Africa: Confronting complex threats

from International Peace Institute
Published on 28 Feb 2007
Coping with Crisis
Working Paper Series Feb 2007

Kwesi Aning


Africa is grappling with several difficult security challenges.These difficulties result not only from the magnitude of these challenges,but also from the lack of capacity of African states and organizations to respond quickly and effectively to them.While wide swathes of Africa are compelled to deal with problems in an ad hoc manner,there are indications that some states, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the African Union (AU) are undertaking promising steps to respond. Some of Africa's core security challenges are (a) the legacy of historic notions of state sovereignty;(b) the rise of regionalism in the absence of common regional values; (c) the difficulty of managing hegemonic regionalism; (d) elitism in the form of regional integration occurring only at the level of leaders without permeating the consciousness of the people; (e) the creation of institutions with little or no capacity to manage them,resulting in a merely formal regionalism; and finally (f) the perception of regionalism as an externally driven project.(1) Within this context of regionalism and the challenges posed to cooperative security in Africa, a number of factors become central to the success of the process of entrenching cooperative security,if Africa is to move beyond its present formalism. Some of the key elements that need to be considered in any scenario building are (a) understanding the nature of the post-colonial state and the nation-building project in Africa; (b) subscribing to and institutionalizing core regional values and norms;(c) focusing on deepening democratic and open governance; (d) strengthening developmental regionalism as a means of addressing the negative aspects of globalization; (e) establishing the parameters of genuine continental and global partnerships - including role clarification between subregional bodies,the African Union,the European Union,and the United Nations.

Armed conflict in Africa has been the single most devastating challenge for the continent. Not only are there direct effects, but equally critical are the ancillary impacts which create other problems such as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW), food insecurity,environmental degradation,the threat of unexploded ordinance,organized crime,and public health concerns among others.

In the short to medium term,the critical human, regional, and international security challenges facing Africa can be summed up as a nexus between what I term as 'old' and 'new' challenges. 'Old' security challenges are characterized by perennial armed conflicts,for example the Chad/Sudan tensions or the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict among others, underpinned by the easy availability of SALW,political violence,and food insecurity.The 'new'challenges are nourished by the 'old',giving rise to public health problems,massive migration, and increasingly ungoverned and ungovernable spaces within which individuals with terrorist affiliations and other opportunistic groups can exploit and threaten human,regional,and international security.While these challenges persist,they also create opportunities within which other criminal entities can thrive.Transnational organized criminal (TNC) groups are emerging that exploit the openings and spaces created by such insecurities to engage in activities detrimental both to human and international security. Such activities include drugs, arms and human trafficking,as well as other activities that feed into the creation of financing opportunities for terrorists and other violent groups.It must be emphasized, however,that even in Africa there are wide variations in the levels of such occurrences and the manner in which they pose threats to particular states and regions.

While these problems exist, one finds different efforts by states,RECs and other international bodies to respond to these challenges.The extent to which such multiple efforts are effective and well coordi-nated,first in identifying the varying manifestations of security challenges, and secondly in designing credible response mechanisms to prevent,manage,and resolve them needs closer and sustained analysis.Thus, any such evaluation will necessitate a nuanced and differentiated approach, as more often than not, the intended positive intentions of several actors with narrow institutional and national interests can work at cross purposes. There is, however, the increasing recognition that, in several of Africa's regions,benevo-lent hegemonic leadership can under particular circumstances contribute to solutions to some of these challenges, though with some structural and operational difficulties.

Although the emergence of such security challenges and the designed response mechanisms at the subregional and regional levels are encouraging, there is certainly no doubt that in the short-to-medium term these difficulties will be dealt with in a business-as-usual manner. Such responses may not necessarily lead to a worsening of the situation, though the international community's aspirations for improvements in Africa's security environment may not be met in the foreseeable future.

This paper discusses a broad range of issues that affect and impact on Africa's security within the framework of three wide-ranging topics, namely (a) identifying the key challenges posed to human and international security;(b) identifying existing capacity for preventing, managing and coping with these challenges, and identifying key gaps in capacity; and finally (c) developing scenarios and recommendations for tackling identified challenges.

Africa's Major Human and International Security Challenges

In the next five years - that is between the short to medium term - Africa's security challenges may not be markedly different from what they are now.Among Africa's most pressing security challenges are

- increasing fragmentation of political authority across societies;

- mounting political influence of armed sub-state actors;

- fragmented loyalties of armed official military/security groups;

- crises in food security and public health; and

- increasing vigilantism as a societal response to the inability of 'depleted' and often discredited state security agencies to provide protection.

It is important to understand that in some instances individual states and subregions can experience more than one of these challenges concurrently.

Security Complexes

In discussing key challenges to human, regional and international security,it is impractical to examine and to understand Africa's armed conflicts and their relationship to the wider context within which they occur by examining them in an isolated manner. Therefore, the argument here is that due to the interconnectedness among key actors and players in Africa's conflicts,one should begin to describe them as security complexes.They can be understood within a thematic context, namely in terms of the transna-tionality of criminal groups and the manner in which their activities undermine and threaten states through weakening public institutional structures.But even in this discussion, there is the need to differentiate between regional and thematic security complexes. Regional security complexes encompass the conflicts in West Africa, the Greater Horn of Africa, and the Great Lakes Region. Such complexes can play out through a number of mechanisms:

- subregional economic networks that directly and indirectly fuel insecurity through the exploitation and sale of natural resources (diamonds,timber,cocoa,cotton, and coffee),(2) and by the transportation and sale of these commodities,facilitated by inadequate state regulatory frameworks;

- regional military networks that supply weapons to combatants and the provision of training facilities to those who are willing to destabilize the region;

- regional political and economic networks that provide support mechanisms and facilitate economic predation;and finally

- networks that comprise illicit smuggling activities and cross-border family ties that facilitate trade in valuable goods.

One related argument suggests that there may be a close correlation between several of the armed conflicts that afflict this region and natural resource exploitation. Economic agendas are consequential to the character and duration of armed conflicts and complicate efforts at conflict resolution, with predatory economic behavior becomimg critical to sustaining, prolonging, and transforming conflict.(3) Thus, warlords exploit natural resources, using the proceeds to purchase weapons and ammunition and otherwise fuel war. Natural resource availability has also led to the splintering of rebel groups,as disputes occur over control of these resources.

Regional Complexes

There are variations to the challenges noted above within and between states and among regions.The consolidation of peace and security in countries emerging from war will depend to a large extent on the situation in contiguous countries.It is the degree to which these challenges are addressed that will ensure that the West,Central,Great Lakes and Greater Horn of Africa regions can be said to have completely overcome their insecurities.

Thus, while West Africa is emerging from armed conflict that plagued the region in the 1980s and 1990s, particular attention should be given to Côte d'Ivoire to prevent possible spillover effects that have characterized other conflicts in Africa,especially in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa. Other potential threats in the short to medium term may arise in Guinea and Guinea Bissau, which, although they seem to have overcome major security challenges in the past decade,still face considerable humanitarian and economic challenges. These flashpoints of instability could threaten the relative peace and security that the region has achieved in the past few years.

The Great Lakes region,Central and Eastern parts of Africa present a less than encouraging situation.The long-running conflict in Burundi, coupled with the armed rebellion by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue to threaten the security of the region. Even though elections have been held in the DRC, the post-conflict and postelection period will be critical to the future peace and stability of the region. Notwithstanding this region's abundant natural resources, this wealth has not transformed the livelihoods of the population due to the continued instability and insecurity in the region as a whole. Food insecurity in the region has been exacerbated by these conflicts and resulting massive population displacements.

Western, Eastern, and Central Africa all face numerous 'old' security challenges, which have been worsened by the current drought being experienced across these regions.According to the United Nations, more than 11 million people in eastern Africa are affected by the current drought,which is partly caused by climatic change.Overall,close to 18 million people are facing serious challenges related to food insecurity in the five-affected countries, namely Djibouti, Ethiopia,Eritrea,Kenya,and Somalia.(4) Livestock herds have been decimated, and most communities have exhausted their coping mechanisms.In the Southern African subregion, 25 percent of the population is already dependent on food aid as a result of reduced production of staples.(5)


(1) J.Kayode Fayemi,"Framework for Cooperative Security in a Region in Transition:Challenges and Prospects,"paper presented at an ACSS Workshop in Maputo,Mozambique,December 2004.The following discussions have benefited from Fayemi's paper,which has been revised after discussions with others.

(2) United Nations, Report of UN Secretary General on Ways to Combat Subregional and Cross-border Problems in West Africa,UN Doc.S/2004/200,March 12,2004.

(3) Karen Ballentine,"Program on Economic Agendas in Civil Wars:Principal Research Findings and Policy Recommendations,"International Peace Academy,NewYork,May 2004.

(4) Adam Mynott,"Hunger and misery ravage Kenya,"BBC,January 10,2006,available at food security in Africa see generally Marc Cohen, "Food Security: Vulnerability despite Abundance," Coping with Crisis Working Paper Series, International Peace Academy, New York,March 2007.

(5) Nana K. Poku,"HIV/AIDS Financing: a Case for Improving the Quality and Quantity of Aid," International Affairs 82, no. 2 (2006): 345-358; Colin McInnes,"HIV/AIDS and Security," in ibid.: 315-326.