Africa and the challenges posed by the militarisation of interventions


Over the past three decades, numerous national and international stakeholders have been involved in diplomacy, defence, development and humanitarian aid in Africa. However, several countries remain in the grip of violent conflicts or are exposed to the risk of regional instability, including in the Sahel and around the Lake Chad basin. In order to counter transnational security threats (crime, jihadism, piracy), African States, with the support of their partners, have sought to innovate at the institutional level.

The African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), established in 2007, is often considered to be the first ad hoc African coalition model. In 2011, the Regional Cooperation Initiative against the Lord's Resistance Army was launched, and in 2014 Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad formed a new entity, the Sahel G5. Its joint force is currently being made operational. In 2015, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was set up to fight Boko Haram and is composed of four countries (Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad) belonging to the Lake Chad Basin Commission, with support from Benin. All of this is evidence that Africa has become a real testing ground for regional cooperation, with the militarisation of State responses as the common theme.

The preference of States for military interventions is neither new, nor is it confined to Africa, as demonstrated by military undertakings in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. As of 11 September 2001, the number of troops deployed to ensure international State stability and security has been steadily rising. Since the creation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in 2002, the use of military force has become a common practice in conflict management, to such an extent that a number of contradictions between the rhetoric and the actions of those involved have become apparent.

Towards a proliferation of African military intervention frameworks

While military interventions remain the prerogative of States with hegemonic ambitions (Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia), many States prioritise securing their regional sphere of influence (e.g. Chad in Darfur, Rwanda in Kivu). The increasingly regional nature of conflicts has forced most political leaders to integrate their efforts into a regional and/or continental framework.

In the 1990s, the proliferation of collective security frameworks for dealing with conflicts with regional ramifications (Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia) marked a first step towards a military approach to security. Economic organisations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also broadened their remit to include military aspects. Over the last three decades (1990-2019), the number of missions carried out under an African mandate has increased, thanks in particular to the support of international partners. France and the United States, for example, have contributed to the strengthening of African peacekeeping capacities through practically tailor-made bilateral programmes. The European Union (EU), through its Africa Peace Facility, has spent €2.7 billion since 2004, of which about 80% has been devoted to supporting African PSOs - a total of 14 operations financed in 18 countries over 15 years.

Through the creation of the APSA, African States are now equipped with a wide range of tools within the AU, including prevention measures (Panel of the Wise, early warning system). However, the fact that between 2003 and 2013, stakeholders focused on making the African Standby Force (ASF) operational reflects renewed interest in military solutions. This is largely due to the desire to learn from the failures of the Organization of African Unity and the international community to intervene to prevent genocide in Rwanda. However, the crisis in Mali since 2012 has exposed the limits of the ASF, which, although certified on paper, is ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of the conflict in the Sahel.

Tired of bureaucratic and political constraints, for which they are partly responsible, States have decided to adopt other forms of cooperation, such as ad hoc coalitions (Sahel G5, MNJTF), which are considered less restrictive. However, this trend only reinforces the view that conflict management is becoming overly militarised. Since the creation of the AU, more than 15 African operations have been carried out. Military interventions remain out of step with the challenges of human security in the long term, even if, from a financial standpoint, African stakeholders can be considered to have the capacity to act, thanks to the pooling of costs and equipment.

Military responses out of touch with the reality of conflict

As reiterated in the APSA Roadmap (2016-2020), a lack of clear policies for post-conflict development, prevention and reconstruction persists both in the AU and among African organisations. States' reliance on military responses is indicative, among other things, of three stark contradictions which, if not addressed, may have long-term counterproductive effects.

Sovereignty vs. human security 

The focus on military solutions is inconsistent with rhetoric that emphasises human security. This issue was first raised in 1994 in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Report, which recognised the importance of placing people, and no longer States, at the forefront of security agendas. This new, broad approach to security incorporates political, economic, social, agricultural, health and environmental components. In 2004, the Declaration on the Common African Defence and Security Policy (CADSP) highlighted the relationship between "security, stability, human security, development and cooperation" among its principles and values. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the way certain conflicts are managed (Sudan, Mali), the agendas of African heads of state remain politically driven, with the defence of national interests and the protection of sovereignty as priorities. This is exemplified by the (re)affirmation of the State's use of force, through the (re)deployment of the army at the national level and/or its participation in joint regional operations (e.g. Darfur or Liptako-Gourma regions). It should be noted that this use of force is often contested at the local level.

Legality vs. legitimacy

The decision to prioritise military responses reveals a second contradiction: the fact that an intervention in the form of collective action is legal does not make it legitimate in the eyes of the local population. As the situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Mali demonstrate, military deployment can strengthen opposition and mistrust towards those whose mandate is peace building. International legality is not a sign that an intervention will be well received locally, given that many armed conflicts result from the inability of State institutions to address recurring structural challenges including poverty, wealth redistribution, institution-building, national governance and youth unemployment. The legitimacy of these interventions is all the more tenuous given that a whole host of other factors act as catalysts for conflict: population explosions, food crises, climate change, irregular migration, organised crime and religious radicalisation. Thus, the fight against jihadist groups in Africa highlights the limits of using the military to deal with conflicts with long-lasting ramifications, conflicts which are often fuelled by the rejection of State authority and the defiance of traditional powers.


Cost-efficiency vs. consistency

As the situation in the Sahel illustrates, the proliferation of African regional cooperation frameworks (ECOWAS, Sahel G5, Nouakchott process, etc.) and the fragmentation of support from partners (bilateral and multilateral) have made the security landscape more complex. Institutional tinkering, while supposed to provide flexible responses, has increased competition between African initiatives and encouraged the practice of "forum shopping". In a competitive political-institutional environment, the race for funding, which is essential to ensure long-term action, still too often distorts the relationship with stakeholders involved in capacity building, whether human, logistical or technical. It is certainly true, however, that the effects of military interventions are easier to measure than other types of interventions. This makes it easier to assess these types of interventions and make them cost-efficient, which is a frequent requirement for national and international actors seeking visibility and credibility. Yet in a context where each stakeholder is primarily seeking to assert its own interests and agenda, as is the case in the management of conflict systems in the Sahel, the lack of coherent strategies can only undermine the long-term effectiveness of security policies.


The militarisation of peace and security has been to the detriment of the use of the other conflict prevention tools available to African stakeholders. The implementation of preventive policies, which require fewer financial and technical resources than military operations, has suffered from the lack of a clear strategy to implement universally accepted political objectives, such as human security.

Although abandoning military operations appears difficult in the present context, their coordination with preventive measures (mediation, early warning, preventive diplomacy, etc.) must be redefined to avoid counterproductive effects over the long term. For one thing, military emergency responses to crises gradually undermine the social and political landscape in which preventive measures can effectively restore social cohesion. More importantly, they do not provide an adequate solution to governance problems, namely the need to meet expectations in terms of justice, resource redistribution and the protection of citizens. In this context, favouring military and technical instruments only serves to create the impression that military operations are a shield for State institutions that are struggling to implement reform, or even that political leaders prefer to maintain the status quo, however violent it may be.


Amandine GNANGUENON is a searcher chercheure at the Centre Michel de l’Hospital at Clermont Ferrand (France).


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