Transforming the Landscape of Human Security in Africa

by Ulrich Buestro Bouelangoye

The concept of human security in Africa is closely related to its political and historical development. While the Cold War was marked by tense interstate-conflicts on the continent, the post-Cold War era in the 1990s shifted into more sophisticated development of intra-state violent disputes and conflict (Leaning & Arie, 2003:3). This assertion is consistent with the 1994 Human Development Report, which stressed that the analysis of the dynamics of the conflict in Africa needed to be centred on human needs and expectations; promoting for people security as safety and protection “from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards” (UNDP, 1994:22). This position demarcated radically from the traditional conception of security, that is more regime security driven, and that often fails to address human and development challenges, leaving people out of the equation in an assessment of the level of relative security.

The idea behind human security lies in the protection of human life, and on the necessity to deliver basic needs to people that leave people free from fear and free from want. There is a common view that human security is still misunderstood and not taken seriously by enough African governments. While there are declarations and legislations empowering human security, the concept is rarely implemented or considered (Murray, 2004:61).

Human security presents a spectrum of various dimensions evolved from people’s comfort. From this assertion human security provides a framework that connects the developmental and security agendas in Africa. In this regard, it should be acknowledged that internal dissatisfaction can lead to insecurity and instability if human security needs are not met. This suggests that state security should not necessarily or obsessively be militarily orientated; it should rather include social, political, economic and environmental elements (Africa Union).

The African position on human security is entrenched in the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Co-operation (CSSDCA) in Africa, as well as on the Common African Defence and Security Policy (CADSP) ratified and launched 2004 (Makinda, 2008:45-50). These documents clearly articulate policies in favour of building and strengthening human security as it relates to sustainable development, poverty alleviation, promoting a culture of democratic governance and human rights, as well as the protection of citizens.

A close look into Africa’s peace and security architecture indicates that despite these protocols in practice Africa still leans more towards regime security than human security. Regime security is essentially established for political survival and dictatorship. It is an entire system, which empowers the securocrats and military to act in any way necessary to maintain the state’s authority and influence over people. This is all too often used to enable the military and securocrats to silence concerns raised by ordinary people, through intimidation, oppression and violence. In other cases, rulers have opted to exercise their military power for their own political gain as opposed to providing for people’s social, economic and physical security (Akokpari et Al, 2008:61).

This situation was exacerbated by the world economic crisis in 2008. As the economy progressively worsened many governments became increasingly unable to meet the social welfare needs of their citizens. Public discontent and the mobilisation of citizens against governments can lead to a serious threat to security, as it happened in Tunisia, where state institutions were lagging behind in terms of service delivery.

The crisis of democratic governance experienced in Africa in situations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Central African Republic amongst others, are clear manifestations of the failure in human security as well; state institutions in these countries have been unable to provide their own people security, especially amongst women and children who have suffered barbarism at the hands of rebels. Again, this aligns with the fact that most civil wars and conflicts in Africa are linked to poverty, irresponsive policies and poor governance.

Despite the efforts made by some African leaders and by African civil society organisations and activists, to acknowledge and respond to calls for African states to domesticate policies and ratify legislation endorsed by the African Union, the implementation remains sluggish. This suggests that the state cannot be seen as the only party with legitimacy and capacity to transform the landscape of human security on the continent. The extent of the problem clearly calls for new forms of partnership, for greater political will, and a genuine commitment from all Africans to find ways of contributing to an African agenda on development, stability and security.

Security is safety and protection “from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards” (UNDP).

Since security is a common need shared by all African states, regional economic communities along with civil society should work together in defining a clear agenda that promotes human security advancement in their region, and at the same time conforms to the continental policies and legislations. The problem is not Africa’s inability to tackle its challenges but more within its failure to domesticate these initiatives at a national level. Achieving human security within the state requires collective participation and coordination between all actors, government, civil society and the private sector, and not only at state level but also at local and sub-regional levels (Akokpari et Al, 2008:71).

Human security has become an imperative for peace on the continent. Denying or obstructing efforts to humanise security prolongs cycles of conflict, violence and war; undermining development on the continent and taking us further from our aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and stable Africa.

Up Next

Related Posts