What is the Military Question?

The military has an unrivaled capacity to project force. This makes it an important tool for asserting state authority, enforcing the rule of law, and protecting the nation against external aggression.  Unfortunately, such power, if not properly managed, can also pose a serious threat against civil authority as has been demonstrated numerous times in several African countries.  African states’ failure to exercise effective civil control over the military is manifested by their highly politicized armies, recurrent coups and armed rebellions. This failure to rein in the armed forces is the central element of the military question in Africa.

Even though it looms larger than most issues, military usurpation of internal political power is certainly not the only aspect of the military question in Africa.  The misuse of the military for civilian-directed repression and even genocide, the emergence of child soldiers and warlords, intractable civil wars, territorial border disputes and secessionist conflicts, illegal arms proliferation, occasional inter-state conflicts, commercialization of security, and other aspects of militarization fall into the bigger picture of the military question.  Thus, while the theme of this publication makes usurpation of political power by the ‘official’ military organization of a given state the key issue under discussion, the role of non-aggression treaties and demilitarization as strategies in the democratic control of the military in Africa, must also be kept in mind.

While the essence of the military question in Africa may be quite obvious, the precise definition of what constitutes the ‘military’ in the African context may be problematic because the concept normally presumes a cohesive institution within a definable state structure. But as shall be discussed later, some African states  are ‘failed’ states.  Frequently, civil wars in Africa, such as the one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, pit one set of private militia armies supported by ethnic factions of more regular militaries outside the country against others. Until recently, there was neither a state nor a regular ‘military’ to speak of in Somalia. Among other things, these two examples demonstrate the importance of using a wider context for discussing state-military relations in Africa than what is presumed by the classical definitions of state and military.    

What is it about Africa?

Africa confronts awesome social, political, economic, and ethnic challenges.  One common thread that runs through this labyrinth of problems is political instability. The continent’s instability has resulted from several factors. Set against the background of artificial state creation, these include the decline of colonial power structures, poor infrastructure, weak economies, ethnic and religious tensions, all of which, combined  with massive corruption, have led to seriously dysfunctional governments. Consequently, humanitarian disasters and collapsing nation states have become common features of several countries in Africa. A separation is commonly made by analysts of Africa into North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. To the extent that this separation highlights certain nuances in the nature of the military question across the continent, I shall draw attention to it. 

Sub-Saharan Africa is mired in bitter ethnic feuds and has the world’s lowest growth rate in per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Similarly, life expectancy, the rate at which children are immunized against diseases, and caloric-intake in Africa are the lowest in the world. Correspondingly, Africa has the highest percentage of people living below the international poverty line. In recent years, its economic performance has been the worst in the world. Africa cannot adequately feed, educate or maintain the health of its rapidly expanding population, many of whom are internally and externally displaced persons. To compound the problem, there are limited opportunities for extra-governmental acquisition of sustainable wealth. Instead, private wealth is accumulated largely as a result of access to state power. This confluence of power, wealth and social mobility within the state structure, sets up a rat race of gargantuan proportions for control of government power.

Proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, geographic separation by the Sahara Desert, and Islamic connections ally North Africa more closely with the Middle East than with sub-Saharan Africa.  Nonetheless, the confluence of unemployment, insoluble socio-economic problems, increasingly politically active Islamic movements, and cultural Westernization with pressures for democratization has created serious undercurrents with security implications for the region. Domestic terrorism, for example, has been noted as an offshoot of socio-political crises in Algeria and Egypt. Both Libyan and Sudanese’ alleged support of international terrorism outside North African borders, is a flashpoint in relations with the West. This is particularly amplified by the threat of the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons.  In this cauldron of disorder, the dominant institution in most African countries (North and Sub-Saharan) is often the military. This is so not necessarily because the military is an island of structural order within a sea of societal disorder, but  because of its role as the ultimate means by which the state exercises monopoly on violence. As Decalo once observed, at any moment in time, up to 65 percent of all Africa’s inhabitants and well over half of its states are governed by military (or military derived) administrators. Institutional memory for true civilian rule is distant in many countries. During the sixties, for example, there were 27 successful coups in 13 countries in the region. Nine other governments put down coup attempts. This left only seven countries with no publicly reported efforts at forceful seizure of power during that period.  By 1989, very few sub-Saharan African countries had been spared the trauma of extra-constitutional seizure of power. Among these were, Botswana, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia.  Since 1989, however, membership of this exclusive group has whittled down even further. Indeed, if one were to include serious failed attempts at seizure of power, the list of those who live in the rarified atmosphere of political and constitutional control of the military would comprise only Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal and Swaziland.  South Africa and Namibia – both relatively recently independent –  may also be considered to be in this group although both have had serious internal security problems to contend with, short of conventional full scale coup attempts. South Africa under Apartheid also witnessed extensive military involvement in decision-making particularly during the Total Onslaught Strategy of the 1980s.

Why do coups occur in Africa? Back in the sixties, confronted with the first round of African military putsches, some writers tried to make sense of the trend by postulating different explanations for military intervention in politics.  A brief summary of these postulates may provide some insights for our discussions. Some analysts felt that Africa’s economic settings provided the context for understanding coups. In their opinion, most African states were in the unstable transition between “penury and solvency,” with a politically active class driven by the “disease of want.” This viewpoint claimed that African leaders reveled in waste in the midst of poverty and overspent their national budgets on “white elephant projects.” Further, it was opined that the educational system seemed geared toward creating a local elite whose goals were geared at mimicking the former colonial officials rather than create the framework for genuine African development based on agrarian realities. Such leaders, hampered by corruption and/or ineffectiveness, overseeing slow economic progress constrained by the reliance of agricultural and mineral products on foreign markets, low literacy and short life expectancy rates along with poor health facilities, reportedly quickly lost legitimacy in the eyes of their ‘result oriented’ armed forces.  However, in disagreement, other writers felt that beyond the usual rhetoric, the vast majority of coups were driven by mundane considerations and lacked social content. One interesting conjecture advanced by Ronald Matthews was that de facto or de jure One-Party States constitute a particularly attractive environment for coups. The thinking was that the single-party system stultifies legal opposition and constructive discourse. On the basis of the presumption that “no-one but a fool plots when he can persuade,” this theory states that when the army represents the only independent organized force that can challenge a government (rightly or wrongly), the situation is ideal for a coup d’état.  To support this tendency, it has been pointed out that the African military, not being a closed caste, is often in close proximity with pockets of civilian resentment. And because the armies lack an external threat, they become one additional political party, just to have something to do.  In the mid 1980s, Alozie Ogugbuaja, then a Police Public Relations Officer in Nigeria, upset his superiors when he publicly stated that coup plotting was often the outcome of boredom in the barracks. Ogugbuaja argued that idle soldiers who spend much of their time eating pepper-soup and drinking alcohol were responsible for plotting coups. But the harsh reality of this jest hit home in Zambia in October 1997 when Captain Solo, along with some other junior officers, decided on the spur of the moment during a bout of drinking to launch ‘Operation Born Again.’  They seized the radio station and announced a coup before being flushed out a few hours later.\

Paradoxically, in the struggle by competing interest groups for power, excessive military expenditures – whatever the rationale – further result in diversion of scant resources from priority needs and contributes to a  vicious cycle of political and economic instability. More recently, the availability of large inventories of cold war era armaments has been a potent factor in regional conflicts.  Many countries (and interest groups) are in a position to use lethal weapons to settle old ethnic conflicts. They do so in the knowledge that little or no interest is likely to be shown by the larger international community unless the humanitarian dimensions of these conflicts cannot be ignored or the national interests of major powers are threatened.  This is so because, despite its internal problems, Africa is richly endowed with natural resources, some of which are of vital military and aerospace interest to the major global powers.  It also sits geographically along critical international air and sea-lanes. Thus, Africa is of interest even if Africans are not. Once the military shoots its way to power, the pattern of behavior among new military regimes has been fairly consistent. They promise frugality in public expenditure and prosecution of corrupt public officials. They pay lip service to press freedom and offer external investors a more favorable investment environment while flaunting “national unity” and ‘patriotism’ as their credentials in toppling the government. Civilian technocrats are usually invited to take charge of key areas of government machinery. In the hey-days of the Cold war, a declaration of neutrality or a shift from East to West or vice versa was thrown in for good measure. The longer new regimes exercise autocratic power, the greater their reluctance to relinquish it.  Thus, they unwittingly open up new fissure lines for the next coup.  

No consistent predictive threads can be discerned from various quantitative studies on precipitates of coups. Nonetheless, many of these studies have made apt observations that coups have recurred where they previously occurred, and coups have been primary or secondary markers of various kinds of political change or transformations. These range from ‘musical chairs’ within a given elite, pre-emptive strikes against impending socioeconomic change or as vehicles for implementing or reacting to major social, political and economic shifts.  One group of analyses has tended to focus on socioeconomic considerations while the other has looked more deeply at intra- or civil-military variables.

On the basis of an exhaustive review, for example, Luckham (Luckham, Robin. The Military, Militarization and Democratization in Africa: A Survey of the Literature and Issues, African Studies Review, 37: 2 (December, 1994), 13-75) concluded that the military, not being a monolithic organization, suffers its own internal conflicts and tends to intervene on one side or the other when crises take on national dimensions.  Such interventions are often carried out by politicized elements within an otherwise ‘apolitical’ institution who decide to ‘change the rules’.  A visceral desire to dominate the polity is not infrequently  a background motivator.  These desires often have regional and international implications.  Other contributing factors include the absence of meaningful or principled political opposition in the setting of an illiterate, poverty stricken and/or disenfranchised civil society.  Ambiguities in boundary relations between military and civil society also play a role.

Many observers have said that responsible, just and efficient governance that meets the needs and aspirations of the people, along with a professional army committed to its constitutional responsibilities will prevent successful coup attempts.  But no observer has convincingly provided a popularly agreed upon definition of what the terms ‘responsible’, ‘just’, ‘efficient’, ‘needs’, ‘aspirations’, and ‘professional army’ really mean in Africa.  Even so, assuming the ‘ordinary dictionary meaning’ of those terms, the question that arises then is whether the combination of ‘a responsible, just and efficient government that meets the needs and aspirations of the people, along with a professional army committed to its constitutional responsibilities’ is achievable within the life cycle of a typical African government.

Decalo (Samuel Decalo: Modalities of Civil-Military Stability in Africa, Journal of Modern African Studies 27:4 (1989), 547-578)  defined a stable regime as one that, despite some modicum of tension with its armed forces has continued to subordinate them to the political center since independence.   Using this definition, today, less than 15 sub Saharan African countries would qualify as stable, including Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Senegal, Swaziland, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa.  In Goldsworthy’s (David Goldsworthy, “Civilian Control of the Military in Black Africa,” African Affairs, Vol. 80, No. 318 (January 1981): 49-74.)  view leadership is the common thread that cuts across coup resistant countries, more so than any socioeconomic similarities. 


In my opinion, soldiers in Africa often seize power for self-protection, because they want to and can do so when the opportunity presents itself. Some bad, but ‘strong’ regimes, have held on to power while some good, but ‘weak,’ regimes have fallen. Most post-coup governments have been worse than the regimes they came to replace.  The highly relative terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are in the eye of the beholder. Among human beings, aspirations (ie wants, desires, wishes or ambitions) are not necessarily needs.  In fact one’s wants often clash with one’s needs.  A government that has done all within its capability to provide needs within finite resource constraints in a society with competing demands and significant political and social barriers to progress may be removed for frivolous reasons.  Factions that do not represent popular opinion, can nonetheless, ride to power on the basis of some transient difficulty, during a divisive situation in the polity, particularly in a country with no long-held and deep traditions of peaceful power transfer. In this respect, military coups in the last decade in Algeria and Burkina Faso come to mind.  I have often marveled at how a US President would be considered very popular and successful if he or she had a 60% public approval rating.  Most have hovered in the 40-50% range. In many coup-prone countries, disapproval among 40% of the populace (depending on ethnic, religious, and class distribution) is more than enough to encourage ambitious military officers to seize power. Because of the similarities between murder of a human being and murder of the state, I have previously advocated the triple legal requirement of motive, means and opportunity as a conceptual construct for coups (On The Question of Preventing Coups in Nigeria by Nowamagbe A. Omoigui. ).  

The motive of usurpers may have absolutely nothing to do with how well a government is governing, although a government viewed as ‘bad’  by key opinion makers provides a crucial opportunity for adventurers to risk a coup that may have an entirely different agenda from what the public expects. There are other incentives like financial greed, maniacal desire for power, pride, envy, self-preservation, an attempt to escape from justice, career advancement, ethnic, religious or ideological differences that may spur coups.  

Furthermore, an army may be 99% professional but still coup-prone.  Only a very small clique of conspirators usually stages a coup anyway, and many of the soldiers one sees on the streets in the early hours are often initially unaware that they are taking part in a coup.   A group of officers (or non-commissioned officers) in command of troops with physical proximity to key personalities and components of the state can take over, having first neutralized potential or anticipated opposition.  The more centralized the system is, the more circumscribed the level of public political participation, the less tradition-bound the society is, and the less available counter-forces are to the civil authority, the easier it becomes for the plot to be successful.  The probability of success is higher if the external environment is neutral or indifferent.  Taken by surprise and disconnected from the chain of command, most other units, officers and men are often in a wait-and-see mode if not technically and physically neutralized.  Thus, the security challenge is to aim for total professionalism, but make potentially loyal units (and individuals) less prone to penetration and neutralization while ensuring the preservation of a credible remnant of civilian command authority to rally military and political forces in the event of a coup.  It is in this vein that the presence (or availability) of ‘politically reliable’ and ‘militarily deployable’ foreign troops (or mercenaries) whose home governments are cooperative tends to be seen.

Given the vagaries of the real world, every sensitive government takes steps to ensure that the possibility of a confluence of motive, means and opportunity, is minimized.  But  the ideal situation would be one in which society reaches a level of maturity such that even if the motive, opportunity and means are congruent, individuals in a position to carry out coups choose not to do so.  This is often the case in advanced industrialized societies with deeply-held traditions and well-oiled mechanisms for conflict resolution. It correlates with the observation that when provoked, responsible and appropriately socialized individuals do not necessarily carry out impulses to premeditatedly kill fellow human beings even when they have the means and opportunity. It follows that when they do, the full weight of the law should apply, albeit with appropriate mitigating considerations.  In Pakistan, for example, this has been conceptualized in that country’s judicial memory in terms of the ‘law of necessity’ under which the Supreme Court has legitimized limited military coups against the constitutional order. 

Be that as it may, although primarily concerned with the political subordination of the armed forces, this chapter will weave in related issues that highlight the systemic instability that haunts all kinds of governments in Africa.  The link between such instability and the adaptive and maladaptive role of defense alliances will be discussed to the extent that they impact the ability of African countries to control the military.  But first, let us clarify the meaning of ‘control’.


The term ‘control’ can mean ‘to manage’, ‘exercise power or jurisdiction over’, ‘rule’, ‘restrain’, ‘monitor or regulate’ and even ‘manipulate’.   Essentially, it implies that the entity or person doing the controlling, in this case, the legitimate government of the nation-state, is in charge of, has power of command over, directs and organizes the entity that is being controlled – in this case, the armed forces. 

But why is this an issue?  Interestingly, it has been an issue from time immemorial. The fundamental quandary that faces society is how to mitigate the threat posed by a separate legally constituted armed organization established to protect it but which might just as well turn around to ‘attack’ the unarmed society (or regime or system) that created it.   This dilemma of `sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (‘who guards the guards?’)  goes at least as far back as the days of Plato’s dialogue ‘The Republic’, written about 2,500 years ago.   Indeed, it was in part this issue that led traditional African states (like Benin and Oyo) away from the notion of standing peacetime armies, preferring instead to employ other normative assumptions built into society’s life cycle to enforce peacetime authority.  It was not uncommon in pre-colonial days, for example, for the Oba of Benin in West Africa, to prevent victorious army commanders from returning home to exploit their popularity after successful foreign military campaigns.  But these states have since given way to modern nation states in Africa

For its part, the concept of standing peacetime armies evolved in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  In the nineteenth century, this process was consolidated by a process of professionalization influenced by military thinkers like Clausewitz and Jomini.  Elements of such European armies formed the vanguard and foundations of modern African states. Having created modern African state structures by force in their own likeness, standing armed forces initially under European command, were bequeathed to enforce their authority and mandate over the local people, and in some cases, maintain spheres of influence from ‘intrusions’ from competing European cultures.  What was not fully transferred, however, were the centuries of traditions and socialization as well as institutional memory that guided civil-military relations in Europe. 

As ‘indigenized’ African armed forces and post-colonial societies have evolved since political independence, ‘released’ from direct European control, the nature of the problem has also evolved on a more local level.  How is the military with its awesome power restrained from ‘participation’ in local politics and how is it disengaged once it tastes the forbidden fruit?  How do we ensure that  ‘How, Why and When’ to use military force in internal disputes remains the exclusive preserve of the legitimate authority acting on behalf of, and restrained, by society?  Who controls grand strategic and strategic defense policy?  Who controls foreign policy and determines the ‘How, Why and When’ to use military force in foreign disputes?

Before leaving the subject of ‘control’, a note of caution is in order.   ‘Control’ is not as crude and absolute in practice as the term suggests. All ‘control’ mechanisms in nature have in-built mechanisms for servo feedback – positive or negative – which act to modulate the quality, quantity and time frame of control.  In the specific case of constitutional civic control of the military, there are two important tendencies that political systems seek to balance.  One, the prevention of overt military intrusion into domestic politics, is obvious.  But the other, which does not get as much attention, is the prevention of political misuse of the armed forces by constitutional authority. 

The term ‘political and constitutional’, implies that whatever form of control there is, is exercised by an agent, entity or person that has following or support, based on a mechanism of determination and assurance that is legitimate and lawful in that society.  One assumes that the constitution on which this assumption is based was by itself arrived at as the product of a legitimate process – from the point of view of the society under consideration.

Although the topic of this chapter does not explicitly use the term ‘civil’ or ‘civilian’, it is in the context of civilian derived authority (and power) of the state that control of the armed forces has become an issue in Africa – irrespective of who or what happens to be the agent.   Such authority (with power of enforcement), it is argued, should be exercised on behalf of the nationals of the nation-state through a mechanism that gauges, respects and takes its lead from collective public or communal will.   The interface of this dynamic relationship between such an authority structure and the armed forces (which is also civilian derived), is encompassed by the term ‘civil-military relations’. 

Civil-military relations can thus be viewed as the bi-directional political, social, and economic context in which society relates to the military and vice versa.  When an external defense pact is used as a tool to help modulate this predominantly internal process, political, social and economic dynamics of civil-civil relations between dependent and guarantor states on one hand and the civil-military relations within the guarantor state on the other, are partners in the equation, and frequently determine the success or failure of the relationship.


Historically, the lack of professionalism and institutional stability coupled with political involvement has been a recurring issue in Africa.  At the core of this problem is the lack of trust.  In a review of former President Shehu Shagari’s biography Beckoned to Serve, a news editor for the Guardian Newspaper in Nigeria, Chukwuma Nwokoh, wrote ‘One lesson to be drawn from Beckoned to Serve   is that no serving military person can be believed to be loyal to a government.  In other words, the military is the most perfidious institution ever created by man.  On several occasions, hints pointed at  the direction of Major-General Muhamadu Buhari as a potential coup plotter.  Twice, he denied.  He even threatened to resign his commission given that his loyalty to the Shagari government was in doubt.’  (Shehu Shagari: Beckoned to Serve. Heinemann Educational Books 2001 – Comment…/beckoned_to_serve.htm   General Buhari later took over the country on January 1, 1984 while the former President was huddled in a remote village in central Nigeria, having been spirited away from the Presidential Lodge at Abuja as fighting broke out between loyal and mutinous troops.  

The military question thus centers in large part on the need for democratizing states to develop strategies to control their militaries in order to avoid coups (and other untoward outcomes) in the future.  

There are three basic strategies of controlling defense forces: External Guarantor Modality, Trade-Off Modality and Legitimizing Modality

a).   External Guarantor Modality – (E.G.M) which refers to the reliance on an external power  – through a military defense pact – to guarantee control of the domestic military.  Some countries have used this approach – which is the focus of this chapter. The foremost example of a full scale comprehensive “Godfather” or ‘External Guarantor’  military pacts on the African continent is to be found among the former French colonies.  Based as much on political expediency as well as on notions of shared sacrifice in foreign wars and historical and cultural ties, they were negotiated by French Premier Michel Debre  in 1960 and 1961 along with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Ivory Coast, Benin, Gabon, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Chad following the mutual defense pact of the Entente Agreement of 1959. By this agreement, French forces guaranteed internal and external security of the Council of  the Entente members. This relationship was consolidated by the supplementary quadripartite military accords of April 24, 1961, among France, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Dahomey (present-day Benin). Apart from granting France near monopoly as an arms supplier, these pacts were designed primarily to protect these countries individually and jointly against external aggression, while guaranteeing security of French nationals living and working in those countries.  Indeed, many French businessmen have stated for the record that their enthusiasm to invest in Africa is strongly influenced by the presence of French troops, guaranteeing their security (R. W. Apple, Jr.: French Still Maintain 7,000-Man Force in Africa. New York Times, May 4, 1969).  

The preservation of friendly African governments was an important but somewhat discretionary responsibility, depending on French economic interests and personal political relationships with specific regimes.  Between 1960 and 1964, for example, no less than ten interventions were carried out in the spirit of the defence agreements. In 1960 and again in 1961 order was restored in Cameroon.  In 1960 French troops intervened to pacify ethnic violence in Congo Brazzaville. In September of the same year a conflict between Gabon and Congo was also militarily suppressed. In 1961 French units were called out on three occasions to Mauritania. In December 1963 a “show of force” was conducted in Niger republic to stabilize the regime of Hamani Diori.  Shortly thereafter, a coup was crushed in Gabon.

With military bases in Port Bouet (Ivory Coast), Niamey (Niger), Dakar (Senegal), Diego-Suarez (Madagascar), Fort-Lamy (Ndjamena-Chad), Douala (Cameroon) and Libreville (Gabon), France physically maintained thousands of well-armed troops on the ground.  The original force concept required that these troops (initially 68,000, but approximately 7,000 by 1969, with further adjustments since then) be backed by the air-portable 16,500 man Force d’Intervention (11th Mixed Arms Division) based at Pau, near Toulouse in France. This unit could land in any African country within hours of a call-up. To demonstrate this capability, massive exercises were carried out from time to time. 

The French Foreign Legion (with headquarters in Aubagne, near Marseille) is an assault and pacification unit that has taken part in some operations in Africa. After leaving Algeria in 1962, the regiments were deployed to Corsica, Djibouti, France, French Guyana, Madagascar and Tahiti.   From 1969-1970, the 2nd Parachute Regiment and the 1st Regiment supported French Marines in operations against Toubou ethnic insurgents in northern Chad. 

A diluted version of the E.G.M. involves the deployment of seconded or retired individual foreign soldiers in training and monitoring roles within the local military as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU).   Nigeria and Sierra Leone have such arrangements with Britain fine-tuned to different levels of detail as a function of the different threats faced by both countries.  In Nigeria, for example, the Head of the British Military Advisory Team – Colonel Greg Coker – was seconded to Nigeria’s defense headquarters reportedly with full diplomatic status.

b). In the Trade Off Modality – (T.O.M), the government maintains a patron-client rapport with its armed forces, pays high salaries and benefits, turns a blind eye to corruption, and provides sophisticated equipment – usually through a foreign arms agreement – ostensibly in exchange for loyalty.  It represents little more than a power perk sharing arrangement.  Examples of African countries that have relied on this strategy include Kenya and Zambia, although some of the countries that have used the E.G.M. (like Ivory Coast) have also used T.O.M. selectively.  More recently, this approach has been further refined by the commercialization of foreign military adventures under the guise of peace keeping or ‘national security’.  To various degrees, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Uganda (for example) have used the conflict in the Congo for such purposes. 

c). Under the strategy of Legitimized Modality – (L.M), the government-military relationship has become legitimate in the eyes of both the military and the larger society.  An uprising by the military under such circumstances would (it is argued) be tantamount to an uprising against itself and society as a whole, thus rendering such a self defeating eventuality unlikely.

Even if individually feasible, these control strategies are by no means mutually exclusive.  Indeed, close  observation of Africa shows that they have been simultaneously employed in some cases.  Furthermore, they may be supported by additional ‘insurance’ measures like hired mercenaries and the preferential recruitment of ethnic and/or religiously loyal groups into key positions and specialized units.  Some countries create elite units whose task is to monitor and crush efforts at coup-plotting. The responsibility for knowing when a given control measure needs to yield to (or be supported by) another is obviously that of the regime – which highlights the key role of leadership.

Some analysts have cautioned (with plenty of evidence) that control strategies (singly or jointly) are by no means certain to produce clear outcomes in Africa, largely because the situation in Africa is highly dynamic on account of multiple internal and external actors.  Some of these actors and pressures have enabled the emergence of irregular forces, unconventional political units and warlords. 


A defense pact (or treaty) is a formal covenant between states to enhance the defense and security capabilities of its signatories.  In a general sense, it can range from a non-aggression pact, to a broader joint “friendship and cooperation” security treaty to a very specific military commitment for mutual defense against aggression or to protect sovereignty and/or territorial integrity and/or strategic defense interests. More often than not, it encompasses some combination of the above. It is usually time-limited and subject to renewal.  The wording of a pact may be highly specific or vague, and whether or not adversaries of the states in question are internal (with or without external backing) or primarily external varies from pact to pact.  

However, as is exemplified by the link between the United States and Israel, a serious but informal defense alliance may exist between states in the absence of a formal pact. There are also historical examples of combat troops being deployed to aid friendly leaders even though no formal state-to-state pact existed. The deployment of Nigerian and Egyptian troops to Guinea to assist in repelling a Portuguese naval invasion launched from Guinea-Bissau in the night of November 21-22 1970 is a case in point.  For one week in 1972, elements of the Nigerian Brigade of Guards were placed on full alert at the Lagos airport for possible emergency airlift during a coup attempt against then President Hamani Diori of neighboring Niger Republic – although there was no pact between both countries.  In 1976, with no pre-existing contract, Israel used Kenya as a base for its commando operation in neighboring Uganda during Operation Thunderbolt.  More recently, Libyan troops were airlifted into Central African Republic to shore up the government during an attempted coup – on the basis of a personal phone call.  In the ‘war against terrorism’ following the September 11th attack, the United States diplomatically sought and gained all kinds of military concessions, including over flight and base rights from various countries that would ordinarily be the subject of formal defense pacts.   Such ad-hoc deployments may also occur through the use of a surrogate country. That is, a defense pact signatory state may choose to ask a surrogate to fulfill its defense pact obligations to a client state. This was the case in 1977 when Moroccan troops were sent into Shaba Province in Zaire in lieu of French troops, to prop up Mobutu’s regime (Shaba 1).

Before exploring issues further, some terms need to be placed in context.   “Collective security” and “collective defense,” are not identical concepts, although they overlap. Collective security is used in the context of international security relations as a whole (e.g. “global” or “regional” collective security), while collective defense focuses on collaboration to protect specific allies against external aggression. These nuances are important to appreciate because in recent literature, the term “co-operative security” has supplanted the terms, “military defense”, “common security”, and “collective security”. Some people feel that co-operative security combines collective and common security in an increasingly interdependent world.

These days, collective defense is conceptualized on a platform of mutual defense pacts or other similar kinds of alliances. But confusingly, collective security, and thus collective defense (if organic to it) has increasingly been advocated as a regional concept, as opposed to joint security or defense, which does not necessarily require geographic contiguity.   Thus, the linkage between co-operative, intra-regional, and regional security must be kept in mind when discussing defense pacts. The polemic between “joint” and “collective” is more than academic.  During the Cold War, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, for example, nurtured their growth as collective self-defense configurations. They argued that they were not regional arrangements and could thus act without prior reference to the United Nations. A defense pact must be distinguished from the broader term, “Security Pact.” A security pact may encompass defense (in the narrow military sense of the word). More typically, it focuses on a whole variety of transnational issues, including environmental security, immigration and customs control, smuggling, sea-piracy, non-proliferation (of small arms, mines, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction), counter-terrorism, anti-crime cooperation, drug enforcement, and more recently, humanitarian peace-support dimensions such as refugee assistance and AIDS.  Even in an internal security context, some authorities distinguish between “internal defense” – meaning ‘direct action’ measures that specifically assure state control of the machinery of government, from “internal security” which is a broader term that describes the prevailing state of law and order. (Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms; Greenhill Books 1999, 197).   In US military doctrine for example, the term “Internal Defense and Development” (IDAD) is used to describe “the full range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and to protect itself from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency.”   Be that as it may, defense pacts do not exist in a vacuum. No matter what they start out as, defense pacts ultimately find relevance and take on the color of the threat environment in which they exist.  If high intensity conflict is not in the cards, then low / medium intensity operations in a broad security context and even military operations other than war (MOOTW) tend to become the focus of a defense relationship.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the post-cold war era, exemplifies this paradigm shift. 

Terminology and classification also help to clarify expectations since they can affect the internal and external political perceptions of any arrangement. In Nigeria, for example, during a 1999 debate about the merits of a defense pact – to prevent coups – the Guardian Newspaper endorsed something other than a “full blown defense pact”. In an editorial on July 26, 1999, the paper rather favored entering into bilateral and multilateral arrangements to “enhance defense capabilities”.  This editorial language left much room for maneuver on the part of policy makers and confusion on the part of readers. Precisely where such an arrangement stops short of “full blown” is one of the constructive ambiguities of the defense pact debate. But in order to fully appreciate the range of collaboration that modern defense pacts may entail, it is important to understand that the total defense capability of a state (or nation) is a function of several things: the quality of its political and strategic leadership; its armed forces; industrial and scientific capacity; population, along with its international relationships.  Overt and covert relationships may be nurtured within and between each of these elements among signatories to a defense pact.   Sometimes the full extent of such relationships cannot be appreciated unless co-existing economic, scientific and cultural treaties are brought into focus. Many observers, however, focus exclusively on the “armed forces” or ‘military’ element of the defense pact equation. This is a throw back to the era when security was narrowly defined in terms of the preparedness of a state to resist foreign aggression against its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Military power was considered the sole or preeminent element of this capability.  Thus, the more armed a country was, the more secure it was presumed to be and pacts were viewed in this light with the foreign guarantor-state acting as a force amplifier.   Even then, the range and depth of agreements along this narrow dimension is broad. The  four most common traditional areas of collaboration (in order of increasing political sensitivity – depending on one’s viewpoint) are:

1. Exchange or provision of lethal or non-lethal (combat support) equipment and training. This can come in the form of grants, subsidized or unsubsidized military sales.

2. Joint military exercises of various size and complexity ‘at home’ or ‘away’.

3. Exchange or provision of “teeth-arm” or “service-arm” technical assistance personnel “on the ground” in training institutions, headquarters, and/or tactical field command levels.  Active or ‘seconded’ roles in command, control, communications, intelligence and computer support may also be negotiated. But  foreigners in local uniform functioning as physicians in army hospitals (like Indian officers at one time in Nigeria) do not get the kind of domestic and foreign political attention that foreigners in local uniform get in command of combat formations.  This was dramatically illustrated by Soviet and Cuban officers in Angola in the late 1970s. 

4.  Exchange or stationing of substantial numbers of troops (or units) in fixed air, land, sea bases and/or communications facilities. This element may include airspace over-flying, refueling and landing rights or access to sea bases or lanes. 

It is the latter provision that tends to be most sensitive to friends and foes.  For example, in 1959, even while recommending approval for ratification of the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact, a ministerial committee of parliament recommended that the provisions on military base and over-flying rights be eliminated.  Base agreements also highlight the intensely political nature of pacts and their link to foreign policy. For example, during the decolonization process in Portuguese Africa, there was a conflict between U.S. support for self-determination in Angola and Mozambique (at that time colonies of Portugal) and the U.S. need to retain the Azores base in Portugal, considered vital to U.S. security.  This created a serious dilemma for U.S.  policy-makers in their dealings with Portugal.

A separate set of agreements may deal primarily with defense industrial capacity, including armament technology training, weapons design, production, marketing and distribution.  All of these may be cemented by a process of sustained defense and diplomatic dialogue through visits, conferences, and meetings at strategic levels, in addition to collaboration in multilateral international security endeavors.

Classification of Defense Pacts

Based on the following criteria, one can usually classify and compare traditional multinational defense configurations.  

1.     With whom and why is there a commitment?

2.     Is it mutual?

3.      Under what situation does the commitment become operational?

4.     What is the nature (quantitatively and qualitatively) of        commitments so undertaken?

5.      How integrated are the military forces of members of the alliance?

6.     What is the geographic space of the treaty?

To place such issues in context, we must first understand the African defense environment.  Then, we shall review the experience of various countries that have entered into pacts  of one form or another over the years.

The African Defense Milieu:

  As previously noted, security issues in Africa have been dominated by underlying crises of state and institutional formation. Ensuing civil-military tensions have bedeviled the continent from colonial days.  Entities (i.e. African states) created by force of arms seem to require force of arms to maintain. In many instances, rivalries between the progenitor colonial powers also seem to have trickled down to the  local political elite that inherited the old colonies.

The “with whom and why” of military defense pacts in Africa, may also be analyzed by considering a number of factors.  These include timing, – for example, cold war era versus post cold war era or early post-independence versus late post-independence pacts.   Are the defense pacts state to state or state to liberation movement pacts? Are the pacts bilateral or multilateral? One important angle is the threat paradigm or type of conflict that states or entities confront. For example, directly or indirectly, pacts may seek (or be perceived to seek) to modulate players in one of seven basic types of post cold war African conflicts as suggested by Tom Lodge (Tom Lodge.  Towards an understanding of contemporary armed conflicts in Africa.   These include: a) ethnic competition for control of the state; b) regional or secessionist rebellions; c) continuation of liberation conflicts; d) fundamentalist religious opposition to secular authority; e) warfare arising from state degeneration or state collapse; f) border disputes; and g) protracted conflict within politicized militaries. These conflicts often have numerous causes and cannot simplistically be regarded as the result of bad governance and military adventurism. However, singly or in combination, these threat paradigms place defense pacts in a larger context and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of pacts as a mechanism for civil political and constitutional control over military forces. The transnational nature of many of these threats and their effects on economic development has helped spawn regional groupings, some of which have concluded defense protocols.  Because popular democracy has typically been invoked as the constitutional model of choice in state relationships, most of these defense protocols presumably aid (one way or another) in the process of maintaining constitutional control over the various armed forces involved.  The more recent multilateral pacts tend to incorporate mutual defense into other regional concerns with development and security issues such as narcotics, arms and human trafficking, peace-keeping, nonproliferation, de-mining, refugee crises and AIDS.


My task in this chapter is to discuss “Military Defense Pacts” in the context of options for political and constitutional control. In other words, the role of defense pacts as a tool for managing civil-military relations including the most extreme scenario of a military organization that openly rebels against control by staging a coup d’etat against the legitimate government.  Such arrangements commit signatories to the real or threatened deployment of military resources for internal and/or external defense in order to ensure civil control of the armed forces – in favor of allied states, presumably when other measures fail.   In reality, the efficacy of such a pact will be judged by the extent to which it puts systems and measures in place to prevent a situation from arising in which troops do have to be mobilized in the first place.  This is the essence of generalship in the finest traditions of SunTzu.

Such a Defense Pact would have been entered into by at least two countries, at least one of which desires and/ or needs (as one of several possible objectives) the commitment of an external guarantor to ensure (internal) political and constitutional control of its armed forces by legitimate local authority.  The pact may or may not be mutual along the narrow axis of military defense, but conceivably, would become operational (from the point of view of the dependent state) if and when political and constitutional control of local forces is threatened.  If the threat is endemic and constant, as is often the case in Africa, the pact is, by definition, operational from the moment it is signed.  The nature of such commitments will depend on a broad range of diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative civil-military considerations.  As part of an early warning system, and/or for ease of operational deployment in crisis, some degree of integration of military forces is helpful. However, this may not be essential depending on the range of assets available to the guarantor state(s) and whether or not a local military force even exists. The geographic space of such treaties is often assumed to be the air, sea and land area of jurisdiction (or interest) of the nation-state(s) in question.  But I dare say it should include the hearts and minds of civilian and military opinion makers in the countries involved.

A defense pact aimed to prevent internal usurpation of power is likely to be consummated (and enforced) if core values are shared between the ruling classes of signatory states. An important supposition that underlies the type of defense pacts is that the military, as the apolitical servant of the state, should not be involved in domestic politics. Another crucial assumption that underpins a defense pact of this type is that the guarantor state cares (as a matter of self interest, public relations or international norm) that the client state as a legitimate authority, is able to exercise political and constitutional control over its armed forces. 

However, without the protection afforded by Cold War rationalizations, potential guarantor-states are increasingly reluctant to expend blood and political capital in responding to adverse domestic and international consequences that arise from propping-up an alien regime which has brazenly violated its own constitution and is no longer viewed as legitimate by its own people. Given the complexities involved, therefore, defense pacts designed to protect constitutional order may inherently be more much more complex and nuanced than ‘traditional’ defense treaties. Traditional treaties are primarily dedicated to beefing up an internally stable ally against common external threats. But how does such a defense pact help the domestic military to ‘think’ about its role differently even when tempted? Is it within the purview of such a defense pact to proactively modulate the way civilian-derived authorities exercise their role?  Is it within the purview of such a defense pact to enshrine and help sustain the legitimacy of the government? Should a defense pact ‘demilitarize’ the host nation? 

These latter elements of the contract tend to be more easily marketed as elements of civil support programs managed by non-military governmental units and non-governmental organizations.  But such roles can theoretically be subsumed under the heading, ‘defense diplomacy’ making them subject to consideration during ‘internal defense’ treaty assessments. Since the end of the Cold War, contemporary international norms have taken on a life of their own and created pressures for constitutional control of armed forces and military disengagement from politics, to some extent, skirting the usual sensitivities to issues of individual national sovereignty and ‘choice’.

If a state either lacks domestic expertise or the expertise is politically unreliable, it may well expect the guarantor-state to assist in defining a role for its armed forces. It may also expect the external guarantor to help it in the establishment of professional ethos, technical training, fine-tuning of the process of military input into defense budget and policy formation at Service, Joint Chiefs, Ministerial, and Parliamentary levels.  Another expectation on the part of the dependent state would be the development of civilian expertise in military affairs within and outside traditional arms of government. Aside from these corporate details, the guarantor-state may be required (or may desire) to make ‘defense diplomacy’ investments within civil and military society in such areas as early warning and conflict management, constitutional education, democracy ethos, institution building and shaping of civilian attitudes to the military (and vice versa). The professional relationship between regular military forces and paramilitary forces is another potential flash-point that often needs to be managed – sometimes via government bureaucracies outside the Ministry of Defense.  Whether such long-range defense diplomatic investments should include assistance with profiling of civilians for recruitment into the armed forces followed by supervision of the process of military socialization is debatable.  But the  words of Vegetius (De Re Militari), written in 378 B.C., must never be far from our thoughts:  ‘An army raised without proper regard to the choice of its recruits was never made good by length of time.’

Let us discuss how military defense pacts may prevent or suppress coups (or fail to do so) and then review the history of defense pacts in Africa and their effects on control of the military in the context of the local threat environment.


To place this in context, we must understand how defense pacts may work to prevent or contain coups either as a primary or secondary objective.  In order for a coup to succeed, it must occur in a permissive political and military (internal security) environment. The motive, means and opportunity must be congruent.  Each of these elements can be impacted by many factors, including the existence of a defense pact or (as has often been the case) the willingness of an informal external ally of the government to intervene if invited to do so. By providing access to sophisticated professional and technical training teams, a defense pact can create fulfilling opportunities for local officers and men to develop professionally, socialize with highly professional role models and use international standards as a frame of reference for their own growth.   But critics sometimes invoke the fact that many African coup plotters underwent training in Western military academies as evidence of the inefficacy of defense pacts. Perhaps.  But coup plotters have cut across training institutions, local and foreign. Precisely why some soldiers trained in Anglo-Saxon military traditions of ascetic apolitical professionalism do not seem to internalize the ethos of their alma maters is debatable.   There are some who think that there is a discrepancy between traditions of uprightness and constitutionalism within the walls of Western military academies on one hand, and the ‘lack of character of political leaders’ within the chaotic reality of African societies in transition on the other (Ronald Matthews.  Forecast for Africa: More Plots, More Coups. New York Times, April 10, 1966.). This, by itself, is considered a source of internal conflict among such soldiers and officers, reducing their threshold for mutiny.

However, others disagree, citing the weakness of military institutional, rather than personal culture as the culprit.  The South African White paper on Defense, for example, specifically states that military ethic will be based on “international standards of officership, loyalty and pride in the organization.  This will serve as a basic unifying force which transcends cultural, racial and other potentially divisive factors” (South African Ministry of Defence,  Defence in a Democracy: White Paper on National Defence for the RSA Pretoria MOD May 1996. )   It goes further to specifically state that ‘soldiers may refuse to obey orders in breach’ of the international law on armed conflict.

That said, international connections also inevitably provide bilateral opportunities for intelligence gathering, enhancing the ability of the friendly guarantor-state to assist local intelligence in keeping track of barrack sentiments. Since the primary purpose of a coup is to seize (and hold) power, it is vitally important that power be there to be seized – quickly and completely. Any factor that diffuses the loci of power forces a dissipation of pro-coup elements, changes the balance of power, and considerably increases the risks of discovery during the crucial phase of planning and/or failure during execution.  Arrangements that tie the internal security system of the country to those of a major foreign power complicate matters significantly, since the neutralization (or co- option) of the (usually highly sophisticated) internal security system of that country becomes an integral part of any plans for a coup.  Even if the system is beaten, danger looms after the plot is hatched, for a massive military counter-response – unless the guarantor state supports the coup from the outset or is pacified through post-coup policies. According to Edward Luttwak, this is the main reason why one of the essential prerequisites of a successful ‘independent’ coup is for the target country to be relatively politically independent (Edward Luttwak: Coup d’Etat – A Practical Handbook.  Alfred Knopf-Random House 1969).  Examples of this principle will be discussed with reference to Senegal-Gambia, Senegal-Guinea-Bissau, South Africa-Lesotho, Tanzania-Seychelles, Nigeria-Sierra Leone and others.   The interesting thing about the African environment is how often (with some obvious exceptions), these interventions have also taken place with no formal mutual defense pact in place.


Gabon 1964

As previously noted, the maintenance of friendly African governments in power was an important, but secondary and somewhat discretionary aspect of the Francophone defense pacts, depending on French economic interests and the closeness of the personal and political relationship to specific regimes. In Gabon, for instance, France had extensive interests in Uranium, Manganese and Iron mining.  Uranium in particular was essential to France’s desire for an independent nuclear force de frappe.  Thus, when on February 17/18, 1964 some young army officers opposed to the imminent one-party rule, successfully kidnapped and took control from President Leon Mba, a battalion strong taskforce of French paratroopers under the command of General Kergaravat, having first secured Libreville airport as a staging area, flushed them out of the army base at Baraka 36 hours later, restoring the government to power.  The official political request for French intervention from Vice-President Yembit came only after the coup had already been crushed.  Leon Mba was rescued from captivity after the coup had failed. Crucial early intelligence that a coup was in progress and that French intervention be undertaken actually came directly from Omar Bongo, the Gabonese Chief of Staff who contacted the local French garrison commander immediately.    Again, after Mba died some years later from a long illness, France oversaw the peaceful transition of power to Omar Bongo, the then Vice President.  Much later, in September 1990, two coup attempts were unmasked before execution with the help of French military intelligence.

The East African Mutinies of 1964

Like Nigeria, Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya were former British colonies. What happened in those countries in 1964 provides an interesting “live exercise” in foreign military assistance to the civil power for internal security. 

The details of the 1964 East African British intervention illustrate the importance of strong domestic political will and quick thinking followed by the rapid deployment and concentration of superior forces at decisive points.  An interesting detail is also that although these former colonies had typical commonwealth post-colonization defense agreements (involving the retention of British officers and NCOs in transition to Africanization), formal mutual defense pacts were not in force. The week of January 20-25 1964, witnessed a chain of army rebellions in three East African countries. The ostensible reason was that disgruntled soldiers were demanding better pay as well as the dismissal of British officers still commanding African units.   Fearing the syndrome of a “creeping coup”, and acting at the request of the governments of Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya, citing existing defense relationships as well as the collateral agenda of saving British lives, crack British troops were simultaneously launched against mutinies in all three countries.

Tanganyika, which had been German territory (by treaty) since 1884, was allocated to Britain under a League of Nations mandate after World War 1.  It became independent on December 9, 1961.  Just off its coastline, the island of Zanzibar, originally ruled by the Sultanate of Oman in the 18th century, had been a British protectorate since 1890.  It became independent on December 10, 1963. But barely one month later, tensions between the majority indigenous working class African population and the dominant minority Arab land-owners, exploded into a violent anti-Arab revolt which took place on Sunday, January 12, 1964. Abeid Amani Karume and Abdul Rahman Mohammed led it. Like a “domino”, the fever of revolt soon spread to engulf Dar es Salaam, in neighboring Tanganyika (as well as Kenya and Uganda). On Monday, January 20, troops of the Tanganyika Rifles deposed their British Commander, Brigadier Sholto Douglas, seized the capital, and began rioting, looting and killing, demanding more pay. News reports claim 20 people died with at least 100 others injured (“African Fire Brigade,” West Africa (15 February 1964), 169).  President Julius Nyerere initially played along, avoiding any direct public criticism of the soldiers, but eventually, made an urgent appeal to Britain for help, risking a backlash of African nationalist criticism from Ghana’s President Nkrumah among others. On Saturday January 25, 1964, a British naval artillery barrage shook the shores of Tanganyika.  Under the command of Brigadier Douglas, 60 commandos of the 45th Royal Marine Commandos (usually based at Aden in the Arabian Peninsula) were moved onshore by helicopter from the Aircraft Carrier, Centaur, sitting off the Indian Ocean coast. Heavily armed with small arms and squad automatic weapons, supported by a single bazooka antitank rocket launcher along with thunderous noise from “naval artillery,” they overpowered 800 Tanganyikan soldiers at Colito (10 miles north of the capital) in 40 minutes.  During the “naval bombardment” from the Centaur and its sister ship, the Cambrian (a Destroyer), blank powder charges were used. The surprised Tanganyikan mutineers were so mesmerized by the intensity of the fireworks that they gave up quickly.  Three of them were killed and a large number were wounded. No British commandos were hurt.

While the unit at Colito was being pinned down by concussion and deception, 600 additional British commandos were airlifted with their trucks and equipment directly into Dar es Salaam airport, in the capital.  150 commandos stayed behind to secure the airport while about 450 troops fanned out into town heading for key strategic locations including the State House, radio station, telephone exchange, overseas cable office, airport and the quarters of government officials. These objectives were quickly secured. Meanwhile, paratroopers had dropped from the skies over Tabora (450 miles west of the capital) and Nachingwea (260 miles south, near Mozambique) to complete the immobilization of the entire Tanganyika Army. By noon, it was over. With the situation under control, Nyerere went on national radio to announce that he had decided to disband the Tanganyika Army and set up a new one.   Members of the Youth Wing of the Tanganyika African National Union were called up to register as recruits for the new army. In his broadcast, delivered in Swahili, he described the mutineers as “intoxicated with the poison of disloyalty and disobedience..”. He stated that the mutiny was “the most disgraceful” event in the history of the country. He also went on to say that “No popular government can tolerate an army that disobeys its instructions. An army that does not obey laws and orders of the people’s Government is not an army of that country. It is a danger to the whole nation.” (British Put Down African Mutinies in Three Nations: London sends in troops after calls from Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda. New York Times, January 26, 1964.)   A few months later, early in April 1964, units of the Nigerian Army were airlifted into Tanzania as part of a phased “African” transition from the old Tanganyika army to the new one.  To this day, Tanzania, in spite of some internal problems, has had civilian rule and the Tanzanian Armed Forces have been highly focused on external missions.

Kenya had been self-governing since December 12, 1963 barely two days after Zanzibar gained independence. It, too, was affected by the wave of revolts. In response to a plea by Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta, troops from the Royal Horse Artillery were initially mobilized. Using 6 Ferret scout cars, they launched an armored car assault on the 11th battalion of the Kenya Rifles in Lanet Barracks near Nakuru where there was a sit down strike by 150-armed Kenyan soldiers who had taken over the parade ground. As the ferrets arrived, rebellious snipers fired at them from rooftops. To shake up the rebellious troops, one of the ferrets then used a .50 caliber machine gun to destroy an empty hut in the barracks – in the full view of the soldiers.  This action seriously affected the fighting spirit of the mutineers who promptly gave up their weapons. In the meantime, families of British soldiers attached to the insurgent unit, took refuge at the Rift Valley Club and Stag’s Head Hotel in Nakuru. Simultaneously, 700 additional commandos (mainly Scots Guards) were strategically airlifted at two-hour intervals into Nairobi Airport from bases in Britain and Cyprus in an emergency night operation lasting well into the following day.  They fanned out to town to guard the radio station; the Prime Minister’s Office, Police HQ and the Post Office. After British troops took full control, Jomo Kenyatta went on Kenya radio to condemn the mutineers and promise that they would be court-martialed. To this day, since 1964, there has only been one known serious attempt to seize power in Kenya. It was the failed attempt by the Kenya air force against Kenyatta’s successor, Arap Moi, in 1982.  In response, President Arap Moi disbanded the air force and began an aggressive policy of trade-off with the Kenyan military. It must be mentioned too that a small permanent administrative logistic element called BATLSK (British Army Training and Liaison Staff Kenya) is still located on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. Under a defense agreement, three British infantry battalions a year carry out a six-week exercise called Exercise GRAND PRIX. In addition, a Royal Engineer Squadron is deployed to carry out a civil engineering project. Whether these transient ‘training’ units played any role in crushing the 1982 coup has never been publicly clarified.  But there has not been any coup attempt since then.  However, environmental damage and injuries to nomads and cattle from unexploded British munitions remain a source of intermittent irritation in Kenyan-British relations.

The Ugandan Exception: Like his other East African colleagues, Prime Minister Milton Obote  requested British military action.  Using burp guns, thirty handpicked soldiers of the Staffordshire Regiment supported by Scots Guards attacked and overwhelmed 300 rebels at Jinja on the northern edge of Lake Victoria. The first phase of the operation involved a direct assault through the main gate, heading directly for the armory. They seized it before the surprised soldiers became fully awake, as 450 additional British troops surrounded the base. As in Kenya, the families of British soldiers attached to the unit were evacuated to Lake Victoria Hotel in Entebbe, from where they were airlifted to Nairobi. Uganda, (a country created by Lord Lugard out of the Bantu kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankole and Toro) seemed the least agitated of the three nations at the time. However, subsequent events were to prove complicated. After the 1964 crisis, Obote began to distance the Uganda military from its British links and gradually began raising the profile of the Israelis as technical partners and trainers. He also developed a penchant for covert operations in the Congo. Using then Paratroop Colonel Idi Amin, he  not only set up camps for Christophe Gbenye, [successor to Lumumba and opponent to Mobutu], but also collected gold and ivory which was then used to buy arms for the so called “Simba” rebellion against Mobutu, then Congolese Army Commander (Uganda’s New Military Ruler:  Idi Amin. New York Times, January 28, 1971). While the armed forces of Tanzania and Kenya were focused on less controversial external self-perception enhancing pursuits to buy time for the legitimization of their political classes, the domestic misuse of the military ultimately proved Obote’s undoing. After independence on October 9, 1962, Obote initially tried to “integrate” Buganda with the rest of the country by getting his party (Uganda Peoples Congress), then a minority in parliament, to accept the Kabaka as Ceremonial President of the whole country. This was achieved in 1963.  Then, he moved to use state patronage to lure coalition ministers away from their parties until he had a clear parliamentary majority.  Once this was achieved, he broke off the coalition even as personal, religious, ideological and “North-South” ethnic disputes tore his cabinet apart. On April 15, 1966 during an internal power struggle that actually began in February, Obote convened parliament and asked it to function as a constituent assembly in changing Uganda’s constitution. He made the country a unitary state under his rule and deprived the kingdom of Buganda its federal status.  Claiming that he was trying to put down an army coup, he detained many politicians and got cabinet approval to cede total control of the Ugandan army to himself, pushing the President (Sir Edward Mutesa II) aside. He then appointed his friend and fellow northerner, then Brigadier Idi Amin (a Moslem Kakwa from the West Nile district) as Army (and Airforce) Chief, replacing Shaban Opoloto, whom he had initially made Defense Minister before sacking him for allegedly plotting a coup.   Reacting to all these events, the Buganda legislature asked the Central Government to leave Buganda. Obote responded by sending in the Army to sack the palace of the Kabaka. In 1969, Obote survived one of many assassination attempts, after which he declared a state of emergency and banned all opposition parties.  In late 1970, with political tensions in society now playing out within the military, he tried to remove Amin from headship of the Army on charges of embezzlement of defense funds along with accusations that he was selectively recruiting soldiers from his ethnic group to challenge the dominance of pro-Obote Acholi and Langi groups.  On January 25, 1971, an increasingly disaffected Major-General Idi Amin, allegedly encouraged by Israel and Britain, overthrew Milton Obote while the latter was returning from a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Singapore (Obote is ousted by Ugandan Army. New York Times, January 26, 1971).   A subplot in this scenario was the alleged desire of British intelligence to use Uganda as a base of operations to assist southern Sudanese liberation movements against the Moslem north, which Obote did not want to support.

After seizing power, Amin initially feigned a shift back toward Britain by requesting a 17-man British military training mission (under Colonel Hugh Rogers). Then, he turned around and accused the Team of organizing an invasion against him, expelling them a few months later in September 1971. In early 1972, the 150-man Israeli military training team was also sent packing, as Amin now embraced Libya as his new external guarantor. The failed role of Libya during the 1979 Tanzanian invasion of Uganda to overthrow Amin will be addressed later. To this day, Uganda remains the only one of the three East African countries that survived the mutinies of 1964 with targeted external guarantor assistance to have experienced subsequent military rule. It is noteworthy that while engaging in the dangerous internal security dance that eventually brought him down, Obote had no External Guarantor modality in place.  His attempts at an ethnic Trade-off military control strategy backfired.   Neither he nor the Ugandan political system had achieved political legitimacy.  To the cheers of unsuspecting civilians, Amin used Obote’s alleged  violation of the Ugandan Constitution as his purported reason for seizing power. As  he pointed out, “Throughout my professional life,  I have emphasized that the military must support a civilian government that has the support of the people, and I have not changed from that position.” (Biography of Idi Amin Dada. )


Before discussing this, it must be kept in mind that (as will be evident later on in our discussion) most defense pacts are not signed specifically for the purpose of preventing or crushing coups or ‘controlling’ the military.  Thus, it is unfair to evaluate them with this mono-dimensional outcome in mind. However, there are historical examples of situations in which African coups took place in the full view of defense pact troops. Or an invitation to a formal ally to send in troops was turned down, or a formal invitation to an informal ally could not be made because the government structure was in disarray. Libya offers a good example of this.


Britain, which had dramatically gone to the rescue of Nyerere, Kenyatta and Obote in 1964, refused to help King Idris of Libya (with whom she had a formal twenty year defense pact) when the latter was overthrown by Captain Qaddafi and others on September 1st, 1969. According to previously secret files released by the Public Record Office, the recommendation against intervention came from the Foreign Office.  Then Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart cited the weakness of popular support in the capital for Idris (who was in Turkey for medical treatment and vacation), ambivalence and incompetence on the part of the King (who even signaled his willingness to abdicate), and the larger danger to British interests in the Middle East of a misguided and violent intervention to restore a weak government so late in the game.  “It seems to us that in this event the sooner we get on terms with the revolutionary government, the greater are the chances of protecting our essential interests in Libya,” Stewart wrote.  (Britain-Libya Relations Revealed. )  The United States also prevaricated, based in part on a previous understanding to limit intervention to defence against external invasion from Nasser’s Egypt.  (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on U.S. Security Agreements and Commitments Abroad, _Morocco and Libya_, Hearings, 20 July 1970)

There is no doubt that the Qaddafi coup would quite easily have been put down militarily if Britain (supported by the US) wanted to do so although the UK Defense Review in 1965 had led to the elimination of logistic stockpiles from Cyprus and withdrawal of all British ships from the Mediterranean.  A Canberra strike force was left at Akrotiri as a deterrent, supported by the Cyrenaica defense force.  In spite of prior cutbacks mutually agreed to by both governments, there was still one armored reconnaissance squadron and one Infantry Company in the Benghazi area.   Indeed, it was an open secret for months that a coup was in the offing.  Over the preceding six months, the American Air Force base at Wheelus and units in Tripolitania were stocked up with weapons and ammunition for just such an eventuality.  King Idris was fully briefed about it and on at least one occasion, was even approached by British officers for permission to arrest all the plotters when they gathered in one location to refine their plans.  However, he declined, citing fear of casualties and potential popular backlash.   Idris was also advised not to travel out of the country when he did and was offered the opportunity to obtain medical treatment at the British and American bases within Libya.  Although his own sister had been treated locally by an American physician, he refused this advice too, perhaps concerned about his image in the Arab nationalist press (personal communication, Colonel John Eady, USAF rtd.  In 1969 Colonel Eady served as a Major at Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya and personally witnessed events during the Qaddafi coup).  After the plotters launched the coup, dubbed ‘Operation Jerusalem’, however, Idris called for help.   During the first three days after Captain Qaddafi made his announcement over Benghazi radio at least three American squadrons fully loaded with munitions and provided with target designation were on immediate launch alert at the Wheelus Base awaiting a final decision by Britain. The US, preoccupied with Nasser’s threat and the bigger Cold War picture, considered Britain the primary signatory to the Defense Treaty with Libya.  In the absence of a commitment by Britain to intervene, the American planes were stood down.  Some historians have been so perplexed by the events that they have even suggested that perhaps Qaddafi was acting out a script that Britain desired (Hizb ut-Tahrir: Was Britain Behind Qaddafi’s Coup?  Khilafah Magazine, June 1991).  Perhaps closer to the truth, however, may be an observation by Geoffrey Arthur of the British Foreign Office during US/UK talks on Libya in March 1966.  He said that “apart from defense treaty, US and UK interests in Libya essentially similar, politically and militarily, without any strong emotional involvement by either.” (FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES 1964-1968, Volume XXIV Africa: 78. Telegram from the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State/1/.  London, March 9, 1966, 1835Z.


A defense pact may also fail to mature or might even dissolve on the basis of dynamic political changes or ethnic tensions within signatory countries and/or shifts in the threat environment.  Nigeria provides a good example of ethnic competition for internal control of the state and its effects on negotiations for external defense pacts.  The Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact was ratified by the Nigerian Parliament in November 1960 in spite of public opposition. To this day, it remains a mystery whether an alleged mutiny in the 1st Queens Own Nigeria Regiment at Enugu shortly after independence on October 1, perhaps influenced by events in the Congo, played any role in influencing parliament to ratify it.  The mutiny was quickly nipped in the bud by British officers and has hardly ever been acknowledged or discussed in Nigeria since then.

However, on January 21, 1962 the pact was suddenly abrogated by the Prime Minister without reference to Cabinet or Parliament. It had initially been proposed by British Defense Minister, Duncan Sandys, in 1958.  Driven by the fallout of the 1956 Suez crisis, his motivation was to gain a military base in Kano as an option to those in Cairo, Tripoli and Khartoum.  On the domestic front, however, there was little support for either a British military base or over-flying rights. Nonetheless, among Northern People’s Congress  (NPC) politicians, the utility of British military back-up as a balancing force against the then southern dominated Nigerian Army officer corps and/or Action Group (western region) subversives was key. External factors were also decisive.  There were tensions with Ghana’s Soviet allied Kwame Nkrumah over policy. Disagreements with France over nuclear tests in the Sahara as well its designs on British Cameroon also loomed large.  It was not reassuring that France had a defense pact with Cameroon .  With time, however, internal and external conditions changed.  On the British side, new leadership (Harold Watkinson) had emerged in the Defense ministry, new technical breakthroughs had made for longer-range British aircraft, and economic travails did not favor expensive new capital projects.   Furthermore, Watkinson felt that other than the base (which Nigeria did not want anyway) all the other components of the pact could be achieved informally. Thus, he reassured his Nigerian counterpart in October 1961 that Britain would not object to the abrogation of the treaty (Idang, Gordon J. “The Politics of Nigerian Foreign Policy: The Ratification and Renunciation of the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Agreement.” African Studies Review Bulletin 13, 2 (September 1970): 227-51.).  On the Nigerian side, there had been demonstrations on the streets against the pact, rapid Nigerianization of the officer corps was in progress, and the relationship with Cameroon had improved after the British Cameroon plebiscite. Nigeria had also acquired more confidence on the African and world stage and Cold War tensions had eased somewhat.  Difficulties with the NPC (Northern)/ NCNC (Eastern) alliance led the Prime Minister (who was a northerner) to seek rapprochement with the opposition Action Group (AG). The AG  had opposed the pact all along in part because Chief Obafemi Awolowo (the Yoruba opposition leader), was reportedly bitter that the British Governor-General allegedly called Tafawa Balewa and asked him to form a government before the final results of the December 1959 elections were in (Ayo Rosiji. Man with Vision by Nina E. Mba. 1992 Spectrum Books).   In Action Group (Western regional) circles at that time, there were rumors that the 1958 Constitutional Conference in London might have been placed under covert surveillance and manipulated by British Intelligence and that Nigeria’s independence elections may have been rigged.  The day after abrogation, and two weeks before the annual congress of the AG in Jos, Balewa invited the AG to join him in government.  Nevertheless, Chief Awolowo (Awo) refused, leading to a split in the Action Group.  These events were followed by a failed Ghanaian backed attempt to use civilian militia to overthrow the Balewa government on September 22,1962, a series of crises in the western region and eventually, Nigeria’s first successful military coup d’Etat in 1966.   Although there was no longer a defense pact, the Balewa government was tipped off about both coups by British sources but reacted to them differently with different results.  In 1962, the alleged conspirators were preemptively arrested and charged to court for treasonable felony. Balewa, however, brushed off hints about the second coup.  And in the state of confusion that reigned after his abduction on January 15, the refusal of the President of the Senate (Nwafor Orizu, an ethnic Igbo from the NCNC – who was also the acting President) to accept the appointment by the NPC dominated cabinet of an interim Prime Minister (Dipcharima, a northerner) closed whatever option remained to formally invite British troops in (with or without a pact) (Shehu Shagari: Beckoned to Serve. Heinemann Educational Books 2001).  With no constitutional provision for such a move, Orizu chose to ‘hand over’ under pressure to the Army Chief, Major Gen Ironsi,  (also of Igbo origin) allegedly to give him needed authority to put down the mutiny (by junior officers, mainly of Igbo origin).  Along with the killings that accompanied the coup, this fateful decision, which Orizu later defended as ‘patriotic’, ushered in a very bloody chapter in Nigerian history  (Nwafor Orizu:  Liberty Or Chains — Africa Must Be (Autobiography).  Excerpted in Vanguard  –  Reminiscences; Nigeria’s First Military Coup and Why we Handed Over. Sat, 24 Apr 1999 (   It remains unknown whether the British would have responded to an invitation from Acting Prime Minister Dipcharima in the same way as they did in East Africa two years earlier; but those familiar with the events of that fateful weekend claim the British had already agreed in principle to intervene if invited by proper authority.  Interestingly, recently declassified American State department archives show that American intervention was also contemplated in Nigerian government circles before the Senate President ‘handed over’ to General Ironsi. It is noteworthy that while every former British colony in Africa was offered a defense treaty at the time of independence, it could have been Awo’s feeling that the British had a “secret pact” with the “North” [rather than Nigeria as a whole] that led to his opposition to the 1960 defense treaty, rather than the treaty itself. It is on record that politicians from the Moslem North opposed the initial motion for self-rule brought before the central legislature in March 1953 and subsequently asked Britain to permit the North to secede and form a separate colony. But on August 7, 1953 northern delegates to constitutional talks agreed to a loose federal system, removing one of the obstacles to eventual independence.  However, on August 25, 1956, Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, again publicly expressed reservations about self-rule in 1959 citing insufficient numbers of trained northern Nigerians (Thomas F. Brady.  Self-Rule Delay Urged in Nigeria: Northern Leaders Say They Have Not Enough Trained Native Administrators.  New York Times, September 9, 1956.). In his writings, Awolowo projected some of his frustrations with these developments with the phrase: “the problem of the North” (Obafemi Awolowo: Awo: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, London, 1960). None of this was helped by subsequent rumors that on the eve of the independence celebration, the flag of the northern Sokoto caliphate seized by British troops from Fulani Horsemen in March 1903, was returned in a formal ceremony.  Its inscribed motto “Victory is with God alone” is said by some to be the motto not only of the Royal West African Frontier Force but also of the modern Nigerian Army, written in Ajami character.  Looking back, whether, had it not been abrogated, the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact of 1960 would have changed Nigeria’s political destiny will never be known. But it cannot escape attention that the sympathies of the middle-ranking officers who struck on January 15, 1966 were with the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) – political soul mates of those who opposed the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact of 1960.

Francophone Africa

There are other examples of failed, abrogated or unimplemented pacts. After France put down the coup attempt against President Leon Mba of Gabon in 1964, information minister Alain Peyrefitte initially announced that although unwilling to get involved in local politics, France was ready to intervene at any time to maintain political stability in Francophone Africa.  He stated: “It is not possible that a few men carrying machine guns be left free to seize a presidential palace at any time…..It is precisely because such a threat was foreseeable and foreseen that the new born states signed accords with France to guard against such risks.”  (Henry Giniger:  France affirms a role in Africa.   New York Times, February 27, 1964)   However, in response to domestic criticism France became increasingly ‘neutral’ when faced with coups in countries within its sphere of influence, preoccupying itself with security and evacuation procedures if the lives of French citizens were at risk. 

This posture by France obviously needs to be placed in proper perspective, but coincidentally, over the 24 month period following the Gabon intervention, Burundi, Algeria, Congo (Zaire), Dahomey (Benin), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Central African Republic, and Togo all had successful coups.  These and other Francophone countries have, particularly since the decline and eventual end of the Gaullist era, gone on to experience successful and unsuccessful coups with French soldiers watching (and the French government usually in the know).  These include coups in Niger, Comoros, and the epileptic mutinies in the Central African Republic (CAR). In some cases, coups have even occurred with barely disguised French backing such as in the CAR in 1989.  Since most post-coup regimes in Francophone countries have tended to be even more pro-France and French dependent, the policy must have served French interests well. To cap it, the use of the French Foreign Legion reduces the domestic political costs of French foreign intervention because the soldiers, no matter how many are killed, are “foreigners on contract” with no ethnic political constituency in France. 

Moreover, in the 1990s, a number of developments have conspired to further alter French concepts of operations and strategic thinking about African security assistance. In addition to the bad experience of the Rwandan crisis of 1994,  changes in political leadership in France and Africa as well as France’s post Cold War decision to downsize its military–making it an all-volunteer force, have affected its capacity and appetite for interventionist operations abroad.    France now plans to rely less on direct French intervention and more on local African forces. It will maintain pre positioned supplies and 4,500 – 5,000 troops in five African nations, namely Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Chad, and Djibouti, down from the previous level of about 7,000.  Indeed, the 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion located in the strategic Port Bouet, near Abidjan, was ordered not to get involved when Cote d’Ivoire experienced its first successful military coup.  The 1999 Christmas eve coup d’état was triggered by a mutiny in the Ivorien Para-Commando Rapid Deployment Force (FIRPAC) over living conditions, UN peace-keeping allowances, and perceptions that ethnicity was the driving force behind promotions. Nor did the French get involved when civilians subsequently rebelled against the vote rigging General Guie, forcing him to flee, giving way to the government of President Laurent Gbagbo less than one year later.  It is noteworthy, however, that France (as well as well meaning West African neighbors) did put ‘defense diplomatic’ pressure on both President Konan Bedie and General Robert Guie to take political and military steps which could have avoided the insurrections that eventually removed them from office.  Neither of them responded to advice – which they considered an infringement on sovereignty.  Nor did the French (or Cote d’Ivoire’s West African neighbors) step in when they got into trouble.

Guinea Bissau

Yet another example of a failed military defense pact occurred in 1999 in Guinea Bissau. Initial success in putting down the revolt of General Mane with the assistance of Senegalese and Guinean troops deployed as part of Operation Gabou ultimately failed because the government of President Vieira just did not have ‘public’ support.  The “coup” degenerated into a civil war and Mane, supported by ex-servicemen from the days of independence struggle, ultimately “won” – although he was subsequently killed slightly over a year later attempting another putsch against his successors.

Pact Failure due to specific limitations

A defense pact may, by the way it is structured, discourage intervention in internal affairs of a host nation. Good examples of this outside of Africa can be drawn from the successful coups that took place in Turkey in 1960 and 1980 despite Turkey’s membership in NATO. NATO units cannot be deployed in combat without notification and consent of ALL members – a situation that can hardly be achieved in the fast moving tactical situation of a coup.  The same can be said of the Greek coups in 1967 and 1973.

In Africa, sensitivity about sovereignty has largely rendered regional defense pacts toothless against coups.  This is not to say, however, that security cooperation short of physical troop deployments during a coup has not occurred. Moreover, while the very presence of foreign troops may, all by itself, be the reason for a ‘nationalist-patriotic’ coup (as occurred in Papua New Guinea in 1997), the endorsement of the defense ally  may be sought and obtained by coupists. This is particularly the case if the pre coup regime begins to take domestic and international policy positions at variance with the interests of its guarantor-state, as occurred with Diem in South Vietnam in 1963.  On the other hand, physical remoteness of resident foreign troops from the centers of political power in the host country may put them at a potential disadvantage to intervene when the government gets into trouble.  If the domestic political leadership is rapidly liquidated, by assassination, for example, there is little a foreign force can do except make the post-coup government very uncomfortable or influence the process of succession – as occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001 and Niger Republic in 1999.  This is one reason why I have elsewhere advocated an out-of-country element of the democratic leadership chain of command (Omoigui NA.  Perspectives on a Nigerian Defence and Security Pact.  August 10, 1999.  Policy Paper Submitted to the Senate Committee on Defence, National Assembly, Abuja, Nigeria (unpublished)).   Lastly, the defense ally may be too militarily weak, professionally incompetent or disorganized to protect its host when it matters most – the first twelve hours. Nigeria’s initial reaction to the overthrow of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, is a case in point. So where does this leave us? It places things in perspective. It illustrates that mechanisms to ensure constitutional order have to be comprehensive and redundant, with or without a defense pact.  It does not mean that defense pacts (or invited external intervention) cannot be effective. They obviously can, as the 1964 mutinies in East Africa clearly demonstrated.


This section will highlight the complex threat environment of individual African States and regimes and how this has influenced the evolution of defense pacts on the continent.


Some international boundaries that were previously the scenes of border conflicts in the West African region have been delimited  (International Conflict and the Environment: Aozou Strip Case. ICE Case Studies:  Case Number: 18; THE AOZOU STRIP. By Michael E. Pukrop, Spring 1997  In addition to the Aozou strip, pitting Libya against Chad, another prominent example is the Lake Chad area shared by Cameroon, Chad, Niger, (all of which have defense pacts with France) and Nigeria which has no external guarantor. (The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.  Lake Chad Basin Commission 2000 – Final communiqué.   However, other international boundaries continue to be sources of irritation and conflict.  Border flash-points include the Guinea-Liberia-Sierra Leone, Senegal-Gambia, Libya-Niger land borders as well as the maritime boundary and exclusive economic zone disputes between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea relative to oil-rich areas in the Gulf of Guinea. 


Nigeria’s abrogated 1960 defense pact with Britain has been discussed.  However, it is worth recalling that the Nigerian Army was Britain’s creation. Nine Nigerian Battalions (enlisting 14,000 men and 29,000 carriers) fought for Britain during the First World War, distinguishing themselves against Germans in the Cameroon and East African campaigns.  Elements from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia also participated.  During the Second World War from 1939-45, as part of the 81st and 82nd West African Divisions, seven or more Nigerian rifle battalions (along with units from other British colonies) fought for Britain in the Cameroons and Burma, once again distinguishing themselves.  Maiduguri was a deep rear-logistic Royal Air-Force Base during the North African Campaign against Rommel.

Between 1963 and 1967 (prior to the civil war), Nigeria spent anywhere from  £167, 091 and £358,226 annually on arms. Britain supplied between 36.5% (1964) and 83.3% (1963) of all its weapons imports.  Other major suppliers included Israel, Sweden, West Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, USA (1.7% B 3.3%), Netherlands and Italy.  In 1967, Britain supplied  £171,391 worth of arms (47.8% of the total).  But in 1968, with the civil war heating up, Britain accounted for 79.2% of the £3.56 million spent that year on arms imports alone, reflecting its decision to back the federal government after the 1967 Biafran Midwest incursion.  However, by 1969 its share had slipped in view of the huge purchases of weapons that Nigeria had made from Warsaw pact countries. More recently, British share of the Nigerian arms market has been modest although it accounted for nearly two-thirds of imports from 1991-93.

Germany was instrumental in setting up the Nigerian Air Force.  Until the Nigerian crisis erupted in 1966, a number of German officers were seconded to the embryonic Nigerian Air Force.  More recently, Germany and Nigeria are cooperating closely in Nigeria’s ‘Air Beetle’ production program – aimed at locally producing an aircraft which can fly on vehicle fuel.   During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), both Nigeria and ‘Biafra’  negotiated defense pacts with foreign countries and mercenaries. Beyond equipment and training agreements with a large number of countries, Chadian troops along with retired Egyptian and British combat pilots (on the Nigerian side) and a number of European mercenary soldiers and pilots (on the Biafran side) took an active direct part in the conflict.  France (under De Gaulle) actively supported the Biafran cause. Of the few African countries to recognize Biafra, all except Tanzania were francophone.

Nigeria’s current security attitude to Equatorial Guinea is much more subdued than it used to be. Fearful of French and South African intentions in January 1987, Nigeria pressured  Equatorial Guinea to conclude treaties to facilitate cooperation, and sign a defense pact. Later on, in mid-1988, amid reports that apartheid South Africa was upgrading Malabo’s airport and planning  to build a satellite tracking station, Nigeria demanded the expulsion of South Africans from Equatorial Guinea.  However, in spite of Nigeria’s proximity and desire for ‘alliance’, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Brigadier-General T. O. N. Mbasogo relies on a small Moroccan detachment for his personal security.  Indeed, Nigeria’s claim to the Zafiro oil field off Fernando Po’s (now called Bioko’s) coast has helped incite a secessionist Bubi movement on that island alarmed by the influence of Fang and Nigerian immigrants.

India assisted Nigeria in setting up its national defense academy in 1964.  In addition to appointing the first Commandant of the Academy, India also seconded some  of its officers to Nigeria to play ‘on the ground’ roles in support and logistic units, including medical services.  However, this old bilateral military relationship did little to assuage a nasty confrontation between senior Nigerian and Indian officers serving under the UN mandate in Sierra Leone. India eventually withdrew its contribution to UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone.

Under the aegis of ECOWAS, Nigeria provided about three quarters of the troops in ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Since the heady days of the 1970s when it provided support to a variety of African liberation movements, it has had numerous bilateral agreements with a number of African countries (including Gambia and Sierra Leone) for military training, staff officer secondment, and exchange of instructors (including Ghana).  Egypt has trained some Nigerians for the Army Air Corps program. On the other hand, in the Nigeria-Cameroun border dispute, both militaries have clashed several times over the disputed Bakassi peninsula.  After several serious armed clashes, the matter is now before the International court. One of the most serious clashes took place in 1994. France dispatched a military contingent to Yaounde (capital of Cameroon), citing its defense pact with Cameroon.  Another serious clash occurred in January/February 1996 followed by a cease-fire agreement that has intermittently been violated.

Nigeria’s relationship with the US and Britain was strained because of its poor human rights record during the military dictatorships of Generals Babangida and Abacha.  However, the country did try to use its paradoxical pro-democracy role in Liberia and Sierra Leone as leverage with the international community in hopes that its own internal track record would be ignored.  Nigeria also adapted to the unwillingness of the United States and Britain to supply weapons by finding willing collaborators to keep its arms imports going. Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, France and Switzerland jumped in to sign defense agreements.  By 1997, General Abacha had begun shopping for arms in North Korea and China citing the refusal of Western countries to sell to his regime.  However, there is no evidence that any of these weapons supply defense agreements was helpful in keeping the notoriously coup-prone Nigerian military under control as a ‘Trade-Off’.   Indeed, the military regimes of Babangida and Abacha went the other way, implementing a policy of deliberate under-training, under-funding and under-equipping of the military while corrupting its officers with inducements of political patronage to immobilize it as a threat to their respective regimes.  Specially recruited internal security units outside the military chain of command were, however, set up and trained with assistance (at different times) from Israel, Libya and North Korea.

As will be emphasized later, Nigeria has recently begun to rebuild a close military relationship with the United States and Britain ostensibly aimed at helping to secure democratic control of the military. Peace-keeping training has been conducted by US Special Forces for Nigerian battalions destined for Sierra Leone.  Faced with a growing threat from ethnic militias, democratic Nigeria has also  expressed interest in developing its counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism capabilities and appears to have turned again to Russia (in part to deflect criticism of its pro-Western stance)  to assist it in this quest.  Military industrial agreements have also been signed with South Africa.  Other interesting developments include a proposal to fund and equip the Nigerian Navy from extra budgetary sources donated by international oil companies and the US State Department – to protect their assets in face of attacks from aggrieved localities.  War games have been conducted by the US military based on futuristic scenarios in which American marines and Special Forces could be inserted into Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger-Delta region or its over-populated cities.  Citing the resurgence of international terrorism, the Nigerian National Assembly is negotiating a deal to have Israelis protect Parliament buildings in the federal capital.

Cote d’Ivoire

As previously noted, the 1999 Christmas Eve coup in Cote d’Ivoire — its first since independence –came as a rude shock to many observers. The coup occurred in the presence of French troops. Other very recent coups in West Africa have taken place in Niger Republic and Guinea Bissau (both of whom also had active defense pacts with foreign nations). The last decade also witnessed coups in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.


In response to the invasion of Guinea by Portuguese naval units, Nigerian and Egyptian troops were called in to assist President Sekou Toure in Nov. 1970.  Neither country had a formal pact with Guinea at the time.  More recently, in response to its internal security problems with rebels along its border with Liberia and Sierra Leone, Guinea has turned around to hire mercenaries to fly Russian-made helicopter gunships.  Despite a desire among regional countries to deploy an ECOMOG peace keeping force to the area, Guinea, has focused entirely on achieving a decisive military defeat of the rebels. Accordingly, it has, to date, dragged its feet on approving  the Status of Forces Agreement (SFA).   Without either the SFA or a tacit African-style informal invitation to do so, the force cannot be deployed on the Guinean side of the border. It seems obvious that what Guinea wants is an external military defense ally, not a peace-keeper.  Liberia on the other hand, eager to erect a ‘shield’ from Guinean troops and cut-off its own insurgents, seems willing to accept the force under its current mandate.

Senegal and Gambia

Senegal which has kept its military under control since independence, has participated in a few military pacts. It dispatched a battalion to the Shaba province of Zaire (now Katanga in DR-Congo) as part of the ‘African Force’ deployed to Kolwezi in 1978.  In 1981, during a Gambian coup attempt, left wing insurgents used the police to seize the capital, Banjul. Gambia had no army at the time.  Order was restored with the aid of troops from neighboring Senegal called in by then President Dawda Jawara who was attending a royal wedding in London. A Sene-Gambian defense pact was subsequently signed as part of a proposed Sene-Gambian Confederation.  But it was abrogated in 1989. A new Gambian army was then created with help from Britain and Nigeria. This new army later carried out a successful coup against President Jawara in the presence of a Nigerian military training team.   

But Senegal has not been free of internal security problems of its own. It has battled the separatist Mouvement des forces démocratiques de la Casamance (MFDC) since 1982.  The Casamance crisis is an ethnic/regional crisis based on the belief that the central government has neglected the Casamance region. Peace talks began in December 1999 but sporadic violence has continued.  A simmering border dispute from 1984-1991 between Guinea-Bissau and Senegal erupted into armed clashes in April and May 1990. Each side supported its neighbor’s rebel movements.  Important sources of weapons used by the MFDC are the black markets in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia including mines allegedly provided by rebel elements of the Guinea-Bissau military.  Family and ethnic links between Casamance and Guinea-Bissau date back to the PAIGC war of independence. A pact was subsequently signed between the two countries (along with Gambia and Guinea) pledging non-aggression and mutual defense.  In 1991, Senegal  (which also has a close relationship with the United States and France) participated in Operation Desert Storm (along with Niger, Morocco, Egypt, and Sierra Leone). In 1992, she sent two battalions to the ECOMOG peacekeeping group in Liberia.

Guinea-Bissau: Guinea-Bissau was embroiled by a civil war from 1998-1999. Supported by disgruntled soldiers who had not been paid their wages, former Brigadier General Ansumane Mane attempted a coup on June 7, 1998 against President Joao Bernardo Vieira accusing him of corruption. Vieira had fired Mane from command of the armed forces on charges of selling weapons to the Casamance rebels in neighboring Senegal.  With help from almost 1,200 Senegalese and 400 Guinean troops airlifted in to support Vieira, the coup initially failed. Using the opportunity provided by its invitation to help put down the coup, Senegalese forces then got distracted by a “hot pursuit” campaign against Casamance forces based in northern Guinea-Bissau. Despite the combination of Vieira loyalists and the foreign troops, the uprising grew as the countryside erupted in revolt against the government.   Guerilla veterans of Guinea-Bissau’s War of Independence from Portugal took up arms against the President, citing the country’s poverty and government corruption.   Fighting in Bissau caused most of the inhabitants to flee the city, while fierce artillery duels created untold damage. Western nations moved in to evacuate their citizens. The two belligerents agreed to a cease-fire on July 26.  Vieira and Mane later signed a peace agreement on November 2, 1998 in Abuja, Nigeria. An arrangement was made calling for new elections, the pullout of Senegalese and Guinean troops who were then replaced by an ECOMOG peacekeeping force, with France providing logistic backing.  But on May 6, 1999, Mane’s forces struck against the government troops, capturing Bissau and forcing Vieira to flee to a foreign embassy (and eventually out of the country) for safety. The peacekeeping force was then withdrawn.

Mali, Burkina Faso , Mauritania and Senegal: Dating back to the 1960s, a border dispute between Mali and Burkina Faso over the 100 mile-long, 12-mile wide Agacher Strip was eventually settled in 1986.  But there were several serious armed clashes, the most severe being a four-day conflict in Dec. 1985. After intervention by the regional group L’ANAD, the World Court mediated. However, the Tuareg Rebellion in Mali, based on a conflict between Tuareg Berbers in the north and the Black dominated government was handled without significant foreign troop or defense involvement although there were rumors of Mauritanian involvement.  Similarly, led by the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), the southern black rebellion in Mauritania, that began after race riots in 1989, did not appear to attract Malian defense deployments.  However, a dispute between Mauritania and Senegal was triggered. Artillery duels took place in Jan. 1990 as each country accused the other of mistreatment of minorities and of support for each other’s rebel groups while Senegal sought border changes.  France, with defense pacts with both nations, looked on.

Niger: Since September 1999, the Niger Government (which has a close defense relationship with France) has conducted a counter-insurgency campaign against Tuareg rebels.  Fighting broke out in September when Tuareg leaders accused the government of reneging on a peace agreement that ended a previous rebellion (1991-1995). Recent events have occurred against a backdrop of mutinies and coups in the Nigerien military none of which invited more than a tepid diplomatic response from France.

Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) yet again violated the latest peace treaty with the government. Its erstwhile ally, the National Provisional Ruling Council, is now allied with the government.  This civil war began with a March 1991 rebellion in eastern Sierra Leone launched by allies of Charles Taylor in neighboring Liberia. Before long, the nation descended into anarchy.  It led to the deployment of Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force, British and UN forces. In 1997, Nigeria, which had a separate bilateral defense pact with Sierra Leone, “invaded” to restore the democratic government after a coup brought the National Provisional Ruling Council to power.  British naval ships, HMS Norfolk and HMS Westminster, provided medical and humanitarian support to ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone. Sandline, a private security company owned by former British commandos, was used in an ‘off the shelf’ role to provide arms ‘under the table’ to President Kabbah’s militia (along with Nigerian troops) seeking to restore him to power ‘in support of democracy’.  But active ‘full blown’ British military intervention was not authorized at that time.  With the conclusion of the Lome Peace Accord, Britain announced a 4.5 million pounds sterling donation to “sustain and develop” the training and equipping of the new Sierra Leonean army. The money was to be used to provide guns, uniforms, and training ammunition.  It also sustained about 80 UK military and civilian officials. Continued ‘support’ for ECOMOG was built in as well as programs for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, governance, rehabilitation, reconciliation, police training, media development and the creation of an anti-corruption unit.  The number of British officers serving with UNOMSIL was increased to 20. 

When UNAMSIL was created by the United Nations on Oct 22, 1999, followed by a revision of its mandate on February 7, 2000 and its size on May 19, the British role evolved at least in part because of pressure from the Sierra Leonean government and non-governmental organizations.  Britain, because of its colonial relationship with the country, also found itself being held to higher standards than other western countries who were unwilling to contribute troops to a rapid reaction force.  Paratroopers under independent British command who had been deployed to secure Freetown’s airport and evacuate foreign nationals gradually found themselves playing a more active role in support of the UN, while a separate 400 man British military training team was engaged in retraining and rearming a new Sierra Leone Army. 

On August 25, 11 British soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment were captured by a local militia called the West Side Boys under the command of one ‘Brigadier’ Foday Kallay.  Five hostages were released on August 30, but when the militia began to make broad political demands, the British government (in consultation with the UN and the government of Sierra Leone)  launched a 10 hour military rescue operation code-named Operation Barras.  On September 10, 150 elements drawn from the Special Air Service (SAS), the Royal Marines Special Boat Service (SBS) and the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment , onboard five helicopters, swooped in on the militia base in the Occra Hills  and extricated all remaining hostages unhurt to the naval vessel Sir Percival docked in the Freetown harbor.  In the process, the West Side Boys Militia was destroyed as a military force.

Subsequently, a British officer, Brigadier Alastair Duncan, was appointed Chief of Staff to the reinvigorated UNAMSIL force, as part of a reorganization made by the UN Secretary General.  At the same time, Britain dispatched a naval rapid reaction force with over 500 marine commandos ‘available to the UN’, but insisted that they were not under UN command.  By  January 2001, with 6,500 Sierra Leonean troops already trained under a bilateral military agreement, the British were beginning to make it clear that they would stay on in the country until the RUF was either defeated or the war was resolved on favorable terms for the government.  More soldiers were deployed to Sierra Leone and plans made for periodic military exercises to demonstrate rapid deployment capabilities to stake holders in the region. 

In Sierra Leone, therefore, first Nigeria and ECOMOG, then British and the UN have made a point of illustrating the effectiveness of a defense pact in keeping the government of a failed state in power – at least within the capital.  However, Sierra Leone also provides classical evidence of a non-conventional ‘constitutional control’ paradigm in which military forces in competition with legitimate state authority may be more interested in controlling resource rich territory (in this case diamonds) rather than political power at the center per se. 


The Liberian Civil War (1989-1997) led to deployment of Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping and enforcement force, eventually leading to a peace accord that resulted in the emergence of Charles Taylor as President.

The RUF in Sierra Leone is believed to enjoy support from Liberia and Burkina Faso. But Liberia has had to contend with some problems recently. Since August 1999, rebels have launched several border incursions  into Liberia from neighboring Guinea in spite of the Mano River Union Non Aggression Pact. Extra-continental players such as Britain, who are trying to bring peace to Sierra Leone, have also been accused by the Liberian government.  The refugee spill-over effects within Guinea of the war in Sierra Leone and the border conflict with Liberia coupled with its own internal security problems has led to plans for the deployment of yet another ECOMOG peace keeping force to Guinea. 

Liberia has been identified as a transshipment point for illegal diamonds smuggled across the border with Sierra Leone – in exchange for arms supplies to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in that country. As an organ of collective security, the UN (in consultation with the OAU) has moved recently to embargo this trade and sanction Liberia.  But it cannot escape attention that existing ‘defense’ treaties among the three countries of the Mano River Union, (all of whom are also members of ECOWAS) not to provide support to each others’ rebel movements have failed.  Indeed, in September 1999, Presidents Lansana Conte of Guinea and Charles Taylor of Liberia, again ‘renewed their vows’ at a summit to abide by the mutual defense pact that requires members of the 16-nation ECOWAS community to refrain from supporting each other’s rebels. However, even this highly publicized renewed pledge was violated.  

A similar scenario occurred back in 1984 when apartheid South Africa and Mozambique under late Samora Machel signed the Nkomati accord.  Apartheid South Africa continued to support the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (RENAMO) and was even alleged to have had a hand in the subsequent death of President Machel whose plane was reportedly guided into crashing on South African territory by a false radio beacon.


The Ghanaian experience under Kwame Nkrumah provides an interesting counter-study because Nkrumah not only opposed the concept of defense pacts (on the basis of independence and sovereignty), he also criticized those, like Nyerere, who invited British troops in to help crush mutinies in their countries.  It is no secret that President Nkrumah took an overtly anti-American and anti-Western pan-Africanist posture.  According to US State Department archives, ‘U.S. efforts to wean Nkrumah from his left leaning and anti-Western proclivities did not succeed.  In March 1965 there were more anti-American actions, including attacks on the U.S. Embassy and library, press accusations, and a hostile speech by Nkrumah himself on March 22 in which he used epithets such as ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ in referring to the United States (Foreign Relations of the United States [U.S. Department of State Archives]  1964-1968, Volume XXIV Africa

Publication 10627. ). By this time, US policymakers knew of coup plots against Nkrumah and resolved not to give him any further aid.  The records indicate that although the U.S. government was informed of the coup plots, it was not otherwise involved in them.  On February 24, 1966, after a year of hesitation, army and police officers led a successful coup while Nkrumah was en route to Peking, and proclaimed a National Liberation Council (NLC) to govern the country until a new constitution and government could be established.  They overcame minimal resistance from forces loyal to Nkrumah and were cheered by large and enthusiastic crowds.  Within a week of this almost bloodless coup, the new American Ambassador, Franklin H. Williams, met NLC Chairman Lt. General J. A. Ankrah, and invited him to have the NLC identify the kinds of economic aid it needed.


Ghana-Togolese tensions have occasionally led Togo to invoke bilateral foreign defense relationships. Colonial era tensions relating to western Togoland gradually settled after the 1956 United Nations (UN) referendum, which had given western Togoland’s population the choice of staying in Togo or of joining Ghana.  But in  January 1976 Togo requested a readjustment of their border in it’s favor. This came against a backdrop of suspicions that Togo was covertly supporting the National Liberation Movement for Western Togoland (NLMWT) in league with Ghanaian dissidents living in Togo.  Ghana rejected Togo’s request, outlawed the organization and arrested several operatives. In 1983, tensions rose again when Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings warned the Togolese against allowing Ghanaian dissidents to use Togo’s territory as a sanctuary.  Subsequently, in 1986, Ghanaian security accosted armed dissidents who had crossed the border from Togo. Later that year (in September), Togo accused Ghana of sponsoring Togolese dissidents to attempt a coup against General Gnassingbe Eyadema.   In response to an urgent appeal, Zaire’s Mobutu flew in two airborne companies to help Eyadéma stabilize Lome. Expulsions of Ghanaians from Togo took place.  Again in January 1993, thousands of refugees poured across the border  in flight from Eyadema’s security men. The Ghanaian armed forces were placed on full alert, and Ghanaian troops serving in the UN and ECOMOG notified of possible recall. An assault by dissidents against Eyadema’s home in Lomé occurred on March 25, 1993, resulting in yet another closure of the Ghana-Togo border. However, the closest they came to war was in early 1994 when over 100 armed Togolese crossed the border from Ghana allegedly to assassinate Eyadema and to take control of the government. Togo once again closed its border with Ghana, while each nation accused the other of launching cross-border raids.  Both countries belong to ECOWAS.


We have discussed the military question in Africa in all its ramifications, and conceptualized strategies for ‘control’ of the military set against the reality of the African environment.  In expanding on the positive and negative, effective and ineffective roles of ‘external guarantor’ military defence pacts, we have identified usually opportunistic intervention in domestic politics as the most problematic aspect of the military question but have also highlighted the importance of defining the corporate role of the Armed Forces in formulating and implementing defence and foreign policy supervised by constitutional authority, while respecting the “space” of the military.   We have also extended our understanding of modern defence pacts to include a defence ‘diplomatic’ role in preventing civil misuse of the Armed Forces in politics, while pointing out the limitations of the term “military” in those regions of Africa where private militias and warlords abound or efforts have been made to integrate conventional and guerilla forces.   In the particular case of warlords sponsored or supported by neighboring countries, experience in Central and Southern Africa has shown how treacherous ‘non-aggression’ military defence pacts between states can be.

We placed historical legacies like the primordial African background, colonial heritage and cold war in context when discussing security threats and conflicts as they have influenced decisions to enter into, annul, down-regulate or plainly ignore defence treaties.   In seeking answers to the military question we must take these experiences and put them in the domestic political, economic and social context of individual countries and regions, and hope that enough cohesion exists to reach consensus about how to democratize and constitutionalize without allowing personal, ethnic and religious  divisions play themselves out in a maladaptive manner within the military.  A defence pact would be useful if it assists in establishing constitutional and legal frameworks that legitimize a trusting relationship between the executive, legislature and the military, codify the roles of the defence ministry and service chiefs in budgeting and policy, while providing a way to nurture an appropriate military culture, ensuring a non disruptive role for paramilitary forces and non-state actors.  

But military defence pacts in Africa have not usually been entered into for the express purpose of controlling the local military.  Although certain State-State, State-Liberation Movement and State-Mercenary defence pacts and agreements in the last 40 years have definitely been effective in enabling some governments to survive coups, mutinies and mini-wars, many have not, and some have even facilitated regime demise and loss of constitutional control.  In those cases where a defence pact clearly proved decisive in protecting a regime the key factor was the willingness and prompt decision of the guarantor to act either during the pre-coup phase of intelligence gathering or shortly after the coup was launched.   The limitations of a pact in the setting of a swift assassination are obvious.   Similarly, the emerging paradigm of rebel forces willing to settle, not for conventional constitutional power, but control of territory and mineral resources was noted.  An interesting side observation is that many state interventions to bail out beleaguered regimes in African history have been informal – achieved in the absence of a written defence pact.  

Viewed over a long period of time, a cursory look at the multiplicity of outcomes from the struggle to establish political and constitutional control of the military (or men in arms) in Africa shows that the presence or absence of a traditional military defence pact or agreement has had no consistent, independent and exclusive role in preventing military rule, or guiding either transitions from military rule or civilian forms of dictatorship, in which the military is a tool of repression.   It has been a combination of external guarantor, trade off, legitimizing strategies and perhaps even chance, that have been most predictive of stability as long as the external guarantor and trade -off modalities were used in direct support of long term internal legitimacy and such legitimacy was not taken for granted.  In Senegal, Botswana and Malawi, for example, long term freedom from extra-constitutional seizure of power  can not be exclusively attributed to an external guarantor since the circumstances of these three countries is so radically different.   In Tanzania and Kenya, an external guarantor was once used in an extreme situation but other mechanisms have since come into play in stabilizing those entities.  In Benin and Mali demilitarization after military rule was attained without a clear combat role for an external guarantor although defence diplomatic relationships may have been helpful.  In Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, relatively successful transitions from military regimes occurred via an internal process of reorganization.  Never pretentious about democracy, Mobutu’s Zaire and Eyadema’s Togo used different methods to resist democratization.   One was eventually overthrown by irregular military forces.  The other remains in power.  Ethiopia and Eritrea, both signatories to shifting external defence pacts at one point or another in their long history, practically collapsed before being restructured only to plunge into an interstate conflict between themselves, in spite of a mutual defence pact to which they were signatories.   Somalia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have taken a different path mediated by warlords, mercenaries and selective security pacts with regional and western metropolitan powers.   The emergence of successful liberation movements in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique has thrown up entirely different issues of defence transformation and force integration.

Obviously, therefore, each country has a unique experience.  But the security challenges and vagaries of Africa as a whole in establishing legitimized political and constitutional control of the military, require the emergence of a new paradigm of defence diplomatic and security pacts focusing as much on the enabling environment of African political heritage, weak constitutional leadership quality and militarization of civil society as on the lack of professionalism and political involvement of the military itself.  The relative lack of reliable extra governmental sources of sustainable wealth and social mobility mechanisms remains a fatal flaw of modern African states setting them up for endless cycles of crab-like competition.

Given the complexities of the defence and security environment, therefore, should we really be talking about the paradigm of “non-aggression and demilitarization” rather than “military defence” pacts in Africa?  Such pacts – highlighted in part by existing democracy transition assistance programs – would be entered into for the purpose of enabling military budget downsizing, demobilization, retraining and reintegration of combatants including child soldiers, role redefinition, retraining and retooling of national militaries for nation building, peace keeping and collective security.  Other elements include control of weapons proliferation, modulation of the cultural basis of militarism, and finding solutions to deep rooted problems of governance and socioeconomic injustice in African society.  A crucial element would a commitment on the part of states not to support irregular forces in other African countries.  Lastly the abolition of the military is an option for constitutional control which has been effected in some countries in Central America.  They include Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti.  In these nations new national security mechanisms have evolved.  Whether full demilitarization is possible in Africa is open to debate but those countries that have emerged from civil wars and fragmentary coup attempts as a result of which their traditional militaries have disintegrated could elect to go down this path assuming consensus exists.  In this setting an external guarantor could provide a role as a bridge to the new disarmed democratic society in  which violence is de-legitimized as a means of social change.  Knowing Africa, this may be a tall order.  Tanzania, which had the opportunity to do this in 1964 simply rebuilt its army.

A more modest objective may be to seek consensus on security threats and issues among and within civil and military sections of society, on the basis of which the military’s role in the country is redefined while civil-military relations are improved.  Subregional, regional and global security and defence protocols can then be built on this framework.  Regional force reduction treaties may assist in building confidence among neighboring states but will not necessarily ensure internal control of the military.  One issue Africa will have to confront squarely is the “sovereignty” argument which prevents “less politically incorrect” regional forces from immediate and direct intervention if and when constitutional order is overthrown. 

In the setting of post cold war western reluctance to send troops, or domestic sensitivity to the presence of foreign troops, a powerful non African external guarantor could be encouraged to take a different approach.  It can classify coup-plotting as an act of terrorism, use its prestige and networks to convince others to prospectively enter into firm agreements not to recognize governments that come to power by force, and back this lack of recognition by negotiating automatic protocols that would declare coupists (whether successful or unsuccessful) wanted by international police agencies.  They should also refuse asylum to coup plotters,  enforce genuine targeted economic sanctions including refusal to purchase foreign exchange earning products that serve to keep such regimes in power,  block coup leaders from international travel, and freeze the international banking assets of illegal regimes once they come to power.   Such assets can then be made available abroad to pre-positioned elements of the constitutional chain of command who are not physically within the country (as occurred with the Aristide government of Haiti in 1991).   However, having agreed to share sovereignty in dealing with coup plotters the same African leaders should not invoke absolute sovereignty when their conduct in office violates either their own presumably accepted constitutions or international norms of civilized constitutional behavior. 

Professor Michael Howard once observed that “Societies are orderly and peaceable only in so far as they have solved the double problem, of the subordination of military force to the political government, and the control of a government in possession of such a force by legal constraint and  the popular will.”   (Michael Howard (ed.): Soldiers and Governments, Eyre and Spottiswood, London, 1957)  Any implication from this paper that the direct or indirect use of an external guarantor for this purpose is appropriate exists only to the extent that it buys time for the emergence of legitimacy within.   Military defence pacts are but one of a wide range of tools available to the African state that seeks options for political and constitutional control of the military.  But a tool is only as good as its user.  We, therefore, need to look deep into African  society and put in place institutional relationships across the civil-civil and civil-military divide that will help guarantee protection not only for the state but also of life and property for all citizens and ultimately enhance our ability to establish a tradition of peaceful power transfer. 

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