The latest report from the International Crisis Group, comes out against the backdrop of heightened tensions around the last-minute postponement of the second round of presidential elections that were to have been held on 19 September. The army has remained admirably neutral so far but must support the democratic process to the end, rejecting any temptation for a new intervention in politics. The international community must work to ensure that the elections take place without further excessive delay.
The report examines in detail how the vital medium-term reorganisation of the armed forces is critical to addressing dysfunctional political dynamics and providing long-term stability in West Africa. Getting it right entails numerous technical challenges as well as redefining the relationship of the military with civilian power.
“After decades of bad governance and misuse, the armed forces are a potential source of instability”, says Mohamed Jalloh, Crisis Group West Africa Analyst. “Reforming an army notorious for indiscipline, human rights abuses and distrust of civilian power will require significant political will and long-term donor engagement and resources”.
The army’s well deserved reputation for indiscipline is a product of its troubled past. Since General Sékouba Konaté took over as interim leader in December 2009, three months after the massacre of demonstrators in Conakry, armed forces reform has assumed new importance. The transitional authorities have implemented several measures to improve basic discipline and secure the transition to civilian rule. But the extent to which senior officers have really bought into a meaningful reform agenda has yet to be tested.
The reform objective is a much smaller force, accountable to civilians while able to meet security needs. The priority is to get more of the army to understand and embrace that objective without letting it dictate the nature and pace of the process. The longer-term challenges are to enhance civilian oversight, establish financial transparency and ensure accountability for human rights violations. This should go together with improved living and working conditions for the army. A new civilian president must resist the temptation to use the army for partisan ends, relying instead on democratic credentials to govern effectively.
Senior officers must come to recognise that comprehensive reform is in the military’s best interest. Any attempt to undermine it would damage their credibility, as well as reinforce anti-military sentiments in society. It would also render the army less able to share in international peacekeeping missions; engender political instability; and result in further isolation of the country. Offers of aid and training by the international community will likely be forthcoming. However, these need to be generous and long term, as the situation will remain fragile for some time. Any reverse would threaten gains elsewhere.
“The risk is that the armed forces will want to impose their own agenda on the reform process”, says Richard Moncrieff, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “It is vital that the international community remains engaged after the elections. Otherwise, the substantial investment already made in stabilising the country and West Africa will be jeopardised”.
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