COIN and rhinos

Last December South African retired Major General Johan Jooste introduced his new role as czar of anti-poaching operations throughout the country’s 22 national parks (SANParks) with the words:’it is a fact that South Africa, a sovereign country, is under attack from armed foreign nationals. This should be seen as a declaration of war against South Africa by armed foreign criminals. We are going to take the war to these armed bandits and we aim to win it’.

There are two ways of reading General Jooste’s heightened rhetoric of ‘war’ and ‘criminals’: one is that he is barking up the wrong strategic tree and is badly muddled; the other conforms to a classic counter-insurgency identity which will bear fruit over a period of time.

From this an examination of Jooste’s words suggest:
– what methodological basis does Jooste have when using the heightened rhetoric?
– by invoking the words ‘war’ and ‘criminals’ is he badly mixing up his strategic approach?

Counter-insurgency theory stresses the need to ‘protect’ the population as part of the process to win over the population as a demonstration of political power, articulated by David Galula (1919-1967).

This celebrated veteran of the French colonial war in Algeria whose thinking deeply permeates modern US counter-insurgency, wrote: ‘in any situation, whatever the cause, there will be an active minority for the cause, a neutral majority, and an active majority against the cause. The technique of power consists in relying on the favourable minority in order to rally the neutral majority and to neutralise or eliminate the hostile minority’.

Since then the counter-insurgency focus is about making the distinction between ‘enemy-centric’ and ‘population-centric’ strategies, the former a strategy to kill the opposition and force the local population to withhold any support, while the latter is about persuading the civilians that the counter-insurgent army can best protect them.

However, the problem confronting Jooste is that the ‘population’ under protection are rhinos: not only are they unable to provide any assistance but they are unable to be influenced under the Galula evaluation.

Furthermore, for the majority of the local population living alongside the rhinos, protection of wildlife ranks low when compared with surviving on low incomes and will therefore be of limited use.

Thus it would seem that counter-insurgency as a military tactic to protect rhinos is severely handicapped. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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This entry was posted in Africa, Conservation, Militarisation of Nature, Rhinos, South Africa. Bookmark the permalink.

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