February 27, 2024
It's time for another episode in our special series supporting the U.S. Army War College’s Civil-Military Relations Center. This time, the conversation shifts beyond the borders of the United States and looks at the African continent. Comprised of 54 countries and numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, Africa has experienced 220 coup attempts since 1950, indicating a significantly different approach to civil-military relations than those commonly discussed in the Western world. Charles Thomas joins guest host Carrie Lee to examine the unique aspects of the relationship of African militaries to their political leadership. The conversation ranges from the formation of colonial armies to the internal and external threats many African countries have endured in an attempt to explain the modern-day power dynamic on the continent. This is the 7th episode in the series.

It’s time for another episode in our special series supporting the U.S. Army War College’s Civil-Military Relations Center. This time, the conversation shifts beyond the borders of the United States and looks at the African continent. Comprised of 54 countries and numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, Africa has experienced 220 coup attempts since 1950, indicating a significantly different approach to civil-military relations than those commonly discussed in the Western world. Charles Thomas joins guest host Carrie Lee to examine the unique aspects of the relationship of African militaries to their political leadership. The conversation ranges from the formation of colonial armies to the internal and external threats many African countries have endured in an attempt to explain the modern-day power dynamic on the continent. This is the 7th episode in the series.

The short answer would be colonialism.

Charles G. Thomas is a Professor of Strategic Studies at Air University’s Global College. Prior to his current position, he taught in the Department of History at the United States Military Academy where he also led a small team of instructors in teaching and restructuring their Africa curriculum. His interests lie largely in African military history and particularly in post-colonial African military structures and conflicts and he is the co-managing editor of the Journal of African Military History.

Carrie A. Lee is an associate professor at the U.S. Army War College, where she serves as the chair of the Department of National Security and Strategy and director of the USAWC Center on Civil-Military Relations. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University and a B.S. from MIT.

The views expressed in this presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of the Air University’s Global College, U.S. Army War College, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.

Photo Description: Four soldiers of King Edward VII’s African Rifles, Members of a Sudanese troop, they include a sergeant and three privates. Their forbearers were troops in Emin Pasha’s 1890 expedition. Pasha (Edouard Schnitzer) (1840-1892) was the German governor of Southern Sudan. This portrait is part of a series of portraits taken by Stone of soldiers standing to attention outside the House of Commons. They were among the many colonial soldiers from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean who took part in the Coronation procession for Edward VII in London in August 1902.

Photo Credit: Sir (John) Benjamin Stone (died 1914), via National Portrait Gallery

4 thoughts on “CIV-MIL RELATIONS ON THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

  1. I will attempt to make an African connection soon, but first — in a much broader and more overall sense (and, thus, not from the perspective of Africa itself and/or Africa alone) — might we need to consider recent changes in society and government relations (and, thus, civil-military relations?) — both here at home in the U.S./the West and there abroad elsewhere today — this, more from the perspective of the near “universal” change in government foreign policies — and the near “universal” change in government domestic policies — BOTH of which, since approximately the 1980s it would seem, have become (a) much more “globalization,” global economy and “market-based” and, thus, have become (b) much less much nation-state and/or “local”-based?

    In these such circumstances, to find it quite understandable that every nation in the world’s societies; these — “universally” it would seem — might come to see the various branches of their governments (to include their and other’s military branches) — and indeed their and others governments overall — this in a much less favorable light? (And, thus, more as a foe than a friend?)

    Rebellions, “Coups,” etc., thus — whether we are talking about in Africa and/or elsewhere today — these, needing to possibly be viewed/considered/studied/understood more from the perspective that I provide immediately above?

    In this regard, can any of the coups in Africa of late be traced, for example, to the local governments — and outsiders such as France, the UK, the U.S./the West, etc. — BOTH BEING SEEN as pursuing — not so much a specific African state’s goals — and/or even an outsider state’s goals — but, rather, goals related more to better serving — and better servicing — such things as “globalization” and the “global economy?”

    (From this such much broader and overall perspective, thus, to [a] understand the change in the relationship between societies and their governments [and their militaries] of late; this, [b] more from the perspective of the perceived change in the focus, effort and loyalty of said governments [and militaries] ???)

  2. In our podcast above (see beginning at approximately the 06:30 point in this podcast), the difference between civil-military relations in Africa now — compared to other places in the world today — this such difference is suggested to be because of colonialism. But:

    a. If colonialism back-in-the-day, in some ways at least, was designed to overcome the “cultural backwardness” problems of places such as Africa; “cultural backwardness” problems which got in the way of “normal economic activity” —

    “Where the cultural backwardness of a region makes normal economic intercourse dependent on colonization, it does not matter, assuming free trade, which of the ‘civilized’ nations undertakes the task of colonization.” (See the first paragraph of Joseph Schumpeter’s “State Imperialism and Capitalism.”)

    b. And if the militaries in these “culturally backward” countries — today much like yesterday — are still now — and as they were back then — given the job of “providing a level of internal security that supports growth through balanced development”/”providing measures to maintain conditions under which orderly development can take place.” (Part of this such “development” being to achieve “normal economic intercourse?”)

    “a. An IDAD (Internal Defense and Development) program integrates security force and civilian actions into a coherent, comprehensive effort. Security force actions provide a level of internal security that permits and supports growth through balanced development. This development requires change to meet the needs of vulnerable groups of people. This change may, in tern, promote unrest in the society. The strategy, therefore, includes measures to maintain conditions under which orderly development can take place.” (Item in parenthesis above is mine. See Joint Publication 3-22, “Foreign Internal Defense,” Section II, “Internal Defense and Development Program,” and Chapter 2, “Construct.”)

    c. Then accordingly, and from this such standpoint at least, might civil-military relations in Africa today be (a) similar to civil-military relations in other countries today and, these, (b) similar to civil-military relations in “culturally backward” countries back in colonial times also?

  3. In addressing “civil-military relations on the African continent,” should we be less concerned with “differences” matters — such as how civil-military relations are different in Africa/were developed differently in Africa as compared to other countries and/or regions — and more concerned with “common” matters — such as how civil-military relations (however developed, wherever developed, etc.) — commonly it would seem —

    a. Have been and are being altered by common recent experiences and/or common recent circumstances. (In this regard, see my first comment above.) And more concerned with:

    b. How this might have occurred in earlier times also, and, potentially, for the exact same reason(s). (In this regard, see my second comment above.)

  4. From the article “Global Capitalism Crisis Fueling Coups and Instability in Africa” by Julia Alhinho, in Frontiers in Political Science, 27 July 2023, Security, Peace and Democracy, Volume 5:

    “6. Conclusion:

    The recent surge in coup d’etats in the African continent contradicted the expectations of the late years of the twentieth century that economic liberalization and democracy would bring peace and prosperity to the African Continent. The narrative that this was due to internal social and cultural factors, so popular during the colonial period, gained new traction.

    However, we have seen that the violent overthrow of political authority is a human universal phenomenon. I believe have shown that the surges of coups d’états are closely linked with economic globalization and its cyclic crisis. Examining the case of Guinea-Bissau—one of the last African states gaining independence—has allowed us to see that Sub-Saharan African states are more vulnerable to the crisis of capitalism because they did not have the time to freely build neither their economic systems not their political systems. Having just emerged from costly and many times bloody independence struggles, and before they could strengthen the rule of law to industrialize and transform their inherited extractive economies, they were open to the free market and the shocks of capitalism, through Structural Adjustment programs.

    Disgruntled military elites and desperate business and political elites took over and became prey to international borrowing systems that perpetuate the cycles of instability and poverty. We have also seen that the role of the military has changed over time and that, because of their coercive power, they can be used to impose the trade rules or rise to create the rules themselves and control the resource streams, whether legal or illegal.

    By assessing the drivers of economic globalization, I also tried to demonstrate that this dynamic is not unique to Africa but extensive to other parts of the globe, even those who thought to have solid democratic regimes. … ”

    (In this article, the author has a major section entitled “2.3. The Evolving Role of the Military in Guinea-Bissau and Beyond.)

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