This book explores the evolving African security paradigm in light of the multitude of diverse threats facing the continent and the international community today and in the decades ahead. It challenges current thinking and traditional security constructs as woefully inadequate to meet the real security concerns and needs of African governments in a globalized world. The continent has becoming increasingly integrated into an international security architecture, whereby Africans are just as vulnerable to threats emanating from outside the continent as they are from home-grown ones. Thus, Africa and what happens there, matters more than ever. Through an in-depth examination and analysis of the continent’s most pressing traditional and non-traditional security challenges—from failing states and identity and resource conflict to terrorism, health, and the environment—it provides a solid intellectual foundation, as well as practical examples of the complexities of the modern African security environment. Not only does it assess current progress at the local, regional, and international level in meeting these challenges, it also explores new strategies and tools for more effectively engaging Africans and the global community through the human security approach.
This chapter provides the reader with background material and a basic understanding of Africa’s uniqueness. It looks at the highly diverse and unique set of security challenges--from traditional to non-traditional—facing the continent and provides an overview of the nature of the threat to the continent and its people. It also sets the stage for an in-depth examination of the key threats to African security (and by extension to the global community) and identifies some emerging trends that present both opportunities and challenges for improving security in the decades ahead.
This foundational chapter explores the evolution and meaning of “security” in the African context. It explores how the meaning has changed from the colonial period through the immediate post-independence period to today. It introduces the reader to the concept of “human security” and explains why it is particularly relevant and useful in understanding and assessing 21st century African security challenges. It questions traditional, state-centric notions of security and shows how the traditional top-down approach to African security is inadequate in addressing modern-day security challenges.
A basic feature of the universal human condition is the need to find commonality with others and form larger associations at the individual, group, and community level. This is at the heart of the concept of identity. A variety of factors ranging from physical attributes, language, and culture to societal norms and structures work to promote a self-awareness and self-consciousness of sameness with a larger collective. Probably nowhere else in the world is group identity—be it ethnic, racial, religious, sectarian or communal—so closely associated with persistent, and even genocidal, violence than in Africa. This makes identity conflict a primary threat to peace and security on the continent.
States are the only contemporary political organizations that enjoy a unique legal status under international law—sovereignty—and are deemed to possess an exclusive monopoly on the legitimate use of force within their borders. A central feature of the state is to provide for the delivery of public goods (such as security) to its citizenry, and states fail to function as states when they can no longer do this. While the concept of “state failure” or “failing states” is much debated, the consequences of such failure are all too real, especially in Africa. Endemic violence, ethnic and religious tensions, rampant human rights abuses, rising terrorism and crime, along with a lack of legitimacy and political inclusion, as well as an inability to exercise effective control over territory are hallmarks of failing states.
Since September 2001, the struggle against international terrorism and extremism across the globe has become a defining security paradigm of the 21st century. Africa is now an inescapable and increasingly critical part of this new security equation. This presents an enormous political and socio-economic challenge for many African countries and organizations that are already over burden trying to cope with longstanding and other newly arising security threats. Terrorism and extremism, however, are certainly not new to Africa, but what has changed in the post-September 11th world for Africa is the apparent melding of domestic and international terrorism and extremism. Accordingly, much of the success or failure to counter these threats will be as much affected by the actions and policies of external forces than on the capabilities (or lack thereof) of African governments and institutions.
The carrying on of trade, both legal and illegal, between communities has been a fundamental feature of global economic relationships and an essential component of economic and social development. Modern-day trafficking is more than simply a reflection of an age old problem of illegal trade, because of the power of globalization. With Africa’s continuing integration into the global economy, the continent has becoming ever more vulnerable to the dark side of globalization that drives international trafficking. The challenge that the illicit trade in drugs and small arms brings to the continent is one far beyond the immediate impact of rising transnational criminal activity, but one that has broader implications for cross-cutting linkages to African security, stability and the future of African governance.
More often viewed as a developmental or a humanitarian challenge rather than a security challenge, addressing the vast array of African public health problems has increasingly come to be seen as a critical human security priority. While many have criticized the securitization of health issues, the cross-cutting linkages to other political, social, and economic issues are real and so too are their implications for security. In addition, most health challenges in Africa were previously seen as localized problems threatening only the well-being of specific populations, but in today’s globalized world they can have profound negative implications far beyond the original source of the problem. While some international public health threats, such as disease pandemics, are nothing new the ability of new disease epidemics to transcend international borders and continents at a speed and breadth is heretofore unknown in human history.
Resource conflict and environmental degradation are in reality two-sides of the same security challenge coin. Both address the issue of natural resource abundance and scarcity and how societies deal with these challenges and their implications, but from vastly different perspectives. While the first addresses access and control over existing natural resources in terms of resource competition, the second addresses the environmental impact of declining or the misuse of resources. Regardless of the perspective, however, both present a serious threat to African peace and stability through their ability to generate and sustain violent conflict, fuel corruption or undermine governance. Moreover, some of these types of conflicts are the most difficult to resolve given the life or death nature of the stakes involved for individuals and entire communities.
Paradoxically, as much as Africa’s current problems are often rooted in the past, the continent today finds itself squarely at the forefront of new security thinking. Although the international community historically has played a critical role in shaping the African security agenda, true security—and solutions—begins at home. The often misappropriated mantra of ‘African solutions for African problems’ has taken on real and significant meaning in recent years with the development and implementation of new national, sub-regional, and regional approaches to advancing peace and security. This chapter examines these approaches, past shortcomings of the modern African state and its limitations, and looks at ways the African Union, regional NGOs, and civil society are seeking to fashion a cooperative security culture for 21st century needs. Without doubt many obstacles and challenges still remain, but these efforts are already proving useful in recasting the continent’s security priorities and, moreover, in establishing a direction for future engagement by Africans and non-Africans alike.