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International Competition to Provide Security Force Assistance in Africa: Civil-Military Relations Matter (Published 2020: PRISM: Journal of Complex Operations)



Western states increasingly tackle the problem of state fragility in Africa through the delivery of security force assistance (SFA). What is SFA and why does it matter? Broadly speaking, SFA is a term used to describe the provision of military aid, advisors, and resources to a fragile state, so that the armed forces of that state can provide security in support of stability. SFA typically consists of the deployment of small numbers of military advisors and resources to a fragile or weak state to build effective armed forces. However, such efforts are often overly technical and rarely address the political and institutional problems that create insecurity and the fragmented security organizations of that state (e.g. police, military, intelligence, etc.). Worse, in some cases, such SFA has only created the veneer of military effectiveness, known as the Fabergé Egg army problem; an expensively built military, but easily broken by insurgents.
Dr. Jahara ‘FRANKY’ Matisek (Lt Col, U.S. Air Force) is an Assistant Professor, Military and Strategic Studies Department,
and the Director of Research, Center for Air Power Studies, at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
International Competition to
Provide Security Force Assistance
in Africa
Civil-Military Relations Matter1
By Jahara Matisek
Western states increasingly tackle the problem of state fragility in Africa through the delivery of
security force assistance (SFA). What is SFA and why does it matter? Broadly speaking, SFA is
a term used to describe the provision of military aid, advisors, and resources to a fragile state,
so that the armed forces of that state can provide security in support of stability. SFA typically consists of the
deployment of small numbers of military advisors and resources to a fragile or weak state to build effective
armed forces.2 However, such efforts are often overly technical and rarely address the political and institu-
tional problems that create insecurity and the fragmented security organizations of that state (e.g. police,
military, intelligence, etc.). Worse, in some cases, such SFA has only created the veneer of military effective-
ness, known as the Fabergé Egg army problem; an expensively built military, but easily broken by insurgents.3
The western approach to SFA is codified in NATO doctrine, specifically Allied Joint Publication (AJP) 3.16
Security Force Assistance. The United States has created an organizational structure for SFA through the estab-
lishment of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB). Providing SFA to weak states is an expensive endeavor,
especially as done by the United States. Since 2001, the United States has provided over $9 billion to Sub-Saharan
African (SSA) countries and about $25 billion to the five North African states.4 Similarly, the European Union
(EU) through its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) has been spending over €100 million per year on
five EU missions in Africa. Specifically, the EU is conducting civilian/political missions in Libya (2013-Present)
and Niger (2012-Present), a blend of military and civilian/political training missions in Mali (2013-Present) and
Somalia (2010-Present), and a pure military mission in the Central Africa Republic (2016-Present). These EU
missions have cost, on average, $10-30 million a year. Though a drop in the bucket compared to U.S. SFA efforts,
the logic has been to stymie the growth of insurgency and terrorism throughout Africa.
Addressing state fragility through SFA has become popular with political leaders in many western capi-
tals who see state weakness as conducive to insurgency, terrorism, and state collapse.5 They fear the spillover
from an inf lux of refugees coming to Europe as well as in more stable neighboring African states. Greece and
Italy for example have experienced domestic turmoil and traumatic shifts (and increases) in political extrem-
ism, while the welfare systems of Botswana and South Africa are being stretched to and beyond the limit.6 The
current problems of insecurity and mass migration
emanating from Latin America are leading to a sim-
ilar refugee crisis that has become a highly polarized
and politicized issue in the United States.7
Despite the desire to provide safety and security—
whatever their strategic intent might be—western SFA
efforts are struggling to produce lasting outcomes in
many African states (e.g. Mali, South Sudan, Somalia,
etc.). Most of the failures stem from an inability to
adapt assistance to the local context of civil-mili-
tary relations (CMR) in each country. Contextually
dependent CMR dictate how the army, police, and
intelligence agencies are structured and manned. Such
security architectures and the relationship to politi-
cal and societal elites determine the sorts of informal
relations that exist—and how much power and agency
each security institution has. However, many politi-
cal and military leaders in western capitals advance
a technically oriented SFA approach because it is a
low-risk foreign policy with the appearance of “doing
something,” while committing few “boots on the
ground.” Such western SFA attempts typically lack the
necessary nuance because they fail to recognize the
reality and actual practice of politics in a fragile state.8
This failure obscures many of the structura l problems
leading to instability throughout Africa, especially in
the Sahel where climate change collides with trans-
national organizational crime, economic deprivation,
and political and social iniquities producing perpetual
civil war dynamics.9
Great power competition further complicates
matters in Africa, as China and Russia are increas-
ingly contesting the space by providing their own
economic and military aid. Such competition is
occurring within a globalized economy, with a high
premium on acquiring access to new consumer mar-
kets and extracting precious minerals and natural
resources. According to a retired U.S. Army General,
with prior foreign area officer experience in security
cooperation, China and Russia conduct military aid
and assistance missions for “real hard-nose politics in
pursuit of their own selfish strategic interests.” On the
other hand, he contended, most U.S. military aid and
advise and assist missions to African countries are for
“altruistic purposes,” from improving humanitarian
capabilities of African militaries, to pandemic and
disaster response (e.g. Ebola, floods, etc.), to improv-
ing warfighting capability against local and regional
threats (e.g. insurgents, terrorists, etc.).10
While some might rightly be skeptical of
America’s altruistic intentions in Africa, one cannot
ignore the reality that China, Russia, and America—
and the West more broadly—present different
visions for the world, to include how a state should
govern and treat its citizens.11 Chinese activity in
Africa appears part of a grand strategy of creating
a global Belt and Road Initiative, which ties Africa
(and other regions) ever-closer to Beijing.12 This
may explain why China embraces a “comprehensive
approach” to Africa, “blending trade and investment
deals and cultural exchanges with arms sales, med-
ical assistance, troops training, anti-piracy drills,
and other programs.”13 Russia sees opportunities
for re-establishing its presence and for selling arms.
While the Trump Administration lacks any clear
strategy for engaging Africa and advocates “America
First,” China and Russia are making inroads on the
continent and in international perception.14
The question remains though; what can the
West actually achieve in Africa by building host-na-
tion military capacity (i.e. SFA) in a way that does not
lead to praetorianism and other military pathologies
that corrupt governance and undermine legitimacy?
Moreover, can SFA facilitate democracy and human
rights, and shift African countries away from author-
itarianism? To answer these questions, let us consider
a recently assembled multinational fighting force in
the Sahel, to consider the limits of SFA and how it
can be improved. Based on a contextually informed
understanding of civil-military relations we can
escape traditional notions of military effectiveness
and better grasp the challenges of stabilization and
peacebuilding in a weak state. This would inform
how the West and its partners provide military aid,
assistance, and training to weak, fragile, and con-
flict-prone states. Success with SFA in such difficult
environments requires a restructuring of the way
core issues are handled by various elites.
A G5 “Pipedream” in the Sahel?
Created by regional leaders in 2014, the G5 Sahel Joint
Force was established, “as a way of taking their secu-
rity into their own hands and encouraging regional
development by coordinating their efforts.” Joint
militar y operations—comprised of army personnel
from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and
Niger—were initiated in 2017.15 The force, expected to
consist of 10,000 personnel in the near-term, has been
primarily dedicated to counterterrorism (CT) oper-
ations in the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) area of Burkina
Faso, Mali, and Niger. However, the overly CT-focused
approach has depoliticized adversaries by labeling
them as terrorists, instead of treating them as rational
actors using violence to achieve certain political goals
(e.g. patronage, economic rents, autonomy, etc.).16 Such
CT operations overlook local context and the ways in
which elites conduct politics in the LCB region.
In conducting its CT mission, the G5 Sahel
Joint Force often ignores the reasons some
engage in criminality, insurgency, and terror-
ism. Underdevelopment and lack of opportunity
motivate some, while weak state institutions make
it easier for international terrorist and transna-
tional criminal networks to operate and profit
in these “stateless” areas.17 Moreover, commu-
nal violence between various ethnic groups and
identities has spiraled out of control, especially in
Mali and Niger, with back-and-forth massacres
perpetrated by different tribes; and the anarchy is
compounded by a substantial increase in highly
successful insurgent attacks and ambushes against
G5 military units.18 These struggles to contain
and reduce the violence in the LCB region and
the deteriorating situation should not come as a
surprise. A 2017 analysis warned that the prob-
lem with the western SFA approach and the G5
Force was that it was an overly technical, “capaci-
ty-building approach geared to short-term success
over security sector reform and lack[ed] a coor-
dinated strategy. The Malian government [and
others]…preserves the status quo and is not pre-
pared to accept its political responsibility.19
A billboard in Niamey (Niger) announcing a summit of Heads of State of the G5-Sahel in February 2018.
(NigerTZai - Own work)
In interviews at U.S. Africa Command
(AFRICOM) in 2017 the current western SFA
approach of building up the G5 Sahel Alliance to
deal with the unique security threats of the region,
was described by one officer as essentially a “pipe-
dream.” These militaries “can barely function
in their own country,” he argued, “let alone be
expected to safely conduct multinational opera-
tions.20 While such dismissive remarks may have
seemed overly harsh at the time, the situation in the
LCB region has continued to deteriorate. Even the
notoriously effective Chadian armed forces had one
of its bases overrun March 23, 2020, with at least 92
troops killed by Boko Haram.21
Competing for Influence in Africa:
Damned if you Do, Even More
Damned if you Don’t
Despite international efforts to deal with insecurity
in Africa through SFA, other western aid programs
and investment in Africa have decreased signifi-
cantly over the last decade.22 These reductions in
western assistance, however, have been offset by a
significant increase in aid from China and Russia.
This pits great powers with conflicting visions of
world order and competing interests and beliefs
in how Africa should look against each other. The
shrinkage of western aid programs has implications:
All Africans want democracy. We all want
to be like the United States. We need help
with roads and infrastructure, but our gov-
ernments cannot work with USAID and
the World Bank. Who can the people get
help from? If not China, who?23
His thoughts ref lect similar sentiments, in
terms of frustration of not getting the help their
country needs, by dozens of foreign military person-
nel interviewed by the author.24
The slow withdrawal of the United States and
European powers from Africa gives China and
Russia a geopolitical opportunity in the compe-
tition for resources and inf luence. Substantial
evidence indicates that Beijing and Moscow are
strategically seeking to reshape the continent in a
way that reinforces authoritarianism and enables
those regimes that are the most malleable, and
those that are most unconscientious in extracting
resources.25 Their expanding influence and their
strategic intent are already noticeable. China built
a military base in the port of Djibouti in 2017 and
Russia has signed military cooperation agree-
ments with over 20 African states.26 In addition,
Russia appears bent on setting up military bases
in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in the
autonomous republic of Somaliland.27 The return
of military personnel from opposing blocs is rem-
iniscent of the Cold War, except the 21st century is
less about promoting ideologies and more about
seeking reliable partners in resource extraction and
consumer markets to sell to.
While China’s and Russia’s military bases in
Africa appear to have benign intent for the time
being—protecting the region from terrorists and
defending economic and commercial interests—
there is a dark side as well. China increasingly
appears intent on collecting debts and guarantee-
ing investments. Intentional or not, China’s actions
appear to constitute a Sino-colonial relationship
with African states—and others engaged in the Belt
and Road Initiative—leveraging debt-traps. China
increasingly believes it can take actions—peaceful
or not so peaceful—to recoup loans and investments
when a country falls behind on loan payments; like
Sri Lanka, which had to cede to China a 99-year
lease on the Port of Hambantota, several African
nations including Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia,
appear on course to default, and could fall prey to
similar Chinese infrastructure seizures.28
Moscow, on the other hand, sees pecuniary
value in selling ammunition and weapon systems to
African countries to prop up the Russian economy
and industrial base.29 Leaked documents reveal
Moscow’s desire to turn Africa into a “Strategic
Hub,” and pursue political and information warfare
tactics to back pro-Russian leaders and discredit
their opponents.30 If this was not troubling enough,
the notorious Russian private military contractor,
Wagner Group, with deep ties to President Putin—
that works on behalf of Russian interests in eastern
Ukraine and Syria—has been spotted in the CAR,
Libya, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Sudan.31
While it is difficult to obtain aggregate data
on purported economic and security aid from
non-transparent governments like China and
Russia, it does appear that the United States pro-
vides considerably more security assistance to
African countries.32 However, quality does not
substitute for timeliness, often preventing the
United States from providing assistance when and
where most needed. Consider for example how the
U.S. Congress slows down the processes of acqui-
sition and implementation by the Departments of
State and Defense in providing security assistance
to foreign countries. The so-called Leahy rules
were first imposed in the late 1990s to ensure that
U.S. aid would not be implicated in gross human
rights abuses. Such legislative initiative and
constraint was in response to evidence directly
linking American aid to Latin American security
forces engaging in gross human rights violations
in the 1980s.33
The rationale and intent of the Leahy amend-
ments are quite noble in their concern for ensuring
that American SFA is not used to oppress recip-
ient country populations. However, the vetting
process is overly bureaucratic and time consum-
ing—and makes the United States appear weak
and indecisive. In a 2017 interview, an Ethiopian
General complained of the contrast between the
American image of strength and capability and
the realities of working with a slow and inept U.S.
government. He had attempted to acquire mortars
for his soldiers fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia
believing this was a simple request that could be
quickly delivered. Unfortunately, it took approx-
imately two years for the United States to deliver
the weapons, during which time he had no choice
but to acquire the needed weapons from China
and Russia, taking delivery within weeks.34 Nigeria
had a similar experience when trying to purchase
light-attack aircraft from the U.S. government
for the purposes of fighting Boko Haram, with it
taking over four years of political debate to finally
approve the sale in 2019.35
Leahy rules requiring extensive vetting
for any sort of SFA, and similar laws in most
European countries seriously undercut attempts
to deal with contingencies in Africa. Clumsy laws
and slow administration are a significant bureau-
cratic impediment to achieving influence with
potential partners. In order to capitalize on the
potential of SFA, both in terms of influence for the
United States and its allies, and enhanced capabil-
ities for African countries, SFA requires national
and international legal regimes and procedures
conducive to timely delivery of aid and assistance.
As great power competitors, China and Russia
provide all forms of aid and military assistance
readily and without restraint.
The struggle for influence creates a deeper inher-
ent problem, namely the security assistance dilemma:
The U.S. wants a dependable military ally but also
wants the government and security forces to abide by
democratic standards and respect for human rights.
Already, America seems to be facing such a dilemma
with its commitment to Saudi Arabia, in terms of
arms sales and military training, as the UN has
identified numerous Saudi war crimes in Yemen.36
The Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR – Bataillon
d’Intervention Rapide) in Cameroon puts the West in
a similar situation, as the BIR of approximately 4,500
elite troops has been trained by France, Israel, and the
U.S. The BIR has been a highly effective force against
regional insurgents, but is responsible for attacking
Anglophone villages in western Cameroon in an
attempt to cleanse them.37 These examples illustrate
how SFA recipients can misuse their armed forces,
adding only more stressors to state fragility.
At the same time, successful western com-
petition for influence in Africa (and elsewhere) is
dependent upon socialization efforts and building
relations with political and military elites in these
countries so that they can transition away from illib-
eral politics and praetorian pathologies. Thus, if we
accept that the West is somewhat trapped with not
being able to punish partners (e.g. cancelling SFA,
etc.) in the era of great power competition—since
China and Russia will fill that void—then the West
must adapt expectations and make assistance con-
tingent on reforms. Such actions would enable the
recipient state to make the necessary bargains with
various power brokers—fixing fragmented state and
security institutions—lending itself to long-term
stability and institutionalization.
Civil-Military Relations and
The greatest challenge for African countries dealing
with insurgents and other violent non-state actors
is formulating a national approach that consoli-
dates rather than fractures the state or the society.
For example, one of the less-discussed aspects of
the Tuareg 2012 rebellion in Mali was the Bamako
government treatment of northern ethnic Tuaregs.
While struggling to integrate these nomadic peoples
into the government and military, Malian President
Amadou Toumani Touré provoked them by dis-
rupting traditional power structures.38 Tou ré bega n
promoting the Imghad clan (led by El Hadj Ag) as
the newly empowered security force of the north,
undermining the historically dominant Ifoghas
clan.39 Touré’s disruption of patronage networks by
restructuring and reforming the state essentially
led to the collapse of his government. The collapse
culminated with troop defections and mutiny, ulti-
mately leading to a coup d’ état.
While the Malian example may represent a
unique case of state collapse, the challenge of balanc-
ing and reforming different parts of the state with
society and the armed forces creates a dangerous tri-
angle, which has defined the politics of most African
countries since independence. This triangle consists
of predatory political, societal, and military/bureau-
cratic elites competing with one another in a pursuit
of short-term gains that undermines the long-term
interests of the state as a whole.40 While UN staff
and western military advisors may believe they can
implement and install a western system of politics
and governance, such neo-colonial attempts ignore
the contextualized way in which politics are conduct-
ed.41 Moreover, it changes the equilibrium of politics,
disrupting power centers in state and society, which
in a state lacking a monopoly over violence, adds to
volatility and the likelihood of civil war.
We would be well-advised to consider the
strategic partnership vision promulgated by retired
South African Colonel Rocklyn “Rocky” Williams.
A rebel in the African National Congress (ANC),
Williams fought against South African apartheid.
Post-apartheid he eventually rose to the rank of
Colonel in the South African National Defence
Forces (SANDF). During that time he proposed a
transformative vision for civil-military relations
(CMR) in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa.
Williams contended that with their contextually
specific histories, including differing pathways to
independence, each African country has unique
informal power structures that heavily influence the
exercise of authority and legitimacy. It was Williams’
contention that the problem with CMR in most
African countries is in the struggles to balance west-
ern models of objective and subjective control of the
military by political leadership.42 However, this ten-
sion is precisely why CMR reform is so difficult. Few
African leaders see advantage in a capable military;
the armed forces become just another vestigial organ
of patronage. The current political landscape in
Africa demands a shift towards constructive modes
of CMR that promote military professionalism, and
are integrated into the decision-making processes of
the state.43
Countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda appear
good candidates for the CMR model proposed by
Williams. Both have built robust armed forces that
rely on informal power sharing between the govern-
ment, society, and even parts of the economic sector.
Moreover, their current forms are informed by
political ideologies formed while fighting as rebels
against the previous Derg Regime of Ethiopia and
genocidal Hutu Regime in Rwanda. While CMR in
Ethiopia or Rwanda may appear “alien” to western
military officers, their armed forces act as strategic
partners and are contextually professional and effec-
tive in their respective home country processes of
nation- and state-building.44 The blending and blur-
ring of lines between the government and armed
forces may appear “corrupt” to many international
observers, but this contextualized form of CMR
has led to stability in both countries and effective
military institutions.45 Indeed Ethiopia and Rwanda
are capable stability providers elsewhere in Africa
through UN and AU peacekeeping missions with
some of the highest participation rates across the
continent, and have proven to be among the most
reliable and effective forces in these missions.46
These examples show that when political and
military elites create partnerships, effective armed
forces can be built that are not a threat. Western SFA
efforts in fragile African states—and elsewhere—
should increasingly build in a political element that
brings CMR reforms—but that do not excessively
emphasize democratization or other western values
at the expense of stability.47 This requires partner-
ships between the various branches of government,
so that various actors each share the “buy-in” nec-
essary to meet the challenges of both domestic and
regional problems, conflict, and instability. Finally,
and most importantly, the development of profes-
sionalism is dependent upon the dynamics of the
political context. Defense institution building along-
side broader developmental efforts can sustain this
process by institutionalizing cooperation between
numerous political and societal elites.48
Members of the Rwanda Defense Force move into formation after arriving in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), Jan.
16, 2014. (CPT Tom Byrd)
Conclusion: Less Lethality, More
Despite supposed strategic shifts in the 2017
National Security Strategy (NSS) to more traditional
national security concerns such as great power com-
petition with China and Russia, Africa should not be
left out of the equation.49 Western efforts to counter
recent geopolitical inroads into Africa by China and
Russia also require new forms of SFA engagement,
and alternative ways of achieving development.
The United States and its allies, and the UN can-
not continue the old approach of trying to impose
“rich-country institutions” throughout Africa,
neglecting the unique histories, contexts, and cul-
tures that inform the way authority, legitimacy, and
power are organized and exercised in each state.50
An interloping SFA advisor in this situation can
show little innovation locked into the traditional
rules of engagement, and often ends up operating
in an ad hoc fashion primarily to protect him or
herself, strategically undermining the whole point
of the mission.51 A summary statement by an Italian
Colonel briefing his experience providing SFA in a
weak state captures this problem at its worst: “Force
Protection is ALWAYS the highest priority.”52 Such
risk-adverse approaches undermine the develop-
ment of relationships with local counterparts, and
decrease the likelihood of local elites collaborating
with SFA advisors other than for the pursuit of their
own selfish interests, such as providing false intelli-
gence to target their rivals.53
As this article argues, the G5 Sahel Joint
Force remains a pipedream in terms of addressing
problems associated with under-development that
have made ethnic conf lict, insurgency, and crim-
inality so enticing to so many living in the Lake
Chad Basin region. Neighboring states must be
encouraged by the West to take steps towards deep
structural reforms, which requires a deeper level
of western engagement. This requires an endur-
ing commitment to support governments once
conflict is contained through the crucial five years
of rebuilding during which civil war relapse is most
likely.54 Such long-term engagement by the West
is crucial; decreasing western engagement only
opens a power and inf luence vacuum for China and
Russia, with many of their efforts supporting those
African leaders rolling back democracy, rule of law,
and human rights. Increased western emphasis on
making African militaries more lethal and combat
effective—in the absence of broader developmental
assistance—merely masks (and reinforces) the insti-
tutional problems that lead to poor governance and
weak security institutions.
Such realities in context of great power compe-
tition, and the existence of several professionalized
militaries in Africa, suggests the United States and
its allies can improve G5 countries and other failing
states via reliable SFA proxies. This might mean
the West can support and empower the militaries
of Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Senegal, to act as medi-
ating SFA providers. For instance, given Senegal’s
robust institutionalization of CMR and military
effectiveness since independence, the West could
directly support Senegal to act as an intermediary
SFA provider to G5 member states. Given Senegal’s
legitimacy as having professionalized armed forces
and their proximity and understanding of culture
and political context in G5 countries, they could
facilitate dialogue in these countries, helping reform
politics and restructuring elite level agreements.
Such an idea of western SFA by proxy is not without
merit. The former Minister of Security of Burkina
Faso, Dr. Emile Ouédraogo, suggested in 2019 that
Senegal should be leading the G5 for numerous rea-
sons.55 Such a G5+1 (Senegal) idea best encompasses
the focus of shifting away from overly technical
western SFA and towards broader political SFA
peacebuilding efforts. Senegalese military advi-
sors, if properly supported by the West, could better
facilitate CMR reforms, while enabling cooperative
institutions in each G5 country. Similarly positive
impacts could be made with fragile states in Central
and Eastern Africa, by the West empowering the
militaries of Ethiopia and Rwanda (and other pro-
fessionalized African militaries) to provide SFA as a
way of avoiding the typical traps of western SFA.
The West needs broader SFA approaches to
remain competitive and influential. Partnerships
and peacebuilding between influential elites and
other informal powerbrokers should be the hall-
mark of future SFA efforts.56 This builds on the
idea of creating contextually dependent versions of
African civil-military relations that enable strategic
partnerships between formal and informal actors
in government, security institutions, and society.
Such overlap is needed to create a shared vision and
cooperation. Most importantly, it gets away from the
overly technical understanding of military develop-
ment in a weak state that often causes imbalances in
power and a loss of trust. Helping Africans over-
come state fragility requires shared ownership by
elites and citizens alike across Africa and a willing-
ness to overcome socially constructed identities.57
If the U.S. and allies continue down the path of
providing SFA for the sake of CT, then the frustra-
tion of seeing such assistance creating the moral
hazard of dependency or being used for repression
and other abuses will likely continue. The security
assistance dilemma of only providing SFA to block
Chinese and Russian access is a precarious balance.
Such SFA must maintain entry ramps to integrate
with broader developmental programs, which
requires strategic intent and resolve to confront this
paradox. Tailoring such assistance means that west-
ern capitals must tailor contingent SFA in a timely
and effective manner, to include a country-specific
analysis of power dynamics. This enables alternative
pathways of achieving contextually effective CMR
reforms in a host-nation, helping socialize what an
effective and professional army looks like—and the
ways it can reshape the state into being more effective
and professional. This all sounds easy in theory, but
the toughest part is convincing a host-nation that
western commitments are long-term—and not apt
to stopping due to the whims of domestic fervor over
providing assistance to faraway countries they can-
not locate on a map. PRISM
1 The views expressed by the author are his own and
do not reflect the official views or position of the U.S.
militar y, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.
The author thanks Renanah Miles Joyce and Will Reno
for article comments and Theodore McLauchlin and Lee
Seymour for the invitation to present this research at the
Workshop on International Training Activities, hosted by
the Canada Research Chair on the Politics of Violence,
and Center for International Peace and Security Studies
(CEPSI) in Montreal, Canada, November 14-15, 2019.
2 AJP 3-16, Allied Joint Doctrine for Security Force
Assistance (London: U.K. Ministry of Defence, 2016).
3 Jahara Matisek, “The crisis of American military
assistance: Strategic dithering and Fabergé Egg armies,”
Defense & Security Analysis 34, no. 3 (2018): 267-290.
4 “Security Assistance Dashboard, 2001-2018, Sub-
Saharan Africa and North Africa,” Security Assistance
Monitor, 2019,
5 Catherine Gegout, Why Europe intervenes in Africa:
Security prestige and the legacy of colonialism (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2018).
6 Loren B. Landau, Caroline Wanjiku Kihato,
and Hannah Postel, “Europe Is Making Its Migration
Problem Worse: The Dangers of Aiding Autocrats,”
Foreign Af fairs, September 5, 2018, https://www.
7 “US migrant crisis: Trump seeks to curb Central
America asylum claims,” BBC, July 16, 2019, https://www.
8 These are known as limited access orders (LAOs),
where politics by elites in these wea k states are negotiated
via violence, bringing the economic system of shar-
ing rents into equilibrium, whereas open access orders
(OAOs) – primarily the developed world – allow everyone
to compete politically and economically without the use
of coercion. For more, refer to: Douglass C. North, John
Joseph Wallis, Steven B. Webb, and Barry R. Weingast
(ed s.), In the shadow of violence: Politics, economics, and
the problems of development (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2013).
9 Buddhika Jayamaha, Jahara Matisek, William
Reno, and Molly Jahn, “Changing Weather Patterns,
Climate Change and Civil War Dynamics: Institutions
and Conf licts in the Sahel,” Journal of Diplomacy 20, no. 1,
(Fall/Winter 2018): 70–87.
10 Informal discussion with retired U.S. Army General,
October 24, 2019.
11 One of the biggest critics of America n involve-
ment in Africa is the investigative journalist Nick Turse
who is a fellow at the Nation Institute, managing editor of
TomDispatch, and a contributing writer at The Intercept.
12 Toyo Amegnonna and Marcel Dossou, “The impact
of China’s one belt one road Init iative in Africa: The
Evidence from Kenya,” MPRA Paper 90460, University
Library of Munich, Germany, 2018.
13 Lina Benabdallah, “China-Africa military ties have
deepened. Here are 4 things to k now,” Wash ing ton Po st:
Monkey Cage, July 6, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.
14 Reuben Brigety, “A Post-American Africa:
The U.S. Is Fal ling Behind,” Foreign Affairs, August
28, 2018, https://ww
africa/2018-08-28/post-american-africa; Cara Anna,
“Russia’s new focus on Africa takes advantage of US drift
under Trump administration,” ABC News, October 21,
2019, y/
15 “G5 Sahel Joint Force and t he Sahel Alliance,”
France Diplomatie: Ministry for Europe and Foreign
Affairs, February 2019, https://www.diplomatie.
ment-and-non-proliferation/crises-and-conf licts/
16 Natasja Rupesinghe, “The Joint Force of the G5
Sahel: An Appropriate Response to Combat Terrorism?”
Conflict Trends, no. 2 (2018): 11-18.
17 Morten Bøås, Rival priorities in the Sahel: finding
the balance between security and development (Uppsala,
Sweden: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2018.
18 “‘Continuing deterioration’ leaves Mali facing criti-
cal security level: UN exper t,” UN News, December 2, 2019,; “G5 Sahel
leaders hold crisis tal ks in response to deadly jihadist attack
in Niger,France 24, December 15, 2019, https://www.
19 Denis M. Tull, “Mali, the G5 and securit y sector
assistance: Political obstacles to ef fective cooperation,”
Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) Comments, 52,
December 2017, German Institute for Internationa l and
Security Affairs.
20 Interviews, AFRICOM, Stuttga rt, Germany, July 31
– August 4, 2017.
21 Will Brown, “As the World Is Distracted,
Boko Haram Terrorists Strike a Key Western
Ally,” Foreign Policy, April 1, 2020, https://
22 Barbara Wesel, “EU investment in Africa: Europe
racing to catch up,DW, September 9, 2018, https://
ing-to-catch-up/a-45500068; Mfonobong Nsehe, “The
Importance of Improving America’s Investment Policies
in Africa - An Inter view with Yuri Vanetik,” Forbes,
December 17, 2019,
23 Matthew Quintero, “If Not China, Who?
Competing in Africa through Foreign Military Education,”
Center for International Maritime Security, July 23, 2019,
24 Interviews with foreign military personnel from
over 40 countries. 2015-2020.
25 Laura Zhou, “W hat to know about China’s ties with
Africa, from aid to infrastructure,” South China Morning
Post, July 22, 2018,
nas-ties-africa-aid-infrastructure; Eric Schmitt, “Russia’s
Military Mission Creep Advances to a New Front: Africa,”
The New York Times, March 31, 2019, https://www.nytimes.
26 Jakob Hedenskog, “Russia is Stepping Up its
Military Cooperation in Africa,” Swedish Defence Research
Agency, December 2018,
27 Alpha Conde, Putin’s middleman for
Somaliland,” The Indian Ocean Newsletter, July
19, 2019, ht tps://www.a
middleman-for-somaliland,108366322-eve; Andrew
Roth, “Centra l African Republic considers hosting
Russian military base,” The Guardian, October 25,
28 Wilson VornDick, “Let China Fail in Africa,” The
National Interest, January 29, 2019, https://nationalinterest.
29 Kester Kenn Klomegah, “Russia, Africa
and the Debts,” Modern Diplomacy, November
19, 2019, https://modernd
30 Luke Harding a nd Jason Burke, “Leaked documents
reveal Russian effort to exert influence i n Africa,” The
Guardian, June 11, 2019,
31 Tim Lister, Sebastian Shukla, a nd Clarissa Ward,
“Putin’s Private Army,” CNN: Special Report, September
32 “Russia’s foreign aid re-emerges,” Aid Data: A
Research Lab at William & Mary, April 9, 2018, https://www.
aiddata .org/blog/russias-foreign-aid-re-emerges; “Data:
Chinese Foreign Aid,” China Africa Research Initiative, John
Hopkins: School of Advanced Internationa l Studies, 2019,
33 Tanya Broder and Bernard D. Lambek, “Militar y Aid
to Guatemala: The failure of US human rights legislation,”
Yal e Jou rn al o f In terna tion al Law 13, no 1. (1988): 111-145.
34 Fieldwork and Interviews, August, Addis Abbaba,
Ethiopa, August 2017.
35 “Trump plans to move ahead with Nigeria plane
sale – source,Stock Daily Dish, December 18, 2019, https://
36 “Situation of huma n rights in Yemen, including vio-
lations and abuses since September 2014,” Annual report of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human R ights
and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the
Secretary-General, A/HRC/42/CRP.1, September 3, 2019.
37 “Burning Cameroon: Images you’re not meant to
see,” BBC News, June 25, 2018,
world-a fric a-44561929.
38 “Country Profile: Mali, Januar y 2005,” Library of
Congress—Federal Research Division, 5, https://www.loc.
gov/rr/f rd/cs/profiles/Mali-new.pdf.
39 Jahara Matisek, “An Effect ive Senegalese Military
Enclave: The Armée-Nation “Rolls On”,” African Security
12, no. 1 (2019): 62-86.
40 Joel S. Migdal, Strong societies and weak states: State-
society relations and state capabilities in the Third World
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).
41 Alain Rouvez, Michael Coco, and Jean-Paul Paddack,
Disconsolate Empires: French, British and Belgian Military
Involvement in Post-Colonial Sub-Saharan Africa (New
York: University Press of America, 1994).
42 Samuel P. Huntington, The soldier and the state: The
theory and politics of civil-military relations (Cambr idge,
MA: Har vard University Press, 1957).
43 Rocky Will iams, “Towards the creation of an African
civil-military relations tradition,” African Journal of Political
Science/Revue Africaine de Science Politique 3, no. 1 (1998):
44 Fieldwork, Ethiopia and Rwanda, August 2017;
Gérard Prunier, “The Armies of the Great Lakes Countries,”
PRISM 6, no. 4 (2018): 99-111.
45 Jahara Matisek and William Reno, “Getting
American Securit y Force Assistance Right: Political Contex t
Matters,” Joint Force Quarterly 92 (2019): 65-73.
46 Scott Firsing, “Thinking through the role of Africa’s
militaries in peacekeeping: The cases of Nigeria, Ethiopia
and Rwanda,South African Journal of International Affairs
21, no. 1 (2014): 45-67.
47 This proposition goes against the v iews of one
prominent scholar that believes only westernized demo-
cratic control of armies in Africa wil l work. For more, see:
Mathurin C. Houngnikpo, Guarding the Guardians: Civil-
military relations and democratic governance in Africa (New
York: Routledge, 2016).
48 Alexandra Kerr and Michael Miklaucic (eds.),
Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights for Defense Institution
Building (Washington, DC: Nationa l Defense University).
49 Donald J.Trump, National Sec urity Strategy of the
United States of America (Washington, DC: The White
House, 2017).
50 Kate Bridges and Michael Woolcock, How (not) to fix
problems that matter: assessing and responding to Malawi’s
history of institutional reform (New York: The World Bank,
51 William Reno, “The politics of security assistance
in the Horn of A frica,” Defence Studies 18, no. 4 (2018):
52 Italia n Army Colonel, PowerPoint Briefing, Rome,
Italy, September 24, 2019.
53 Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
54 Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest
Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
55 “SECURITE – Dr Emile Ouédraogo, ancien
ministre burkinabè de la Sécurité : «Je ne comprends pas
pourquoi le Sénégal ne fait pas partie du G5 sahel»,” le
Qoutidien, August 28, 2019,
56 Emily Knowles and Jahara Matisek, “Western
Security Force Assistance in Weak States: Time for a
Peacebui lding Approach,” The RUSI Journal 164 , no. 3
(2019): 10-21.
57 Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion
of Destiny (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007);
Clayton Christensen, Efosa Ojomo, and Karen Dillon, The
Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out
of Poverty (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019).
... The return of Russia is, therefore, reminiscent of the Cold War, except this time in a new, multipolar world order; this return is less about promoting ideologies and more about seeking reliable partners in resource extraction and consumer markets to sell to (Matisek 2020). As such, the re-emergence of Russia in Africa follows a time-tested exploitative approach that manifests in a desire to keep investments low but returns high (Faleg and Secrieru 2020). ...
Growing international concern over Russia’s military and political resurgence in Africa and the possibility of creating a renewed Cold War has been rekindled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of war in Europe in February 2022. Russia’s growing influence in Africa through the re-establishment of old ties and the creation of new ones has been perceived as a quest to re-establish the geopolitical gains that the Soviet Union achieved before its collapse in 1989. Increasing demand for Russian weaponry and equipment, support for unpopular, illegitimate, or unconstitutionally elected leaders, and the targeting and interest in mining concessions and natural resources are considered by the West to be a threat to democratic gains and stability in an already fragile continent. Several questions arise as a result of the deepfake propaganda around occurrences on the continent. How has Russia’s resurgence or reemergence manifested on the African continent? What instruments does Russia utilise to exert its influence in Africa? What are the potential opportunities and threats of Russian presence in West Africa and the Sahel? And how will other global actors be affected? This debate article seeks to examine a particular aspect of Russia’s resurgence on the African continent, namely, the presence of Russian proxies in West Africa and the Sahel. It examines the multiple dynamics created by their presence, the potential threats that their proliferation and activities generate in an already fragile sub-region, and how such activities, if unconstrained, can impose other potential dangers on the continent and the globe.
This article presents the first comprehensive collation of available information on China's provision of security force assistance (SFA) to African countries over the last two decades. While China is engaged in donating arms, military equipment, and training abroad, knowledge of the nature of its SFA programmes has been at best fragmented and partial. In this article, we fill this gap by outlining China's stated rationale for providing SFA, the level of funding, which states received it, and what they received. We contextualize our analysis in light of current debates over China's rise and great power competition, as well as its broader engagement in African security. Based on our original data, we argue that in providing SFA to most African states, China aims to strengthen long-term relations and protect its economic interests. While we find no evidence that China is attempting to supplant the US and other providers’ role in Africa, we point to some unintended consequences.
Full-text available
Suffering from a multidimensional crisis, the Sahel has morphed into the new center of terror. In the past few years, it has become one of the most hazardous places in the world, which has negatively transformed the fragile states of the Western-African region. Emerging as a novel security policy challenge, the G5 Sahel countries – namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – have found themselves stuck in a quagmire of different deep-rooted human security issues, which have placed their populations in a vicious circle of closely intertwined problems. Various influences threaten not just the security of residents and foreign actors but also the security of neighboring states. Different regional and international actors are trying to solve this complex crisis with varying levels of success. In this environment, in the shackles of instability, the presence of jihadist terrorist organizations and the operations of different rebel armed forces independent from governments pose a growing threat by making Sahelian life a living hell. This paper aims to discuss the challenges and effectiveness of Operation Barkhane, the terminating counter-terrorism operation led by the French, which has started its strategical transformation by merging into the European initiative known as the Takuba Task Force. Under President Emmanuel Macron, France remains the most important actor in the international community. In close alliance and cooperation with the African leaders and military forces of the five countries involved, they have been fighting terrorism within the confines of Operation Barkhane since 2014. Until recently 5,100 French soldiers have been deployed. They risk their lives every day in an incredibly hostile and constantly changing field where either they or the jihadists are under fire. Even though this operation has become an essential part of providing security in these countries, French participation remains controversial: despite their willingness to help, heavily armed French soldiers are not the most popular throughout the region. The importance of the topic speaks for itself because the transformation of the operation and the withdrawal of half of the French troops may have a drastic impact on the future of the Sahel.
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Senegal is viewed as one of the most stable countries in Africa. Many have hypothesized that this is a product of Senegalese culture, Sufi Islam, and/or French trusteeship. This article contends that Senegal has avoided civil wars and coup d’état due to a critical juncture in civil-military relations in 1962, where political and military elites avoided a violent confrontation, which prevented the politicization of the Senegalese armed force (SAF). This created a new path dependence of Armée-Nation ideology, allowing for the SAF to develop a ‘military enclave’ – a strong army in a weak state. Over time, the SAF developed bureaucratic-institutional competence that contributed to state-building, improved militarily effectiveness, all without being a threat to the state or society. This deep case study - based on fieldwork and interviews with military personnel - into Senegal provides a new theoretical conception of what it means to be militarily effective, while suggesting that much of the sociological and political science literature needs to consider how a patrimonial state can have pockets of effectiveness, even in the military. Finally, for comparative purposes, and to draw out causal mechanisms, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) are utilized as a way of showing how agential strategies by political and military elites in Senegal was (and has been) a crucial reason for harmonious civil-military relations (CMR) in Senegal, enabling the SAF to be militarily effective.
Full-text available
This examination of international security assistance to Somalia points to the deficiencies of conventional security assistance strategies to partners in failed states and considers elements of an ad hoc alternative security assistance strategy. The social relationships among that state failure creates undermine the political will and capacity of recipients to utilize security assistance as providers intend. This consideration of developments in Somalia shows how domestic partners act in ways that frustrate efforts to build domestic security institutions. That record is manifest in persistent insurgent activities, even in Somalia’s capital city. The second part of this article explains how pragmatic efforts to fight Somalia’s Al-Shabaab insurgents create the outlines of an alternative security assistance strategy that bypasses elements of Somalia’s formal government structure and opts instead to rely on the creation of parallel security forces. While this strategy addresses a need to meet security objectives in the political environment of a failed state, it elevates tactical proficiency at the expense of strategic aims of conventional security assistance programs.
Full-text available
Malawi can be understood as a microcosm of institutional reform approaches in developing countries more broadly. A common feature of such approaches, whether implemented by government or donors, is reform initiatives that yield institutions that "look like" those found in higher-performing countries but rarely acquire the same underlying functionality. This paper presents a retrospective analysis of previous institutional reform projects in Malawi, as well as interviews with Malawi-based development practitioners. The paper finds a plethora of interventions that, merely by virtue of appearing to be in conformity with "best practices" elsewhere, are deemed to be successful yet fail to fix underlying problems, sometimes in contradiction to internal and public narratives of positive progress. This unhappy arrangement endures because a multitude of imperatives, incentives, and norms appear to keep governments and donors from more closely examining why such intense, earnest, and long-standing efforts at reform have, to date, yielded so few successes. This paper seeks to promote a shift in approach to institutional reform, offering some practical recommendations for reform-minded managers, project teams, and political leaders in which the focus is placed on crafting solutions to problems that Malawians themselves nominate, prioritize, and enact.
Why Europe Intervenes in Africa analyzes the underlying causes of all European decisions for and against military interventions in conflicts in African states since the late 1980s. It focuses on the main European actors who have deployed troops in Africa: France, the United Kingdom and the European Union. When conflict occurs in Africa, the response of European actors is generally inaction. This can be explained in several ways: the absence of strategic and economic interests, the unwillingness of European leaders to become involved in conflicts in former colonies of other European states, and sometimes the Eurocentric assumption that conflict in Africa is a normal event which does not require intervention. When European actors do decide to intervene, it is primarily for motives of security and prestige, and not primarily for economic or humanitarian reasons. The weight of past relations with Africa can also be a driver for European military intervention, but the impact of that past is changing. This book offers a theory of European intervention based mainly on the approaches of realism and post-colonialism. It refutes the assumptions of liberals and constructivists who posit that states and organizations intervene primarily in order to respect the principle of the “responsibility to protect.”
By analytically decoupling war and violence, this book explores the causes and dynamics of violence in civil war. Against the prevailing view that such violence is an instance of impenetrable madness, the book demonstrates that there is logic to it and that it has much less to do with collective emotions, ideologies, and cultures than currently believed. Kalyvas specifies a novel theory of selective violence: it is jointly produced by political actors seeking information and individual civilians trying to avoid the worst but also grabbing what opportunities their predicament affords them. Violence, he finds, is never a simple reflection of the optimal strategy of its users; its profoundly interactive character defeats simple maximization logics while producing surprising outcomes, such as relative nonviolence in the 'frontlines' of civil war.
This paper seeks first to underscore the limitations of Western models of civil control which African countries employ to create stable civil-military relations. Second, it uses the recent experience of Southern African civil-military relations to illustrate the extent to which effective civil control over the military has been secured through a combination of objective and subjective mecahnisms. And finally, it suggests some revisions in the conceptual architecture of late modern civil-military relations theory so as to ensure that discipline is more consistent with the exigencies of the African political landscape.
The crisis of American military assistance: Strategic dithering and Fabergé Egg armies
  • Jahara Matisek
Jahara Matisek, "The crisis of American military assistance: Strategic dithering and Fabergé Egg armies," Defense & Security Analysis 34, no. 3 (2018): 267-290. 4 "Security Assistance Dashboard, 2001-2018, Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa," Security Assistance Monitor, 2019, security-aid-dashboard.