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Funding Defense: Challenges of Buying Military Capability in Sub-Saharan Africa

Authored by Dr. Martin Revayi Rupiya, COL Daniel W. Henk. | September 2001

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The interests of the United States would be well-served in the emergence of a stable, secure and prosperous Africa, a fact acknowledged in the rhetoric of the current and previous Administrations. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been increasingly active in efforts to promote political and economic reform in African countries, including programs to democratize African security sectors. While the military (and other security force) establishments in Africa have many problems?and pose challenges to ongoing democratization efforts?few challenges are as potentially significant for good or ill as that of defense sector funding. The ability of African countries to provide the secure environment necessary for social and economic development requires the creation of the right kind of security establishments, legitimized by democratic processes, and empowered with adequate resources. It is very much in the U.S. interest to assist African societies in reform both of the security sector and of security sector financing.

The official data about African defense expenditure is scanty at best, often deliberately concealed and rarely provides the full story. At the same time, African leaders face increasing pressure from external partners and, in some cases, from their own populations, to reduce military forces and military spending. However, with a few egregious exceptions, African countries spend surprisingly little on defense?possibly less than is prudent. Military establishments typically are under-funded for basic military requirements, and spend an overwhelming and crippling proportion of their budgets on salaries and personnel allowances. They tend to be oriented against domestic rather than external threats, and tend to serve regimes in power rather than societies at large. (Thoughwith over 50 separate countries on the continent, it is dangerous to generalize too broadly.)

What generally is missing in African countries is a transparent process, based upon broad national concensus, for defining security, formulating coherent national security strategy, allocating resources based on that strategy, then effectively overseeing implementation. African countries generally have not established national consensus on the nature of security they desire and the ways and means to achieve that security. This commonly results in defense establishments very poorly suited to any conceivable threat, unaccountable to the society at large and riddled with graft. Decisions on defense funding tend to come out of a small elite of government insiders, or from jockeying by major institutions (including the military) for a share of the national resources. Neither system results in a good return on the investment in defense.

That said, many African countries now are engaged in some process of government?including security sector? reform. These efforts are being assisted by a variety of external partners. There is widespread acknowledgement that reforms will not be quick and certainly will not be easy, but the potential results are well worth the effort. Part of the solution lies in the improvement of institutions and techniques for more efficient planning and more effective oversight of defense expenditure. But a more fundamental issue is the democratization of the whole process of deciding national priorities and allocating resources based on a true national consensus.

The United States is one actor in this critical drama, and the Department of Defense (DoD) is playing a key role. DoD activities include the long-standing Intenational Military Education and Training (IM ET) program that trains foreign military personnel in a variety of skills, the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), essentially a bilateral, tactical-level peace operations training program, various initiatives by the U.S. European and U.S. CentralCommands and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS). The ACSS provides an exceptional forum in which senior African leaders?including those from civil society? can analyze and debate key issues that bear on defense sector reform. Though a relatively new program, ACSS has won wide acceptance and high praise from Africans. This clearly is one program that should be encouraged and enhanced.

A number of other innovative, relatively low-cost programs also could contribute substantial value to reform of defense funding in Africa. These could include targeted employment of contractors with unique expertise and an internship program in the United States for small numbers of African officials involved in defense budgeting.

The United States has a considerable long-term stake in the success of ongoing reform efforts in Africa?including those pertaining to the funding of security. Modest current U.S. investments could yield a substantial future payoff.


U.S. security interests in Sub-Saharan Africa do not require the commitment of military forces in large-scale conventional operations, and are unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. But the United States does have interests on the continent, including the resolution of ongoing conflict and development of secure, stable, and prosperous societies committed to working as partners with Washington on common problems.1 These interests can be promoted by assisting African leaders in the revision and reform of their security environment. A key to this end?and an integral part of Africa?s movement toward stable governments with popular support?is the reform of civil-military relations. African militaries have often preyed on the citizens of their countries, and typically are much more interested in securing regimes than societies at large. Since the late 1960s, military intervention in politics has been common and effective civilian control of the military rare, features that work against transparent, accountable, effective governance. Africans themselves, along with their external partners, are engaged in a variety of efforts to promote governmental reform, including reform of security sectors. It is very much in the interest of the United States to support such efforts.

Healthy civil-military relations are not easy for any society to achieve or maintain. The relations between a national security sector and a larger public are complex and culturally peculiar, reflecting unique historical antecedents. Even when models of civil-military relations are good in one society, they cannot be easily exported toothers. They always require more than mere restraint on the part of the armed forces. They tend to be improved by coherent and reasonably transparent processes for the development of budgeting that links military funding to missions, that generates public support for defense expenditures, and that leaves the military confident that it is receiving adequate resources. But in Africa, open, coherent procedures for developing defense budgets have been rare. One of the most valuable things that the United States can do to help shape the African security environment is to assist the region?s political and military leaders in their efforts to reform defense spending.

Because budgeting for security sectors in Africa has long been an informal and closed process, it is poorly understood. Both African leaders and Americans seeking to assist them must overcome this lack of understanding. The authors address that problem by summarizing some of the challenges faced by African pol i cymakers in determining financial allocations for their security organizations, particularly the uniformed military. The authors consider general patterns in the ways in which policy decisions on security force financing are made and implemented in Africa. The monograph is not intended as an economic treatise; rather, it is about relationships, choices, and the ramifications of those choices.

The authors focus on the armed forces?the military establishment?of the African state. However, given the fact that African political decisionmakers may not always view the armed forces as their most important and relevant security agency, the authors expand the analysis to include (at least in passing) other important state security organs, such as the police and intelligence services.

Patterns in the ways African leaders conceptualize ?security? and decide on the security force capabilities they need are of interest. Of equal concern is the way in which leaders choose between what traditionally has been regarded as ?security? and other national priorities inallocating resources, and the degree to which these choices are informed by the wider society. Patterns in the allocation process (including oversight of spending) also are considered. A final question has to do with the result?the output?of security force funding in African contexts. The authors identify particular problems and challenges and offer some suggestions for attenuating them.

Before exploring these issues in more depth, two cautions are offered. First, the act of generalizing about a continent as large and diverse as Africa is fraught with danger. What is true for Sierra Leone cannot be assumed to be true of South Africa; Ethiopia is vastly different than Zambia. Second, despite appearances to the contrary in the professional literature, ?countries? are abstractions and cannot decide anything. Sentient beings, not ?countries,? make policy decisions. In some African countries, the group that makes such decisions on behalf of the country is very small. While the authors will use the common convention, describing choices that ?countries? make in Africa, lingering closely behind the discussion is the question: who really speaks for the ?country??

At the outset, it should be acknowledged that there is no rich body of literature on African defense economics. Individual African scholars and some African organizations are beginning to address this subject, notably in South Africa. However, African researchers face daunting obstacles, ranging from egregious lack of access to official documents and officials in many instances, to the possibility of repercussions from authorities. Even in African countries that receive generally high marks for democratic commitment, officials tend to treat data about defense issues as privileged information and its disclosure as treasonous.2 One intention of the authors is to stimulate debate about the subject and about access to data. A longer-term objective is to assist African societies in their efforts to make the processes of funding security more efficient, productive and transparent.

This kind of analysis begs several much more important background questions. At the center of these larger questions is the definition of ?security.? For the purposes of this monograph, the authors define it as the protection of what the political decisionmakers consider to be important and valuable. The primary questions here are: ?What do you value, and what will you do to protect it?? Or, put a different way, the question is ?What is security, and how much of it is enough?? Here, it is important to identify who in a society has the prerogative of defining what is important and valuable. For instance, if the society is ruled by a small, unrepresentative elite, maintaining the political power of a regime may be the most important value. In a society with more democratic structures, protecting the economy and safeguarding economic development programs may receive greater emphasis. Again, if key security decisions exclusively are made by a threatened regime, no degree of ?security??however coercive to the society at large?may be ?enough.? This leads to the issue of society?s other priorities, and begs several additional questions: Besides security, what are the society?s basic interests? How are they funded in comparison to ?security?? Whose voices are heard in this decision?

The issue of ?threat? is related to ?security.? The question here is: What threatens the things that society values? Here, too, are a number of subsidiary questions. Who determines the nature and extent of ?threat,? and what process is used in this assessment? What proportion of the society?s resources are the policymakers willing to devote to attenuate the threat? Or alternatively, how much risk are they prepared to accept?

In recent years, the definition of ?security? has broadened in Africa and elsewhere.3 For instance, it now is common to hear policymakers speak of ?economic security,? or ?environmental security.?4 Since 1993, the international conversation has featured increasing use of the term ?human security,? stimulated in great degree by that year?s United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development report.5 The following year?s report defined the concept in greater detail, giving it a very broad charter.6 It is readily evident that a society?s security forces are not suited to all of the tasks specified in these new definitions of ?security? and often are inadequate to provide all of the security desired by members of the society. If security is attained, it must include the contributions of public and private sector actors other than simply the security organs of the state.

The questions about financing security in Africa, as elsewhere, are tied to the broader questions of security strategy. Before considering how African countries allocate resources to their security forces, it is very appropriate to ask whether they undergo some process of developing such strategy. A standard approach would begin with identification and prioritization of interests and an assessment of threats to those interests. This would then lead to development of policies that marshal the various instruments of state power?diplomatic, economic, informational, and security force/military ?to protect and promote the interests, carefully balancing desired ends with feasible ways and available means. The latter point is especially important: strategy that is not grounded in fiscal reality is meaningless. Budgeting is a necessary component of strategic planning.

Conclusion: The Role of the U.S. Department of Defense.

A primary focus of American security policy in Africa is to assist local partners in their efforts to build stable, accountable governments and effective security institutions. Although the U.S. military may be called to participate in humanitarian relief, peace operations, or noncombatant evacuation operations in Africa, its main current role is to assist with professionalization and reform. The longest-standing effort in this vein is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program that provides U.S. military training (mainly in U.S. militaryschools) to African military students. (In Fiscal Year 2000, the United States allocated $3.9 million for IMET programs, involving some 1,364 personnel from 35 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.53) Much of the IMET training involves relatively junior officers who apply their skills at the tactical level. A relative handful of senior African officers attend U.S. senior service colleges where strategic planning and defense budgeting form a substantial part of the curriculum. A few African officers also attend courses such as those offered by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School that emphasize civil-military relations, defense budgeting and military justice.

Another significant U.S. professionalization program also is targeted at the tactical level in African armies. The African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) provides military forces up to brigade size with skills necessary for peace operations. (As of July 2001, nine African countries had agreed to participate in ACRI, and the United States had active programs with five of these.54) Rules of engagement, relations with civilians, and professional conduct in general form an important part of this training.

If the United States is going to make a significant, long-term impact on reform of the security sector in African countries, it must devote substantial attention to the capabilities and professional inclinations of policymakers (both civilian and military) at the strategic level. This attention should include a focus on civil-military relations, strategic planning and security sector budgeting.

To assist African states in efforts to improve the accountability and effectiveness of defense budgeting, DoD should undertake several related activities. The first and most important is to continue support for and development of the African Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS). Founded on the DoD Regional Center concept (under which four other institutes now operate), the Africa Center complements other U.S., African, and multinational programs on the continent.55 ACSS seeks to enhance theprofessional skills of Africa?s civilian and military leaders. Its programs support democratic governance in Africa by offering senior African civilian and military leaders rigorous academic and practical programs in civil-military relations, national security strategy, and defense economics.

ACSS participants include military officers, government officials, and nongovernmental civilian leaders. The Center promotes informed and productive inquiry on the military?s role in a democracy. It encourages its participants to assess the importance of civilian control and military professionalism in democracies and examine civil-military relations in formulating and executing national security strategy. It also endeavors to promote an understanding of the military?s role shaped and shared by African societies, their governments, and their military establishments.

U.S. attention to Africa often vacillates and the future of ACSS is not assured. However, U.S. national interests in Africa are likely to grow in the future, and relatively small investments in programs like ACSS can have a large payoff. DoD should sustain its support and continue to explore ways to further develop the Center and augment its effectiveness.

With ACSS in the lead, DoD should help publish an international journal designed to help African defense professionals exchange ideas on strategy development, defense budgeting, and building healthy civil-military relations. European nations involved in African security could be partners in this endeavor. Along the same lines, DoD should sponsor an annual workshop for Africans involved in defense budgeting to provide a forum for communication and exchange. Finally, DoD should take the lead in an interagency effort to establish a system of internships in Washington for Africans involved in defense budgeting. These interns could serve on congressional staffs, in the Congressional Budget Office, in the Office of Management and Budget, and in the Pentagon?s budget offices. Such hands-on experience could be invaluable.

Whatever programs the U.S Government sponsors, they will not be a panacea for the shortcomings of security sector financing in Africa. But there are low cost ways of giving the region some essential tools it needs to continue reform and the movement toward greater security and stability. Over the long term, these could play an important role in promoting the security interests both of the United States and of its African partners.


1.Dan Henk, ?U.S. National Interests in Sub-Saharan Africa,? Parameters, Winter 1997-1998, pp. 92-107.

2.See Kenneth Good, ?Enduring Elite Democracy in Botswana,? Democratization, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1999, pp. 30-65.

3. See Dan Henk, ?Security in Africa: New Definitions?? Paper presented at the African Studies Association 43rd Annual Meeting, Nashville, TN, November 2000.

4. See particularly Barry Buzan, Ole Waever, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

5. Human Development Report, 1993, United Nations Development Program, available from http:// www.undp.org/ hdro/ 93.htm.

6. Human Development Report, 1994, United Nations Development Program, available from http:// www.undp.org/ hdro/ 94.htm.

53.Defense Security Cooperation Agency Foreign Military Training Report to Congress, January 2001, Vol. 1.

54.The countries with active programs in 2001 were Benin, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, and Senegal. Activities with Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Uganda were on hold.

55. I nformation from the ACSS website at http:// www.africacenter. org/english/ e1000_center.htm.