weird Al's" "Word Crimes" video

    Yankovic's 14th album was released this week, and it warms my heart containers that he's kept up his geeky brand of humor for so long. While he has written so many incredible songs, none have spoken to my love of proper grammar.
    Until "Word Crimes."

    July 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 11.16.48 AM.png VIDEO: Comcast apologizes after customer service call goes viral

    Comcast issued an apology after one of its representatives kept a customer captive on the phone for nearly 20 minutes, demanding to know why he was choosing another cable provider.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • When your doctor commits suicide, things get complicated

    When they call for appointments, patients are told they can't see their doctor. Ever. The standard line: "We are sorry, but your doctor died suddenly."

    July 15, 2014

  • Police: Man claims prostitute crashed his pickup truck

    Police in Pennsylvania are investigating a story they were given by a man who they found intoxicated at the scene of a one-vehicle crash.

    July 15, 2014

  • VIDEO: Texas shoppers smash window to rescue children in hot car

    Shoppers in Texas took matter into their own hands, smashing a Jeep's windows with a hammer when they say they saw two young children inside the hot car. The children's mother reportedly said she left them while she went to get a haircut.

    July 15, 2014

  • 20110929_bowling.jpg Why fewer people go bowling

    Like other industries facing tough economic times, America's bowling centers are trying to reinvent themselves.

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of the world actually prefers instant coffee

    Americans' taste in coffee might be getting more high-end _with a growing fixation on perfectly roasted beans, pricier caffeinated concoctions, and artisan coffee brewers - but it turns out a surprisingly big part of the world is going in the opposite direction: toward instant coffee.

    July 14, 2014

  • Why it's basically impossible to delete those naked selfies you text

    If you're selling an old Android smartphone on an online auction site, you could be giving away rather more than you intend to, according to a recent investigation by anti-malware company Avast.

    July 14, 2014

  • An alternative diagnosis to ADHD: Schoolchildren need more time to move

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in recent years, there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.

    July 14, 2014

  • NWS-HB0713-HowardMartin-004.jpg Airman laid to rest back home in Indiana six decades after death

    The mystery of what happened to a military transport plane that disappeared in the fall of 1952 into an Alaskan glacier was solved two years ago when a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage. But it took another two years to retrieve the remains of Airman Howard Miller and 16 other servicemen passengers. Saturday, Miller was laid to rest in his hometown of Elwood, Ind., with full military honors. Hundreds turned out for the funeral and burial services.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • College graduates are sorting themselves into elite cities

    Census data suggests that in 1980 a college graduate could expect to earn about 38 percent more than a worker with only a high-school diploma. Since then, the difference in their wages has only widened as our economy has shifted to bestow greater and greater rewards on the well-educated. By 1990, that number was about 57 percent. By 2011: 73 percent.

    July 11, 2014

  • Why Taco Bell is turning its health menu into a muscle menu

    Like it or not, the paleo diet fad has now gone mainstream.
    This week, Taco Bell announced that it will be beefing up its menu - quite literally - by launching a new menu centered around meat and protein.

    July 11, 2014

  • A federal court is about to answer the question: Whom do you actually work for?

    One of the most fundamental obstacles the American labor movement faces could get torn down in the coming days -- and it's terrifying management, in industries from fast-food to manufacturing.

    July 11, 2014

  • Emmy nominations: 8 snub shockers

    A lot of beloved shows and stars got  Emmy nominations on Thursday morning but there were definitely some snub shockers.

    July 10, 2014

  • How professors are using Facebook to teach

    Technology is an established part of the lives of students. But university lecturers are becoming increasingly frustrated at how they must compete with tablets and laptops for students' attention in the lecture hall.

    July 10, 2014

  • Why does the Vatican need a bank?

    The Vatican Bank's history reads more like Dan Brown than the financial pages, but its worst -- and weirdest -- days may be behind it.

    July 10, 2014

Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts Raw: MH17 Passenger Remains in Kharkiv, Ukraine Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Raw: Black Boxes of Downed Jetliner Turned Over Raw: Israel Hits Gaza Targets, Destroys Mosques WWII Vet Gets Medals, 70 Years Late Raw: Plane Lands on New York Highway Israeli Aircraft Hits Dozens of Gaza Targets Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror'
NDN Video
Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Prince George Turns 1 and is Already a Trendsetter Swim Daily, Nina Agdal in the Cook Islands Guilty Dog Apologizes to Baby for Stealing Her Toy Train Collides With Semi Truck Carrying Lighter Fluid Kanye West Tells-All on Wedding in "GQ" Interview Tony Dungy Weighs in on Michael Sam Scarlett Johansson Set To Marry In August New Star Wars Episode XII X-Wing Revealed Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB' Adam Levine Ties the Knot Sebastian The Ibis Walks Beautiful Bride Down The Aisle | ACC Must See Moment NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Faces of Souls Lost in Malaysian Plane Crash 105-year-old woman throws first pitch Man Creates Spreadsheet of Wife's Reasons for Turning Down Sex 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success Rory McIlroy struggles, surges, wins British Open
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity