Debates on global drone proliferation tend to assume that adoption and adaptation of drones follow a universal logic and that the drone industry is a singular thing, geographically concentrated in the Global North. In this blog post I argue that these assumptions make it difficult to critically assess the growth in drone use across Africa. I suggest that one way to think about African drone proliferation is by considering the way drones and Africa are being construed as solutions to each other’s problems: drones are seen as a game changer for development and security, while in return Africa inspire new and innovative use of drones. The perception of Africa as being in need of external drone intervention dovetails with the drone industry’s efforts to identify and promote good uses for drones — efforts that are central to increasing the legitimacy of drones in the eyes of a skeptical global public. Here I want to highlight three key issues related to drone proliferation in Africa.
First, that there is an unbroken link from colonial use of airpower in Africa and the legacy of technological imperialism to today’s discussion of unmanned technology and its perceived capacities. The first use of airpower in Africa occurred more than a century ago, during the Italian-Turkish War fought in Libya in 1911–1912. In their conquest of Morocco in 1912– 1914, the French used aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing. British use of airpower to enforce civil control in sub-Saharan Africa began in 1916 in British Somaliland. The use of surveillance drones in Africa initially emerged as a part of this colonial apparatus: According to Darren Oliver, the first known drone prototype developed in Africa, the Champion, was developed by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1977 and delivered to the South African Air Force in 1978. Some of the Champions were supplied to Rhodesia for use in the Zimbabwean liberation struggle (1964– 1979), also known as the Rhodesian Bush War. Unbeknownst to almost everyone today, a fleet of South African and Israeli drones “saw extensive combat duty across the southern African theatre between 1980 and 1987, operating from Mozambique to Angola.”
- Read more at Mats Utas’ blog, where the full text was published February 9, 2016