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Assessing attitudes of the next generation of African security sector professionals

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Kwesi Aning and Joseph Siegle

In light of the evolving security environment in Africa, this research project assess how the motivations and attitudes of the emerging generation of African security sector professionals have changed from previous generations.

Drawing on a survey of 742 African security sector professionals from 37 countries and qualitative interviews with 35 African students in professional military education programs, this report provides a contextualized snapshot of some of the variations in these perspectives across age, services, regions, regime type, and gender–Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Table of Contents

Africa’s armed forces are in transition from an independence-era model to one more suited to today’s conflicts and threats. They are increasingly called upon to engage in preventive action, resolve domestic security crises, combat transnational threats, and protect the progression toward more democratic governance. Understanding how African security sector actors’ perceptions may be shifting in light of these changes can provide insights to improving their effectiveness.

This study, involving 742 African security sector professionals from 37 countries, assesses differences in the attitudes, motivations, and values of the emerging generation of African security sector professionals. Understanding these differences may raise awareness, provide a basis for reform, and create an impetus for improving the citizen-security actor relationship.

65 percent
of the youngest cohort of African security sector professionals are motivated to join by a commitment to serve their country

46 percent
view corruption as their greatest security challenge

97 percent
hold international training in high regard

Partnerships. International training with other countries and institutions is nearly universally seen as a positive way to keep up with trends and widen their exposure and perspectives.

Education. Youth are entering service with higher levels of education and at an older age and than prior generations.

Peacekeeping. Security sector professionals view peacekeeping as an influential formative experience.

Pride. Military professionals strongly embrace values such as duty, professionalism, respect, and honesty. Expressions of such sentiments are more reserved among other services, younger age cohorts, and women, however.

Executive Summary

The nature of the African security environment has evolved considerably since the end of the Cold War. Rather than cross-border conflicts between standing armies, many of today’s security threats are both internal and transnational. They involve nonstate actors that are at times supported by global criminal or terrorist networks. Transformative advancements in access to and dissemination of information along with fitful shifts toward more transparent and democratic governance norms have also reshaped the African security environment.

In light of these changes, this research project seeks to assess the motivations and attitudes of the emerging generation of African security sector professionals and how, if at all, these motivations and attitudes have changed from previous generations. Drawing on a survey of 742 African security sector professionals from 37 countries and qualitative interviews with 35 African students in professional military education programs, this report provides a contextualized snapshot of some of the variations in perspectives across age, services, regions, regime type, and gender. Some of the highlights include:

  • African security sector professionals seem generally satisfied with their professions due to:
    • opportunities for educational advancement
    • a perception that their expectations are being met
    • a perception that the security sector has good relations with the public
  • There is, by and large, a strong sense of pride in embracing the values of the profession such as duty, responsibility, professionalism, respect, and honesty.
  • While younger cohorts have an especially strong commitment to serve, they are less invested in the institutional values and legacies of their services.
  • Younger cohorts are beginning service with significantly higher levels of education than previous generations. This change is especially noteworthy for the military whose youngest recruits now largely match the education levels of the gendarmerie, which has not been the case historically.
  • Higher education corresponds with a trend of African security sector professionals joining their services at an older age than was previously the norm.
  • One of the strongest findings of this study was a near universal positive attitude toward international training.
    • International training was seen as a valuable opportunity to gain access to more and updated knowledge, newer trends in security analysis, deeper personal and professional relationships, and knowledge about new technology.
    • International training was perceived to widen the exposure and perspectives of security sector professionals.
  • Peacekeeping was generally perceived as an increasingly important mechanism for capacity building for African security personnel, especially in countries that face resource constraints.
  • The growing exposure to peacekeeping deployments was found to:
    • create identity-shaping, formative experiences
    • broaden exposure for participating forces
    • create more sophisticated approaches to operational challenges
    • foster a greater appreciation of regional perspectives
    • improve interoperability in multinational operations
    • create a better understanding and appreciation for field challenges

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Full Report:English

Fact Sheet:English

Conclusion

This study set out to assess differences in the attitudes, motivations, and values of the emerging generation of African security sector professionals. It found an array of perspectives on which younger service members diverge from their older counterparts. Many of these differences are likely linked to the fact that the youngest cohort of security sector professionals is markedly better educated and starts service at an older age than previous generations. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the entry education levels of police appear to be lagging behind the other services, highlighting an important area of potential improvement.

The youngest cohort of African security sector professionals surveyed also distinguishes itself by having a very strong motivation to serve their country. This cohort and female service members, similarly, appear to be more skeptical that espoused institutional values such as “merit-based,” “service to the public,” “honesty,” and “professionalism” are reflected by their institutions in practice.

These sentiments suggest a willingness to set a higher standard of professional values for their services. They also imply a greater inclination toward institutional reform among younger security sector professionals so as to better match institutional ideals with reality. This openness for reform combined with the receptivity to international capacity building efforts suggests a potential focal point for further international partnerships.

These findings also offer a cautionary note, however. The divergence from older generations with regard to institutional values raises questions over whether the cohesive bond created through institutional pride will be sustained within the younger generations. This has potential implications for professionalism and the appeal of a career in the security sector. This concern was highlighted in qualitative interviews. Young service members were praised for their ability to absorb new information and adapt to technology. Yet, they were also seen as showing less camaraderie and cohesion as older cohorts, “preferring to withdraw by themselves with their hand-held devices” in the words of one of the interviewees.

The preponderance of support for international training opportunities was another strong finding of this study. International training opportunities were found to be invaluable as:

  • formative experiences
  • a basis for institutional identity formation
  • exposure to new approaches and technology
  • broadening perspectives
  • stimulating critical thinking
  • strengthening affinity with regional partners

While this study did not explicitly set out to explore the relevance of professional military education, the feedback from the study would seem to provide a ringing endorsement for its effectiveness in the eyes of participants. Interviewees who had been part of longer term training placements were most enthusiastic about the benefits of the experience. Since the study did not attempt to distinguish between various types of international training, it is not possible to elaborate on the respective benefits of each. Delineating these and calibrating how future international training engagements are undertaken to optimize these benefits is a logical follow-on inquiry from these findings.

The survey results revealed that a noteworthy 84 percent of participants have had the opportunity to upgrade their educational qualifications while in the service. Nearly two-thirds of these earned another educational degree, while the remainder obtained vocational or technical certificates. This finding suggests that African security services are a valuable source of human capital development for their societies, and their service personnel in particular. This observation is not necessarily widely recognized and raises another consideration for institutional development as well as recruitment and retention of younger service personnel.

The survey results also showed a high level of satisfaction among service personnel that their expectations were being met. Ninety-two percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed with this sentiment, including 89 percent of the youngest cohort. This is an encouraging sign that the vast majority of security sector professionals have found rewarding career paths through their service. Better understanding of the factors that contribute to this result holds insights for further staff development and institutional strengthening.

The survey also revealed high levels of perceived public support of the security sector from service members. On average, 87 percent of service members indicated that the public had a positive view of their service. This positive perception held for all services, though most strongly for the military and most weakly for the police. These findings contrast somewhat from public opinion polls in Africa showing more modest levels of support for the security sector. For example, an Afrobarometer survey of 36 countries shows that just 51 percent of the public trusts the police “somewhat” or “a lot.” The military typically scores higher, earning comparable trust scores of 66 percent.

Nevertheless, such variances in citizen and service member perceptions presents a potential learning opportunity. Sensitizing service personnel of reasons for areas of divergence may raise awareness and create an impetus for reforming aspects of the citizen-security actor relationship. Such an initiative may also facilitate increased dialogue with citizens to narrow the gap in perceptions.

Credits| Africa Centre


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