From the hope of democracy through the ballot box to the reality of democracy through Kalashnikovs in Africa


This contribution is based on the previous experiences of a professional life spent in contact with Africa, whether these experiences are operational or result from the author’s last functions as a general officer, turned towards the analysis of crisis situations and strategic intelligence. The positions defended are therefore strictly personal and do not echo those of the Ministry of Defense or the French government.

Where does the importance of military power on the African continent and the role that the armed forces have played or play in the daily functioning of the State come from? The question makes sense when one notes that it has been in the news almost continuously since independence in the early 1960s.

The monopoly of the legitimate use of force is a fundamental regalian prerogative of the armed forces. The temptation is strong to divert the use of force to categorical, partisan, dictatorial or even personal ends, when sometimes even the mixing of genres is not the rule. There is no need for sophisticated arguments to demonstrate this. The facts, including the most recent ones, are still too often taken for granted.

On March 22, 2012, in Bamako, a military coup led by Captain Amadou Sanogo overthrew President Amadou Toumani Touré, who had been democratically elected in 2007 after a consultation held without “exaggerated” fraud. Since then, the replacement of the junta by a civilian transitional government has not, unfortunately, brought the demonstration into question, and the current conflict has some of its roots in this.

The institutional model inherited mainly from a common political system set up at independence by the former colonial power, partly explains the importance of the armed forces. The second reason is a consequence of the previous one. As holders of the legitimate use of force, the “people-at-arms ” take on a variety of functions and claim to be in the exclusive service of the country, in the name of an ethic of which they alone are the guardians. The weight of traditional cultural, ethnic, tribal and family factors in relation to national sentiment is a third reason. Finally, the continent is in the grip of economic difficulties, which the global crisis has only served to underline more strongly, leaving the field open for armed force to bring its powers to bear.

Some avenues for long-term change will serve as an opening for further reflection. However, the problem of transformation involves several antinomic aspects intrinsically linked to the divergent logics of action of the actors involved. One of the keys to success probably lies in a return to the “original” mission of the armed forces: the defense of the land and, from now on, in a much more significant way, also the defense of citizens.

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