Just because a certain country has not been attacked doesn’t mean that it is safe. Gone are the days of neutrality, terrorists are willing to carry out attacks whether or not a country fights against terrorists or claims to be neutral. South Africa believes its long standing neutral foreign policy on global security is what will continue to protect it from terrorist attacks which seem to be sweeping the continent.
Nigerian newspapers reported that The Nigerian Minister of Defense confirmed South Africa was deploying its special forces to the country to help fight against Boko Haram. In less than 24 hours, the Chief of the South African National Defence Force released a statement calling the reports “reckless and unfortunate”, reiterating that “there was no such decision to send any military elements by the RSA to assist with the fight against Boko Haram”.
Now I’m not sure what is more disappointing, the fact that South Africa was quick to let us know that they do not intend to help Nigeria with the Boko Haram issues being faced despite acting like they are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the country, or the immediate apprehension displayed by South African security and defense analysts.
Chief of South African National Defence Force, General Zakaria Shoke and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin during a courtesy visit in Abuja, March 2016. “The Chief of South African National Defence Force promised to support Nigeria in its quest to end Boko Haram in the country. General Shoke further maintained his Armed Forces commitment to the development of the Nigerian military in the area of capacity building, exchange programme and logistics support, among others. He said Nigeria is very important to South Africa, hence the need to working together for the benefit of both countries, especially now when Nigeria is fighting Boko Haram.” – Source: Defense Info
After Nigerian newspapers quoted the Minister and released that headline, SA security analysts were quick to spell out the implications of SA involving itself with Boko Haram. Their argument was that Boko Haram is the West African branch of ISIS and if South Africa is seen as taking sides, they risk their country and their other foreign interests being attacked by ISIS which already has been proven to be present in South Africa.
The first thought that came to mind after reading those reactions was that if South Africa was indeed attacked by ISIS, it won’t be because they were doing the right thing standing in solidarity with their fellow Africans in combating terrorism on the continent. It will be because they didn’t effectively tackle the already existing threat of ISIS on their own soil! Perhaps the analysts forgot that South African Mercenaries did fight Boko Haram in Nigeria and that didn’t lead to an ISIS attack in their country or any of their other economic interests in the country.
South Africa out of the Running to be Africa’s Military Super power
It turns out South Africa is dealing with its own defense personnel and resource constraints. The budget for South African National Defence Force was slashed and an editor of the African Defence Review remarked that “We don’t have the budget, we don’t have the capacity and frankly we don’t have the experience in training forces to fight 21st century terrorism. The American, British or even French have operational experience in this”.
The above remark would have been a more sensible primary response to the false news of South Africa deploying Special Forces. Quite frankly, Nigeria has a lot more experience in fighting an insurgency and at this rate, the Nigerian Armed forces might as well start lending its counter-terrorism knowledge and skills to other African nations, including South Africa who may be needing our help soon if they do not actively work towards dismantling and disrupting the ISIS threat on their soil.
A few years ago, South African defence forces were sent to Central African Republic to provide protection to the then President Bozize as well as to provide military training to the CAR’s army. The SA troops were over run by the rebels, who killed about 13 South African soldiers. South Africa has continually shied away from involving itself in Africa’s troublesome conflict zones and this lack of experience has prevented them from being the continent’s military leader.
South Africa does have advanced military weapon systems that Nigeria military may procure which will mean that the extent of South African Defence activity in Nigeria will be training on how to use the procured weapons systems. Nigeria is better off receiving training from other countries that are actively combating terrorism, and with the level of experience the country has on that matter, it should begin to see and position itself as one of the leading authorities on the continent when it comes to fighting an insurgency.