Military Leadership, Professionalism and Africa’s Security Environment Discussed at ACSS Conference

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 03/26/2012

Plenary SessionView Photos of this Event.

Africa Center for Strategic Studies experts discussed military professionalism, ethics, and the continent’s security situation with young security sector leaders from 37 countries during the first two plenaries of a three-week ACSS conference.

Throughout the Next Generation of African Security Sector Leaders Program, 42 participants will examine Africa’s contemporary and emerging security threats. They will analyze civil-military relations on the continent to determine the role and place of professional military, police, and other defense and security officials in advancing national security in democratizing states. Attending officers, mostly at the ranks of major and lieutenant colonel, were selected by their countries to take the course because of their significant command experience or staff responsibilities as well as their recognized leadership potential.

ACSS has hosted the conference at least once a year since 2005 to provide a venue for the continent’s most talented young security sector leaders,  to interact and learn from each other.

Dr. Mathurin Houngnikpo, ACSS Academic Chair of Civilian-Military Relations, focused on the link between democratic societies, strong leadership, and improved security, which ACSS hopes attendees will better understand after the conference concludes at the end of March.

“What is leadership?” he asked participants during the first session. “People say leadership in Africa is a weak link or even the missing link. It is a continent rich in resources but also home to the most poor. What kind of leadership is needed on the continent and how can it be achieved?”

Good leaders, Houngnikpo said, would make their country stronger by instilling professionalism and a sense of ethics in themselves and their military subordinates. The result would confer legitimacy on the government by citizens. But the opposite situation is often the case in modern Africa, with many citizens living in fear of the police and military who are supposed to be protecting them.


“Defense and security forces remain the main pillar of governance, but they must be subject to democratic control exercised by effective leadership,” he said. “The military is the instrument by which state policy can be executed.”

During the next plenary, ACSS Research Director Dr. Joseph Siegle offered a picture of Africa’s overall security environment. He said the continent held the greatest diversity of threats in the world, most of which come from nontraditional sources.

Many of Africa’s security challenges—warlords, militias, extremist groups, natural resource competition, identity conflicts, insurgencies—are fed by poverty and economic problems.

“Most people who joined conflicts respond that they join for employment-it’s an income opportunity,” he said.

Siegle’s research has shown that low-income countries have been in conflict one year out of four, while middle-income countries have seen strife one year out of seven, and high-income countries see conflict one out of 55 years.

But democratization and development, he said, are tools that African countries can use to improve security and increase stability. He has found that African democracies are more likely to realize 30% higher economic growth, 40% lower infant mortality rates, 40% greater high school enrollment, and 20% greater agricultural yield.

“How we think about defense needs to widen,” he told the young leaders. “It needs to include the ministry of defense but it also needs to include the ministry of housing and others. Security strategy in the 21st century needs to be a function of development.”