Publication: The Military Balance 2015
19 February 2015
The complexity of threats to stability and security in Africa was exemplified by the developing crisis over Ebola in West Africa in 2014. It tested the governance capacity of regional states, was called a threat to international peace and security by the United Nations and led to another large Africa-focused international military mobilisation. At the same time, insecurity and conflict still bedevilled progress towards more stable and sustainable development in the region.
New crises emerged early in the year, including in the world’s newest state, South Sudan, while lingering flashpoints re-ignited elsewhere. On occasion, these provoked both African and broader military intervention, and by France in particular. Motivated by the continuing confluence of problems in the broader Sahel region, France has wholly reshaped its continental anti-terrorism posture and deployments. Conflict in Africa has, in many cases, an increasingly transnational dimension. One manifestation of this is the attention focused on these conflicts by non-regional governments; another is the increasingly cross-border impact of conflict. Refugee flows place increasing demands on some countries, while many of the region’s criminal, insurgent and terrorist groups have demonstrated the ability to operate across borders.
This is apparent in the activities of the Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, which has mounted terror attacks in Kenya and Uganda, two of the countries that contribute forces to the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It is also visible in the activities of Boko Haram, against which Nigeria continues to struggle in its northeast. The group’s activities have highlighted not only its propensity for violence and its adaptability, but also the relative freedom of action that it has so far enjoyed. Attacks on schools continued, with the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in April prompting protests in Nigeria and an international outcry. The response from Abuja was criticised, and the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Israel, among others, offered support in the form of advisers, surveillance aircraft and intelligence sharing. Boko Haram also expanded its attacks on military facilities; its campaign has illustrated the difficulties that governments face in using primarily military instruments to address broad security challenges. Additionally, the group prompted military deployments by neighbouring Cameroon, which during the year moved from reconnaissance flights over the area bordering Nigeria’s Borno State to ground operations against militants who had crossed the border.
This transnational dimension is particularly noticeable in the Sahel, where the effective collapse of border controls in recent years has enabled armed groups to operate within substantial ungoverned space. Arguably, this has been enabled by wider problems of governance in some countries, where a lack of institutional capacity means authorities have been unable to extend their authority fully across the state. In Mali, although there was a democratic transition of power, state authority was fragile and dependent on foreign assistance. The crisis there did not cause state institutions to collapse; though severely stressed, security-force structures remained generally intact and foreign training teams had at least some local counterparts with whom they could deal on arrival.