Publication: The Military Balance 2017
14 February 2017
Active conflicts, state fragility and enduring development issues combine to create significant challenges for governments in sub-Saharan Africa; they impel the factors that absorb the day-to-day focus of many of the continent’s military forces. In some cases, as nations grapple with current threats, addressing these challenges has the effect of forestalling moves towards defence-reform processes, even though engaging in these processes might make regional armed forces’ responses to security problems more efficient. Meanwhile, the international community (including other African states) remains vital to tackling the security crises in and across nations on the continent. This is not just in terms of generating diplomatic traction and help in enabling renewed efforts at conflict and dispute resolution, but also involves continuing material support to Africa’s nations and multilateral institutions as they look to develop greater local capacity to tackle these crises themselves.
The broad parameters of this international assistance remain similar in nature to those of recent years; from extra-regional states and institutions it can range from financial assistance to advice and assistance missions as well as external private-sector support. It also still includes targeted defence support. Indeed, there remains a significant international military presence on the continent. Principally, this takes the form of contributions to UN peacekeeping missions; at the end of 2016, nine of the 16 UN peacekeeping operations were based on the continent. But these contributions also take the form of combat forces. One example is in the contribution of African states to military operations such as the African Union’s AMISOM mission in Somalia and the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade – part of the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps the most robust international military presence is that of the French forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel, although US forces based in Djibouti can also call on significant combat assets. (The US established the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa in 2002 to conduct regional capacity-building activities, among other tasks. Other nations base forces out of Djibouti, principally on counter-piracy operations.) A more recent development concerns the agreement between Eritrea and the Saudi-led coalition engaged in operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen; this has led to imagery emerging of military forces, allegedly from the United Arab Emirates, present in 2016 at military facilities close to the Eritrean port of Assab.