“It is vital for us to reflect on the ways and means of protecting our continent from destabilisation and to ensure that our respective countries can develop in a secure environment,” declared Alain-Richard Donwahi, defence minister of the Côte d’Ivoire, during a conference prior to the ShieldAfrica show held from 24 to 26 January at the Abidjan national police school.
In other words, it’s time for Africa to take its security in hand, to invest in new and modern equipment so that it can efficiently counter the multi-faceted terrorist threats confronting it: Boko Haram in the south, AQMI in the north and Daesh in the east. Previously “backed” by foreign armies, it has now become vital for Africa to take its military future in hand and become autonomous as far as materiel is concerned.
Africa’s development must include the capability of ensuring its own security. Its one-off, piecemeal procurements, generally undertaken in an emergency, no longer suffice to meet the huge requirements of its armies. And yet the choice is not hard for African governments: the vastness of the requirements, the constraints imposed by the operational environment and budgetary considerations are the parameters that point to purchasing robust, reliable, relatively simple products which offer a minimal logistical footprint. The need is not for fighter aircraft, anti-missile shields or frigates, but rather for armoured vehicles, individual weapons and tactical communication systems. These technologies are already available but African nations must acquire them by putting into place important and long term procurement plans.
Yamoussoukro is showing the way. It is on the point of adopting an ambitious military programme law (MPL) for the period 2016-2020, the first of its kind in the region. “We really must anticipate (…) move away from the dictatorship of emergencies and introduce real planning,” said Hamed Bakayoko, Ivorian minister of the interior and security, at ShieldAfrica’s opening ceremony. Amongst other measures, the Ivorian MPL earmarks €1.2bn for the procurement of new equipment and better training for its soldiers. In addition, the Ivorian administration can now take advantage of the lifting on 28 April 2016 of the UN arms’ ban to launch a re-equipment programme freed of all constraints.
ShieldAfrica was the event that was missing in a region whose industrial landscape has virtually no defence and security sector. It is an event in which African nations place “a lot of hope (…) that it should provide answers to our concerns,” Bakayoko declared. A great deal of these answers were being supplied by the 70 or so French companies who, with the help of the French GICAT land, air-land and security manufacturers’ association, were showing innovative technologies perfectly adapted to the region’s requirements. For example, Air-Lynx whose ALB 11000 and ALS 14000 technologies allow the establishment of a secure tactical communication bubble operating from simple smartphones. As for individual weapons, a French island emerged from the tidal wave of Israeli companies. The only remaining actor in a small calibre sector which is becoming extinct in France, Verney-Carron was showing two assault rifles based on the US AR-15 but with improved robustness and modularity.