Security challenges

J. ’Kayode Fayemi

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AFRICA is at a crossroads today. The continent is demilitarising and embarking on democratic transitions on the one hand, but on the other, is becoming increasingly marginalised in the global economy, facing severe crises in state authority and caught up in spreading armed conflicts. Although the African state is not monolithic and experiences are far from uniform, it is arguable that certain salient features cohere in any attempt to understand and address the challenges facing the post-Cold War state in Africa at the dawn of the millennium.

To contextualise these features, it is important to understand the nature of the nation state in the post-Cold War era in order to draw up scenarios for the next century and examine the prospects of reconstituting the nation state.

Central to the evolution of the post-colonial nation state in Africa is the impact of artificial borders on interstate and intra-ethnic relationships on the continent. Although cognisance must be taken of the pre-existing economic links, pre-colonial encounters and the complementarity of geographical regions, which served as the ultimate elixir for mutual interdependence among competing ethnic interests, it cannot be overemphasised that internal divisions also gave rise to centrifugal fissures primarily related to the divisions that predated colonialism, albeit exacerbated by external influence.



The political decision to see nation states as extensions of ethnic and individual boundaries followed closely in the tradition of classical realists in western societies. This led to the creation of imagined nations in which individual security, ethnic contiguity and cultural forms in their variegated mosaic were seen as synonymous with national security, even as the sub-structural contradictions in these new states remained glaringly evident.

For a period – especially in the immediate post-independence era – the euphoria that accompanied freedom made it possible to paper over the cracks of ethnic nationalism by focusing on the bigger picture in which African countries were mere proxies in the superpower rivalry. Whereas the independence decade of the 1960s showed satisfactory incomes and overall development, the 1970s introduced stagnation as Africa was unable to respond to the changed global economic conditions of decreasing primary commodity prices and increasing oil prices.

By the mid-1980s, the region witnessed the unaccountability of structures which led to significant declines in growth and per capita income, the erosion of social infrastructure, increasing poverty and hunger, and the rise of despotic regimes. With the collapse of the bipolar world and the loss of monopoly over violence by African states, some of the conflicts resurged from the post independence contradictions of the states, while others emerged out of the collapse of the dominant superpower politics of the Cold War era. This era guaranteed the minimum integrity of the state and the monopoly of coercive instruments by the ruling elite, which ensured that the directive principle of state policy was authoritarian rule. In the last decade, no fewer than 28 Sub-Saharan African states have been embroiled in one form of civil conflict or another, and several internal conflicts where interests external to Africa have retained considerable influence remain constant features of the crisis of the nation state.



The above underscores the increasing illegitimacy of the African state, accentuated by the deepening chasm between urban and rural communities, a factor standing at the base of many of the internal conflicts now prevalent on the continent. Although the urban/rural divide has been a constant feature of Africa’s post-independence political economy, the post-Cold War processes of globalisation and trade integration1 have seriously deepened economic problems in new democracies, weakened the nation state and exacerbated the privatisation of war and the state as a result.

It would indeed appear that there is a direct correlation between the inability of the average African state to provide the basic means of livelihood for ordinary citizens and its resultant loss of the total monopoly over the means of coercion within the territory it supposedly controls. Without a doubt, the capacity of governments to govern can make a crucial difference both to the trajectory of conflict and to its impact on equitable resource distribution.



As Luckham, Ahmed and Muggah have shown most persuasively, ‘The disappearance of governments in what has now become known as collapsed states is associated with acute physical insecurity for ordinary individuals and communities, leads to the loss of basic services like health and education, destroys physical and social capital and produces widespread poverty and immiseration. On the other hand, where an appearance of state structures still exists, predatory ruling groups may have their own interests in proliferating armed groups and perpetuating instability.’2

Although the jury is still out in purely academic circles about the winners and losers of the globalisation upsurge, the experience of millions of Africans in reality has already provided the answer. Clearly, poverty remains the greatest threat to democratic consolidation in Africa today and, at the broadest level, globalisation is resulting in deep polarisation between rich and poor throughout the continent. Whereas quantitative accounts of the problems do not tell the entire story, the statistics for the African continent paint a gory picture – especially in terms of the impact of conflict on poverty on the continent.

It is estimated that half of the African population will be poorer by 2000. Almost all African states experienced some form of armed conflict in the 1990s. In 1998, there were no less than 11 major conflicts in Africa, putting at risk the lives and welfare of some eight million people, and giving the region a disproportionate share of refugees, an estimated eight million out of 22 million globally. Children were particularly vulnerable: two million were lost in conflicts; over four million were disabled; 12 million became homeless and one million were displaced. (UNHCR – The State of the World Refugees 1998). In West Africa alone, at least 10 of the 16 countries experienced some or other kind of political upheaval, a figure notably comparable to that relating to countries under military rule or just emerging from prolonged military rule.



The above has implications for sustainable democracy. Leaving aside the critical conditions of poverty in which the continent has been plunged, the overriding majority of the African populace are completely detached from the democratisation process and there is little indication that their lot will be improved under proforma democratisation. The experience of Africa, a decade after the post-Cold War ‘third wave’ democratic dawn, underlines the enormity of the task of locating the democracy agenda within a development and security framework.

While significant strides have been made in certain areas, it may be misleading to speak of democratic governments, if by this is understood that the formal end of authoritarian structures also marks a definitive break with past patterns of rights abuses, conflict exacerbation by the state, and the militarism of decision-making processes. Given the authoritarian character of the democratisation processes in these countries, narrow forms of stability and security have now replaced erstwhile concerns about the nature of rule and the rights of citizens to choose their rulers.



This is further complicated by the tendency of departing authoritarian regimes to bequeath their civilian successors with a hopeless economic situation, which serves to exacerbate the contradictions between the state apparatus and society, ultimately resulting in a campaign for the return of the strong men. The structural adjustment programmes undertaken by virtually every country on the continent is the best example of this phenomenon.

Structural adjustment programmes correlate to repression in its usual demand for devaluation, desubsidisation, denationalisation and deregulation, all of which are possible only in an atmosphere of the absolute suppression of citizens’ rights. Promoted by the same international financial institutions that argue for ‘good governance and democracy’, there is little doubt now that these policies promoted internal social inequalities and, consequently, increased political tension leading to conflict and poverty. This served to consolidate instability and authoritarianism rather than democracy, since the political stability required for direct foreign investment makes the use of force commonplace, and militarisation inevitable.

In a serious way, this constitutes the greatest challenge to the future of the nation state. On the one hand, asking authoritarian governments to deepen democratic processes, while having little or no answers to their countries’ economic and social problems, would only be seen as political suicide. On the other hand, advising those excluded from the political process to put their faith in ‘electoral democracy’ in a field stacked against them will only promote the efficacy of the rule of the gun. The militarist option now prevalent in Africa must therefore be seen, in part, as the inevitable consequence of the acute nature of internal contradictions and the near total absence of any mediating mechanisms for managing conflict that can ensure enduring resolutions. This is the most significant challenge that scholars and policy-makers need to overcome in order to assist in reconstituting the state.



One of the most salient features of the post-Cold War era wars is their hitherto hidden, but ultimately virulent domestic dimensions. Yet, as internal as the new uncivil wars are, it must be recognised that they are more ‘glocal’ than ‘local’, as they involve a range of different actors: national, subnational and transnational interests. They have international and regional dimensions, and the dialectics of globalisation and the localisation of contemporary conflicts remain key factors in understanding the political and economic causes of conflict, the intertwined connections between warlords and mercenaries, between the plunderers of African mineral and natural wealth, small arms proliferators and drug dealers, and ultimately the current condition of the nation state.

Indeed, the nature and extent of this linkage go to the very root of understanding the privatisation of the nation state and its inability to organise and control state power. In its most worrying impact, the erosion of state power has resulted in the rise of shadow economies that have largely fed conflict in the region. It has also created a fractured state system in which existing basis of political cooperation among states can no longer be assumed, as states shift loyalties between subregional imperatives and personal projects.

Although war has become an extension of political discourse in closed societies, it does not always uproot the status quo or threaten the state machinery, except where used as a means to arrive at the negotiating table. Recent guerrilla activities have not always been conceived and are not always directed as extensions of political discourse, thus leading to a caricature of conflict management.3 Stopgap measures like elections, power-sharing arrangements or national unity governments become ends in themselves, not means and processes of resolving the fundamental crisis of governance in society. The recent peace accord in Sierra Leone may be seen as an example of this. Since electoral compacts have proved inadequate conflict management tools in Africa, how then does the African state overcome the enormous challenge of reconstituting its leviathan polities?



Inspite of the picture painted above, military disengagement from politics and a critical move away from military security as conceived in the narrow, realist definition of international politics are still the important first steps towards democratic reform, consensus-building and the depsychologising of the authoritarian mindset. The ultimate goal should, however, remain a comprehensive framework of security. To be sure, the available evidence confirms the view that the demilitarisation of politics has widened the space within which concrete democratic reform is possible and sustainable. Even so, a complete overhaul of politics from its military roots, especially in a body politic that has become so atomised, and in which the symbols, values, and ethos of the military are replicated by large sections of the civil-society, still appears difficult to attain.4



Given the prevailing political culture bred by three decades of militarisation and authoritarian control, perhaps the greatest challenge is in dealing with the psychology of militarism and the aura of invincibility that this has created. As recently noted in a joint conference report by the Economic Community for Africa (ECA) and the Global Coalition for Africa (GCA), ‘In some African countries, political transition has involved a reconfiguration of political, economic and military elites, rather than an opening up of the political system and broadening of participation.’5 Indeed, this is more likely to be the case if the ‘new democrats’ come from a military background, as is largely the case in Africa where there are more ‘shadow military states’, rather than democratic countries.

The post-Cold War array of non-state actors who have set up rival factions to challenge the militarised state stem from this mindset. The same can be said of the upsurge in child soldiers who have exchanged their school pens and pencils for rifles and grenades, and university graduates who have dropped their diplomas for military commission. Traumatised by violence and prolonged existence under military and authoritarian structures, the tendency to have a low regard for civilians in societies where traditional norms and the rule of law have little or no meaning is very high. Violence has therefore become the acceptable means of communication. A critical challenge in consolidating democracies and reinventing the state is thus the reclaiming of the militarised mind, which has been fed by a deep-seated feeling of social exclusion.



Since states are usually products of war and rampage, it might sound romantic to base the reconstruction of the nation state on the notion of reclaiming the militarised mind through the creation of structures that can mediate conflict and offer succour to belligerent parties. Perhaps, an explanation of this construction is necessary here. It is suggested that the military option now prevalent in several parts of the African continent is an inevitable consequence of the acute nature of internal contradictions and the almost total absence of democratic institutions that can assist in the management of deep rooted conflicts. To the extent that this is correct, it is arguable that the most urgent task is that of reconstituting the African state along equitable and just lines. At every level, the idea of constitutionalising polities that have largely functioned as ‘virtual’ democracies along multifaceted lines is taking shape.

From the constitutional conferences in Benin, Togo, Niger, Mali, Congo-Kinshasa in the early 1990s, to the process-based and people-driven constitution-making processes in South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the post-Cold War decade has witnessed an upsurge in the demand for constitutionally based governance – governments that broadly reflect the will of the people in terms of process and outcome. Today, the struggle for constitutional reform in Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho, to mention but a few, underscores a paradigmatic shift from constitutionality to constitutionalism, a situation where constitutions are now seen as tools for building bridges between the state and civil society, a social compact based upon a foundation of consensus among the constituent elements within the polity and between them and the state.

What has to be emphasised in reconstituting African polities in the next millennium is the importance of an organic link between the constitution as a rule of law instrument, primarily concerned with restraining government excesses, and the constitution as a legitimisation of power structures and relations based on a broad social consensus in diverse societies. In short, the task today is largely between bridging the gap between ‘juristic constitutionalism’ and ‘political and socioeconomic constitutionalism’ if the reconstituted state is to have meaning to its citizens.6



Although the above may provide the basis for facilitating consensus-building in a reconstituted state, it cannot succeed without the broadening of the current narrow conception of security. To achieve a measure of stability, African security and democracy must be seen beyond the state. It must also break out of its dominant, albeit narrow, technocratic and functionalist conception to embrace a human-centred, holistic approach to security.

‘For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about the daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, security from crime, these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.’7



To proffer permanent solutions that do not reignite war, a broader conception of security that does not limit it to narrowly defined military notions of security, currently predominant in security studies and practice, must be embraced. This broader conception must articulate security in a manner that the individual, the group and the state may relate to their fundamental objectives of promoting and ensuring the right to life and livelihood in a region where poverty remains the greatest threat to security and stability. Although the dangers that might also accompany too broad a conception of security which altogether dismisses the legitimate need for the military are recognised – and this is already evident in the carte blanche demand for the reduction of military expenditure in development circles – holistic security sector reform should recognise an objective need on the part of states and individuals to want to protect their own.

Acknowledging this fact should not be seen as a negation of the importance of a human-centred development and security framework. It might help, however, in capturing in precise terms the policy challenges posed for conflict transformation and regional security in terms of the tendencies and trajectories of conflict. It might also help to answer the challenges that have emerged:

* Under which circumstances, if any, is war necessary to remove bad governments?

* How is political cooperation built between and among states to make peace support operations effective?

* How can state-centric definitions of security be de-emphasised, and the role of civil society in peace-building be increased?

* How is democratic control of the military built in states undergoing political transition or moving from war to peace – through parliamentary oversight, effective institutions of governance and genuine interaction between the military and the rest of society?



Ultimately, the solution to the crisis of the nation state might well be a supranational arrangement in which countries submit some sovereignty to the supranational entity. The security framework that eventually emerges out of this conception must be seen as a public good – the concern of all citizens – and states must be prepared to provide security on terms negotiated with the citizens. The best mechanisms within which success can be attained are through greater economic integration based on ‘people-to-people’ interaction and the free movement of goods, rather than through regional security and peacekeeping initiatives.

For the long-term stability of any democracy transiting from prolonged military/authoritarian rule, changes in the military, security and defence structures are imperative. They must comprehensively examine the challenges posed by these various aspects of the weakening nation state in the era of globalisation. Ultimately, holistic solutions to the root causes of conflict must be found by drawing the necessary linkages between underdevelopment, instability and the security logic in the region.8

Caught between the extremes of supranationalism as represented by globalisation, and the reactionary subnationalism that has been exacerbated by the politicisation of ethnicity, regionalism offers the best panacea for the weakened nation state in Africa. Indeed, it would appear that any prospect for demilitarisation and democratisation in Africa must build on the tender fabrics of regionalism if there is to be any chance of success. The work that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have done in the last decade underscores the importance of strengthening regional frameworks as mechanisms for strengthening nation states.



Given the declining external security threats and a need to curb the rising tide of internal strife, the promotion of peace building mechanisms within the global framework of preventive diplomacy would seem critical in the region. The last decade in Southern, East and West Africa has witnessed the strengthening of regional institutions, especially in terms of conflict management capacity. Yet, regional autonomy can be influenced by national and subnational factors. They are also susceptible to superpower influence and control, which may be ambivalent about the goals of development and democratic consolidation, especially if the latter does not offer the required stability for capitalist development. There is a sense in which external efforts like ACRI and RECAMP fall prey to this narrow conception.

Yet, in rethinking regionalism, it is necessary to go beyond the proforma creation of peacekeeping forces that remain technicalities, existing only in form and content. For regionalism to be an effective antidote to globalisation and ethnocentrism, it must permeate the nation state in a more deeply rooted manner. Otherwise, if the current challenges to the nation state in Africa posed by non-state actors are measures of what to expect in future, then the prospects for consolidating the democratisation projects are slim, if not non-existent. It is for this reason that a recognition of the necessity for a multidimensional understanding of security without a reconceptualisation of sovereignty will ultimately undermine the search for an holistic security agenda.

In arguing for a reconceptualisation of the sovereignty concept in the sub-region, which de-emphasises artificial colonial boundaries, the motive is not territorial revisionism. Instead, the territorial state is revisited where the artificial boundaries have formed the legitimising force for arrested development in several nation states that are just juridical entities, totally meaningless to its inhabitants. Translated to a sustainable security agenda, it is safe to argue in favour of a confinable regional security and development mechanism, one that is properly structured, rather than a victim of ‘ad hocism’ as was witnessed in ECOMOG.



If a structured mechanism is available and deployable at a moment’s notice, it should be possible to convince small states like Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Gambia that the protection of their territorial integrity does not necessarily depend on a standing army, if there is a standing peacekeeping arrangement to which they can contribute soldiers. A systemic change of the type that is suggested requires extensive work. SADC has already blazed the trail in this regard through its ISDSC and the EAC and ECOWAS have recently developed frameworks for the management of conflict in their respective regions.

In trying to resolve problems at the regional level, a key challenge is to contain the military threats within democratising polities in terms of the place of the military in a democracy, the mission of the military, the civilian oversight functions, ethnicity and minority questions in the military and related questions of a direct military nature as a means of eliminating militarism and enhancing the professionalism of the military.



If militarisation is to become less significant, then the military mission needs to be redefined. Within the context of the identified challenges, the entrenchment of the African militaries in all aspects of civic and economic life makes their eventual permanent removal an area that will demand considerable skill. This will have to be done by assuaging fears about their future in a post-military dispensation and finding an appropriate role and mission for those left behind in the institution, in terms of maintaining their professional autonomy.

Equally important will be the need to develop a civilian, democratic defence policy expertise and create the necessary opportunities for networking and dialogue between military representatives and civil society. As much as possible, the military must be restricted to its traditional external combat role as a means of strengthening civil-military relations. If it must get involved in any internal security operations, then proper criteria must be drawn up for evaluating the involvement of armed forces in non-combat operations. At all times, the unifying theme in all of the political Žlite negotiations has always been the determination to assert civilian supremacy and oversight and the subordination of the military to objective civilian control. This ought to be extended to democratic control in which citizens also make inputs in deciding the shape, form and character of their military in an accountable and transparent manner.



Provided the overall case for regionalisation is acceptable to affected states, the other issue for consideration at the nation state level is the separation of operational and policy control over broad defence matters such as size, shape, organisation, equipment, weapon acquisition and pay/conditions in the services, on the one hand, and administrative control over the services, on the other. The point has been made earlier that the lack of any expertise on the part of elected civilian authorities has prevented effective oversight of the various arms of the armed forces.

Any redirection of the defence policy process will inevitably require a different kind of expertise, which must be a mixture of civilians and military professionals. To sustain this, there has to be a significant thawing process through changes in relationships between the military and civilian political elite, and a significant increase in contacts between opinion moulders and the outside world. The process of agreeing on an appropriate role for the military can only be successfully achieved in a climate of sustained dialogue.

Presently, contact is virtually non-existent, or just on a social basis and in an unstructured manner. In introducing civilian expertise, however, care must be taken not to substitute military incompetence in a political setting with civilian inexperience, nor should power be given to technocrats who are not wholly accountable to the electorate. If civilian control is to be democratic, it must empower those who have political platforms to lead the confidence-building relationship.

This is not to suggest that professional civilian expertise is unnecessary in these countries. In fact, a possibility worth exploring is the creation of a strategic cell that may serve in an advisory capacity between a civilian presidency and the military professionals. At all times, the military should not be left to conduct its affairs without ‘interference’, at least not in terms of broad policy formulation, but the political elite should leave the military alone in designing wholly operational matters in areas where the broad policy questions have been settled.

In ensuring civilian supremacy and a democratic pattern of civil military relations, the civilian leadership in a post-military state must help the military to define its role in a clear and precise manner. As much as possible, this must be restricted to its traditional external combat role as a means of strengthening civil-military relations. If it must get involved in any internal security operations, then proper criteria must be drawn up for evaluating the involvement of armed forces in non-combat operations.



In suggesting the structural mechanisms for de-emphasising force in conflict management and outlining some of the challenges to the African state in the next millennium, the central thrust of the argument is that the weakening nation state must recognise the value of accommodating a high degree of autonomy and decentralisation if it is to remain a viable unit. Equally, the nation state must see the process of regionalisation, especially given Africa’s recent experience, with a degree of enthusiasm without necessarily losing the symbolism of sovereignty.

The quality of political leadership will ultimately make a difference in straddling these difficult strands. The ‘political’ military has always preyed on divisions among the civilian political elite; in several instances it has actively promoted these divisions in the ranks of political and civil society, only to use this as an excuse to intervene. This is why the clarity and quality of the post-military leadership will necessarily determine how these complex issues are resolved in a sustained framework.



Before then, scholars of public policy on democratisation, demilitarisation and civil-military relations must address issues that are germane to the eventual consolidation of democracy and peace building by recognising that the process is a marathon, not a dash. The major task is the search for stable and sustainable civil-military relations and democratic consolidation in Africa. If this search is holistic, it may not necessarily result in cost-savings in military expenditure, since the bulk is spent on personnel and related areas in Africa, rather than on capital goods like weapons. Even if personnel are downsized, their resettlement and reintegration into civil society also cost money, and could be more expensive than retention, in some cases.

Neither will the search automatically lead to the elimination of standing armies – the ultimate peace dividend expected in the post-Cold War era – especially where there are no guarantees that the territorial integrity of the states in question can be protected by other mechanisms. The search is likely to assist in creating more democratic and accountable militaries whose needs are subjected to a wide and varied debate both within the military and the larger civil society with a view to enhance both individual and collective security and development. The inclusive nature of the process is bound to affect the outcome.




1. See N van de Walle, ‘Globalisation and African democracy’, in R. Joseph (ed), State, Conflict and Democracy in Africa, Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 1999.

2. R. Luckham, I. Ahmad and R. Muggah, The Impact of Conflict on Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Background paper for World Bank poverty status assessment for Sub-Saharan Africa, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, May 1999.

3. C. Clapham (ed), African Guerillas, James Currey & Indiana University Press, London, 1998. Also, see John Mackinlay, ‘Warlords’, in RUSI Journal, 1998.

4. J.’K. Fayemi, ‘Civil-Military Relations and the Future of Democratic Consolidation in West Africa’, African Journal of Political Science (AJPS, Special Issue on Security in Africa), 1998.

5. Economic Community of Africa and Global Coalition for Africa, The role of the African military in political transition and economic development: co-chairpersons’ summary, Addis-Ababa, 8-9 May 1998, p. 1.

6. J.’K. Fayemi, Promoting a Culture of Constitutionalism and Democracy in Africa. Paper prepared for the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative expert working group on principles and mechanisms of constitution-making in the Commonwealth, BurgerSpark, Pretoria, 16-18 August 1999.

7. UNDP, Human Development Report, 1994, p. 3.

8. See J. ’K. Fayemi and A.F. Musah (eds), Mercenaries: An African Security Dilemma, Pluto Press, London, 1999.