Africa is currently facing two entirely distinct security threats, one from the rise of radical Islam, the other from increased natural resource extraction. African security forces are ill-equipped to meet these threats. Much of this is deep-rooted, rather than due to deficiencies that could readily be addressed. I first set out each of the new security threats. I then turn to Africa’s military capacity, tracing its limitations to underlying motivations. I suggest that the most straightforward way of changing the belief systems that generate motivation is strengthening national identity, but that this has been made more difficult by the divisive force of electoral competition. I conclude that Africa will need three forms of international support.
Threat 1: Radical Islam
Radical Islam is a global phenomenon, generated by the uncontrolled dissemination of extremist ideology, supported by vast private wealth in the Gulf, the use of which is not subject to scrutiny. It poses a distinctive threat to Africa partly because many African countries have substantial Muslim populations that, in conditions of poverty and poor governance, can easily become disaffected. Additionally, the threat is distinctive because the organizations needed to counter it effectively require a level of sophistication and cost that are beyond the means of most African militaries.
The threat from radical Islam has recently been evident in Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya and Nigeria. In Mali and CAR it was existential: without timely French military intervention both states would have been overrun and fallen to radical Islamic forces. In Nigeria and Kenya the threat has taken the form of sensational terrorism that, while not threatening the states themselves, is highly damaging to their international reputations.