Cheta Nwanze, Lead Partner, SBM Intelligence

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Subjects of Interest

  • Fiscal Policy
  • Geopolitical Analysis
  • Governance
  • Politics

How to address Africa’s complex security challenges 15 Dec 2022

In the modern nation-state, internal security concerns are typically handled by the police while the military is assigned the task of protecting a country's territory, citizens, and interests from attacks from hostile foreign parties. However, the security challenges in many African countries have evolved in quite complex ways for their current police to be able to handle.

In most of these countries, the security set-up was initially complicated by the involvement of their militaries in politics during the coup era of the 1960s to mid-1980s. While most African countries are now operating at least a semblance of a democratic process, the earlier truncated democracies incentivised political negotiations to be resolved by violence.

Traditionally an Army would have to deal with symmetric warfare with its clearly defined opponents, terms of engagement, areas of engagement, etc. But increasingly, the security challenges African armies are dealing with are asymmetric, fighting opponents that need to be better defined, have unclear goals, and are generally not focused on winning and keeping territory.

The groups and individuals responsible for these asymmetric challenges constitute a nuisance to both police forces and militaries because they tend to moonlight as violent criminals when not involved in guerrilla military operations. They don't give national military forces clearly defined targets to strategise around, and the ensuing confusion and blurring of lines have led to situations where national air forces drop bombs on their own peaceful citizens while looking to wipe out guerrilla camps. The discontent from this tends to enhance the outcomes of the psychological manipulation processes to which insurgents and bandits subject locals.

The blurring of lines between the locations for military and police action has created a situation where the police increasingly have to deal with tasks usually reserved for armies, and armies themselves have to solve national defence problems with investigative capacity usually associated with the police. This presents a challenge because it means that the military has to develop the capacity to handle operations in locations that they would typically not be in. The police also have to develop the capacity to handle some tasks typically associated with the military because some internal security challenges have elements that throw up questions that are better answered by the capacity provided by military training and expertise.

Police departments would have to develop better partnerships with the military to get access to the training, competence, and resources that will enable them to effectively deal with the issues and also engineer themselves to serve as an extension that boosts the military's capacity to gather intelligence, analyse situations, make decisions, and even hold operations in situations where timing, distance, or competence makes the police a better option for success.

The police need to develop this competence because military programming differs from typical police orientation, in that the police are trained to hold themselves in check when undertaking violent actions against suspects. In contrast, military training is primarily centred around battlefield scenarios with just enemies with a few grey areas. This suggests that there is some value in having the police force train the military on staging operations in populated locations that aren't clear-cut battlefields.

It is also vital to have well-thought-out constitutional and governance frameworks that detail how these organisations would operate individually and in tandem. There are other elements to resolving internal security challenges. Insurgencies are an issue, but there are challenges related to organised crime, protection of public and private property, cybercrime, theft, white-collar crime, and other nonviolent crimes like uncontrolled migration, cyber-crime, internet fraud, and IP theft that constitute a threat to national security in a variety of ways.

Cybersecurity threats are particularly interesting because they challenge the military in ways that largely nullify most of its traditional competence. Armies are typically trained for violent confrontation and logistical excellence to keep battlefield operations running under fire. The improvement in ICT has led to an increasingly connected world where cyberattacks can be used to shut down electrical systems, hack military technology, cripple sensitive economic infrastructure, and steal national secrets and valuable intellectual property belonging to private sector individuals and organisations that are of national importance. Attacks from cyberspace, like data breaches and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, can be as devastating as well-placed bombs. Manipulation of data could be used to effect severely damaging results on the processes that keep a country going.

In Africa, the haphazard creation of countries by inconsiderate colonial powers created a grotesque mosaic of incongruent societies with borders that were improperly drawn and have done things like keeping incompatible ethnic groups together while separating others from compatible ones.

Nigeria is a striking example of this in how Northern Nigeria and Southern Nigeria are largely incompatible regions that have more in common with the Sahel and Coastal regions which have societies they are culturally and geographically contiguous with. Poorly drawn borders have made effective policing somewhat more complicated. Still, with this being said, the actions of Boko Haram, ISWAP, and bandits, are proof that cultural and religious affinity doesn't necessarily translate to harmony, peace, and order.

This is not a uniquely Nigerian or West African phenomenon. Germany used to have this problem when it was split in the aftermath of World War II, where a fractious relationship existed between neighbouring nations made up of ethnically identical inhabitants only made incompatible by their political and economic pathways. The Koreas are another example, but unlike Germany, North and South Korea have not resolved their dispute and have border-related tensions despite being genetically and ethnically identical people. This shows that while ethnic incongruence can present some difficulty in policing borders, ultimately, what matters is ideological harmony and the development of sound policing structures that place firm and enforced guidelines on behaviour.

Sound policing structures are built on data and information correctly sourced, arranged, analysed, and made accessible via a proper centralised database that gives fluid access to relevant information on people, groups, and situations. A sound policing structure needs a database that keeps every possibly useful detail on crime. This helps identify individuals, decision-making, analysis, pattern recognition, etc.

But many factors need to be established to create reliable centralised databases that can provide the information and data that would help guide public sector organisations and their partners in their work. For starters, the African public sector is keen on maintaining the vagueness and lack of objectivity that enables corruption and makes it harder to measure its performance. This makes for the creation of man-made barriers to thorough digitisation.

The African public sector is also typically way behind the private sector in digital technical competence So, efforts must be made to improve their competence while providing the political and financial capital needed for database creation and integration.

Policing would benefit enormously from the proper use of data analytics. Descriptive analytics present details in an organised manner; aiagnostic analytics seek to unearth relationships between phenomena, variables, and seemingly unrelated events; predictive analytics use data to make projections on statistically likely events; and prescriptive analytics take note of all observed factors and make suggestions on data-validated actions likely to solve the problems in question.

The technology associated with these tasks used to be available at prohibitive prices for developing countries, but manufacturing advances have made them more affordable and easier to operate.

There needs to be more than the availability of the technology, however. Availability must be matched by having a police force with the willingness and competence to adopt an organisational culture that favours the scientific method and prioritises the use of technology and databased analysis.

This would be better implemented by training the younger members of the police and setting in place rewards for successfully adopting and implementing data analytics, helping to kick-start an evolutionary process of police reform that must be buttressed with political will and the strong desire for a compatible relationship with the society being policed.

For too long, African police forces have carried themselves in an imperialist manner. This has damaged their relationship with their people and jeopardised efforts to improve security situations while encouraging citizens to adopt self-help in dealing with security concerns. The distrust created has posed even more security challenges.

Cheta Nwanze is Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence.