Mali: Stand by, stand by

It’s not just in the DRC where the Army has failed to perform. The Malian Army, such as it is, ran away from about 1200 fighters, many Algerians, armed with heavy machine guns and light cannon.

It’s not altogether surprising. African armies in general are poorly funded, poorly trained and kept deliberately weak in case they try to intervene in politics – as happened in Mali only last year.

This was supposed to have changed by now. For the last fifteen years, the British, French and Americans have been putting huge amounts of money into the training of African militaries, in the hope that Africans could take over the actual work of peacekeeping, while the West provided the money. This was eventually formalised in the African Standby Force, designed to consist of four international, brigade-sized, units, capable of deploying relatively quickly in a crisis. The ASF was supposed to be fully operational by 2010. These days, people cross there fingers and talk about 2015, or even 2020. Never is also a date sometimes mentioned. And this, in essence, is why the French are in Mali, and why the process of gathering ECOWAS troops together to replace them is proceeding at the pace of a drifting sand dune.

But in many ways, it’s unfair to blame the Africans, who had the ASF foisted upon them, not to mention the armies (as it were) of foreign consultants to implement it. As I’ve argued on a number of occasions, western military models simply do not translate to Africa, and attempts to get over that problem by aid, financing and the use of consultants and trainers have always, without exception, failed. Shouldn’t we think of something else, while we are standing around waiting for the Standby Force?


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