Jeffrey Gettlemen contributed one of the most interesting pieces on protracted warfare in Africa in recent years to the Foreign Policy. In a nutshell Gettlemen argues that conflict in Africa is no longer about certain ends but about clinging on to a certain lifestyle of warfare on the periphery of some Sub-Saharan African states. He is right in as much as rebel groups only rarely push for capitals or major military victories any more and that it indeed looks like the fighters have turned on civilians more than on soldiers and that terror itself has become an end and is no longer just a means. The problem resulting from all of that--at least in Gettlemen's view--is that groups fighting that kind of war are no longer interested in running a state or even pockets of a state--making it virtually impossible to negotiate settlements to any of the various conflicts. So is Gettlemen right?
Well, sort of. But it does lack some historical insight:
First, many of Africa's current rebel groups simply look like guerilla forces who never reach phase two of Mao's guerilla-war tactics. Why is that important? Because that still is from where many of them get their ideology and tactics.
Second, African governments are stronger. They are harder to overthrow by an insurrection. The global superpower-struggle faded away and that dried out the most important sources of sophisticated weaponry that enabled rebel groups to actually overrun capitals across Africa, from Uganda to the Congo. It requires more than AK-47 to oust a regime. Moreover, the U.S. and the Europeans are strengthening many security forces across Africa in their effort to bring stability to the continent and prevent Islamists from gaining ground.
Third, the state is still an attractive target. How do we know that when so many rebel groups are apparently unwilling to seize the capital or win on the battlefield? Because from time to time some army officers do what rebel groups alledegly are no longer willing to do: Seize the state by the barrel of a gun.
So, Gettlemen makes a fascinating read, however, the story he tells is not at all convincing.