Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Why Africa needs new military strategies

by Clyde-Ahmad Winters,
Director, Uthman dan Fodio Institute, Chicago

If Africa is to remain free the "warrior tradition" must re- emerge. Africa's military weakness now as when Europe colonised Africa is the lack of African military leadership developing new strategies to meet the demands of new military technologies, not European military technologies
The usual theory of Africa's colonization by Europe is that Africa declined due to the triumph of Europe's superior military technology. This view is best presented by Margery Perham: "African tribes backward, disunited, weak, were helpless before Europe, especially since the perfection of the machine gun."

Ali A. Mazrui, has observed that "imperialism was the monopoly stage of warfare." As a result he proposes that African nations should "pursue the goal of a modest nuclear capability," because "nuclear proliferation is a process of military democratization."

This view is advocated by many Africans both laymen and politicians, and has gained urgency, recently due to South Africa's (SA) testing of two nuclear devices in recent years in the South Atlantic.

But as we all know the development of a nuclear capability takes time. This being the case African military leaders must develop their own strategies to deal with the possibility of nuclear warfare occurring in Africa. Although Western analysis imply that South Africa's nuclear capability gives it an edge in any war in southern Africa this may not prove to be the case.

Nuclear strategy implies the use of Counterforce or Countervalue. Counterforce means that nuclear weapons will be used against the enemy's forces, launchers and the related command facilities. Countervalue, on the other hand, refers to targets of national "value", namely the enemy's population centres.

Due to a lack of significant military installations and economic development in African states counterforce strategy would be ineffective except against South Africa itself. Therefore the only effective nuclear strategy South Africa, or another Power would be countervalue. The basis of the strategic theory is that using the bomb to kill people, will make them grow weary of war, and pressure their own leaders into seeking a political solution as opposed to military confrontation. (South Africa already uses countervalue tactics in its strategies in southern Africa. By attacking refuge centres of SWAPO and border villages in Angola, they attempt to demoralise the liberation groups in the hope they will compromise, and give South Africa the upper hand in Namibia.) But countervalue has not been proved to be successful in London during World War II, or in Vietnam where the U.S. used the equivalent of 650 Hiroshima-type bombs, and were defeated by people using many make- shift weapons. The bombing only strengthened their population's will to resist aggression.

Given the limited number of urban centres in Africa, the effect of nuclear bombs here would be minimal. Moreover, P.S.M. Blackett, in Fear, War and the Bomb has shown that if Japan had practiced the most elementary Civil Defence precautions civilian casualties would have been substantially reduced. It should be mentioned that in Hiroshima trains were operating 48 hours after the blast and industries could have been operating in a month's time.

What does this mean for Africa? The answer is that African military leaders need not fear the South African military machine even though they have limited funds to purchase military hardware, because once the SA forces used their nuclear weapons the war would evolve into a conventional war. Western military strategists know the nuclear bomb would have only limited military value in Africa, but they use SA's nuclear threat as a means to keep African governments from seeing the advantage they have over SA if it invaded their countries. This is the main reason the SA government is trying to get the U.S. to support UNITA

By using UNITA in Angola or the National Resistance Movement in Mozambique fighting the nationalist government's troops South Africa hopes it will give them time to destroy the ANC and SWAPO; or possibly lead to popular uprising in Angola and Mozambique. Then these governments would be forced to become more 'moderate' or force SWAPO and ANC forces from their countries to keep SA from stepping up its undeclared war against Angola and Mozambique.

In a conventional war SA's major weakness is her dependence on technology. True, the use of major weapons such as planes, tanks and heli- copters are effective in a limited African war situation due to their mobility in rough terrain. But in a protracted struggle they can prove to be a weakness. It has been proved in Angola on several occasions that the individual SA soldier when confronted with troops even moderately trained and armed lacks fighting skill. But they are effective against unarmed civilians, or women and children during retaliatory raids on refugee camps.

In Africa major weapons have two critical factors in their weakness, they are: (1) they need petroleum and (2) can be easily destroyed by less expensive medium range weapons such as anti-tank guns, machine guns and hand held anti-aircraft weapons such as the Soviet SAM-7.

The use of major weapons such as planes, tanks and helicopters are effective in a limited African war situation due to their mobility in rough terrain. But in a protracted struggle, they can prove to be a weakness.

This along with the distribution of cities in the African environment makes strategy the most important element in a conventional struggle.

But given the xenophobia of the whites in SA, this does not mean that one day SA will not try to conquer one of the Front Line States. As a result African military strategists must develop strategies which will insure security for their countries. Below are some recommendations.

Firstly, African governments must try to get better radar facilities so they can protect themselves from air attacks. Given the cost of such facilities many African governments cannot afford them. Therefore the military must begin to train civilians throughout the country on how to recognize enemy aircraft by sight and sound that enter their airspace. And establish local and regional centres which can report sightings to a central air command which can verify if a sighting is a friend or enemy. This program was used by the United States and Britain during and after World War II to supplement radar facilities. There must never be another Entebbe. This type of program is especially necessary in SWAPO areas in Angola.

Local and regional defence forces must be trained, and armed with at least two anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft weapons. These forces can supplement the army and put more pressure any invaders using on motorized weapons.

The local forces will be effective if the army will apply retreat as an effective strategy to draw the enemy forces further into the interior. As the enemy forces are pulled into the interior local units can harass the invaders, especially at night, until regular units reinforce them. Each unit must be able to fight without needing direct supervision.

Finally, the capitals of African governments should be moved away from coastal areas into the interior. This would keep them out of the range of the SA's Israeli Jericho missiles which are capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. Also a Civil Defence Program must be instituted by African governments in the capital cities to insure their safety in the event of an attack by SA using nuclear weapons.

If Africa is to remain free the "warrior tradition" must re-emerge. Africa's military weakness now as when Europe colonised Africa is the lack of African military leadership developing new strategies to meet the demands of new technologies, not European military technology.

Europe conquered Africa not only because of superior weapons technology; they defeated African armies because they failed to make new strategies to counter new military realities. Yes, African states must develop nuclear capability. Yet if they are to remain independent new strategies must be developed to meet new military realities, especially SA's nuclear capability. But African strategists must understand remember, men win wars, not technology.


talking drums 1984-08-13 Commodities on the streets - Happy days in Ghana