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Where Are the African Navies
By Captain Olutunde A. Oladimeji, Nigerian Navy
African sea power generally ranks below that of other Third World regions. Perhaps for their own good, then, African navies should venture no farther than their own territorial waters. Or should they? This question mark is symbolized by the shape of the continent itself.
We have entered one of those periods of history in which it becomes fashionable to project our- sclves into the next century, in the same way ”at we look at the prospects of each new year Uring the waning months of the old one.
Is it not timely and appropriate, then, to ponder '''here African navies will be when the next century aWns? Does a continent, whose shores are washed y four major bodies of water—the Atlantic and nuian oceans and the Mediterranean and Red seas— ave the wherewithal to make any significant con- nbution to global sea power in view of its multi- arious economic, technological, political, and Crganizational problems? There are no easy ansWers. The questions, nevertheless, become releVant in view of Africa’s poor rating on the global ^fa Power scale. Even by the standard of the so-called . Third World,” Africa lags behind all other regions ln terms of naval strength, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. In a symbolic sense, Africa itself is °ne big question mark in this regard. Just look at the aaPe of the continent on a global map.
An interesting analysis in Sea Power in Global Politics: ?94~1993 by Professor George Modelski of the Univer- p}y °f Washington and Professor Williams Thomson of Fremont Graduate School1, indicates that neither Africa n°r a coalition of African nations is ready to contribute ^’gnificantly to the pattern of global sea power in the 0rseeable future. The European Community (set for 8feater integration in 1992), Japan, China, and India all are poised to affect the world oceanic system. An evolu- l0r> from two dominant super naval centers into a constel- atlon of powerful regional navies may be a natural conserve of the rapprochement between the East and the esL an emergence of a multi-polar world, and the ten- ency to find regional solutions to international conflicts.
r'ca may be left in the cold while other regions produce Powerful navies to underwrite their maritime security.
eed Africa subject itself forever to extra-African gunboat U|Plomacy?
Ol the 38 African navies listed in Jane’s Fighting Ships $8/89,2 including the Malawian and Malian “land-
I locked navies,” only the Egyptian and Libyan navies qualify for Professor Michael Morris’s category of offshore territorial defense.3 The South African, Nigerian, Ethiopian, and Ghanaian navies are at best inshore territorial defense navies. Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Gabon have constabulary navies, and the remaining 27 African nations have token navies.
In addition to the relatively low strength of African navies we find a lack of clarity in their overall orientation— in particular, their definition of missions, patterns of acquisition, logistic sufficiency, maintenance capability, and the quality of their training and operational experience. The interplay of these factors is perhaps responsible for what Captain Ian Wright regards as the “Cinderella Syndrome” in the development of African armed forces, whereby navies are the late developers compared to the armies, which are cheaper to raise and maintain.4
In the 1970s and 1980s, many African countries ac-
Small coastal vessels, such as this Nigerian Stan Pat-1500 patrol craft (P-229), are capable of short-range offshore policing. Most have been deployed in the recent past, but they may also represent the future for the more inwardlooking African navies.
quired a considerable number of platforms either by new construction or by transfer of old ships from the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union. For example, 10 Egyptian submarines were of Soviet and Chinese origin, and recent reports suggest that two former British Oberon-cldss submarines have been acquired by the Egyptian Navy, a state of affairs that naval analysts believe will complicate logistical problems. Nigeria, another African country with sea power ambitions, has refrained from acquiring old vessels but has followed a pattern of acquiring its surface combatants from different European countries in the 1970s and 1980s, thus creating a problem of finding enough foreign currency to buy spare parts from overseas shipyards.
Another problem facing African navies is the tendency to underestimate cost of maintaining acquired platforms, especially in countries that lack an industrial base.5 This is why the Nigerian Navy has embarked on a systematic public enlightenment to generate understanding about maritime forces and to influence decision makers who, as may be expected, have no understanding of the intricacies and problems of the navy. The visits of foreign warships from such countries as the United States, Great Britain, West Germany, and Brazil provide opportunities to show the populace what navies are all about.
But, in view of the affliction of rapid technological change with unaffordable price tags, are today’s navies not getting out of reach of poor nations? Even the rich countries are watching their navies shrink. The U.S. Navy faces potentially severe budget cuts; John Jordan has told us how the Royal Navy can be freed from its present fiscal noose;6 and African observers have noticed that Soviet Navy port calls are scheduled less frequently.
In most African countries, the understandable choices seem to be more rice rather than more rockets; more shelter rather than ships. Yet these nations have maritime security interests that must be protected and for which merchant and combatant navies are essential. Indeed, maritime matters are becoming more visible in the ongoing diplomatic relations among African nations. In the 1970s, the glare of publicity and the dawn of understanding highlighted the negotiations and discussions of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which culminated in the signing of the Law of the Sea Convention on 10 December 1982 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Most African countries signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and have come to recognize the significance, in economic and security terms, of the 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone concept, one of the important provisions of UNCLOS.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has for many years, through its so-called “40-40-20” code, prescribed to the developing nations to own more merchant ships so that they can carry at least 40% of inbound and outbound cargoes. African countries have taken up the challenge by developing some of that merchant marine muscle. In February 1988, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Council of Ministers resolved that African nations should cooperate more with each other in providing maritime services, in order to if' crease their participation in the world’s seaborne trade. A series of contacts and meetings at subregional and regional levels are ensuring attainment of this goal.
As part of a general adjustment to the crushing economic situation brought about by drought, debt, and disease, many African littoral states are now aware of opp°r" tunities for food relief at sea. They now pay attention to their maritime sovereignty and aquatic resources. They desire to protect their oceanic interests by way of policy articulation, legal reforms, strategic reviews, and most important, improvement in maritime surveillance. They now attempt to put in place a hybrid of maritime forces fof antipiracy and antismuggling missions, protection of fisheries, policing of oil and gas installations, search and rescue, and anti-pollution patrols.
The recent shock and anger of many African leaders and people against the dumping of toxic and nuclear waste has stimulated additional concern for the environment, across the continent. Nigeria, for example, in light of the shock and shame of toxic wastes discovered in June 1988 a1 Koko Port, spearheaded a campaign at the meetings of the OAU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to formulate “Dump Watch,” a for111 of information exchange about the movement of ships tha1 may be carrying toxic waste for dumping in Africa- “Dump Watch” and an overall concern for the environment should lead to the early formation of—and become part of the duties of—future regional maritime security systems. But will jealously-guarded sovereignty allo"'
African nations to cooperate for the survival of their navies?
Some form of reorientation and resetting of priorities nuist precede the search for ways to rescue these navies. v°r nations groaning under the yoke of crushing debt, naval budget allocations are shrinking; costs of platforms and weaponry are rising; choices by African navies are jJilficult. What course should they follow? Should they become serpents at sea—that is, navies predominantly of SlT>all boats, Lilliputians carrying the punch of giants? If bey choose to be serpents at sea, they can learn from the exPeriences of countries such as China, North Korea, Is- raeT and, by and large, the Soviet Union. But does that °r>entation serve their interests better than if they become °ffshore policemen? If the African navies chart a course of °ffshore policing, perhaps the U.S. and Norwegian coast §uards can provide them good examples of a fine combi- bation of professionalism in maritime safety and maritime avv enforcement, while maintaining maritime defense
The dilemma here is that, to be serpents, the African navies may have to forgo the options of policing their Raters effectively against uncontrolled exploitation of offshore resources, especially fish and shrimp. If, on the ether hand, they ignore defense readiness, which draws 0NVn on policing capability, they are not assured that their security would be guaranteed in the face of border con- lcts, threatening rhetoric, and posturing by navies of the extra-African powers.
Given their preference, most African nations will opt
for strong serpents-at-sea navies. For some bigger countries—Egypt, Nigeria, and perhaps Libya (South Africa is excluded from this general discussion)—prestige factors and foreign policy ambitions underlie their desire to have strong navies. These subregional power centers see themselves as obliged to provide sealift muscles for the future Pan-African Defense Force, which has remained on the drawing board for too many years because of legal, operational, and financial constraints.
The African Foreign Ministers' Meeting in July, 1989, energized the drive toward establishing the Pan-African Defense Force. The OSU Defense Commission was asked to submit a feasibility report on the subject. Egypt invited directors of military academies in Africa to a meeting in Cairo, to discuss curricula and training sometime in 1990. The concept of an African defense force must include maritime dimensions. But who will give African navies a helping hand?
Perhaps African nations should begin their cooperative or integrative efforts in maritime defense by formulating several sub-regional maritime surveillance systems to carry out an effective “Dump Watch” program and other coastal guard duties. This gradualist, bottom-up approach to integrating African security efforts is likely to be more successful than the all-or-nothing, top-down military approach envisaged by the ECOWAS. The “Protocol Relating to Mutual Assistance on Defense,” signed in May 1981, has remained dormant owing to mutual suspicion, lack of common strategic focus, economic constraints, and lack of an independent African industrial base. In light of that, has the OAU-inspired African Defense Force any chance in the immediate future?
In choosing which course to follow into the next century, African navies should be influenced by international, political, and military developments at the global and regional levels as well as their own economic, technological, and naval culture limitations in the modern sense. They must develop strong sea legs before they move into blue water, and that calls for effective offshore policing capabilities first, and then going on to develop the punch of giants. To do otherwise in the near term is to indulge in pipe dreams.
‘George Modelski & William R. Thompson, Sea Power in Global Politics. 14941993 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).
2J(ine’s Fighting Ships 1988189 (London: Jane’s Publishing Company Limited). Michael A. Morris, Expansion of Third World Navies (London: Macmillan Press, 1987).
4Captain Ian Wright RN (Retired), “Recent Developments in African Navies”, Naval Forces, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1988. pp. 86-89.
5See successive International Navies issues of Proceedings 1985-1988 and Michael Vlahos, “Designing a Third World Navy”, Journal of Defense & Diplomacy, Vol. 3, No. 3, March 1985, pp. 39-62 for very useful discussions applicable to African navies.
6John Jordan, “Loosening the Stranglehold On the Royal Navy", Proceedings, March 1989, pp. 34-39.
Captain Oladimeji is the director of information for the Nigerian Navy. He also has .served as public relations officer for the eastern and western naval command headquarters. He is the founding managing editor of The Sailor, the magazine of the Nigerian Navy. He also has initiated and coordinated several publications for the Nigerian Navy.