The independent resource on global security

7. National defence reform and the African Union



I. Introduction

II. Reforming national defence establishments

III. Carrying the continent forward: the African Union and the activation of the Peace and Security Council

IV. Conclusions


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Significant strides were made in the African security sector during 2003. At the political–strategic level certain conflicts edged closer to resolution, albeit falteringly, as demonstrated by the relative successes of the facilitated peace processes under way in Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia and Sudan.


Recently installed military governments, so long the bane of many developing countries, found themselves under immense pressure from the African Union (AU), various African sub-regional groupings and key states in their regions to disengage from the political process. The return to barracks by the armed forces of the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau was primarily the result of this pressure.


A strategic shift is taking place away from the limited politics of diplomatic engagement to the creation of more robust African peacekeeping and intervention capabilities. Both the AU and certain sub-regional organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Southern African Development Community, are beginning to fashion peace and security strategies and structures that envisage a substantially enhanced role for these bodies in the management and resolution of African conflicts.


An incrementally widening circle of national governments have initiated security sector reviews, White Paper processes and restructuring initiatives designed to enhance the professionalism of their security forces and their accountability to elected civil authorities. These initiatives and are evident in countries as diverse as Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. All these initiatives, national and regional, are responding to international donor pressure.


However, structural tensions continue to pervade African societies and their respective polities. The successful management of conflicts in Angola, Burundi, the DRC, Liberia, Rwanda and Sudan had been preceded and, in some cases, presaged by deep-seated political, economic, structural and, in certain instances, ethnic conflict that had its roots in the pre-colonial and colonial history of Africa.


There is no universal reconstruction template that can be applied to post-conflict societies. Whether restructuring of national armies, reduction of foreign debt, privatization of public enterprises or reduction of poverty is prioritized as the key issue to be addressed, such goals can only be achieved by nationals of the country concerned based on the unique correlation of forces (physical and psychological) that pertains in that country at any given time.


While the institution of the AU, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and the activation of the various sub-regional bodies represent a positive step forward in the direction of a practical pan-Africanism, it is also important to stress that immense challenges face their operationalization. Already, many African countries have been tardy about submitting themselves to the African Peer Review Process (South Africa and Ghana being the first countries to do so) and differences exist between Egypt and South Africa about in which of their respective countries the first Pan-African Parliament will be located.


Further challenges include the following: (a) building capacity at the national levels of government, without which sub-regional organizations will be rendered toothless; (b) ensuring that a synergy at both organizational and policy level exists between national, sub-regional and organizational bodies and that appropriate resources are identified for their different tasks; (c) avoiding the risk of undue competition and rivalry between the ‘superpowers’ of the continent (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) for the dominant positions in African organizations; (d) avoiding the danger of over-extending capabilities—both civil and military; and (e) resolving the enduring and perennial problem of initiating too wide a range of initiatives without having the resources, capacity and planning ability to complete them all.



Dr (Col.) Rocky Williams (South Africa) is a former commander in the armed wing of the African National Congress of South Africa, Umkhonto We Sizwe. In 1994 he assumed the post of Director of Defence Policy at the South African Ministry of Defence and was responsible for the coordination of the South African Defence Review process in 1996–1998. He has co-authored many White Papers and reviews, including the South African White Paper on Participation in International Peace Missions (1998) and the White Paper on Safety and Security (1997), and drafted the 2001 report of the South African Commission of Enquiry into the Transformation of Defence Intelligence. He is the Director of the African Civil–Military Relations Institute, which facilitates policy dialogue around defence transformation issues in post-conflict societies.