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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 14:44 GMT
Do Africa's soldiers behave properly?
Benue state, in central Nigeria, was last week engulfed by brutal violence.

According to regional officials, more than 200 people were massacred by government troops to avenge the killing earlier this month of 19 soldiers by members of the Tiv ethnic group.

This is not the first time the Nigerian army has responded in this way. In 1999, the town of Odi in the Niger Delta was razed to the ground after a number of soldiers were abducted and killed.

Are Africa's soldiers overworked, badly paid but brave men, risking their lives for the good of their country? Or do they use their guns and uniforms as an excuse for brutality? Do you have any direct experience - good or bad - of soldiers? Would you like to be a soldier?

Focus on Africa will be broadcast on Saturday at 1700 BST. A selection of your e-mails will be used during the programme.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

They require strong and decisive leadership

Kisitu Willy, Ugandan in Poland
Soldiers are like small kids. They need to be guided in whatever they do. To achieve this they require strong and decisive leadership. Therefore all their actions, good or bad, simply reflect the capability or incapability of the commanders including the commander in chief. The Nigerian situation reveals Obasanjo's weak points as a head of state and commander in chief. He is the one who ordered the army into Benue state as if there was no police in Nigeria!!
Kisitu Willy, Ugandan in Poland

The source of this problem can be traced to the leaders of Africa. Most of those African countries where soldiers commit atrocities have one thing in common, they have dictators in charge.
Bashe Kahin, USA

Soldiers swear an oath to defend their country and protect its citizens. That is not happening. During my travels in Africa, the last person I would approach for assistance was a person in uniform. In Africa, the uniform is synonymous with power and therefore, brutality.
Robert, USA

I believe a soldier should consider himself/herself a member of a proud profession that protects the country and its people. A soldier must undergo a thorough training, just like any other professional in society, with a strictly enforced code of behaviour, in order to be well prepared for any contingency that may come up. With these qualifications, soldiers should get their pay regularly, just like any other citizen who is contributing to the country and society. This would help create proud soldiers, brave men and women, ready to risk their lives, if necessary, for their country.

Soldiers are members of the society in which they were brought up

George Oyeho, USA
Soldiers are members of the society in which they were brought up. Their behaviour is simply a reflection of the values cherished by that society. The political, social and economic system of a country is what you see in its people.
George Oyeho, USA

Being underpaid is no excuse to mete rogue justice to the citizenry on the part of African soldiers. It's all so unfortunate that a group of people mandated with the obligation to guard security can turn rioting murderers for the death of their colleagues.
Ndung'u Ndegwah, Nairobi, Kenya

I think it depends if the soldier is in his army because of a sense of patriotism, as an escape from poverty or as a means to some criminal end. Patriotism is a strange thing in Africa because few countries have a single united populace. Instead you have tribal divisions both between tribes and within tribes. Put uniforms and guns in the hands of either majority or minority and the weaker will suffer generally.
Simon, UK, ex-SA

Soldiers are not as evil as most people think - at least not in my country. What did the world think those soldiers in Nigeria would do after 19 of their own had been massacred? Sit down and watch? Soldiers are like fire. You joke with them and you will surely be burned. They just need to be respected and they will be at peace with all civilians
Lilian Kimeto, Kenya

As a Nigerian serving as an officer in the US Army, I must humbly disagree with my Nigerian counterpart studying in the UK, who stated that he does not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with Nigeria's armed forces. When a military unit carries out retaliatory attacks as the Nigerian soldiers did on unarmed citizens, then something is fundamentally wrong. Especially, if it has happened before, as is the case in Nigeria. Regardless of the fact that they are poorly funded, paid and trained, Nigerian soldiers should be professional enough to respect human life. Using your position to wreak havoc by looting, raping and killing is utterly ridiculous. Are Nigerian soldiers the "bad guys" though? No, their leaders are.
Uchenna A, USA

I do not think that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian armed forces as an institution

Anonymous, Nigerian student in the UK
I am a Nigerian army officer currently studying in the UK. I do not think that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian armed forces as an institution. However the Nigerian army like most other armies in Africa and the developing world are being increasingly tasked with delicate internal peace-keeping and conflict resolution missions which have fundamental and deep seated political roots. Unfortunately, the military high command has so far been unable to cope with the dynamics of these internal conflicts given their fundamental political origins. The problem is further complicated, (at least in the Nigerian context), by the attitude of the political elite who prefer to gloss over fundamental political problems such as ethnic polarisation because they usually them for selfish political ends.
Anonymous, Nigerian student in the UK

To help Africa progress, the advanced countries should help African countries define a productive role for their soldiers. If most African soldiers get into research, construction and manufacturing, they will have less time for destruction and the brutalising of their people. An army that is only trained to fight old-fashioned combat and quell riots cannot do better than the present crop of soldiers.
Jonathan Nwaroh, Netherlands

They are poorly trained, inept and undisciplined. They all seem to have one hand on a gun and the other out for a bribe. Obviously they can't all be like that but the ones that I have met over the last ten years travelling all around the continent do a fine impression of that being the case!!
Mike Barton, England

Having grown up in Uganda during Idi Amin and Obote's days, I didn't know there were good soldiers or that being in uniform could be prestigious until I came to the US. All I knew about soldiers was that they had power and would use it to intimidate, rape, kill, rob and all the evil one could think of.
FN, Uganda

Africa's soldiers are a reflection of the strength of their governments

Sam, USA
Africa's soldiers are a reflection of the strength (both moral and in material) of their governments. South African Rekkies were one of the most disciplined and feared soldiers of their time. However, they were fighting to support and extend the influence of an illegitimate minority regime. As such, they were both good (at fighting) and bad (re: what they fought to preserve). In all other countries this is true: you can have might, but that does not necessarily make you right. Unfortunately, a large number of African countries have their soldiers engaged in missions which are without virtue.
Sam, USA

My comment is that African soldiers really have several problems. They are generally underpaid; they have a very slim education or none at all and generally come from underdeveloped villages or very modest families. Their work conditions, especially in Nigeria, are very bad. They also have to face the potential problem of violence which is very acute in that country.
Pape Dialo

Africa's soldiers, with the possible exception of Egypt and South Africa are among the world's most corrupt and immoral armed forces. I have personally witnessed in several African countries (in particular Nigeria and Kenya), the absurdly arrogant and oppressive attitude these serviceman display. I believe the problem originates in the lack of proper democracy in Africa north of the Limpopo and a further absence of any concept akin to the enforced rule of law of the elected government.
John Thambo Sinagkomo, Cape Town, South Africa

Listen now both sides of the argument
See also:

24 Oct 01 | Africa
Nigeria: Crisis in Benue state
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
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