British-African Defence and Security Connections

Ashley Jackson. Defence Studies. Volume 6, Issue 3. November 2006.

British interest in Africa has seen something of a recrudescence in recent years; indeed, one African academic described the growth of British military assistance as an ‘expanding torrent’. Apart from the high‐profile military intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, Britain has taken a leading role in conflict prevention and resolution, security sector reform, and peace support programmes, and both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have invested a great deal of personal political capital in urging the resolution of Africa’s problems (most visibly at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July 2005, and through the deliberations of the Commission for Africa).

Despite the recent upsurge in attention paid to Africa by British politicians and journalists, however, Britain’s interests in the continent have remained extensive since the end of empire, though rarely examined in broad studies of Britain’s overseas relations. It might be argued that Britain’s relations with Africa have entered a period similar to the pre‐partition days, when ‘informal empire’ held sway and Britain sought to pursue its interests through selected economic and military interventions and through alliances with African leaders. It is certainly the case that Britain continues to have continent‐wide interests in Africa and that the British government seeks to influence and respond to events in every African region.

Many African states regard Britain as a key political, economic, and military partner, valued because of its extensive interests in Africa and its role as a collaborator and facilitator on the international stage. There, Britain’s political and economic power and leading position in organizations such as the European Union (EU), the Commonwealth, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United Nations (UN), and the main international financial institutions, can be used to African advantage. From the dispatch of Scotland Yard inspectors to investigate ‘medicine murders’ in Botswana, to the outspoken criticism of the Zimbabwean government, the dramatic intervention of British forces in Sierra Leone, and the extensive involvement of British non‐governmental organizations (NGOs) in African affairs, Britain remains an external power with a big voice, and, to many African states, a trusted friend.

The partnership between Britain and African states has never been a one‐way street, however, and Britain has relied upon the friendship and good offices of African governments for numerous reasons. Britain gains valuable access to African resources and facilities because of such associations, and has had occasion to be grateful for African diplomatic support in the international arena, for example when Kenya and Uganda supported Britain at the UN in the run‐up to the Falklands War in 1982.

Africa has been a continent of special interest to Britain since at least the 1660s, for manifold economic, religious, humanitarian, and political reasons. Britain was the foremost external power responsible for connecting Africa to the emerging modern world, through the activities of explorers, traders, missionaries, soldiers, settlers, businessmen, and adventurers. Today, Britain remains one of the most important external powers involved in Africa. It is one of the continent’s leading foreign investors and aid donors and maintains an extensive diplomatic presence. There are also many British passport holders living in Africa, among them 30,000 Asians in Kenya and tens of thousands of descendants of British settlers and emigrants. Britain also maintains numerous military links with the continent as it seeks to pursue its strategic interests, and these links are of increasing importance because of the broad nature of the Britain’s conception of its own security priorities.

The Decolonization and Cold War Years

Britain’s defence links with Africa date back to the seventeenth century and encompass the broad sweep of nineteenth century colonial history, when British land forces were ceaselessly engaged in Africa, and the ships of the Royal Navy mounted anti‐slavery patrols and established a network of ports around the continent’s coastline. Throughout Africa, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the constant activity of British military formations, from the days of exploration and the ‘pacification’ of newly‐declared colonies, to the less bloody period of imperial policing, and then the era of counterinsurgency and decolonization. During two world wars hundreds of thousands of Africans served in British military formations around the world.

The sea routes around Africa remained of prime importance to the functioning of the British imperial trading system and the commerce of the world, and were guarded by British vessels operating from African ports such as Alexandria, Port Sudan, Mombasa, Durban, Cape Town, Simonstown, and Freetown. The policing of sea lines of communication remained a major naval task during the Cold War (as it does to this day).

In the 1950s it looked as if sub‐Saharan African bases would form a major part of Britain’s global military structure as it was forced to leave its main stronghold in Egypt, and failed to secure a UN mandate over Libya, conquered by British arms in World War II. Therefore Kenya loomed large as a possible base for Britain’s Strategic Reserve. However, although millions of pounds were invested in infrastructure, plans to develop Kenya as a major base were aborted, lost somewhere between the complications of the Mau Mau insurgency and the pace of British withdrawal from the continent as the first breath of the ‘winds of change’ reached the planners in Whitehall.

Nevertheless, defence agreements with states such as Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa kept military links between Britain and its former colonies alive. These agreements were usually signed upon independence and offered British support for new nations in return for military basing and training facilities. The 1960 defence agreement with Nigeria, for example, gave Britain over‐flight and staging port rights, and in 1968 a defence agreement with Mauritius provided for naval communication facilities and committed Britain to the training of the Special Mobile Group, which remained under the command of a British officer until the late 1970s.

Post‐colonial defence links were in some cases vital in maintaining the integrity of newly independent nations, most visibly in 1964 when British forces were dispatched, at the invitation of the governments concerned, to restore order after military units mutinied in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. A similar action involving British naval assets and ground forces occurred in Mauritius in 1968, when a company of the Coldstream Guards helped restore order following communal unrest. Such interventions in the former colonies continued long after the end of empire, and it is unlikely that they have yet run their course. In 1981 the Special Air Service (SAS), along with the Senegalese army, intervened to suppress a Libyan‐backed coup attempt in the Gambia, and in 2000 a large British joint task force intervened in Sierra Leone to prevent the capital, and the elected president, falling to the rebel Revolutionary United Front.

Long after independence, therefore, Britain maintained defence links with African states, even if it eschewed the visible military presence preferred by the French in their former colonies, founded upon large garrisons in states that remained more firmly tethered to the metropolitan apron strings. France’s determination to remain an African power was rooted in historical conditions that were simply not applicable to Britain. Adjusting to its declining power and coping with the trauma of defeat and occupation and the re‐emergence into a post‐war world dominated in the West by the new Anglo‐Saxon superpower, France saw continued possession of empire as the key to sustaining its status. Hence France was much more reluctant than Britain to permit meaningful independence in certain parts of the Francophone world, particularly Africa, and formal economic and military ties remained strong.

In contrast, Britain preferred to disengage from more direct links and to attempt to work through organizations such as the Commonwealth and the UN, and not to penalize erstwhile colonies if they chose not to remain politically and economically dependent. Nevertheless, there was a general understanding that in the zero‐sum game of Cold War alliance formation, Britain would make efforts to keep its former colonies, if at all possible, in the Western camp: ‘France most particularly but also Britain and Belgium had assumed in varying degrees continuing political and security responsibilities in many parts of their old empires’. This was because Britain retained strong economic and moral ties with its former colonies. Trade and investment had to be defended and former colonies encouraged to resist the blandishments of the Soviet Union.

The actions of external powers playing the Cold War game of East versus West could contribute to African instability, particularly through the backing of regional ‘champions’. For example, Mozambique was destabilized by South African and Rhodesian forces seeking to extend the life of white minority rule in their own states (who in turn were covertly backed by Western actions), as well as by Western forces opposing Communism and seeking ‘to weaken FRELIMO’s ability to export socialism’ by backing the opposition RENAMO rebel movement.

During the Cold War Britain’s military interests in Africa remained evident. The Royal Navy’s South Atlantic Squadron, for example, was based at Simonstown until the naval base was evacuated in 1975 with the termination of Britain’s agreement with the South African government. The squadron had supported Britain’s extensive interests in South Africa and South America and contributed to the security of the vital shipping routes through the South Atlantic. In its final years the squadron deployed ‘Cat’‐class and ‘Cathedral’‐class frigates which, among other duties, patrolled to the Falkland Islands.

During the Rhodesian war the UN backed British military action against Ian Smith’s rebel regime, and the Royal Navy formed the Beira Patrol in an attempt to enforce sanctions. In 1979-80 British forces supervised the deployment and organized the protection of the Commonwealth Monitoring Group sent to oversee the elections that ended white rule in Rhodesia (Operation ‘Agila’), a four month operation sustained by RAF VC10s and Hercules (and some American transport aircraft). The Monitoring Group grew to over 900 men and their equipment included 12 Army helicopters, 312 Land‐Rovers, and 6 Army large Puma helicopters.

In 1980 the new government of Zimbabwe formally asked Britain for help in restructuring its military after over a decade of civil war. Until the deterioration of Anglo‐Zimbabwean relations in the late 1990s, Zimbabwe was Britain’s major Southern African defence partner and home to the region’s British Peace Support Team (BPST). In the post‐colonial years numerous British Army Training Teams (BATT) advised and trained African armies. A BATT operated in Sudan, for example, commanded in the late 1970s by Peter de la Billière. In the early 1980s British soldiers in a Commonwealth Military Training Mission trained approximately 4,000 Ugandans, and in the early 1990s a British Military Advisory Training Team (BMATT) in Namibia developed a programme for creating and training the Namibian army prior to its assuming deployment tasks.

Britain remained a major external supporter of military training, military education, and military exercises throughout Africa. Personnel from BMATT‐South Africa, for example, supervised 1,500 African troops from ten states taking part in Exercise ‘Blue Hungwe’ in 1997. Another enduring military link between Britain and Africa was through humanitarian and disaster relief work, the Royal Air Force (RAF), for example, flying missions in Mali (1973), Ethiopia (1984), Somalia (1993), and Mozambique (2002). Furthermore, the British armed forces continued to practice for, and conduct, Non‐Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) in Africa, where many British citizens live and work. Recent examples include NEOs in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998 (during which British forces were responsible for evacuating 283 British citizens and 1,800 nationals of other countries), evacuations in Sierra Leone (the British task force that intervened in the country in 2000 had initially been deployed for an evacuation mission), and the NEO conducted in Ivory Coast in November 2004.

British mercenaries continued to operate on the continent, and have attracted media attention, notably in the controversy surrounding the supply of weapons to Sandline in Sierra Leone and during the prosecution of Sir Mark Thatcher for planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea. Private military companies, both British and foreign, have become a feature of the African security landscape, offering governments specialist military capabilities and adding a new layer to the complex debate surrounding the ethics of external intervention in Africa.

The Royal Navy retained its interest in the defence of shipping around the world, and Britain remained dependent upon seaborne imports and sea routes such as Suez and the Cape of Good Hope, as world security and prosperity continued to depend ‘on a worldwide sea‐based trading system’. Political, economic, and defence interests continued to thrive in the East of Suez region, and Britain remained an Indian Ocean player by virtue of its regular deployments in the Gulf, its participation in the Five Power Defence Agreements providing for Malaysian defence, and because of its possession of a strategically‐important colony, British Indian Ocean Territory (still claimed by the government of Mauritius and the site of the key American military base in the region). Britain also retained strong interests in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and was therefore involved in the maritime security of all the seas framing the African continent.

The Position Today: Africa’s Strategic and Economic Significance

With the end of the Cold War Britain’s strategic gaze refocused on more distant shores, as had been the case in the past when an imminent threat to its territorial integrity receded (for example, after the threats from Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Hitler and Stalin and his successors, had passed). Britain remained one of the main external actors in Africa, and was more willing to put diplomatic weight behind African initiatives than other major powers. Aside from Britain’s traditional political and economic interests in Africa, post‐Cold War and post‐9/11 perceptions of threat in the West added new impetus to Britain’s interest in African security and stability (as enunciated in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and the 2001 New Chapter). Instability on the continent (while by no means as all embracing as the ‘Africa disaster’ perception common in the West would suggest) is today of concern to external actors for whom issues such as drug trafficking, illegal migration, resource competition, organized crime, terrorism, disease, and poverty are seen as potential sources of British domestic insecurity in the interconnected modern world.

This reappraisal of Africa’s significance in the security realm coincided in 1997 with the advent of a British government keen to emphasize the ethical dimensions of foreign policy and be seen as a ‘force for good’ in the world, eager to achieve a more coordinated foreign policy, and to work more constructively in partnership with NGOs and transnational corporations. The British government come to view support for African development, peace, and stability initiatives as the key to a successful foreign policy on the continent, and is a strong backer of the African‐led New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NePAD), ‘which recognizes Africa’s responsibility to create the conditions for development by ending conflict, improving economic and political governance and strengthening regional integration’.

Africa’s geostrategic importance is augmented by its economic potential, which has for at least five centuries attracted external powers and fostered rivalries among them. As Western countries from America to Europe to Australia seek to diversify their energy sources, and rapidly growing economies such as those of China, India, and Malaysia seek a share of the world’s resources, competition in Africa increases. In the Sudan, as well as an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region and signs of state disintegration, external powers such as China are competing for untapped energy resources. The government in Khartoum, indeed, has used China’s interest in its oil to ‘cripple’ the UN’s attempts to operate in Darfur by virtue of China’s veto on the Security Council. While talk of a new ‘superpower’ struggle on the continent is exaggerated, it is nevertheless the case that China’s historic interest and influence in Africa is growing, often in regions where America and other Western powers have major stakes, for example in the oil production of Angola and Nigeria. China recently overtook Britain as the continent’s third most important commercial partner, and gets 30 per cent of its oil from Africa, mainly from Angola, Congo‐Brazzaville, and Sudan.

Furthermore, China is often more willing to fund development projects or conclude arms deals while Western governments and companies dither, undermining attempts by European governments to ‘tie trade and aid to human rights, and to help Africa overcome corruption’. Though China only imports 12 per cent of its energy requirements (compared to 40 per cent for America), its willingness to develop relationships with pariah regimes is a concern. In 2005 Nigeria signed an agreement with China for the purchase of 12 fighter aircraft, and is looking to secure further arms deals. China buys 30,000 barrels of Nigerian crude oil a day, and recent reports suggest that the government in Abuja is disappointed by the slow speed at which America is delivering arms wanted for the protection of oil assets in the troubled Niger Delta region, particularly coastal and riverine patrol vessels. China is willing to step into the breach.

China’s rise to prominence in Africa, together with the increasing interest of other powerful states of the southern world such as Brazil and India, represents a move away from an age in which America, Britain, and France were by far and away the main external players on the continent. Chinese engagement stands to please African elites in many parts of the continent, though perhaps not their people, and is likely to be politically deleterious and to run counter to Western policies.

There are considerable British economic interests in Africa, and protecting them has been a consistent theme in Britain’s Africa policy. In 2001, Sub‐Saharan Africa accounted for £3,466 million of exports, and £5,669 million imports, and there are ‘signs that Africa is becoming of increasing economic significance for Britain’. In 2005, Europe exported $83.6 billion of goods to Africa and imported $97.3 billion, so Europe is still Africa’s dominant trade partner. European foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa during 2005 stood at $13.5 billion, far larger than FDI from any other source. The leading European powers in Africa are France and Britain. The UK imports $14.6 billion of goods from Africa and exports $10 billion.

Britain is both the leading aid donor and the leading foreign investor in many African nations (such as Nigeria and South Africa). The UK is Ghana’s second biggest export market (after the Netherlands), and third biggest import market (after Nigeria and China), and British firms are well established in Zimbabwe’s mineral, platinum, and tobacco industries. British companies have been involved in privatization schemes in Africa, and London‐based management consultants have advised African governments on economic and institutional reforms. Digital Exchange Projects, for example, recently won a contract to rebuild telecommunications systems in Somaliland, the de facto state that has broken away from Somalia.

‘Africa has a new strategic relevance for global energy supply and the stability of the global economy as a result of the many large oil and gas discoveries in deep waters.’ British firms have been at the forefront of the scramble for African energy concessions, British Gas, for example, concluding an agreement with the government of Equatorial Guinea for the supply of liquefied natural gas. BP and Shell have stakes in the oil industries of countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Tanzania, and both companies have recently reached gas exploration agreements with Libya (BP operated in 11 African countries in 2004). British banks such as Barclays and HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) are major investors and service providers, and the British government, through initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, has sought to secure greater accountability in the buying and selling of Africa’s natural resources (through the principle that companies should publish what they pay to African organizations and individuals). British arms manufacturers and traders maintain links with numerous African countries, contributing, some claim, to instability in parts of Africa and harming the government’s claim to be working for peace, stability, and democracy on the continent.

Diplomatic Reach and Non‐Governmental Organizations

Britain remains one of the most well‐connected countries in Africa by virtue of its investment in overseas embassies and high commissions (supported by the work of the British Council). British politicians and diplomats sometimes use their position to draw national and international attention to African issues, as was the case recently when the High Commissioner in Nairobi, Sir Edward Clay, publicly condemned the Kenyan government’s corruption. In January 2004 the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development visited Somaliland. On its return to London, Tony Worthington, a member of the committee, questioned the wisdom of British (and international) resistance to the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state during a parliamentary debate.

In some parts of Africa, the British government has been prepared to use sanctions in an effort to prevent conflict. British NGOs, which can trace their roots to the days of the abolitionist movement, exercise significant influence in Africa. Survival International, for example, has recently incurred the disfavour of the Botswana government because of its dogged campaign for the right of the ‘Bushmen’ (the San) to remain on their ancestral Kalahari lands. At the behest of the British government Concordis International recently hosted a peace‐building workshop attended by Sudan’s Eastern Front organization which articulates the grievances of the Beja and Rashaida people of eastern Sudan. The reports of British charities such as Oxfam are extremely influential in opinion‐forming on African issues around the world. British pressure groups formed an important link in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and together with interest groups, specialist newspapers (for example, Africa Confidential), universities and venerable organizations such as the Royal Africa Society (founded 1901), represent a formidable base of knowledge and connection with the African continent.

British Security Policy and Africa

Britain’s current foreign policy enshrines the belief that the root causes of conflict around the world need to be addressed in practical ways for the greater security of Britain and the wider world. This means that in Africa, relevant government departments seek to support African states and organizations in their efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts. Key elements in this effort are Peace Support Operations, Security Sector Reform, Conflict Resolution and Termination, Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration programmes, and the curbing of small arms proliferation through the Small Arms and Light Weapons Agenda. Britain has been a leader in these fields since formal efforts to develop its peacekeeping capabilities started in 1994. Britain has pioneered doctrine, training, and practice and developed important institutions, knowledge pools, and networks, through organizations such as the Global Facilitation Network on Security Sector Reform, based at the Royal Military College of Science. While there might be room for criticism of Britain’s Africa policy, it should be recognized that the readiness of government departments to look at the deep causes of instability, and to acknowledge the role played by colonial rule in creating conditions for instability, is encouraging.

Aside from the humanitarian motivations behind British policy, it contributes directly to Britain’s security by making Africa a less likely incubator of threats that reach far beyond African shores, be they economic dislocation, environmental degradation, forced migration, transnational crime, or terrorism. America’s European Command (EUCOM) starkly summarizes the nature of the strategic threat posed by Africa:

Africa is rife with ungoverned spaces, both physical (land, sea, and air spaces) and non‐physical (popular support for the national government). These spaces create vacuums to be filled. Who fills these voids depends on the ability of African governments to extend their influence into those areas. It is in US interests, and those of its allies, to help African governments build capacity and compete for the ‘hearts and minds’ of their citizens to fill the ungoverned spaces and counter the efforts of extremists.

According to EUCOM, Africa’s challenges include porous borders, the absence of state capacity or political will to exercise control, poor infrastructure, poor governance, lack of professional militaries, and lack of cooperation between nations.

Britain’s Africa policy is pursued on three broad levels (each of which will be considered in turn); in Whitehall, departments with an interest in African affairs attempt to act in concert. Second, these departments work with African states and wherever possible with African regional organizations and the continent‐wide African Union (AU), and external organizations such as the EU and UN; and finally, government seeks to coordinate its Africa policies with other major powers with interests in Africa.

The British government’s assessment of national security threats has led to efforts to better coordinate the work of various departments and ministries that have overlapping interests and responsibilities. Regarding Africa, this has meant the alignment of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO), Ministry of Defence (MOD), and Department for International Development (DFID) in areas such as conflict prevention, peace support operations, and humanitarian and disaster relief. One of the main products of this cooperation is the creation of the Africa Conflict Prevention Pool (ACPP), supported by the Treasury and coordinated at ministerial level by the Cabinet Office. The ACPP works through staff in Whitehall and the defence attaché network in Africa along with four Regional Conflict Advisers:

It serves as a tool for joint analysis, financing, and coordination in areas where collaboration between the three departments can add value to UK conflict prevention activities … Over the last three years the ACPP has disbursed some £211 million on UN peacekeeping and around £150 million on conflict prevention programmes. The ACPP’s budget for 2005-06 is £60 million.

British policy emphasizes the need for cooperation with African governments as a more promising way of effectively addressing African problems and making British resources count. Britain works towards the creation and maintenance of ‘capable, accountable, and sustainable African armed forces to undertake Peace Support Operations on the continent’ and ‘stable governments addressing the causes of poverty and conflict’. Hence Britain is committed to helping organizations such as the AU and regional bodies such as the South African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to enhance their peace support capacities. ‘With the increasing will of African states to succeed in “self help peacekeeping”—i.e. major power funding with African commitment/deployment, under the auspices of the AU—there is an opportunity to encourage and support initiatives towards good governance and stability.’

Britain has been particularly supportive of the AU Peace and Security Agenda, especially the implementation of the Common African Defence and Security Policy. This includes the formation of five Standby Force brigades, and the regional and national headquarters and centres of excellence that will sustain and train them (such as the British‐funded Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre at Teshi near Accra in Ghana and the International Mine Action Training Centre at Karen near Nairobi in Kenya).

The AU asked Britain to help build advisory and technical expertise within the AU Peace and Security Directorate, and Britain funds and supports the development of the AU Conflict Management Centre. This notwithstanding, direct military aid should not be underestimated as a factor in enhancing African stability, and Paul Collier has recently, and provocatively, argued that ‘effective peacekeeping, as in Sierra Leone, is a very cost‐effective form of development assistance’.

Britain’s Africa policy seeks to take account of, and complement, the initiatives of other external powers. A conscious effort has been made to ensure that Britain and France coordinate their policies on African matters (symbolized by the agreement concluded at St Malo in 1998), the two powers working in turn to shape EU Africa policy. Some of the impetus behind St Malo was to try and reduce the tendency of both powers to look at Africa in terms of Anglophone and Francophone spheres, and to coordinate policy in the light of America’s interest in the continent. Since 1996-97, America, Britain, and France ‘have made increased foreign support available to African militaries under the P3 Initiative, by which the three external powers have sought to cooperate in the development of indigenous capacities to respond to the mid‐1990s boom in African peacekeeping requirements’.

The Defence Architecture

As well as playing a role in the global struggle against terrorism, trafficking, migration, and crime, Britain’s defence commitment to Africa is intended to bring more traditional strategic benefits. Well‐placed military advisers in African defence establishments and ministries offer valuable strategic insights and political‐military influence in key African states. The UK also seeks to retain access, basing, and overflight rights in African states to facilitate the deployment of its own (and allied) forces. It also seeks to secure military training areas for the use of British forces.

Britain’s defence presence in Africa relies on four main elements: defence attachés and defence advisers appointed to British embassies and high commissions in African countries; four Regional Conflict Advisers coordinating the work of the ACPP; the deployment of British military units for short‐term visits to African countries to perform training roles and the various works associated with goodwill visits; and the maintenance of British Peace Support Teams, British Military Advisory and Training Teams, and British Defence Advisory Teams (BDAT) in various countries, usually with regional interests and working in institutions funded by the British government.

The African Peacekeeping Training Support Programme aims to ‘train the trainer’, using limited resources to have the greatest effect possible on African military structures. Though the number of personnel deployed in peace support and advisory roles is relatively small, they are well positioned to carry out their brief, which usually involve assisting African countries in the restructuring of their armed forces and the development of their peace support capabilities. British military teams are embedded within the military institutions of the host nations and are therefore in a position to have considerable effect. They have access to the highest levels of government, are committed on a long‐term basis, and report to three key Whitehall departments. As an Australian officer attached to the British‐run International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) in Sierra Leone commented, ‘the use of advisory teams offers an excellent medium for international engagement at relatively little cost and can contribute to the process of conflict management’.

The four Regional Conflict Advisers appointed by the ACPP are based in Abuja, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and Pretoria. The regional objectives are laid out in a jointly agreed British Sub‐Saharan Strategy for Conflict Prevention, updated annually, and an annual conference of personnel involved at both the London and African ends is held in Kenya. Britain currently maintains defence advisers or defence attachés in Algiers, Rabat, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Harare, Kinshasa, Freetown, Accra, Abuja, Kampala, Nairobi, and Pretoria. The British military advisory/training/peace support teams based in East, West, and Southern Africa will be considered in turn.

In West Africa there is a BDAT based at Abuja in Nigeria, with access to the Nigerian defence ministry, the National War College, and the Staff College. Its task is to advise the Nigerian authorities on any defence‐related matter, and to coordinate the work of British military training teams when they visit the region. Currently its largest task is supervising the creation of a new peacekeeping facility at Jaji after it was announced in September 2005 that Britain was to provide funding for the training of an extra 17,000 Nigerian troops as peacekeepers. This brought the total committed by Britain towards building the Peacekeeping Wing at the Infantry School in Jaji to £600,000. Also in Abuja, a British lieutenant colonel is attached to ECOWAS headquarters. BMATT‐West Africa is based in Ghana, and involves eight British personnel offering support and training to the Ghanaian armed forces. The aim is to enhance Ghana’s capacity to conduct Peace Support Operations. There is also British support for the Ghanaian Armed Forces Command and Staff College, and a substantial British financial and personnel commitment to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (an ECOWAS centre of excellence). Its first full season began in March 2004 with 2,500 personnel attending about 70 courses throughout the year.

IMATT is helping build a new Sierra Leone Army and is led by British military personnel, part of a ten year agreement between London and Freetown (at present about 100 British military personnel are deployed, and the agreement has been extended until 2012). The British commander is military adviser to the president, and the British have also supervised the restructuring of Sierra Leone’s ministry of defence. West Africa is a template region for the development of the AU African security policy and its main ‘teeth’ organization, the Standby Force. External support will remain vital to its development:

G8 engagement with the development of ECOWAS security architecture over the next five years will be critical to the future of all Africa. ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution, Peace and Security is the template for AU development of a Common African Defence and Security Policy and the West African Brigade is the test case for other regional components of the Standby Force.

In East Africa, Britain’s presence is focused upon Kenya. In February 2006 the two governments renewed the defence agreement which has been the cornerstone of their military cooperation for decades. The British presence is based upon two main elements, the BPST‐East Africa and the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK). BPST‐EA’s mission is to coordinate British military assistance to armed forces in Eastern Africa in order to contribute to Security Sector Reform and to increase peacekeeping capacity. To fulfil this mission it has three main parts: The International Mine Action Training Centre (IMATC), the Peace Support Training Centre (PSTC) and a presence in the Kenyan Defence Staff College (and the Kenyan Defence Force has a presence in the British Joint Services Command and Staff College).

IMATC is a joint British and Kenyan initiative built and funded by the British government at a cost of £3.5 million. Opened in February 2005, it has already trained 2,000 Africans for operational duties, and is a regional centre of excellence that will support the East African region’s AU Standby Brigade (EASBRIG). In February 2006 the British High Commissioner to Kenya opened a kennel at IMATC to house sniffer dogs used in the detection of landmines. The British government is committed to assisting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in creating EASBRIG, and has agreed to build the planning element premises in Kenya. EASBRIG will be based in the same military complex as the BPST‐EA.

BATUK is a small permanent administrative element based in the outskirts of Nairobi and provides the logistical support to visiting British military units. Under an agreement with the Kenyan government three infantry battalions per year can carry out six‐week training exercises in Kenya. The training, named Exercise ‘Grand Prix’, takes place over the winter months and allows infantry battalions to carry out live firing, as well as experiencing a wide variety of climatic conditions, from desert to rain forest. In addition to this a Royal Engineer squadron can also deploy over the same period to carry out a civil engineering project (Exercise ‘Oak Apple’), as do army medical teams. BATUK consists of 12 permanent and 27 duty staff, supported by over 150 locally employed civilians.

Britain’s position in Southern Africa is based on BPST‐South Africa, which coordinates military support to governments throughout the region. Two defence agreements were signed between Britain and South Africa in August 2004, allowing for British personnel to provide advice and assistance to the South African National Defence Force in the field of peace support operations. In particular, training is provided for South African peacekeepers destined to contribute to South Africa’s growing regional peace support role in places such as Burundi and the DRC. The second agreement paves the way for British forces to conduct military exercises in South Africa.

The plan of action developed by the DFID‐funded Regional Conflict Adviser for 2003 gives an insight into the extensive work of British military personnel in the Southern African region. The overarching aim was to support Britain’s continental objective of aiding the AU security architecture. At the regional level, this was pursued by assisting SADC and its member states. Thus, for example, South African peace support capabilities were the focus of BPST‐South Africa, alongside other initiatives such as the joint South African‐British Post Exercise 03, and the creation of a Peace Mission Training Centre (an AU centre of excellence). The UK also gave support for South African and Mozambican peace support deployments in Burundi, and for South African forces in the DRC. Britain is supporting the establishment of the region’s African Standby Force brigade, contributing to infrastructure, early warning, and command and control elements. The Southern African effort does not end there, for there are also numerous ongoing country‐specific programmes. In 2003, for example, Britain conducted a training needs analysis for the Malawian Armed Forces, and undertook joint field training with the Botswana Defence Force (Britain also provided security sector reform advice to the Botswana government).

North Africa and the Horn of Africa

The 1998 Strategic Defence Review identified North Africa as an area of special interest to Britain. This strategic interest derives from the region’s status as both a source of threats and opportunities for the UK and its EU partners. Threats include the region’s drug production, migration into the EU, and the possibility of politico‐religious extremism, while on the credit side, the region is seen as economically attractive in terms of business opportunities and untapped energy resources. Britain contributes ships to NATO’s Mediterranean anti‐terrorism standing force (Operation ‘Active Endeavour’), and hopes to win contracts as the Algerians modernize their naval forces. Britain also counts itself as a Mediterranean power, with military bases and permanently deployed units in both Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Over the last quarter of a century Britain has been closely involved with Libya, as a victim of state‐sponsored terrorism (the 1988 Lockerbie bombing) and in seeking to engage the Libyan regime and secure the abandonment of its nuclear ambitions and its reengagement with the international community. Morocco has the world’s largest acreage of cannabis cultivation, and is the world’s largest exporter of hashish, most of which finds its way into the EU. A defence attaché has recently been posted to Algeria, attached to the embassy in Algiers. ‘Britain’s growing interests in Algeria turn on its rising oil and gas production, role in the United States “War on Terror” and Pan‐Sahel Initiative, growing migration of Algerians (including Islamist militants) to Britain, and potential contracts for British arms.’ Algeria was a pioneer in the field of liquefied natural gas, and made its first shipment to Britain in 1961. Now, both BP and Shell are active in the country, which has the world’s eighth largest gas reserves.

East Africa and the Horn of Africa have recently appeared on Britain’s strategic map, because of the Sudan crisis and the ‘failed state’ of Somalia, and because of the Horn’s significance as a forward base in the war against terrorism, which in recent years has shown concrete general connections to the African continent (one of the suspected July 2005 London bombers, for example, fled to Zambia by way of South Africa). Terrorist attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and an attack on an El Al flight all emanated from the Horn. The Americans have recently established a military presence in the Horn, to which the British are contributing forces. Britain has provided the Deputy Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF‐HOA) based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, a largely American formation, which operates civil affairs teams, offers medical aid and training programmes, and helps African coastal forces in anti‐smuggling activities while gathering intelligence, intercepting terrorist suspects, and staging raids against al‐Qaeda targets (CJTF‐HOA comes under American Central Command). British special forces have been sent on missions into Somalia. Signalling Britain’s increasing commitment to the region, a defence agreement with the government of Djibouti was concluded in February 2006.

CJTF‐HOA works in conjunction with CTF 150, an allied naval force in the Arabian Sea/Horn of Africa region, to which the Royal Navy contributes ships. CTF 150 is primarily concerned with monitoring traffic in the region’s busy sea lanes, preventing groups like al‐Qaeda from using the area as a means of transit or shipment, preventing drug smuggling and attacks on oil platforms, and suppressing piracy. The Royal Navy and the navies of other nations remain committed to helping African states patrol and protect the maritime environment. Such assistance is needed, because African navies are tiny and poorly equipped. For example, there are only 20 maritime patrol aircraft to police the lengthy coastline stretching from Mauritania to Kenya (including the island states) and only 5 large warships and 65 smaller vessels with a measure of seagoing capability. The Royal Navy has other interests in African waters, and the hydrographical and survey vessel HMS Enterprise has recently conducted a survey of the Swahili coast and the islands of the Seychelles group.

Other Forms of Strategic and Military Assistance

Britain’s defence and security assistance to Africa goes beyond the defence architecture outlined above, and is to be seen in the wider context of support to African governments. One of the providers of this wider assistance is DFID, the main vehicle for the distribution of British aid to Africa, and a leading Whitehall department in the direction of London’s Africa policy. Its efforts are impressive, as it attempts to identify how best to direct aid—be it to HIV/AIDS programmes, direct budgetary assistance to African governments, African NGOs, or the type of humanitarian operations currently ongoing in the Sudan.

Direct DFID aid is provided to Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, and Ethiopia (with which a ten year memorandum of understanding exists and for which planned budgetary assistance amounted to £90 million in 2005-6); Kenya (DFID support totalling £30 million in 2003-4); Ghana (DFID support of over £65 million in 2004-5); Malawi (DFID support of £65 million in 2005-6); Nigeria (£70 million in 2005-6); Rwanda (DFID support of £46 million in 2004-5); Tanzania (DFID support of £110 million in 2005-6); Liberia (£9 million in 2005-6); Sudan (since April 2003 Britain has allocated £118.5 million for humanitarian operations); and Zimbabwe (DFID channels resources through agencies of the UN and civil society organizations. £71 million has been allotted for humanitarian assistance and AIDS work since September 2001). DFID is also the lead government department when it comes to British contributions to humanitarian and disaster relief operations, in cooperation with the FCO and MOD.

As well as providing direct financial aid to African governments and supervising the work of the ACPP, DFID also funds specific programmes aimed at securing sustainable peace and conflict resolution. The ACPP, for example, funds the Acholi‐land Conflict Reduction Framework in Uganda, and the Great Lakes Multi‐Country Demobilization and Reintegration Programme, for which Britain has contributed £17.5 million to the relevant World Bank Trust Fund. The ACCP also contributes to the development of FM radio in Kitgum and Gulu in Uganda, Radio Ecclesia in Angola, and the BBC Great Lakes Lifeline Service.

Another way in which Britain contributes to African peacekeeping/conflict prevention and termination activities is by supporting the efforts of other nations or organizations such as the AU and UN, acting as a force enabler by providing specialized help and military aid. British transport assets, intelligence, and mission planning expertise have been employed across Africa in such ‘behind the scenes’ support roles. Thus, for example, the British established communications for the UN mission to Angola (UN Angola Verification Mission III) as well as contributing 650 troops, and the Commonwealth Police Development Task Force sent to Sierra Leone was funded by the British government.

Financial support has frequently been given to AU and UN initiatives. Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, pledged an additional £20 million to support the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) on a recent visit to Darfur. In 2003 the ACPP supported ECOWAS peace support deployments by contributing £3.5 million for the deployment of Ghanaian forces to Côte d’Ivoire, and contributed £400,000 towards the running costs of Nigerian forces in Liberia.

Britain has also supported EU initiatives in the DRC, such as Operation ‘Artemis’ in 2003, to which Britain sent 85 Royal Engineers who rebuilt the runway at Bunia enabling EU and UN deployments in a remote region. Operation ‘Artemis’ ‘was an effective stopgap until the UN formed the Ituri Brigade, and from September 2003 to date this UN formation has been successful’. Britain had worked hard to get this pioneering EU involvement in Africa off the ground, as the government ‘very much saw Africa as an area where the EU could potentially play a useful role through the European Defence and Security Policy’.

In‐Country Visits by British Military Assets and Personnel

The goodwill/defence diplomacy activities of British forces visiting African countries are legion, and provide an essential support to the country’s African defence architecture. Such initiatives involve sending African military personnel on British courses as well as visits from short term and in‐country training teams, and participation in British and international military exercises. In February 2006 members of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment went to the Gambia for Exercise ‘Gambian Roller’ 2006, a three‐week long course offering infantry, leadership, internal security, and trade skills. In December 2005 over 600 Royal Marines of 40 and 45 Commandos, the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, and 539 Assault Squadron took part in Exercise ‘Green Osprey’ in Senegal. This was a large multinational exercise for amphibious forces in which skills such as civilian evacuation, desert patrolling, night navigation, and the manoeuvre of assault boats, landing craft, and inflatable raiders on inland waterways were practised. The frigate HMS Westminster and the fleet auxiliary Sir Tristram also took part in the exercise. As well as offering training to Senegalese forces, the trip ended with British engineers building a new classroom at a school in the village of Toubakouta. In February 2006, RAF C‐130s from RAF Lyneham supported army exercises in Malawi, and their crews donated sports equipment to local schools. These now commonplace ‘public works’ exercises are of great significance, all on the credit side of defence diplomacy and making a genuine difference to the lives of people, such as the villagers in the north of Ghana able to enjoy running water for the first time ever thanks to the effort of a team of Royal Engineers in December 2005, or those who benefited from the activity of Territorial Army medics operating in Ghana in the same month.

The Royal Navy similarly maintains extensive contacts with Africa. For example, during the destroyer HMS Glasgow‘s six month deployment as Atlantic Patrol (South) vessel in 2001, the first half of the tour was divided between Sierra Leone and other West African countries. More recently, the Atlantic Patrol (South) ship, the destroyer HMS Liverpool, visited Ghana, where she exercised with Ghanaian forces, promoted British commerce, and completed the inevitable outreach project. Exercise ‘African Shield’ in November 2003 was a bilateral command‐post exercise between Britain and South Africa using computer simulators at Snake Valley South African Air Force Base near Pretoria, and the size and number of British military exercises conducted in various African countries has expanded in recent years.


There is symmetry in the British public’s relationship with Africa, the twenty‐first century mirroring the nineteenth. Then, the public could be stirred by stories of the slave trade, warmed by missionaries’ tales of African conversion, enthralled by the drama of Livingstone’s journeys both alive and dead, and roused to demand vengeance by the misadventures of General Gordon or the outrageous yet fleeting military success of the Zulus. Today, while the British public is more inured to information and images from the four corners of a world that was new to Victorian eyes, it can still be roused, by the optimism and joy surrounding Nelson Mandela’s freedom, the plight of famine victims, a rock concert or a red nose day, or the horrors of indiscriminate butchery.

Yet it might be argued that Africa remains as superficially understood by the public today as it was a century ago, a continent where visions of the fantastic—witchcraft, mud huts, and tribal dances—brush shoulders with broken images of the four horsemen and the overriding curse of corrupt governance and ethnic violence, a wasteland in which passive Africans exist in perpetual suffering only transiently relieved by Western aid and assistance.

Against this background of general ignorance and vacillating passion, the British government must make mature assessments about where Africa fits into its foreign and security policy agenda, and in what ways it can seek to act. Britain’s peacekeeping, security force training, and support for African‐led defence and security initiatives is the key to current defence links with Africa. They are largely unnoticed in the British media, however, and are little understood by the British public. Indications are that they represent a realistic approach to African issues and are targeted intelligently.

Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that Africa is a relatively marginal concern for the British government, and that in the post‐Cold War years places closer to home and potentially more lucrative, such as Eastern Europe, have been a greater source of preoccupation, effort, and expense. Budgeting remains, as always, tight, and the appointment of a new defence attaché often leads to the withdrawal of one from another African capital, and, as the FCO shuffles its pack, the opening of a new embassy or high commission is usually funded by the closure of another. In the past year, for example, the diplomats have pulled out of Lesotho, Madagascar, and Swaziland as resources are directed towards Afghanistan and Iraq, though new embassies were opened in Eritrea (2002) and Guinea (2003).

While suggesting that Britain’s Africa policy on the security and defence front is quite coordinated, this does not mean that all British interests lead in one policy direction. Indeed, in the world of realpolitik, when principles often fall victim to political expediency and the limits of what can actually be achieved, British policy can still at times appear contradictory and its principles unevenly applied. The British government’s indifference during the Rwandan genocide was extraordinary, and while Britain might, for instance, be loud in insisting upon reforms in the DRC, it has been less vocal when key economic and strategic allies (such as Nigeria and Uganda), treat the democratic process in a cavalier fashion. Nevertheless, it might be concluded that in the defence field Britain’s assessment of what it can do to help support African peace and security initiatives has much to commend it. Success, ultimately, will depend upon the capacity of Africans to get their own peace and security apparatus fully operational. All that Britain can do is more of the same—and be prepared to fund it, and fund it some more, for as long as it takes, while operating tirelessly upon and within regional and international organizations that can support such African initiatives and garner widespread legitimacy.

Britain has not in recent years ‘re‐engaged’ with Africa, for the simple reason that it never disengaged. Some will continue to claim that Britain is motivated purely by self‐interest, viewing African problems through Western lenses, choosing engagement and intervention only where national interests can be discerned, allowing a contemporary concern for security to increasingly determine aid policy, and doing little to alter an international system in which Africa remains a perennial dependent and an unparalleled ‘problem’ with which the rest of the world has to deal. There is room for scepticism regarding the strident calls for change in Africa that emanate from Westminster and Whitehall, notably in the conclusions of Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa. They prescribe nothing less than a fundamental transformation of African societies. For this to be fully carried out, an age of conscious and sustained imperialism would have to dawn. As the Victorians before us, we seriously overestimate the ability of the West to cause change, and underestimate Africa’s ability to resist it.