Security Sector Reform

Changing intelligence dynamics in Africa

Sandy Africa and Johnny Kwadjoin collaboration with Paul Jackson, Brigadier (rtd) Wilson Boinett, Andrew Agaba, David Pulkol and Laurie Nathan

June 2009

ISBN: 0 7400 2763 X
978 0 7400 2763 1

A common public perception about modern day intelligence services in Africa is that they are mere extensions of the too-often authoritarian leaders under whom they operate. In some cases, the intelligence services appear to tolerate this perception – some would suggest even fuel it – because of the apparent power, access and influence intelligence provides. As despised or ridiculed as intelligence services might be, they often hold a trump card in domestic and international relations, and are quite aware of this relative advantage.

Another view is that intelligence services are ineffectual and irrelevant dinosaurs, and that effective power and influence in society and the state lies elsewhere. Genuine power and influence may be, for example, in the hands of the armed forces or political parties or whoever controls the disbursement of finances. In this scenario, intelligence services, if they know what is good for them, had better seek accommodation with these elements.

There is a third, alternative and global narrative, one which argues that traditional intelligence services – secret intelligence gathering entities still in their Cold War vestments – are wholly unsuited to anticipating and addressing the complex security threats facing whole countries, regions and blocs. This narrative ponders the proliferation of sources of information and asks whether innovations in information gathering and dissemination are rendering intelligence organisations as just another resource that must compete with other state actors for resources, respect and the space to perform. An extension of this school of thought is that the world in which intelligence services operate is so complex that it will require very different architectures and capacities to make an impact on the kinds of security threats currently faced by countries and the world.

Which school of thought is the most valid: intelligence as the power behind the throne, the mediocre bureaucracy that delivers unhelpful intelligence reports, or the entity that must adapt to the times and constantly reinvent itself to stay relevant and to ensure its survival? Though there has been little critical analysis of the role of African intelligence services – not least because they have tended to operate in the political shadows – there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that talk of their pervasive powers is reasonably well founded. And yet a more introspective study reveals a more nuanced picture – their power is wielded at varying times and in differing circumstances, to differing and not always spectacular effect.

The book discusses the intelligence capacities of both larger, more established states and those of smaller and weaker states. Sometimes such states exist in a regional context, as is the case in the Great Lakes region. Here stronger states (Tanzania, Uganda) coexist with smaller ones (Burundi, Rwanda). Sometimes the size of a state does not necessarily translate into strength; the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically large, but its state formations are relatively weak and in need of further development.