Peace and security challenges in Southern Africa: governance deficits and lacklustre regional conflict management, policy note no 4:2018
Armed insurgencies, social cleavages and governance deficits relating to authoritarian rule and abuse of state resources all imperil peace and stability in Southern Africa. The Southern African Development Community’s institutional framework for regional peace and security is proving ineffective because its leaders are unwilling to enforce democratic principles.
Michael Aeby, Researcher, Graduate Institute Geneva
Over the past two decades, most of the countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been relatively peaceful and stable. But the region still faces challenges of armed insurgency, crisis of governance and lack of socio-economic development, and SADC is ill prepared to manage such issues effectively. While the SADC region continues to experience isolated armed conflicts, and while lack of development poses a major long-term risk to regional stability, governance deficits are currently the most acute source of instability. Over the past decade, this has led to crises in various SADC states. Although SADC has gradually established a peace and security infrastructure in line with the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), its institutions lack both material and political support, with member states reluctant to cede authority to supranational structures and to enforce SADC principles. The liberal-democratic principles enshrined in the organisation’s peace and security policies tend, in practice, to play second fiddle to the imperatives of anti-imperialism, stability and regime solidarity, and SADC has been unable to respond effectively to intrastate crises. Persistent governance deficits and the organisation’s lacklustre record of conflict management may in the long run arrest the development of the Southern African region.
Isolated armed insurgencies
While Southern Africa has gradually emerged from the large-scale wars that, in some instances, dated back to the Cold War and the apartheid era, the region continues to be plagued by isolated armed conflicts that have their roots in the region’s violent colonial and post-colonial past. In contrast to the intertwined anti-colonial wars against white minority regimes in the Cold War era and the Congo wars that involved external belligerents, contemporary conflicts in Southern Africa are overwhelmingly national rather than international.
Aside from the ongoing war against armed groups in eastern DRC, in recent years smaller armed conflicts have flared up again in both Mozambique and Angola. Mozambican Renamo rebels took up arms in 2012 and, although they lacked the military capacity to rekindle a civil war, they did attack government troops and transport routes, creating economic disruption and insecurity. Driven by the rebel leader’s political ambitions and the social grievances of marginalised fighters, the insurgency compelled the country’s government to concede territorial autonomy, political privileges and economic benefits. A truce has halted the violence and the recent death of the long-standing Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, may provide an opportunity for a meaningful peace process. But the peace will remain fragile until such time as the grievances over centralised, authoritarian governance and economic marginalisation are addressed and Renamo fighters are demobilised. Meanwhile in Angola, as part of a long-standing separatist struggle, in 2016 armed insurgents launched a series of attacks on government troops in the country’s oil-rich Cabinda province and disrupted extractive activities. The enduring low-level insurgency arguably does not have the potential to destabilise the central state, but it has led the Angolan government to maintain tight security in Cabinda and indeed the country.