African security in 2013: a year of disequilibrium?

from Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre
Published on 18 Apr 2013 View Original

ByMorten Bøås with James J. Hentz

Africa’s security is currently standing at a crossroads. Relatively high African growth rates in combination with the increased institutional strength, credibility and legitimacy of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have led to greater confidence in Africa’s ability to deal with its security challenges. However, the continent is also confronted with significant security challenges that could have severe ramifications across several countries and regions.

This is vividly illustrated by the attack against the gas plant at In Aménas in Algeria. This well-planned attack occurred a few days after the French intervention in the conflict in Mali. As a force for disequilibrium the attack and its tragic consequences have dramatically transformed the security dynamic of the whole Sahel region and the many local conflicts in the area. In 2013 the Sahel could become the epicentre of the next episode in the so-called “war on terror”, and the outcome of the conflict there is far from certain: a decisive military victory is unlikely in this desert and mountainous region.

This report analyses the security trends, scenarios and dynamics in Africa, describing and identifying issues and hotspots likely to manifest themselves in 2013 by focusing on five broad and interlinked regional scenarios: West Africa and the Sahel; the Horn of Africa; and Central, East and Southern Africa. The report will to a lesser extent comment on the role, power relations and dynamics of the AU and subregional organisations such as ECOWAS, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Southern African Development Community in the quest for peace and security on the continent.

Security cannot be seen in isolation from economic issues, so the economic outlook for Africa in 2013 is also briefly addressed. External actors are still playing an important role on the African continent and their relationship to African security is also addressed. The focus is on the role of traditional African external players such as France et al., but also on emerging powers such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, Qatar and Turkey. The importance of the latter group of countries is clearly increasing, but as the French intervention in Mali vividly shows, it is still the traditional external powers that assume leadership roles in times of dire crisis. It is hard to envision that, for example, Brazil, China, India or Turkey would assume the kind of role in the immediate future that France took in northern Mali. The report concludes by highlighting processes and dynamics that are of particular importance to Norway and Norwegian interests in Africa.