Understanding Security Networks in Francophone African Countries

GN Securite Routiere

The purpose of this blog is to help our new OSCs assigned to Francophone African countries understand the security network within their country.  The key here is first understanding that the American security system is more complex than the Francophone.  The second key is thinking about our National Guard and Coast Guard and how they switch between internal and external defense.  The last key is understanding why we (as Americans) have such a defined line when it comes to defining the purpose of our military and law enforcement units.

The United States has always had a clearly defined line between our military and our law enforcement agencies, and our infatuation with ensuring this line is upheld goes all the way back to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.  After you research this Act a bit you may well come to the conclusion that it is the single distinguishing cultural factor in your comparison of U.S. law enforcement units and foreign law enforcement units. This Act created a clear delineation between what the U.S. military can and cannot do within the internal boundaries of our country.  However, this Act, and thus our expectations of a clear separation of military and law enforcement, creates issues for OSCs working in Francophone African countries.  This is primarily because the Francophone model blurs this line significantly.

The United States military is solely focused on exterior defense (except the National Guard) and we have our law enforcement units at all levels of our nation state which are internally focused.  Federal: FBI, DEA, ICE, CBP, and USCG operate mainly within our borders, but do extend liaison units internationally.  State: Highway Patrol, SBI, and National Guard.  County: Sheriff.  Town/City: Police.  That is a minimum of ten agencies/units (I left out a lot more!) from the federal level to the city level. In Francophone Africa countries they usually only have three.

The best way to understand the Francophone system is: Military is the Army, Navy, Air Force for external defense; Gendarmerie is Military Police for external military enforcement and FBI, DEA, ICE, USCG, Highway Patrol, SBI, and Sheriff for internal and regional law enforcement; the National Police are Police for large municipalities (cities).  Simply said: Military is for external defense; Gendarmerie is for military externally and internally policing and internal federal, provincial, and city law enforcement; and National Police is for internal law enforcement in major suburban areas.

The Presidential Guard (Guarde Republicaine) units are not something that the United States has specifically, although some could make a direct connection between them and our Secret Service. Where this unit is slotted in the block chart will depend upon the country you are in.  For most it is under the Gendarmerie, for others it reports directly to the President, and others it has an ad-hoc relationship under the Ministry of Defense.  Understanding this unit and who they report to is important primarily because of the nuances of the partner nation and their security network that you are navigating.

Why does this post matter to an AFRICA OSC?

Most Gendarmeries in African countries are under the Ministry of Defense; however, some of its units are also under the Ministry of Interior, and some Gendarmeries fail are under the Chief of Defense.  You may even find that some Civil Response Forces (Firefighters) may be under the Ministry of Defense for some aspects.  In some countries you may encounter the following situation (border posts areas): The Army controls the border for 1 kilometer (Ministry of Defense), Gendarmerie is in control of law enforcement for the region (Ministry of Defense), National Police is in control of law enforcement for that specific border crossing (Ministry of Interior), and Customs and Immigration is in control of visas and taxation for that specific border crossing (Ministry of Finance).  Can you imagine the dysfunction of this border crossing?  I can, because I crossed it and it took twelve hours. Can you imagine the United States Security Assistance and Security Cooperation programs that are all being applied within the 1 kilometer of that border region, and how they are not synchronized to achieve the single effect of denying terrorist movements across porous borders?

As you look across the other agencies within the U.S. Embassy and what type of Security Assistance they may be doing, you may find that your efforts as the OSC are blurring into their efforts because of how the partner nation’s security network is laid out.  The Gendarmerie will be the primary example of this and maybe a unit that is assigned border control responsibilities.  Either way, it is best to understand the units the U.S. Embassy DoS PM, RSO, DHS, NCIS, and DoJ representatives may be working with, and ensure that there is a lead agency for that unit in the partner nation.  What you don’t want is for you to meet with one unit one day and provide them assistance in a certain area, then the next day another U.S. Embassy person meet with them and provide them the same or more assistance in the same area. You’d be amazed how many times this has happened.  Walk down the hall, build some rapport with your colleagues, and ask them “Hey what are you doing with the Gendarmes, etc.?”

One TTP to de-conflict these issues is to hold a monthly security assistance synchronization meeting.  The DCM should be the leader of this and it is a great opportunity to break out the Integrated Country Strategy for the country and show how everyone is contributing to it.  It is also a way to lay out the DoD programs that are available to units other than the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  Even better, the AFRICA OSC who has achieved the rank of “Ph.D.” would look to programs that can be executed at multiple civilian ministerial levels that could trickle down to all of these units.

What programs can you execute with each of these “non-military” units?

 The Gendarmerie (GN) have arrest authority of military members and civilians.  This arrest authority makes them a law enforcement unit in the Department of State’s perspective.  From a Defense perspective programs are written to be executed with units that are under the purview of the Minister of Defense.  Previously, this was much more an issue than today, but even still the Department of State will always, and rightfully so, look at funding and training for Gendarmeries as a Title 22 function.  Gendarmeries are law enforcement, who also has a law enforcement function in the military.  However, Department of Defense should not “walk away” from the GN because of this.  The Department of State’s funding is incredibly limited, so in partner nations where terrorist threats are significant, you as the AFRICA OSC should look for ways the DoD can assist GN units in defeating terrorism in the nation.

What are those ways?  2282/333 has been used for GN border units, 1203/1206 has been used for GIGN units, Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) is regularly used for GN Officers, IMET can be used (with multiple caveats), E-IMET should be used, PKO can be used for GN’s that are UN deployable, M2M (FAM/TCT) aren’t used enough in Africa, and unfortunately no exercise that I have been exposed to has included a GN aspect.  Think of GN as Military Police – then use your Security Cooperation funding and synchronize it with the U.S. Embassy RSO’s Security Assistance programs (mainly called ATA).  The key is to stay clear of Gendarmerie who are performing solely a law enforcement function with civilians.  Lastly, don’t force the issue, if there is a gap in the Integrated Country Strategy and the use of DoD funds would help the situation then go for it.  If not, then don’t create an expectation that won’t be filled.

Presidential Guard: (Direction Générale de la Garde Nationale (National Guard) or (Direction Générale de la Sécurité du Chef de l’Etat et des Personnalités Officielles) or (Guarde Republicaine)

When working with this unit an AFRICA OSC should always research a bit before making any commitments.  The key is to understand where the unit lands in the Ministry of Defense organization chart, and the purpose of this unit.  Do they have a defense mission?  Do they have a counterterrorism defense mission concerning the strategic security of national sites?  Are they solely a Presidential Guard unit (much like our Secret Service)?  In some Francophone countries, this unit is under the Gendarmerie, which leads to a law enforcement role.  In other Francophone countries, they are a separate branch under the Ministry of Defense, which relieves them of the law enforcement label.  However, relieving them of the law enforcement label then opens the door to what their role is if it is not military and not law enforcement.  Once again understand the role of this unit within your partner nation then apply for the programs appropriately, if at all.

National Police: (Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale) or (Police Nationale).  These units are clearly law enforcement and are not within the DoD’s lane for Security Cooperation.  The Embassy RSO will work with them, and sometimes DoD law enforcement units such as NCIS may have some minor programs to work with these types of units.

Immigration/Customs: (Direction Générale des Douanes) In some countries this unit is under the Ministry of Finance in others it is under the Ministry of Interior.  Either way, it is not under the Ministry of Defense and an AFRICAN OSC should not interact or have any programs with these units. These units fall under the Department of State’s prevue for Security Assistance.

Firefighters: (Pompiers) Office National de la Protection Civile (Firefighter) In a few Francophone countries these units fall under the purview of the Ministry of Defense, but mainly at the same time under the Ministry of Interior, or Civil Defense Minister.  This is primarily a legacy issue from France where the Paris Firefighters Brigade is still under the Ministry of Defense.  You could find some areas where a National Guard State Partnership Program may have some natural disaster response similarities with these units, but other than that, they are not within the DoD lane.  Unfortunately, they also don’t fit within the DoS’s Security Assistance’s main goals and are normally assisted by the Japanese or Chinese in Africa.

Prisons: (Direction Générale des Prisons et de la Rééducation). You will never work with this unit, but the RSO and Consular services may.

Example Task Organizations of a Gendarme in Africa

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