Pathways to Military Effectiveness: Armies and Contemporary African States

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How do weak states build and maintain strong militaries that do not pose a threat? A government that presides over an institutionally weak state might reasonably fear that an effective army would be tempted to engage in coup d’état. Yet several countries in Africa with low overall institutional capacity sustain armies with substantial material and organizational capabilities. Four countries meet these criteria and provide case studies for this research: Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. This study identifies the mainsprings of a sustainable weak state – strong army outcome in a combination of appropriate political strategies on the parts of state leaders that includes a willingness to repurpose informal “customary†social practices and institutions to compensate for weak bureaucratic structures of control. Coalitions of leaders inside and outside the military also collaborate in the deployment of armies to tasks that are not conventionally associated with militaries. Those that are successful in executing strategies enable the creation of ‘military enclaves’ where informal institutions and practices commonly associated with ineffective militaries in fact contribute to military effectiveness of that military. These findings point to a need for a new conceptualization of professionalism based on what type of military has emerged in a given state. Beyond conventional categories of political and apolitical armies, the particular nature of African politics and warfare has led to the existence of personalist armies. Personalized militaries exhibit their own traits – to include their own contextually dependent ideas about professionalism and military effectiveness. I argue that we need a model of institutional military effectiveness to establish the sort of civil-military relations that result in five different types of military outcomes: Ineffective, Resourceful, Parochial, Hollow, and Effective. The capacity of weak states to build effective militaries in Africa indicates an alternative pathway for African state-building in a regional context in which interstate warfare is rare, foreign patrons provide selective security benefits, and leaders face apparent domestic incentives to keep armies weak. My conclusions are drawn from interviews conducted at the Pentagon (Washington, D.C.) and U.S. Africa Command (Stuttgart, Germany), and fieldwork in Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.

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  • 11/26/2019
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