Use of military drones in Africa sharply increases

May 6, 2021

The use of military drones is rapidly increasing across Africa, according to a new report by peace organization PAX. Drones are used in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations across the continent, while there are few policies, rules and procedures that are observed when deploying drones. The report, “Remote Horizons: Expanding use and proliferation of military drones in Africa”, shows that in the last 14 years, African and foreign states have been involved in drone operations in at least 20 states in North Africa, the Sahel and Horn of Africa.

A recently released UN report found that the French military killed 16 civilians and three armed men at a wedding party in Mali, after information gathered by a French drone was misinterpreted.  Over reliance on strikes and surveillance with drones could put civilians lives at risks, while countries involved have tried to make these military operations and their consequences less visible. That is why civil society organizations and experts, including PAX, are now expressing their concerns and criticism of military drone operations.   

Demonstrate transparency and accountability

“Although the drones have caused serious civilian suffering in some cases it seems unlikely that this will lead to fewer military drone operations in Africa. That is why we must ensure that states involved in these operations demonstrate transparency and accountability measures. The policy and procedures surrounding drones must be shared publicly, allegations of possible civilian casualties must be investigated and the civilian damage done must be disclosed”, says Richtsje Kurpershoek of PAX, one of the authors of the report.

To date, no country involved in drone operations in Africa has explained what policies, rules and procedures they enforce when using military drones. This is alarming, because the drones are used to support armed groups and practice shows that drones can make it easier touse lethal force due to the absence of risks for own military personnel and lower costs.. For example, drones from the United Arab Emirates have killed civilians in Libya, as well as U.S. drones in Somalia. There are serious concerns that rapid proliferation and lower costs could lower the threshold for the use of armed drones, which could undermine regional security, risk civilian casualties and fuel resentment from local communities. 

Need for a broader debate

Kurpershoek: “Despite the increasing use of drones, there is little political debate with African states or the African Union about the implications of the increasing use of deadly force with military drones. While local and international human rights organizations do express concern about their use and lack of transparency. In order to prevent escalating drone wars by both state and non-state actors, a broader debate and action is needed to curb the increasing use of lethal force with military drones.”

Read the full report Remote Horizons: Expanding use and proliferation of military drones in Africa.

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