Corruption in army kills! Report cases of abusing power!

May 3, 2017

Most security assistance programmes include an educational component. In this report, we focus on two programmes implemented with the Malian Army: the International Military Education and Training (IMET) and unit-level training provided by Special Forces. IMET—which the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) describes as the ‘cornerstone of security assistance training’ and which educates 4,000-8,000 foreign military personnel per year—is devoted to individual training and the main teaching courses focus on human rights and civilmilitary relations. Individuals selected for IMET training are those who are seen as likely to perform leadership roles in the future and with good chances of being assigned to posts in which they can utilise IMET-offered training. The assumption is that as IMET graduates progress through the ranks, they should be able to add to their training and strengthen the institution in the process. 

In the Malian context, however, the effectiveness of IMET was curtailed by two issues, with corruption at the source of both. First, U.S. officers as well as Malian interviewees suspected that recruitment for educational programmes was distorted by bribery. This meant that those attending courses were not necessarily best placed or capable of either absorbing the training or of passing it on to others. Second, it was dubious that recipients of training would actually be capable of passing their skills on in an environment with weak institutional structures. 

‘Even if some individuals do not regard a return to the status quo as desirable, they may not have the power or resources to achieve an effective break. Some IMET-trained Malian officers clearly personify this point; while competent individually, once returned to their status quo environment, their skills either atrophy as the system around them completely fails to make use of their knowledge, or they prove unable to export their skills to their parent organization.’ 

The type of training received by IMET participants also does not necessarily prepare them adequately for dealing with weak institutions. For the lower ranks, IMET training, such as that received by Amadou Sanogo, can include English language training, intelligence courses, and tactical infantry training. At officer level, training can incorporate advanced courses on human rights and civil-military relations as well as issues of strategy; however, there are doubts as to whether this helps officers to work within weak, badly managed and/or corrupt institutions. While it might raise the soldiers’ skills and prestige among peers, it does not easily translate into institutional improvement, particularly in an Army that lacks esprit de corps due to factional divisions and nepotism in hiring and promotions. 

Our analysis also leads us to conclude that for most of the post-9/11 decade, donor engagement prioritised development of military tactical skills. This does not mean that corruption and related human rights and governance issues (i.e. those often seen as comprising a similar package of ‘ethical training’) were entirely below the radar. U.S. interviewees pointed out that the Defence Institute for International Legal Studies (DIILS) delivered courses on human rights and ethics to the Malian military. However, DIILS would usually focus on human rights and civilmilitary relations before all other issues, including corruption. While programming in some cases did involve anti-corruption courses, the usual focus was on human rights issues; this was the case in Mali as well. More generally, IMET training incorporates human rights training but does not have an explicit focus on transparency, accountability and counter-corruption (TACC) issues.

Most interviewees argued that standalone counter-corruption courses in the Malian armed forces would not have worked. What was needed was an integrated approach addressing other issues, including civil-military relations and good governance, and encompassing state and social entities apart from the army. The Army, one interviewee indicated, was affected in ways similar to other institutions: moreover, it managed to avoid being controlled by civilian institutions such as the Auditor General’s Office (BVG) or the Parliament. Thus tackling corruption needed to be embedded in a comprehensive reform of institutions and processes, as robust institutional systems and better civilian oversight were important mechanisms for decreasing the risk of corruption.

‘…we emphasize civilian control of the military. When the civilian government is corrupt, and accepts cronyism as a means to get/stay in power, those that rise to the top of the military typically get there via less than objective ways…So, I’d offer that anti-corruption, rule of law, government reform, etc. needs to be done to all sectors of government at the same time. The effort needs to be done long term, consistently, visibly demonstrated and supported by both the civilian and military leadership…, and those that don’t comply are held accountable…’

The experience of the Development Alternatives Institute (DAI), which carried out a series of Department of Defense-sponsored governance and anti-radicalisation workshops known as the Trans-Sahara Security Symposium in 2007-2012, also indicates that addressing corruption needs to be a part of a wider approach. DAI symposia, stretched over five years, incorporating civilian and military officials, and frequently inviting attendees to return, provided a venue at which participants could freely discuss issues of corruption and start conceptualising the impact of corrupt practices on the effectiveness of state institutions. For many, a U.S. trainer observed, this was the first opportunity in their careers to explore the impact of corrupt practices on professionalism and the condition of governance institutions. This indicates that long-term, repeated engagement, combined with gradual exchange of experience and relationship-building between trainer and trainee provide a promising model for longer-term training.