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date: 25 June 2024

West Africa: Civil–Military Relations From a Colonial Perspectivelocked

West Africa: Civil–Military Relations From a Colonial Perspectivelocked

  • Naila SalihuNaila SalihuKofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center

Summary

Civil–military relations is traditionally concerned with the nature and interaction among three societal actors namely military institutions, political elites, and the citizenry. The nature of this complex relationship and whether it is harmonious to prevent military intervention in politics depends on how these societal actors cooperate on certain societal variables. Civil–military relations of West African countries are influenced by those countries’ colonial and postindependence experiences. The military establishments of most African states were birthed from colonial armies. Historically rooted pathologies about the role of the security and defense forces in society created deep cleavages between state and the military, and their relations to political authority on the one hand, and society on the other.

The use of African armies for political and imperialist purposes during the colonial era and their roles in the struggle for independence were important factors in shaping the behavior of African armies after independence. Most colonial states did not attain independence with indigenous, nationalist-oriented military institutions. The transition of colonial regiments into the national armies of newly independent states were met with challenges in terms of establishing legitimacy and effectiveness, as these institutions had been set up under conditions that were not ideally suited to the needs of new states. Most postindependence African leaders missed the opportunity to build democratic and national militaries; instead, they maintained the status quo, as these leaders appeared more interested in building large armies for the purposes of regime stability. Successive political leaders resorted to deleterious devices such as patron–client systems, ethnic manipulation, and politicization of the military. These practices undermined the professionalism of the security apparatus and provided breeding grounds for pretorian tendencies. As the military became conscious of their political power, coups d’état became a common feature in the political dispensation of West African states.

Frequent military interventions in West Africa often came with destabilizing consequences such as devastating military rules, intra-military conflicts, insurgencies, and even civil wars. Even in those countries where civil wars did not occur, the military were influential in the political landscape, in which autocratic regimes ruled with an iron hand and often used the military to inflict severe hardship on the citizens. With the return to constitutional democracies from the late 1980s, it was widely expected the role or influence of the military in the political space would be diminished as those states became more professional and democratic. However, coups d’état have reduced in the region, rather than going away completely, and the military as a state institution with a monopoly over legitimate force remains a very strong political actor, even under civilian governments.

Former metropoles have been providing defense and security assistance programs to West African states for diverse reasons, including maintaining strategic hold on former colonies. Some of these interventions that aim at professionalization of the military have produced mixed outcomes in the region. In Anglophone West Africa, the British colonial policy of indirect rule contributed to the class division between the upper class (civilian politicians) and the lower class (the military and common people). This, coupled with the use of the military as agents of repression to safeguard colonial interests, created a popular dislike and negative image of colonial armies. State militaries went on to become destabilizing forces in political processes across the region. After independence, United Kingdom maintained a fluctuating presence in its former colonies due to its imperial past and strategic interests. In French West Africa, Africans were recruited from French colonies into the French army serve France’s military interests. African soldiers played diverse roles in their countries’ struggles for independence, which led to the military’s having a central role in the politics of postindependence Francophone states. France’s Africa policy differs from that of other former colonial powers in terms of its postindependence engagements with former colonies. In other parts of West Africa, Portuguese colonialism contributed to the creation of a central role for national liberation forces, which metamorphosed into postindependence military and political actors, with destabilizing consequences.

Subjects

  • History and Politics
  • Political Institutions

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