Africa Center Research Paper No. 7

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Assessing Motivations and Attitudes of the Next Generation of African Security Sector Professionals

By Kwesi Aning and Joseph Siegle

April 11, 2019

Executive Summary

The nature of the African security environment has evolved considerably since the end of the Cold War. Rather than cross-border conflicts between standing armies, many of today’s security threats are both internal and transnational. They involve nonstate actors that are at times supported by global criminal or terrorist networks. Transformative advancements in access to and dissemination of information along with fitful shifts toward more transparent and democratic governance norms have also reshaped the African security environment.

In light of these changes, this research project seeks to assess the motivations and attitudes of the emerging generation of African security sector professionals and how, if at all, these motivations and attitudes have changed from previous generations. Drawing on a survey of 742 African security sector professionals from 37 countries and qualitative interviews with 35 African students in professional military education programs, this report provides a contextualized snapshot of some of the variations in perspectives across age, services, regions, regime type, and gender. Some of the highlights include:

  • African security sector professionals seem generally satisfied with their professions due to:
    • Opportunities for educational advancement
    • A perception that their expectations are being met
    • A perception that the security sector generally has good relations with the public
  • There is, generally, a strong sense of pride in embracing the values of the profession such as duty, responsibility, professionalism, respect, and honesty.
  • While younger cohorts have an especially strong commitment to serve, they are less invested in the institutional values and legacies of their services.
  • Younger cohorts are beginning service with significantly higher levels of education than previous generations. This change is especially noteworthy for the military whose youngest recruits now largely match the education levels of the gendarmerie, which has not been the case historically.
  • Higher education corresponds with a trend of African security sector professionals joining their services at an older age than was previously the norm.
  • One of the strongest findings of this study was a near universal positive attitude toward international training.
    • International training was seen as a valuable opportunity to gain access to more and updated knowledge, newer trends in security analysis, deeper personal and professional relationships, and access to and knowledge about new technology.
    • International training was perceived to widen the exposure and perspectives of security sector professionals.
  • The ability to speak English was identified as a powerful factor in creating opportunities for international training and promoting the careers of African security personnel. The unintended downside to this is the large number of outstanding young leaders whose careers are limited because they do not have opportunities to develop their English language skills.
  • The growing exposure to peacekeeping deployments was found to:
    • Create identity-shaping, formative experiences
    • Broaden exposure for participating forces
    • Create more sophisticated approaches to operational challenges
    • Foster a greater appreciation of regional perspectives
    • Improve interoperability in multinational operations
    • Create a better understanding and appreciation for field challenges
  • Peacekeeping was generally perceived as an increasingly important mechanism for capacity building for African security personnel, especially in countries that face resource constraints.