AFRICANGLOBE – The killing of Gaddafi on 20 October 2011 by NATO-backed rebels came as a shock to most Africans. While it is regrettable that he died such a terrible death, he was partly responsible for his own misfortune. He failed to build the defence capabilities that could defend Libya against the country’s many European and North American enemies.
While Libya under Gaddafi had some of the best weapons in Africa, these weapons were not made in Libya. They were designed and built in Europe, America and Asia. In other words, Gaddafi relied on military technologies developed by France, Britain, Italy, Russia, China, and the United States. Despite the billions of dollars of oil money, Gaddafi didn’t help Libya to develop a sophisticated indigenous defence industry capable of producing some of the world’s best defence systems such as Israel’s David Sling, Arrow, Iron Dome or the Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The negative consequences of Gaddafi’s reliance on foreign particularly Western defence technologies became all too clear when these same countries used their other superior war machines to degrade the ones they had sold to him. Gaddafi’s defence easily crumbled when NATO’s onslaught started. Part of the reason is that the West who had sold him his weapons knew the weaknesses of the systems they had sold him and exploited these weaknesses to their advantage.
But Gaddafi is not the only African leader whose failure to develop an indigenous defence industry cost his government and country.
In 2011, during the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast, the entire Ivorian airforce was destroyed by France within a few minutes. Laurent Gbagbo could not fight back when France invaded his country. This was because like Gaddafi’s Libya, the Ivorian airforce relied on defence systems and technologies made in France and other European countries. France was aware of the defence system and technologies the Ivorian airforce was using and hence used its other superior weapons to destroy Gbagbo’s forces. If Ivory Coast had developed its own defence technologies and capabilities, France wouldn’t have so easily destroyed the Ivorian airforce and humiliated Gbagbo.
Nigeria was humiliated by the United States when President Goodluck Jonathan’s repeated request to the Obama Administration for military assistance to trace the Chibok girls and fight Boko Haram were denied. Nigeria could not trace the 276 Chkbok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram because the country lacks the defence technologies and capabilities capable of piercing through the dense Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram was hiding the girls. Up till now Nigeria doesn’t have a well developed defence industry capable of supplying the country with submarines, missiles, defence shields, and advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) capabilities because their strategic thinking about defence and national security are limited to recruiting few hundred men and women each year. In other words, while technologies have changed the nature of modern warfare, Nigeria continues to invest in human beings rather than technologies for its own defence.
In a related case, Mali became ungovernable in 2012 soon after the fall of Gaddafi. Tuareg terrorists belonging to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who went to support Gaddafi to fight the NATO-backed rebels returned to Mali with the heavy weapons the then Libyan government had given them. The Tuareg rebels who themselves had been fighting the central government in Bamako for a separate homeland, used the weapons to mount attack against forces of the Malian government. They succeeded in driving Malian soldiers out of the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu and occupied them for almost a year.
Lack of military capabilities and assets prevented the West African regional bloc ECOWAS from providing assistance to Mali to fight the Tuareg and Al Qaeda fighters. The MNLA fighters were about to take Bamako when France intervened to save the city. Ghana and Nigeria pleaded with European countries for transport planes to transport their soldiers to Mali to help contain the rebels. The rebels’ victory in Northern Mali, Mali’s inability to defend herself and the failure of ECOWAS to support a member country could be summed up in simple term: lack of defence capabilities, technologies and assets to deal with the threatening danger.
France’s intervention in the war not only ended the rebels’ advance to Bamako, and also their cruel control of Northern Mali, but gave credence to the idea that possessing advanced military capabilities are essential in a world full of small wars, insurgencies, and terrorism. The lack of these technologies, assets and capabilities during the war showed how pathetic ECOWAS was.
While over the years, the North African countries have acquired sophisticated military capabilities, they are all similar to Libya under Gaddafi i.e. their military capabilities and the technologies behind them are from non-African countries. They aren’t designed and built locally. While South Africa is self-sufficient in its defence needs, its weapons are of second and third tier type, meaning though they are good, they are not the world’s best. In the words of Wezeman et al (2011, p.14), ‘the lack of indigenous arms-production capacities means that most African countries are fully dependent on arms imports [abroad].’ This must change and ought to change fast.
The tragedy of Gaddafi should be a lesson to all African countries to stop relying on the generosity of foreign countries and commit part of their GDP to research and develop military technologies that could protect the continent from hegemonic outside invaders. Some of these technologies such as drones could have dual usage i.e. military and civilian use.
African countries should learn from Israel, which although small in size (in land and in population), has succeeded in building one of the most advanced and enduring defence capabilities in the world. Israel’s Jericho III missile for example is capable of hitting many countries in the world including in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and North America. Its Iron Dome could shoot down missiles sent by enemy forces. Africa can also learn from South Korea which has moved from being a recipient of military aid from America to a major supplier of defence hardware.
Besides gaining control over its own security, the economic advantage of Africa developing and building her own weapons systems is also very huge. In fact, Africa’s economy could grow and expand tremendously to provide jobs for tens of thousands of the continent’s engineers and other technical experts. At the same time developing and building defence industry will help to save the tens of billions of dollars Africa sends to support European, American, Chinese and Russian economies annually through the purchases that African countries undertake.
Every year African countries together spend tens of billions of dollars importing tanks, helicopters, helicopter carriers, self propelled guns, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), submarines, combat aircrafts, trainer combat aircraft, frigates and other defence systems. In 2013, Angola spent $6 billion on its defence part of which was used to import arms from across the globe. In 2014, Algeria bought 1 helicopter carrier from Italy, 48 air defence systems from Russia and about 50 self propelled guns from China. In 2014, Algeria placed orders for 2 submarines and 42 combat helicopters from Russia and 926 APCs from Germany. In 2013 Algeria spent $10 billion on its defence including arms purchases. In 2013, Ethiopia took delivery of the first of about 200 Ukrainian built T-72 tanks.
According to Wezeman et al, (2011, p.14) between 2006 and 2010 South Africa received 15 JAS-39 combat aircraft (as part of a total order of 26), 24 Hawk-100 trainer combat aircraft, 2 Type-209 submarines (of a total order of 3) and 4 MEKO-A200 frigates mainly from Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Namibia imported 12 Chengdu F-7 combat aircraft from China between 2006 and 2008.
The Economist (2014) also notes that Chad and Uganda have been buying Russia built MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets. Cameroon and Ghana have also been importing transport planes and fighter jets from around the world. Indeed in 2013, Ghana took delivery of four new Mi-171 helicopters from Russia. Ghana also took delivery of three Diamond DA 42 MPP Guardian surveillance and training aircraft from Austria and two C295 transport planes from Airbus. It is also scheduled to take delivery of Brazilian built Embraer 190. Ghana intends to spend more than $300 million for its military acquisitions. African countries spend additional fortune buying spare parts from foreign weapons manufacturers.
These tens billions of dollars that is used to import the weapons and spare parts go to support the economies of the countries where they are imported from, creating jobs for the populations in these countries and providing profits and revenue to the companies and the countries concerned.
The money could be used to develop Africa’s almost non-existing defence industry to provide jobs, expand our economy and end our dependence on other countries. In South Africa where the defence industry is relatively well developed, the industry is estimated to have employed 13,646 people in 2007.
“South Africa is the only country in Africa that has developed a sizeable arms industry capable of producing relatively advanced military products that can compete on the global market. In 2007 it was reported that 13,646 people worked in the South African arms industry, producing a wide range of military equipment. South Africa is the only country in Africa that plays a discernible role as a supplier of arms to other countries in the region” (Wezeman et al, 2011, p.14).
Although Nigeria and Sudan produce some military products, the industries are not well developed. This could change if African countries pull their resources together to invest in research and development and build their own defence systems. It will not only enable Africa to defend herself from parasitic foreign powers, but will also contribute to expanding Africa’s economy, spearhead her industrialisation efforts and wean the continent from dependency on foreign countries.
By: Lord Aikins Adusei