January 12, 2020

Security in Africa: Beyond the colonial and post-colonial frameworks



By Niagale Bagayoko

Recent developments in the African security environment seem to have kickstarted an imperative for African leaders to fund the security sector through mechanisms that reduce dependence on external support. One such initiative, The 2016 Kigali decision on financing the African Union / AU (Assembly / AU / Dec. 605 (XXVII)) endowed the “Peace Fund” with $325 million in 2017. The announcement, during the Extraordinary Summit of Ouagadougou in September 2019, of the mobilization by ECOWAS member states of a $1 billion fund to fight terrorism, which the WAEMU has committed to finance up to $500 million (including $ 100 million for the G5 / Sahel), is also encouraging. The methods of mobilizing these funds have not yet been clarified, however, the uncertainties that remain are no greater than those that continue to weigh on the fulfilment of international pledges made since 2017 to finance the G5 / Sahel Joint Force.

Against this backdrop, it is necessary that the funding of the African security sector by a select group of African governments should be extended to more African States themselves so that the continent’s security vote can become holistic. Section 8 of the communiqué of the Extraordinary Summit of G5 / Sahel Heads of State of December 15, 2019 – which affirms “the determination to make more efforts in the mobilization of internal resources” – seems to be part of this trend.

However, the internal funding of Africa’s security sector cannot be seen as sufficient to face the dangerous situation which is spreading in certain parts of the continent. The collective powerlessness aroused by the difficulty of providing a lasting response to the multidimensional crisis that the Sahel is experiencing demonstrates that the solutions promoted by Africa’s bilateral and multilateral partners are not necessarily more effective today than those devised by Africans. If the French system of Operation Barkhane is the subject of excessive denunciations as to its lack of operationality, then it can be hinged on the lack of efficiency alleged against African actors at the start of the crisis.

This observation in the fight against armed groups and jihadists in the Sahel – as witnessed by the bloody attack on the Nigerien armed forces, questions the articulation of the current system as a whole – and a situation which requires an in-depth reflection in order to rethink the security of the continent from a strategic African perspective. Most of the solutions put forward to break the current deadlock, by African actors as well as by their international partners, are essentially operational or tactical.

However, it is largely at the strategic level that the approach adopted in the Sahel seems to have to be re-considered. And it is first and foremost for Africans to carry out this work, freeing themselves from a large number of paradigms – notably those articulated around or stemming from competition and from the experience of the so-called “peaceful penetration” led by Lyautey and Gallieni, of the counterinsurgency approach to decolonization theory in particular by David Galula, of the concept of “Low-Intensity Conflict / LIC “(Low-intensity conflict) implemented by the United States in particular in the context of the Vietnam War and then revisited under different terms, as well as anti-terrorist approaches – all of which appear to be out of step today with both internal and transnational threats that characterize the African security environment.

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Likewise, it would be quite useful to develop an African approach to the concept of “human security”, which would also amount to questioning the relevance of the concept of development underlying this concept, which today inspires multilateral approaches to security.

The type of strategic, operational or tactical approaches, many African States use, refer to standards and categories which are not sufficiently contextualized. Today, the continent is faced with the perplexity in which all the international, continental, regional and national actors (state and non-state) are plunged. And there is obviously a space for the emergence of a truly African strategic thought in the political, security, societal, anthropological and economic realities of the continent.

Such thinking cannot, of course, be homogeneous for multilateral actors such as the AU. Such an effort undoubtedly requires an epistemological break with a large number of frameworks of thought which currently underlie the various security policies implemented by African States in the specific fields which are largely framed or supported by actors outside the continent.

This is particularly the case for the drafting exercises of the National Security Strategies. It now seems essential to firmly anchor these National Security Strategies in environment, based on a perception and definition of threats taking into account national and international challenges as well as exogenous and endogenous threats. A renewed apprehension of the strategic context from an African perspective certainly requires supplementing the strictly geopolitical points of view hinged on interests of the “realistic” type, or those focused on the promotion of values ​​at “liberal” sense of the term, through a sociology of actors and an approach ” from the bottom participating, in particular in a precise and adapted definition of the modalities of the exercise of the Weberian monopoly on legitimate violence and coercion (as well as the conditions of its delegation). Such an enterprise also calls for the mobilization of certain historical references specific to the centuries-old trajectories of the various African States.

It also requires the integration of operational experiences, conducted both in the context of the fight against armed groups, terrorist and jihadist groups and criminal actors, as well as in the numerous peace operations to which their African defense and security forces have taken part in the last few years. Such work should be based both on the capacities of strategic analysis of the States themselves, a number of which have been set up through the creation of centers such as the CHEDS (Center for Advanced Defense and Security Studies) in Senegal or the CNESS (National Center for Strategic and Security Studies) in Niger. It will also require resorting to contributions from the growing number of African research centers and think tanks, without depriving themselves of the contributions of civil society organizations when they are solidly documented and argued.

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This African strategic perspective should also govern the policies adopted in terms of equipping the defense and security forces so that they are provided with armaments and equipment adapted to the type of conflict and criminality involved.

It is important to note that such an effort does not mean rejecting a colonial and post-colonial heritage that is now an integral part of the institutional and security architectures of African states. The challenge is rather to go beyond these frameworks by integrating their legacies, in a critical and constructive manner, and not to sweep them away. More importantly, it is a matter of founding a strategic approach made up of both this heritage and the lessons that can be drawn from it.

The formulation of an African strategic thought will also offer the opportunity to multilateral organizations and African States to reposition themselves vis-à-vis their partners on the basis of the interests and values ​​governing their respective strategies so as to allow external actors to define, clarify or redirect their own postures in the long term according to the positions asserted by the actors of the continent. This is why it is all the more urgent that it be initiated without delay.

Niagalé Bagayoko is a political scientist. She has done extensive field research on security systems in African Francophone countries, Western security policies (France, United States, European Union) in Africa and African conflict-management mechanisms, focusing on the interface between security and development. She has taught at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Science Po) in Paris. From 2010 to 2015, she managed the “peacekeeping and peacebuilding programme” at the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF). She is now the Chair of the African Security Sector Network (ASSN) .