ARP No. 6: Advancing Military Professionalism in Africa

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By Émile Ouédraogo

December 26, 2019

The challenges of professionalizing Africa’s militaries are innumerable but not insurmountable. Ethnic and tribal biases, which some militaries inherited from the colonial era, have been purposely exploited by one (ethnic, political) group to gain or hold onto power by force at the expense of others. For developing states in Africa, it is vital that the military, the principal institution responsible for a country’s defense and protection, be both national and republican. For that, it must be apolitical and dedicate itself exclusively to its mission. Unfortunately, challenges to constitutional order by the military, and behavior contrary to the rule of law by military and political leaders alike are commonplace in Africa. This situation undermines the credibility of the military in the eyes of the population it is supposed to defend. It is absolutely necessary to reverse this trend as it is a major impediment to the quest for the professionalization of militaries and democratic consolidation in Africa.

In the field, African militaries sorely lack operational capacity to effectively carry out their mission. Some of this is due to limited resources, but force structures and missions that are misaligned with the security challenges that African states face, particularly the growing prominence of domestically based or nonstate transnational threats, are more significant contributors to weak performance and morale. Africa’s armed forces must therefore be reorganized to better reconcile operational capacity to these threats as part of a strategic security posture.

But military professionalism is much more than an administrative concept. The stability and vibrancy of the society depends on militaries conducting themselves in a disciplined and honorable manner. The pursuit of professionalism in African militaries will begin with inculcating the fundamental values of ethics. The minimum values and characteristics that all military personnel in Africa must demonstrate are loyalty to one’s country and its constitution, subordination to democratic civilian authority, a sense of duty, and respect for the rule of law. If these basic principles are observed, African militaries will not only become increasingly professional but meaningfully contribute to improved security and democratic governance on the continent while gaining newfound respect in the eyes of citizens.

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