The current crisis in command many African armies are faced with can be traced back to the manner in which current and future commanders are identified and prepared for their missions and roles. Commanding and leading soldiers—including airmen and sailors—in both peacetime and conflict is not a game to be played for personal gain.
When it comes to the national security of a country, difficult choices need to be made. When it comes to appointing those who are charged with maintaining the security of the state, even more difficult choices are called for.
The old adage ‘There are no bad soldiers, only bad commanders’ certainly holds true for many African armed forces. Soldiers can only do what they are trained and equipped to do—if they are correctly commanded and led. When command and leadership is lacking, soldiers become confused and lacking in direction and discipline, morale is negatively impacted, orders are questioned and disobeyed, and the combat efficiency of the armed forces rapidly deteriorates.
But command leadership is not ‘business management’.
Whereas ‘command’ ought to be emphasized in the armed forces, I have met commanders who are, sadly, unable to exercise effective command. Not because they don’t have the ability or personality to do so but rather because they have been appointed by a system that is failing them, the armed forces and the country. Their inability is then amplified by being taught ‘management techniques’ and thereby softening the already failing approach to command. This ‘business’ approach to military operations has resulted in some spectacular failures across the continent. It has also added to a deepening sense of self-delusion that needs to be exposed.
On-going education remains important at all times
The armed forces cannot be equated to a business enterprise where management techniques hold relevance. Commanders are faced with vastly different situations and decisions than managers of business enterprises.
Whereas ‘command’ gives those who are entrusted with it the opportunity to use power for the good of the state, many use this as an opportunity to abuse power for personal gain and satisfaction. Abuse of power thus becomes entrenched and junior officers and NCOs follow the example and trend of abusing their power while ignoring their responsibilities.
Commanders need to realise that they command at the behest of the state and not for themselves. Commanding for themselves has resulted in numerous moral failures that include personal enrichment, corruption, and the misuse of state assets, to name but a few. This immoral view of command permeates through to the lower ranks encouraging moral failures amongst junior officers and NCOs. After all, this is the example their senior commanders are setting for them.
Command has also increasingly become synonymous with bullying.
Impacting severely on the current crisis in command many African armed forces face is the lack of selection, training, further education, and competence of commanders. To rectify this troubling situation, more promotions take place adding to an already top-heavy command structure. As and when the command structure, ie the officer corps, exceeds more than 10% of the force level, command problems are dramatically increased. (This has historical been proven on numerous occasions).
Whereas promotions ought to serve as an incentive based on competence and results, command positions are instead given to political appointees where tribal, race, language, religious or ethnic considerations are valued over competence. Thus when defence cuts are implemented, or budgets constrained, the command element remains in position, at all costs and instead, troop levels are cut, training neglected or critical equipment left to rot. Budget cuts also often see the command element increasing at the expense of combat readiness.
Without effective, disciplined command that follows the National Military Strategy and for the good of the nation and its people, an armed force has the potential to become a leaderless group of armed men.
This, in itself, poses numerous grave dangers to the state and its citizens.
Regardless of thoughts to the contrary, African armed forces are currently facing a crisis in command that needs to be rapidly rectified. If not, our armies will continue to remain at a disadvantage.