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Henrik Laugesen

The classical theoretical civil–military relations (CMR) perspective is traditionally concerned with how to obtain civil control of the armed forces. This theme is preeminent in the writings of Samuel Huntington and Morris Janowitz, the two most dominant voices in the debate of this subject field since the 1960s. By 2019, the character of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) was heavily influenced, if not determined, by CMR, as CMR seems to be the only constant factor when trying to understand KDF. During British colonial rule in the East African protectorate, the use of force was primarily dedicated to securing the extraction of natural resources from Kenya and maintaining internal security. It was in this colonial context of exploitation and extraction that the KDF was born in 1902, in the form of the King’s African Rifles (KAR). Therefore, to understand the “genetics” of the present-day KDF, one has to understand the political context in which the KDF was born and raised. The surprising point here is that although Kenya has since undergone far-reaching political changes, the KDF still seems to be caught in King Edward VII’s long shadow of colonial repression. The effective, ethnically driven political system and Britain’s military guaranties have dominated CMR and kept an iron grip on the military for more than 100 years.


Since its maiden coup in 1978, which initiated both an era of recurrent coup activity and a regime type dubbed “Mauritania of the Colonels,” the Mauritanian military, once an unassuming, apolitical institution, has been in power either directly or through a “civilianized” military regime. Since its creation in the early 1990s, the Battalion for Presidential Security (BASEP) has played a prominent role in the workings of Mauritania of the Colonels. Only during a 17-month interlude under a civilian democratically elected president, following a bungled transition marked by the underhanded interference of some military officers, did the military formally leave power—and then only formally. Whether they tried to meet them in earnest or not, the challenges of withdrawing the military from the political arena and democratizing the country have dogged all military heads of state. The challenges were complicated by Mauritania’s intractable ethnocultural rivalries subsumed under the “national question” and the related “human rights deficit.” After Colonel Ould Taya, whose lengthy and repressive regime had the deepest impact on the country and the national question in particular, the challenges were even harder for his successors to face. The latest transfer of power between one retired general and another, both of whom had conspired to overthrow Mauritania’s only democratically elected civilian president, is evidence that, as major players, Mauritania’s military leaders are well on their way to institutionalizing the Mauritania of the Colonels they assiduously fashioned for more than 40 years.