Nigeria and other African nations are grappling with protracted and spiraling security challenges, but amid this, there is a growing concern over the increased presence of foreign military and contractors providing support across the continent, experts have said.
While there are speculations on the motives and intentions behind these military supports rendered by more advanced nations, some other experts opine that the dependence will cause African nations to remain underdeveloped and more vulnerable.
These issues were brought to the fore at a webinar on ‘Evaluating African Security and the Implications of Increased Foreign Military Presence in Africa’ organised by Whiteink Institute for Strategy Education and Research (WISER) .
The continent is no doubt the biggest host of all types and shapes of peacekeeping missions, after decades of political instability resulting in chains of conflicts, wars and strife.
The Chief Executive Officer, WISER, Brig-Gen. Saleh Bala (rtd), noted that the deployment of foreign forces in Africa has been a contentious issue; while the recent call by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria for the relocation of the African Command (AFRICOM) headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa has generated much debate across the continent and even among interests across the global community.
While debates ensued on the request for the relocation of AFRICOM headquarters to Africa, Bala stated that the French has since announced its plans to withdraw its over 5,000 Operation Barkhane force from the Sahel.
He however noted that the decision announced by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, is under the shadows of the European Union’s new strategy to establish and insert a Europe-wide force to revive, expand and recharge Operation Takuba, which was also a French creation.
“What is the game plan to defeat the steadily rising ISWAP threat around the Lake Chad Basin and what that also portends for stability of the Sahel region?
“What also does the French withdrawals and the new EU African security strategy, along with NATO interest portend to the over-arching silent war ongoing to checkmate the seeping military influence of Russia and China on the continent?”, he queried.
While highlighting the challenges confronting the continent ranging from poor governance weak defence and law enforcements institutions, Bala however tackled Africa’s capacity to address her own threats
“No doubt the challenges of the rising military-grade armed violence across Africa requiring of overwhelming military solutions cannot be overemphasized
Also speaking, Gen. Martin Luther Agwai (rtd), a former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, stated that Africa’s dependence on foreign aids will cause the region to remain underdeveloped for a long time.
Agwai stressed that the issues of peace keeping is complicated, and these aids to Africa could have some hidden motives.
“There is no free launch anywhere ,nobody is coming to Africa because they love us, most of them have their own agenda and if we are not careful we can be pulled in to toxic wars with these people”, he said.
He regretted that government of Africa are still requesting foreign military support which is leading to the proliferation of foreign military bases in the country.
Agwai reiterated that the region still has weak and poor defence forces, political instability, high unemployment, bad governance , corruption among others.
He also stressed that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons across the region often illegally shipped from other countries remains a major challenge and a root cause of most of the security challenges facing the continent and must be tackled.
He said African nations must begin to thinks of ways to take ownership of their problems. He pointed out that the African Union peace keeping institute, has recorded some progress.
Dr. Toni Haastrup, Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Stirling, UK, on her part noted that the increased demand for military support which often comes in form of multilateral or bilateral deals such as the EU support to the Sahel is worrying. She however opined that the process may not lead to a militarization as many fear.
“What is happening now is worrying in terms of increased demand for foreign military presence and the willingness to give it.
“Those who are concerned about this see it as a return to militarization. I argue that the process of the militarization however are not an aberration, I don’t see it as a return, but they have been intrinsic to the development, formation of states on Africa.
Haastrup warn that foreign military presence is not the path to peace and security. She said more should rather be done for civilian control of governance and security.
“Engaging the civilian for control of security is what will help us “, she said.
Gregory Copley, founder and Editor of the Global Information System intelligence service, argued that African States have budgetary constraints and have under- resourced their security and their military equipment are more geared to inter state conflict rather than modern warfare.
This, he said often spurs governments to demand foreign military to aid in areas such as training.
Copley however pointed out that irrespective of the increased presence of the military base, the local military remains the identity of the nation.
He also noted that these foreign military are often cautioned on long term stay due to diseases.
He also informed that the request by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu on the relocation of AFRICOM may be delayed due to budgetary constraints, but assured that the Biden administration is working to increase the visibility of AFRICOM in Africa.
In the same vein, the Chief Operations Officer GNAN Education Consultancy Group, USA, Dr. Gia Cromer, expressed concern of the growing presence of private military and police contractors in continent, whose loyalty is to money and who pays it.
“In the case where leaders of states engage them, they more or less have their loyalties to the personality of the leaders and this rather defeats the citizen-centric value of national and regional security to instead serve regime security,” she said.
Cromer who has a US Airforce service experience and has worked widely in US mission in Africa and Asia, including Nigeria, was also worried about the growing trend from China and Russia in Africa, especially in the area of private security and military contractors.