What is the Role of the Army in Africa Today?

[All quotations have been translated from the French and can be viewed in the original post]

The army has often held a crucial but ambiguous role in the running of the political process in Africa. Between the years 1950 and 2000, 53 African countries have suffered 85 military coups leading to regime change. After a period of respite in the 1990s, the African continent was once more that with the most military coups in the first decade of the 21st century with 27 takeover attempts. Being both a factor in consolidation or destabilisation of regimes [fr], the army is blamed in many countries and does not seem to know how to adapt to this change in people’s mentalities.

l'armée entoure Rajoelina lors de la prise de pouvoir en mars 2009 - Domaine publique via Topmada

The Army of Madagascar supported Rajoelina during his seizure of power in March 2009 – Public Domain via Topmada

A Question of Competence and Remuneration

In Mali, the lack of resolution in the conflict in the North of the country was the main reason invoked by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo to remove Amadou Toumani Touré from power. However, since the military coup of 22 March 2012, the army remains powerless regarding reclaiming North Mali and seems resigned to wait for help from international armed forces to chase the Islamic groups from the area. If Captain Sanogo gives the impression of having left the civil authorities and the interim president, Dioncounda Tractor, to assume leadership of the country, he is nevertheless a major figure of the current transition and remains at the head of the CNRDRE military junta.

Captain Sanogo, Leader of the Military Junta, photo via @Youngmalian

Captain Sanogo, Leader of the Military Junta, photo via @Youngmalian

Captain Sanogo began his military training in the Kati Military Academy in Mali then continued it in the United States, firstly in Lackland,Texas then at Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Wachica in Arizona. During Sanogo’s brief period at the head of the country, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, MNLA, linked to various Islamic groups including the AQMI, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, conquered half of North Mali and declared independence for Azawad. If there is a debate about Sanogo’s military competences, there is little doubt that he has not acquired the necessary political competence in light of his multiple interference and unilateral decisions regarding the management of the country. Here is a video interview given by Sanogo after having handed power to the interim president by MrMaliweb [fr]:


In Madagascar the army played a crucial role in the advent of the ongoing political crisis there. A video captured during Rajoelina’s takeover tells of the unfolding of the military coup and the army’s role in the taking of power:


The Tananews website wrote of how the army of Madagascar sacrificed its mission [fr] all because of a problem with remuneration:

Money and corruption have played a significant role in supporting this interminable crisis.
Under the eyes of the whole world, the army of Madagascar will have much to do to restore its tarnished image.
A number of officers have preferred to sacrifice their honour and pride to accede to positions which are here today, gone tomorrow! Are they proud to wear their new stripes, attributed to them by an illegal power?
Let’s hope they ask themselves the question […] To save our country, there are no two ways about it:
Either the army of Madagascar takes itself in hand and comes to swell the ranks of the Vahaoaka;
Or the army of Madagascar continues to act as puppets..

Juvence Ramasy, political scientist in Madagascar, published an article on the role of the armed forces in political and democratic stability for CODESRIA, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa. He explained [fr]:

In order for the political neutrality of the army to be really effective, the demilitarisation of political power must be achieved, because the retreat of military personnel from the direct exercise of executive power and the subordination of the military to civil decisions is not sufficient to assure this political neutrality. This retreat has been achieved through the third wave of democratisation. However, the transition goes wherever the militaries go.

Mathieu Pellerin, researcher at the French International Relations Institute, IFRI, explained that during each crisis, political players in Madagascar try to curry favour with the armed forces [fr]:

The army of Madagascar has a legalistic tradition […] This is not to say however that the army plays no part, quite the opposite. I would describe it as the force of deterrence because of the threat that it poses. Each side knows it will have to submit to its will. In 2002, the development of Marc Ravalomanana’s reservist forces has weighted the balance of power. [..] Andry Rajoelina has surrounded himself with military personnel, including the general of the retreat, Dollin Rosoloa, who was Chief of Staff for the Mayor of Antananarivo, Madagascar’s largest city, and generals Blake and Organes who used to serve under Marc Ravalomanana. They should therefore have an influence on certain sections of the army of Madagascar.

In his book “Madagascar, le coup d'Etat de mars 2009” [fr], Professor Solofo Randrianja explained the mechanism of the army’s corruption [fr] during the current crisis:

Rajoelina gives various benefits [to the military] to ensure their support and loyalty. The granting of loans of 3.2 billion ariary across the armed forces during 2009 Independence Day celebrations is a product of this mindset […] to ensure that this clientelist redistribution does not continue, it is necessary that the institution of the military be under democratic control and no longer under civilian control.


An Army often Divided and Under Pressure

In Côte d'Ivoire, after a civil war which has left scars, the army, Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire, FRCI is still under pressure from militia faithful to the old Gbagbo regime. Confrontations took place in August 2012 [fr] near the capital, Abidjan, leading people to fear a reduction in public safety. Richard Banegas, professor at Ceri-Sciences-Po, stated that the disturbances were justified [fr]:

Many of the Gbagbo ex-militia are still at large, in Ghana or Liberia, even in Abidjan, in relative secrecy. The most radical have a Messianic warmongering mindset sowing a ‘rhetoric of return’ of their leader. […] What is more, reforms for a national army are well underway, but sometimes hide growing numbers of soldiers who have come from the pro-Ouattara rebellion, to the detriment of an ordered and therefore more just hierarchy.

In Guinea, the military coup of December 2008 led Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to power. His regime came to an end during the country’s first ever democratic elections in 2010, but not before a bloody suppression in 2009 which killed more than 1,000 during an anti-junta demonstration. Internal divisions within the army are still palpable with regard to current tensions.

In Mauritania, leading figure in the 2005 and 2008 military coups and current president Mohamed Ould Aziz was recently shot at, which led to his evacuation to France. Rumours abound regarding the origin of these shots and measures that soldiers could take if Aziz’s convalescence abroad lasts longer than predicted.

The return of Pretorianism, that is, corrupt military despotism, is an unmentionable fact in many African countries. As Juvenal Ramasy stated, demilitarisation of politics coupled with depolitisation and professionalism of the army must take place urgently in these countries where democracy is still fragile.

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