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Advancing Africa’s place in the global security agenda

Advancing Africa’s place in the global security agenda

In today’s complex and globalized security environment, it goes without saying that African countries face various security challenges. From Boko Haram to ISIL and Al-Shabaab, Africa faces insurmountable challenges that obstruct the efforts made to maintain peace and security on the continent. In that regard, last week the 5th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa gathered leaders for two days to deliberate on issues that matter to the continent’s peace and security, reports Solomon Goshu.

On the early morning of the opening day of the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, which was held on April 16-17, 2016, in Bahir Dar, the capital city of the Amhara Regional State, the news about the massacre of over 140 Ethiopians from the Gambella Regional State by the neighboring Murle people from South Sudan came to the attention of the participants, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn included.

For the PM, whose government is facing security-related challenges over the last few months in every direction, the Gambella crisis is yet another setback. In the country that rightly won praise for its stability in the fragile Horn of Africa, suddenly, the tides of instability seems to be developing from internal and external sources. The Oromo protests, the North Gondar conflict, the Gambella conflict, and the Konso conflict are just some of the few instances disrupting the day-to-day activities of its citizens.

To the dismay of many, both Prime Minister Hailemariam and Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom (PhD) uttered no word on the Gambella massacre or other current and recent security issues that concerns Ethiopia on the two-day duration of the Forum. Of course, the fact that the theme of this year’s edition of Tana Forum was “Africa’s Role in the International Security Realm” had a part to play in restricting the scope of the discussion. However, the informal Forum that took a moment of silence to honor one of its founders, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, could have easily accommodated the same for Gambella victims.

The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa is an annual event which provides an environment conducive to a select group of leaders from all sectors of society to examine and debate peace and security challenges facing the African continent. The Forum is an independent initiative of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University, and of eminent African personalities.

“The Tana Forum is now recognized as the truly African Security Conference modeled on the Munich Security Conference. It has the goal of convening peace stakeholders to discuss issues of peace and security in an informal and relaxed environment,” Tedros, who served the Forum as master of ceremony, said.

“Tana Forum provides a unique, neutral and informal setting for serious discussions among African leaders, opinion makers, change agents, academics, practitioners and partners on African security challenges with a view to forge African solutions to African problems,” Hailemariam said. “The growing attendance and diversity of participants demonstrates the growing recognition of the Tana Forum. Tana Forum has become an invaluable platform for the exchange of views, best experiences and innovative approaches to the fast changing security challenges facing our continent and the global community.”

For Hailemariam, what ‘African solutions’ means is two things principally. “First, information about problems, causes and solutions ought to be primarily collected and analyzed by those who understand the African context. Collection and analysis of information is not necessarily an objective exercise. It is influenced by the particular frame of reference and embodied values of whoever is undertaking this exercise. In addition, intimate and deeper local knowledge is required for effective design of solutions. Second, the quality of delivering institutions is as important as the quality of the diagnosis and prognosis. ‘African institutions’ have to be the principal ones that should be entrusted with the responsibility to deliver.”

Indeed, as was the case in the previous four editions, the 5th Tana Forum has engaged relevant stakeholders including heads of states, academics and practitioners on the current security issues of the continent. The presentations and discussions reveal that Ethiopia is not alone in facing a multi-dimensional security threats in the continent.

Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairperson of the Tana Forum Board, on his report, “The State of Peace and Security in Africa”, summarizes the security situation in contemporary Africa. He notes that old or ‘traditional’ causes of conflict, insecurity and violence still persist and have gained greater currency today. Moreover, he mentioned that inadequate attention to the issue of diversity, leading to marginalization, exclusions, lack of popular participation; inequity, inequality, uneven development and oppression; inadequate attention to education and unemployment particularly of youth; gender inequality; and religious bigotry are major causes of insecurity in Africa. “The presence of any of these, or more than one, in sufficient magnitude for any length of time, when unattended and unaddressed, invariably lead to group dissatisfaction, breed grievances and incubate injustice. Together, they allow groups to seek redress through a variety of unwholesome means, including armed insurgencies and terrorism,” he maintains.

Moreover, the report reveals that Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali and Tunisia face instability, even though the level and magnitude varies from one country to the other. Obasanjo notes that such protracted conflicts have a debilitating impact on the continent’s pathways to development. “Even if, as some have claimed that the number of conflicts in Africa has decreased in nominal terms since 2014, we are daily reminded about the fragility and susceptibility of the continent to a variety of ominous and vicious conflicts,” Obasanjo states.

It is thus possible to contend that while the continent is facing serious and persistent challenges on security issues and seeking the help of others to resolve it, it would not be easy to claim a better say on global security agenda. The participants with one voice stress that Africa’s call for active participation and autonomous engagement in the global security decision-making would be meaningless in the presence of severe insecurity at home.

Africa’s role in the international security realm

Studies show that the framing of the global security agenda since the past four decades, or more, has enabled major global powers to set their security priorities as if they should also be the primary concerns of the rest of the world. As a result, Africa has not successfully extricated itself from this dominant paradigm. Rather, the continent has had to routinely align with the strategic desires of dominant powers, with the implication that it is unable to define and/or articulate a standalone agenda for peace, security and development. The studies presented in the Forum assert that although some security threats are global in nature and ramifications, others are best defined and addressed locally within a regional and/or continental framework.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Prize Laureate, the keynote speaker at the Forum, set the tone of the discussion on the theme as other speakers more or less reflected on his presentation. He describes that improving Africa’s position in the global security architecture needs to be substantially supported with internal changes. Annan also said that solutions to the problems the continent has must come from within. Towards this end, Annan sees major critical challenges for Africa as it fashions its role in the global security order. Primarily, Annan contends that, at the global level, Africa must have a strong and consistent voice in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). “Ideally, this means African permanent seats. But until that can be accomplished, Africa must ensure that its positions on international security concerns—and not just African issues—are carefully coordinated and well presented.”

This position is also echoed in the speech of Wolfgang Ischinger, former German Ambassador to the United States, and Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Professor for Security Policy and Diplomatic Practice at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. “I believe that Africa has a legitimate aspiration to be better represented in institutions of global governance. Africa should have at least a seat or two among the permanent members of the UNSC. I think the African seat among the permanent members is a long overdue. The EU should support this aspiration fully and unequivocally,” Ischinger said.

On his behalf, Carlos Lopes (PhD), Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), said that Africans feel disempowered and disenfranchised on a number of very important issues that constitute today’s global security agenda. “Africans actually may not be organized but they do have strong views on many issues,” he said.

Mehari Taddele Maru (PhD) is also of the same opinion. He contends that African countries are not showing uniform and consistent position. “On different crucial issues, they have multiplicity of voices. They are not even upholding the decision that advances the best interest of the continent which they agree on after a deliberation. For instance, the South African government’s attitude towards ICC varies depending on where it speaks—Pretoria, Addis Ababa or New York.”

A clear consensus on the part of the participants in the Forum shows that those days are gone for good where the impact of a local conflict is just contained there. “Today, security threats are in constant mutation. What was seen a few years ago as localized threats are now regional, transnational and global. Indeed, this calls for a constant and rigorous dialogue among stakeholders as well as our permanent attention on the evolution of these threats if we want to circumvent them,” Tedros said.

It is for the same reason that individuals and institutions outside Africa are extending their full support to the peace building efforts in Africa. For Ischinger, a stronger partnership between Africa and Europe can make the difference in the global security agenda. “Without major contributions and the leadership of African governments, we cannot meet the challenges of the peaceful resolution of conflicts, migration, refugees, violent extremism, climate change and poverty at the global level,” Ischinger said.

Annan also observes that, at the regional level, Africa should recognize and applaud the work of the AU and the sub-regional organizations, which have acquired considerable and commendable experience in mounting peace operations. “But African states will have to give the AU the means to do so and, in future, rely less on outside funding,” he insisted.

Similarly, almost all the presenters and discussants of the Forum agree that the issue of finance is the key internal challenge for Africa. True, the AU, the five regions and African states have not developed the means required to substantially or fully finance African peace operations. Even though African states take decisions on peace and security in Africa, the implementation of those decisions are almost in their entirety financed by other actors, principally the European Union (EU) and the UN. For instance, most peace operations in Africa are handled with the training, logistics and financing support of the EU. As a result, their sustainability, legitimacy, and effectiveness are questioned.

“AU member-States must pay their contributions to the general budget, and also those for critical political missions and peace operations. An organization that is still mostly funded by external donors, including for the most basic routine travels, will only have limited elbowroom, or policy autonomy, when the interests of its key benefactors are at stake,” Obasanjo states.

Scholars note that whilst the AU has made modest progress in certain key areas, there are still many steps to cross before the AU can adequately mobilize and invest in peace building at national, regional and continental levels.

For Annan, in relation to security, the most urgent challenge is to create enough jobs for the continent’s youth. According to the World Bank, eleven million young people are expected to enter Africa’s labor market every year for the next decade. “If these young people cannot find jobs, and do not believe in the future, they may be tempted by rebel movements of all kinds, as well as crime and migration. I am always struck by their energy, their creativity and their talent. We should invest in them, harness their talent and ensure that the next generation of leaders will do better than we have done,” Annan submits. Furthermore, Annan cites a World Bank survey in 2011 showed that about 40 percent of those who join rebel movements say they are motivated by a lack of jobs. 

According to Annan, in Africa, another major challenge lies in building confidence in the integrity of the electoral process. “Elections should be the vehicle for popular choice in which the winner does not take all and the losers do not lose all. Those who win must recognize that they do not have a licence to rule without restraint or remain in office in perpetuity. Let us not confuse legality with legitimacy. Elections that meet legal form but fail the test of integrity are only pyrrhic victories that usually store up trouble for the future,” Annan remarks.

For Annan, the challenge of security in Africa is often a political challenge revolving around the acquisition and use of power. “As a result, elections are a source of tension and repression rather than an opportunity for the free expression of political will. Leaders who hang on to power indefinitely by gaming elections and suppressing criticism and opposition are sowing the seeds of violence and instability,” he warns.

He observes that African leaders, like leaders everywhere, must remember that they are at the service of their citizens, and not the other way around. “They have a mandate given to them, in trust, by their people, who can also take it away from them if they are found wanting and to have outstayed their welcome,” he said.

Elections are just one aspects of the democratic governance and Africa is known for its deficit rather than abundance. However, Annan is of the view that democracy is extending its roots in Africa. “Our continent is generally heading in the right direction,” Annan asserts.

Despite this appreciation, Annan notes that progress remains uneven, and the dangers today are both internal and external as violent conflicts and abject poverty continue. As Annan also points out, Africa can and must invest in its people and protect rights and not just regimes. “You cannot have peace and security without inclusive development, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. These are the three pillars of all successful societies,” Annan highlights. He also points out that the economic growth in Africa has been neither sufficient nor inclusive. “In fact, Africa has become the world’s second most unequal continent, according to the African Development Bank. Too much of that growth has enriched a narrow elite and not enough was spent on infrastructure, health or education, which would have fostered development,” he adds.

Similarly, Lopes also speaks of the paradox of the economic growth on the one hand, and the inequality on the other. “We have six of the 10, and 10 of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world. But we also have six of the 10 most unequal countries in the world.”

Ischinger also highlighted that advancing growth and transforming African societies requires a better government that is committed to fight corruption and stop the illicit flow of tons of money. Citing US President Barack Obama’s speech from his last year’s Ethiopia, Ischinger said that Africa needs, stronger institutions, more rule of law and better governments. “That includes also support for the International Criminal Court (ICC),” he added.

Finally, Annan inquires on the quality of national security forces in the continent. “We must invest in our security forces but also make them fully accountable as part of our democratic societies. They must be trained to protect the individual and his or her family and property, to earn their trust and work with the people,” Annan argues.

According to Mehari, usage of political primacy in all dealings in Africa is posing a serious danger. The argument is that only political leaders accountable to voters can make the decisions that are needed for African security to thrive. “Security forces need to take secondary place. In Africa, convincing these organs to move to the second row is not an easy task. We have yet to identify a detailed ways of doing this,” he observes.

Relatively speaking, Annan observes that Africa have come a long way from the Cold War days. “I want to start with some good news. Africa is actually doing better than many people may realize in terms of the security of its citizenry. Today, and despite a few egregious exceptions, armed conflict is actually a smaller risk to most Africans than traffic accidents,” Annan states.

The renowned international diplomat said that the improvement of the security situation helped set the stage for rapid economic growth of 5-6 percent per year for the last fifteen years. “As a result of this sustained period of growth, extreme poverty has fallen by 40 percent since 1990,” Annan said.

While notable improvements in all aspects of life exist in the continent, multiple problems seeking immediate attention surfaces as well. It is not uncommon to hear leadership contestations and factional politics within the ruling and opposition parties, insurgencies lingering in many parts of Africa, migration of the youth from Africa to Europe, prevalence of corruption, illicit money transfer, the trafficking of drugs, and lack of a more human-centred conception understanding of security in Africa.

At the heart of Africa’s aspiration to improve the security situation on the continent and increase its bargaining power at a global stage, commitment is an impending factor, Mehari argues. “So far, I only see the will. We lack commitment. Real commitment requires one to risk its power, name and institution. You need to be willing and ready to reduce the risk or shoulder it to enforce the decision that you are committed to,” he maintains.

Ethiopia’s role

Despite recent unrests here and there, Ethiopia is doing its best to stay peaceful in a tension breeding geopolitics. In economic terms Ethiopia is a success story. The double digit economic growth recorded for almost a decade makes the country one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And in terms of regional influence, Ethiopia has no rival. Ethiopia did anything necessary to stabilize the region and keep terrorists from gaining ground.

Indeed, Ethiopia’s new standing in the region has created a chance to transform the country into something far more valuable to both the US and China than a subservient tool or proxy. “Unlike the old times, Ethiopia now is a true partner to solve problems in the region,” Mehari, a security consultant, says.

Now, in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia has the economic and political strength, as well the military presence, to fill the position of a peace broker. Ethiopia is making peace with neighboring countries that once supported the insurgents, such as Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia. Ethiopia has become the trouble-ridden region’s mediators of choice, most recently called in to help with disputes between the South Sudan’s warring factions. “Ethiopia is trying to bring peace in Juba. In Somalia, we have 5,000 peacekeeping forces to assist the peace building efforts. In many other places as well, we participate in the peacekeeping missions. In fact, we are number one in the world. This success has its own foreign policy and diplomatic burden. We are not participating just because we have the soldiers. If mistakes are committed while on duty, the impacts of the ramification are not easy,” Mehari elaborates.

Speaking at the Tana Forum, Prime Minister Hailemariam expressed that Ethiopia is playing an indispensable role in her activities to secure the African peace. “Ethiopia, despite the developmental challenges we face (as almost all African countries do too) is one of the highest contributors to continental—and, by extension—global peace and security. We have not only put our citizens at the forefront of political and diplomatic missions in the Horn, and across Africa, but also contribute the highest number of personnel to United Nations and African Union peacekeeping operations in Africa. As I speak, for instance, our men and women in uniform are solely policing Abyei region, the contested borders between Sudan and South Sudan. I would also like to put on record that Ethiopia currently contributes the largest in terms of female contingents either wearing the UN’s Blue Helmet or serving under the auspices of the African Union; including several of them in senior command positions.”

“But, then, also all of these have become great costs; not just in terms of painful loss of lives, but also at a time when Ethiopia; as most other African countries, are grappling with enormous economic, social, political challenges at home. You will agree that even as we take the bold steps to serve as “first responders” wherever we are faced with grave threats to peace and security on the continent, we simply cannot do it all alone,” Hailemariam adds.

After Tana Forum has served for five years to bring together African Heads of State and Governments, high-level government officials, prominent personalities and critical stakeholders on African security, it has now transformed to Tana Foundation. “It is my singular honor and privilege to now formally announce the decision of my government to grant the Tana Forum the status of the full-fledged Foundation to henceforth be known and addressed as the Tana Foundation. It is the wish of the government and people of the FDRE that the new Tana Foundation will be a truly Pan-African institution bringing together under one roof the best that the continent has to offer in the task of soliciting creative solutions to the numerous challenges of peace, security and development in Africa,” Hailemariam stated in his closing remarks.

For Mehari, the only piece missing in the ever-growing Forum specificity and bringing down the issues to earth. “We need to identify the specific direction that Africa should go. Particularly, the participant leaders need to prepare in advance and come up with details. The general ideas presented here are no different from what we see in different stages. It needs to be considered as refinement frontier for other discussions. The outcome of the Forum should be attitude changing and influential enough to cause changes on how we do things commonly,” he told The Reporter.

The Tana Forum is attended by key figures in Africa and the rest of the world, because it is an Ethiopian peace initiative, Mehari believes. This year, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn was accompanied by the other heads of state and government such as Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe, Somalia’s Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sudan’s Omar al Bashir. Former leaders Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Pierre Buyoya of Burundi and Joyce Banda of Malawi were also in attendance.

Probably for the same reason, in a recently held AU Summit, Ethiopia is chosen to represent Africa to do Africa’s bidding to be a member of the UNSC. Here is the paradox. Participants of the Forum agree that fixing Africa’s internal security issues would provide a better chance of realizing its aspiration to advance its place in the global security agenda including securing a seat at the UNSC. In a similar vein, avoiding security challenges internally like that of the Gambella massacre is key to maintain Ethiopia’s current place, or even claim a better one.