Defense Institution Building in Africa: Why is it so difficult? Or is it?

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I dare you to say “Defense Institution Building (DIB)” in a crowd of Security Cooperationist. You will sense the cringe in the conversation, or you will start the debate that will more than likely empty several kegs at the bar of whatever conference you are attending. Even the smartest in the business aren’t that smart on the topic.  Those who try quickly are overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task and become distracted by the negativity surrounding the subject.  Few can overcome the immediate response to DIB in Africa: “It can’t be done,” “It has always failed,” or “There is no buy-in from the partner nation.”  What few will say is: “I have no clue how to do DIB,” “Why do I care – DIB takes five to ten years, and I’m gone in two,” or “DIB is the only thing we should do here.”

This blog will provide you with three things concerning DIB.  Information concerning what DIB is, ways through which you can execute DIB in your country, and several opinions as to how an OSC, a component planner, and a combatant command planner can improve current DIB activities in Africa.  I’ve uploaded a lot of academic things up front…if you are looking for a quick read…this blog is not it.  Thus, the reason for not bringing DIB up at a bar at a conference!

What is Defense Institution Building?

Definition: “DIB. Security cooperation activities that empower partner nation defense institutions to establish or re-orient their policies and structures to make their defense sector more transparent, accountable, effective, affordable, and responsive to civilian control. DIB improves defense governance, increases the sustainability of other DoD security cooperation programs, and is carried out in cooperation with partner nations according to appropriate and available legal authority. It is typically conducted at the ministerial, general, joint staff, military service headquarters, and related defense agency level, and when appropriate, with other supporting defense entities.” DODD 5205.82


Kerr, Alexandra, and Michael Miklaucic. Effective, Legitimate, Secure: Insights for Defense Institution Building. Washington, DC: Center for Complex Operations, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2017.

McNerney, Michael, Stuart Johnson, Stephanie Pezard, David Stebbins, Renanah Miles, Angela O’Mahony, Chaoling Feng, and Tim Oliver, Defense Institution Building in Africa: An Assessment. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. Also available in print form.

Department of Defense. Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. DoD Directive 5205.82 Defense Institution Building (DIB). By Robert O. Work.

Who executes DIB in Africa?

The RAND study gives a very detailed layout of the DIB subject, but I’ve tried to provide a brief outline of it here.  Overall, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) is the primary executor of DIB activities in Africa.  DSCA does this primarily through three main programs in Africa: DGMT, MoDA, and ACSS.  Some would say that AMEP and DIILS also fall into the DIB category. I put them in the pseudo-DIB category, much like the pseudo-FMS category.

The Defense Governance and Management Team (DGMT) is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) primary security cooperation tool for supporting partner nation efforts to develop accountable, effective, and efficient defense governance institutions. DGMT was formed in 2015 as a combination of the Defense Institution Reform Initiative and the Defense Institution Building Management Team (DMT) to more effectively manage and implement Defense Institution Building (DIB) activities around the globe.

Ministry of Defense Advisor (MoDA): partners DoD civilian experts with foreign counterparts to build ministerial core competencies such as personnel and readiness, logistics, strategy and policy, and financial management. This initiative has primarily been an Afghanistan and Iraq centric program but has had two advisors (in the same country) in Africa.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS): “The Africa Center’s academic programs aim to generate strategic insights and analyses that can inform practitioners and policymakers on Africa’s security challenges. Participants include military, civilian, and civil society security sector professionals from Africa and their international counterparts. Drawing on practical experiences and lessons learned, the Center’s academic programs provide seminar-style venues for candid exchanges on priorities and best practices.”

African Military Education Program (AMEP): “The Africa Military Education Program (AMEP) aims to strengthen professional military education institutions across the African continent through focused investments in faculty development and improved curriculum design and content.”

The Defense International Institute of Legal Studies (DIILS): “DIILS is the lead defense security cooperation resource for professional legal education, training, and rule of law programs for international military and related civilians. Through mobile education teams, resident courses and other programs, DIILS develops and implements effective security cooperation programs to build partner legal capacity, including equitable, transparent and accountable security sectors, civilian control of the military, respect for human rights and good governance.”

All of these programs sound and seem great.  Why then is it that DIB in Africa is consistently criticized, consistently misunderstood, and overly overwhelming?

What does a DIB event look like? What is available?

Some of the potential DIB events that could be executed in your country

Short-term events (3 to 5 days)

DIILS: Operational Law MTT, Military Justice MTT, Professional Military Development, Maritime Law MTT, Legal Aspects of Combating Terrorism MTT, Human Rights MTT

Center for Civil-Military Relations: Armed Forces and Human Security (Regional) MET, AFRICA Civil-Military Relations for Junior Military Leaders MET, AFRICA Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration MET, AFRICA Security Forces and the Electoral Process MET, AFRICA Local Focus Program on Civil-Military Relations MET, AFRICA National Security Planning MET, Armed Forces and Human Security (National) MET, Governance and Security in Sub-Saharan Africa MET

Civil-Military Relations: MET Regional Civil-Military Relations, MET Civil-Military Relations, Civil-Military Relations Pre-Survey, Enhancing Civil-Military Relations (CMR) through Security Sector Reform (SSR), The Media and the Military, Building Linkages between the Legislature and the Military, Domestic Support Operations (Military Support to Civilian Authorities), Civilian Control of the Armed Forces in a Democracy: Methods, Techniques, and Applications, Establishing Democratic Civil-Military Relations and the Rule of the Law, Women’s Integration in the Armed Forces, Political Extremism in Domestic & International Context: Sources & Remedies

International Defense Acquisition Resource Management (IDARM): MET Regional IDARM, MET IDARM Project Management (Managing Complex Defense Project), IDARM Phase I- Site Survey, MET IDARM Phase III- Principles of Defense Acquisition Management, IDARM Phase II – Curriculum Development (In Monterey, CA), International Defense Acquisition Negotiations, MET IDARM Contracting for Pre-Deployment and Deployment Operations, MET IDARM Strategies for Building and Sustaining Accountability in Defense Resource Management Systems, MET IDARM Logistics and Life Cycle Management, MET IDARM Ethics and Integrity in Defense Acquisition Decision Making

Prevention, Relief, & Recovery (PR&R): Security Risks of Refugees & Displaced Persons, Approaches for the Re-integration of Ex-combatants, Managing Ethnic Conflict and Religious Violence, Regional Issues in Defense Governance

AMEP: one to two-year programs concentrating on a particular area in an already established defense institution.

Longer term events: talk to your desk officer and ask them about these, as they are managed by OSD(SC).

Three Main Types of DIB Efforts

Rebuilding: DIB can be accomplished through large-scale, sweeping reforms that overhaul defense establishments and replace them with more efficient and accountable ones.

Advising: DIB can be conducted through sending advisors to provide support to partner nations’ key defense officials, or through attending seminars that bring together key stakeholders in the government to discuss and develop action plans.

Educating: DIB can also be handled through teaching (and sometimes training) the personnel who will be occupying critical positions in partner nations’ defense institutions.

DIB is complicated, strategic, and sporadically done in Africa; or otherwise said – well it’s complicated.  DIB in Africa has been executed in a majority of countries much like flies biting a hippos butt or an elephant’s ear.  DIB in Africa continues to be small bites, but there have been a few fantastic successes.  Those successes are essential because they can be easily replicated.  I’ll cover those successes later, but first one must understand what DIB is not.

What Defense Institution Building is not!

Rebuilding: DIB is not accomplished through large-scale construction projects. The USG does minimal construction/building of facilities for Security Cooperation. Most construction is minimal in scope and usually is reduced to the refurbishment of a facility in support of the provided equipment for a BPC case.  None of the USG DoD SA/SC efforts allows any construction above $1M for DIB efforts. The USG SC efforts do not build/construct military academies, hospitals, etc.  Americans use the word “build” wrong.  We think of making the team or a system or policy.  Africans hear that we are providing a building, i.e., constructing a base, a fence, classrooms with desks, etc.

DIB is not primarily a part of a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) initiative, but can be supportive of a security sector reform (SSR) initiative.  DIB, through DoD, can be synchronized with these efforts, but it is never the primary lead or primary driver for either of these initiatives.

Advising: In Africa advising has been limited with limited results – 2 MoDA’s in 1 country.  The United States’ advising security cooperation systems are not similar to French, British, Egyptian, etc. where they embed advisors at the operational and tactical levels.  In Africa, we are minimally advising because our programs are not oriented, authorized or funded to do this on the scale that is required. An advisor is someone who is either directly embedded in the unit or organization each day or someone who is dedicated to supporting the unit or organization over time and space on a specific topic or area of expertise.

One of the main areas where I disagree with the United States Department of Defense’s current Defense Institution Building efforts is the classification of a three to five-day events as DIB. Workshops, seminars, conferences – are they DIB?  Most of the opportunities an AFRICA OSC has can be placed into these categories, and most of them are not DIB because most of them are not long-term in scope and planning or most of them hope the individuals who attend will return and make significant changes to their institutions based upon the ideas or concepts instructed over the past week.

Educating: Workshops, seminars, and conferences do teach their participants to some extent.  IMET, which is not primarily seen as a DIB program, is the primary educating tool through which our partners experience our military institutions. IMET budgets are minimal in most countries but maximally utilized.  More often than not conversations in Africa will occur with a senior ranking official who is an IMET graduate; however, IMET and AMEP together are funded at less than one of the multiple 333 cases in all of Africa.  You cannot build an institution through one person, unless that person is Mo Ibrahim, Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, etc.

Case studies: Successes in DIB in Africa

Malawi Sergeants Majors Academy (Malawi / USA) AMEP and M2M funded

Kenya School of Military Intelligence (Kenya / USA) M2M, PREACT, and 2282 funded

ENVR (France) MFA funded

Djibouti Military Academy (Djibouti / France / Morocco / USA / Japan) AMEP funded

Koni Annan Peacekeeping Center (Ghana / USA / numerous partners) 1 USA advisor

Somali Military Academy (Somalia / Turkey)

Somalia Police Forces (Somalia / Djibouti / Italy)

Conclusion: What does all this mean for an AFRICA OSC?

If you are an AFRICA OSC and you want to do DIB in your country you need all of the following. If you don’t have them, then don’t waste your time and our nation’s funds on hosting some five-day conference that a year from now no one will remember.  Instead, host three five-day conferences each year, over five years and execute DIB in Africa.

Partner nation buy-in. They must: 1) request the event (or at least identify an issue they want your assistance on), 2) provide something monetarily to the event, and 3) provide desired outcomes –
Combatant Command buy-in. They must: 1) task a component to support the event over time, 2) approve and fund your proposals, 3) include event(s) in their country plans and LOE boards.

Country Team buy-in. They must: 1) be prepared to push #1 or #2 to uphold the two to any of the six tasks, 2) integrate it into a broader political/military aspect, and 3) support with embassy resources if required.

DSCA/OSD buy-in. They must: 1) understand why this is strategically important, and 2) provide resources to it.

OSC buy-in. You must: 1) help the partner nation in designing the event(s), 2) keep good notes and transfer over the program to your replacement (DIB takes more than 2 years in Africa), and 3) don’t overcomplicate the situation with expectations of what the US military would do (imagine the United States Military Academy in 1801 – it wasn’t what it is today).

How would I do DIB in Africa?

I would do it through PKO, AMEP, or 333.  In fact, for every 333 cases, I submitted I would have a five-year $2M DIB/Institutional Capacity Building supplement added to it.  Then I would find areas for PKO and AMEP to also contribute.

I would first avoid reading and listening to anyone who says that the money and effort will just be blown to the wind.  Next, I would ask myself – what is the minimal amount of support needed and what type of minimal support is required here, regardless of what the partner nation and the Department of Defense policy wonks/planners/MILDEPs suggests. Then I would look at how and what the partner nation is using and try to give them the 1% advantage on the battlefield.  That 1% advantage more than likely is not a $400k MRAP, a $100+M helicopter package, etc.  That 1% advantage probably is a better training command before deployment, the establishment of joint doctrine, or even better useful human resources where soldiers get paid on time and have health care for their families.

Defense Institution Building is not training Infantry Battalions; it is a five-year build of a Sergeant Majors Academy, the establishment of a Military Academy, the development of a battalion rotational training system.  It is brick and mortar, desks, books of doctrine, advisors, familiarization trips to NTC, etc.

Opinion section

Why have none of the RAND DIB in Africa study recommendations been executed? Because we have not taken the FMS total package approach to DIB; instead we take a 5-day conference approach or at best a SATMO VILA embedded advisor approach.

DIB in Africa RAND Study recommendations:

“First, it is critical to have willing, capable, and engaged partner countries that are ready to invest their resources in the effort. It is also imperative to match DIB ends to means and not establish overambitious goals that overwhelm a country’s ability to absorb the help.”

“Second, DIB-focused coordination should be institutionalized, both vertically (field level to headquarters) and horizontally. While coordination was reportedly effective in some cases, it remained ad hoc or driven by individual personalities in others.”

“In future efforts, it will be important to establish coordination processes that overcome personal issues and survive staff rotations. A key process that requires bolstering is the integration of DIB tools into AFRICOM planning.”

“OSD organize a pilot effort in a single African country to serve as a model for future DIB activities, including a five-year DIB plan developed by officials from OSD, the State Department, National Security Council staff, DSCA, AFRICOM, partner nation decision makers, and international partners. e plan would be based on a comprehensive baseline assessment conducted jointly with partner nation and international officials.”

I will not go into each of these, but I will provide some suggestions below.

Recommendations on the way forward with DIB in Africa

Per the DIB in Africa Rand Study recommendation – pick a country in Africa and start a DIB pilot program. A few suggestions: Somalia, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Gambia, Djibouti, etc. I would suggest starting with one of the fourteen State Partnership Program countries.
Host a DIB planning conference with interagency and international partners (DoS, ACSS, DGMT, DIILS, CCMR, France, UK, EUTM, etc.).
CCMD and DGMT develop a DIB 10-year roadmap for specific countries.
DIB CCMD Director submits yearly requests for programming at the STRWG.
Allocate 25% (or more) of all programs for DIB.
Stop giving things to our partners that they cannot sustain. Start giving them simpler items.
Make DIB a US Army Reserve mission in Africa (this one takes another blog to explain, which I might get to one day).
Challenges to executing DIB in Africa

Some militaries have limited staff with limited military experience
Some countries will have a restriction of movement and engagements due to enemy threat
DIB efforts must be synchronized with other international members, which the components and combatant command will not do for an AFRICA OSC
Turnover of personnel
All courses/instruction could be in a different language than English
Events will not fit the usual Monday to Friday 8 to 5 schedule
Most DIB authorities are one year
What else can the Combatant Command do to improve DIB in Africa?

(Excerpt from my recent article in the Joint Forces Quarterly 88 pg. 91 to 100)

“Defense institution-building (DIB) by USAFRICOM has been minimal and focused on the individual instead of the institution. In Africa, the primary programs through which DIB is executed are through the ACSS, Counterterrorism Fellowship Program, and Defense Institutional Reform Initiative, which primarily are only seminars and conferences. Additionally, professional military education through the IMET program has been provided on a limited scale in comparison to other combatant commands.

DOD guidance outlines what planners should take into account when deciding whether to support an event: “Security cooperation planners shall consider the economic capabilities of the foreign country concerned. Except in cases of the primary military considerations, an improvement of military capabilities that the partner country cannot or will not support, safeguard, or sustain shall be discouraged.” Planners in USAFRICOM and USARAF face a complicated decision when including these economic considerations into security force assistance proposals because most African nations struggle to sustain the equipment available through the DSCA Foreign Military Sales system. Providing less sophisticated equipment and focusing more on improving their defense institutions could go further in enhancing the capabilities of our partner nations.

President Bill Clinton envisioned the Africa Center to “be a regional center modeled after the George C. Marshall Center in Germany designed in consultation with African nations and intended
to promote the exchange of ideas and information tailored specifically for African concerns.” The Africa Center is currently achieving President Clinton’s vision, but it is not as successful as the Marshall Center. The center limits itself to primarily being a strategic institution significantly contributing to the academic community and reports to congressional leaders when required; however, most of its information is duplicative of other think tanks that cover Africa. The center seemingly is unaffiliated with USAFRICOM based on an analysis of its activities compared with other regional centers and collaboration with their respective combatant commands. The Africa Center currently executes one of eight components of DIB for DOD with its Africa Military Education Program (AMEP). This program is directed by the State Department and mandated by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy for ACSS to serve as the executive agent. Under the AMEP mandate, ACSS partners with 19 nations for 32 programs. The USAFRICOM commander should refocus this organization to concentrate more on synchronizing and leading its DIB efforts in Africa at the executive director and generating forces levels. The Africa Center could become the bridge between DSCA DIB programs and USAFRICOM’s effects.

USAFRICOM should request the expansion of the DSCA MoDA and AMEP programs. Currently, there are dozens of MoDAs in Afghanistan, but only one in all of Africa. The AMEP program is poorly funded at just $3 million a year less than the amount spent on one of the dozens of tactical-level counterterrorism events. USAFRICOM could employ up to 20 new MoDAs in Africa and expand its DIB efforts into every military institution in Africa for the price of one of these events.

USAFRICOM encounters three programmatic obstacles to executing DIB in Africa, one of which was solved by
the recent changes in the 2017 NDAA. Previously, 1-year programs, otherwise noted as “1-year money,” limited too many DOD security cooperation programs. This resulted in limited returns because many programs required long horizons with long-term growth returns. Therefore, the 1-year money cycle was ineffective for DIB in Africa because it takes more than one year to implement changes in defense institutions.

Thanks to Chapter 16, Section 333, of the new NDAA, events can now span multiple years. This solves the 1-year money issue. However, the new section requires each event to have a supporting institutional capacity-building requirement, which is often confused with DIB. This new requirement further highlights the second and third programmatic obstacles: defining DIB and available forces to execute DIB. Few SCOs or component staff officers are trained to access and develop DIB proposals at the ministerial level, which is currently done by DSCA, through the Defense Institute Reform Initiative. Because of this, some staff members regularly refer to generating or operation force activities incorrectly as DIB activities. This causes confusion of the intent of the event and the program through which it should be executed. The new requirement under Section 333 also creates the expectation that USARAF, which is USAFRICOM’s primary executor of security cooperation in Africa, can plan these DIB requirements. USARAF’s primary executor of security cooperation is the Regionally Aligned Brigade, which is not capable of performing DIB as defined by DOD Directive 5205.82, Defense Institution Building. The potential effects of these issues are SFA proposals not meeting the requirements under the new NDAA, poorly developed and executed events, and missteps with partner nations.

By establishing a new CCCP line of effort, USAFRICOM can focus its DIB efforts. This will drive guidance given to the Africa Center, assign DIB efforts to the appropriate executor, and expand ministry-level effects with our partner nations. Lastly, it will synchronize DIB efforts across all security cooperation programs, including the new mandated NDAA requirements.”

  1. My name is James Toomey, and I’m not sure I agree with your assessment of the MoDA program in Africa. First of all, there have been three (not two advisors) in Botswana. Second, as one of the advisors, I accomplished the following: 1) wrote Botswana’s first National Security Strategy; 2) developed the BDF’s first professional doctrine, on peace support operations; 3) created plans for revising the Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security, including detailed position descriptions, organizational charts, budgets, personnel tables, and equipment tables; 4) restarted the ACSS Alumni Association; 5) sent ministry officials to North Carolina to learn how to manage a veteran affairs bureau; 6) introduced command and general staff students to U.S. security strategy development process and helped review the school’s curriculum; and, 7) assisted in formulating a defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Botswana. Third, any DIB program takes time to reach fruition; as evidence, your article implied that the advisor program in Afghanistan was comparatively successful, yet despite the investment of more than 15 years of work, billions of dollars in indirect support, and hundreds of advisors, this DIB effort has not yet been able to reform its ministry of defense to any level of satisfaction or independence. Bottom line: while your article makes some interesting points about DIB, educates its readers about some (but not all) DIB tools, and appears to make a solid and very necessary plea for more DIB resources in Africa, it should not distort, misrepresent, or make hasty, unsupported assumptions about existing programs without a full understanding of the facts regarding those programs.


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