ACSS Senior Leaders Seminar: “The State of Civil-Military Relations in Africa”

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 07/06/2012

(Editor’s Note: As democracy movements seek to establish themselves worldwide, nations increasingly seek appropriate roles for their military forces under democratic control and in support of civil society. “The State of Civil-Military Relations in Africa” was the featured topic of a June 21, 2012 plenary session for the 14th annual Senior Leaders Seminar sponsored by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The June 18-29 seminar took place in Arlington, Virginia, and was attended by 70 security sector professionals and other government leaders from 40 Africa nations.  Academic discussions at the Africa Center are conducted under a strict policy of non-attribution to allow free and open sharing of ideas. However, several presenters agreed to allow portions of their presentations to appear on the record in order to promote broader discussion.)

Dr. Mathurin C. Houngnikpo, Academic Chair of Civil-Military Relations at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, engaged participants in a presentation on the State of Civil-Military Relations in Africa during a plenary at the ACSS-hosted Senior Leaders Seminar. He maintained that democracy is dependent upon healthy relations between civilians and the military. In the plenary session he gave an overview of civil-military relations in Africa, discussed the role of the military in society — particularly in the context of African societies – and outlined the components and challenges of democratic control. He also proposed four requirements for an African military.

Dr. Houngnikpo began by raising a series of fundamental questions concerning the role of the military in conjunction with the objectives of the state and government. He highlighted the necessity of creating a military with clear, pre-determined objectives and means by which to achieve them. An overview of civil-military relations in Africa was then given, in which civil-military relations were clarified to be not merely relations between the security sector and society, but also inter-military relations. Dr. Houngnikpo then proposed an essential problem, raising the following question: If security forces exist to protect civilians, who monitors them to ensure they are carrying out their responsibilities legitimately? As it was maintained that “armies in Africa will remain essential participants in political life,” a lack of separation between political and military functions was argued to result in distortion of the military’s mission. A discussion on the role of the military both in society and on the African continent followed.

It was argue that the armed forces in Africa have often have deviated from their primary priority — national defense — due to the influence of political power. Referencing the nearly 176 military coups d’état in Africa’s history, it was proposed that the military has served as an extension of political interests. Redirecting military priorities away from protecting political interests was suggested to result in confusion between the objectives of defense and security. Transitioning the discussion to democratic control, Dr. Houngnikpo alluded that counterbalancing this shift can be achieved by “redeeming” relations between the military and civilians.

Dr. Houngnikpo closed his discussion on Civil-Military Relations in Africa by identifying requirements for African militaries. In particular, he proposed four requirements as outlined by Professor Gregory Foster, Professor of Political Science at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University:

that an army must be able to adequately carry out its operations, must be politically neutral, must be socially responsible and must provide decision-makers with substantiated advice on military issues. The plenary discussions concluded that African democracy can only be ensured by healthy civil-military relations, which can only be achieved by reforming civil-military relations and transforming the understanding of the security sector in Africa.

Following his presentation, Dr. Houngnikpo responded to questions from African security sector professionals. The Q&A session reflected the participants’ receptive attitude to the topic and their interest in expanding the dialogue.

Summary prepared by Jane Koné, an English and Portuguese double major at Georgetown University. Ms. Koné is a 2012 summer intern at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

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