Prevention and militarization in Africa’s security governance by Linnéa Gelot


The 27th African Union Summit, underway in Kigali, Rwanda, is widely expected to adopt one of Dr Donald Kaberuka’s recommendations on how to increase member state contributions to the AU Peace Fund and more broadly to increase African self funding of peace and security, and its other pillars. Whichever modality is adopted, the strategic direction and substantive issues in Africa’s security governance will also require some tough reflection. This is because, recently proactive, robust and joint responses to jihadist terrorism and radicalized armed non state actors have been preferred. The danger is that an imbalance in African security governance is being created as a result.

Militarized narratives

The joint fight against violent extremism featured primary at the Africa-based core group meeting of the Munich Security Conference in April this year. The default position was that global terrorism in North Africa, East Africa and the Sahel needed urgent, robust and joint action. As argued by former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, Ethiopia’s foreign minister Tedros Ghebreyesus, and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger in a joint op-ed on 13 April, ‘Facing [the Jihadist threat in Africa] together is our common calling’.

The readiness of Africa’s own peace and security institutions to lead on terrorism and other sources of insecurity was emphasized. The dominant argument was that the sovereign’s role as main provider of territorial order and security is under unacceptable assault by non-democratic forces. Given the importance attached to stable African governments, such a perceived assault justifies military responses short term.

It might be argued that it is a lesser ill that hard approaches overshadow alternative political, developmental and humanitarian-based approaches. As stated by the AU representative in New York, ambassador Antonio Tete, at the AUPSC-UNSC open debate on countering terrorism on 1st April, ‘In Africa, terrorism and violent extremism are still representing the most serious of threats to peace, security and stability.’

Certainly, part of the global push towards strategic partnerships with African regional actors is linked to seeing African states and institutions as playing specific useful roles in world order. France and the US have most candidly expressed that the AU and certain African states play very useful combat roles in active conflicts, and that partnerships are strategic in so far as they help all involved partners identify and secure their respective interests.

African peace operations receive external recognition due to their militarized characteristics. Most AU peace operations are stabilization missions, using combat operations against specific aggressors in bounded conflict theatres. The Troop Contributing Countries to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have been commended and supported by the international community for the willingness to combat Al-Shabab fighters. As noted in a book on Africa-led peace operations while this combat readiness may be necessary, it is crucial for APSA and for conflict-affected populations that these stabilization missions are always linked to a political objective. AU-led missions to date have demonstrated operational readiness, but have been insufficiently streamlined with political strategic-level direction.

Demilitarization arguments

Pulling in a de-militarizing direction are the many voices in AU peace and security circles who push an enhanced prevention-agenda and a value-driven vision of African ownership. African peace and security policy-makers and intellectuals within and beyond the continent are calling for more inclusive political approaches to resolving conflict in Africa.

These actors stress historical and structural causes of terrorism (such as weak state-society relations, demographic challenges and unemployment rates). Or, they raise the acute absence of knowledge surrounding radicalization and recruitment into extremist groupings. Additionally, it is argued that strengthening or stabilizing central government and its ruling capacity by itself would not change the structural causes of marginalization and exclusion in many if not most of African societies.

It must be added that preventing armed conflicts is a strategic priority for the African Union peace and security architecture (APSA) as seen in APSA Roadmap 2016-2020. This follows on from the Windhoek declaration and AU-adopted commitment to end all wars and ‘Silencing the guns in Africa by 2020’ which forms part of the continent-wide Agenda 2063. The Agenda 2063 document, adopted by the AU Assembly of African Heads of state and government in May 2013, sets forth a value-based vision of a united and prosperous Africa.

The Roadmap sets out the objective for the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (REC) and Regional Mechanisms (RM) to contribute to the prevention of conflicts and crises. Early warning systems with state of the art data collection and monitoring tools exist at continental and sub-regional levels. Enhancing capacity means that they must coordinate and collaborate better with each other and other relevant component parts of APSA. The Roadmap notes also that early warning capacity and inclusive mediation-capacity must be connected with the strategic security priorities of decision-makers.

The use of special envoys, senior mediation panels and networks of elders is one of the AU’s ‘best kept secrets’. To underscore their importance, the APSA Roadmap sets out as one objective to show evidence of frequency, relevance and efficacy of preventive diplomatic missions undertaken by the AU and the RECs. On a case by case basis, it is possible to gather knowledge about the roles and outcomes of preventive mediation efforts. Showcasing such roles and results strengthens the arguments of those who seek to focus on prevention and mediation capacity. Often, references are made to Africa’s rich mediation tradition. References are often made to the vital importance of inclusivity in African mediation culture. Dialogue must occur with all conflict actors. Talking to terrorists and non-state radicalized actors is therefore not excluded, as argued in the Windhoek Declaration.

However, it remains hard to access best practices and documentation on lessons learned. Might intellectuals and policy experts help change the mindset of decision-makers if they could point to research and verified information showing that prevention at early stages of conflict is most sustainable and effective?


There is a danger that context-driven, root-cause based values embedded in AU foundational documents and the APSA are being pulled in a direction to serve short-sighted militaristic values. In the medium to long term this will favor autocratic modes of governance on the continent and already extends a level of international legitimacy to autocratic leaders. This will also infer the AU with legitimacy and capacity building packages chiefly on basis of counter-terrorism specialization or experience. Consequently, other APSA programmes rank lower on the global priority ladder unless they are coupled with the ‘fight’ on terrorism. Prevention and responding to terrorism-rationales are not mutually exclusive, but are better understood as mirror images. The trick for the foreseeable future is how to rebalance APSA, and develop legitimate and sustainable ways to prevent/respond to terrorism.

Linnéa Gelot is a Senior Researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), Sweden and a Senior Lecturer at the School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University, Sweden. Her most recent publication is The Future of African Peace Operations: From Janjaweed to Boko Haram, co-edited with Cedric de Coning and John Karlsrud, with Zed Books in 2016. She is currently leading a project entitled ‘AU Waging Peace? Explaining the Militarization of the African Peace and Security Architecture’.

Posted in African Union, Conflict, Peace Keeping, PKOs, Radicalization, Security, Violence, War on Terror | Leave a comment

One year after the elections: a deceptive calm in Burundi? by Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs

Burundian army

Burundian soldiers patrolling the streets of Bujumbura. Photo by the author

The car stops and the driver turns off the ignition and leans back in the seat. Before us winds a long queue of cars and minivans in the afternoon sun. People have gone out of their cars and sit in the shade along the roadside. Talking, eating, listening to the radio. The atmosphere is calm and quiet, but also restrained, subdued. Everyone is careful, observant. The scenario has become common in the capital Bujumbura in recent times. Streets and intersections blocked off to all traffic, often for several hours, waiting for the President’s convoy to pass. Usually it occurs when Nkurunziza is on his way in or out of the capital to the countryside where he prefers to stay most the time. When the convoy eventually passes, nobody is allowed nearby, no cars and no people. All street corners are emptied. Even the security personnel guarding the streets must physically turn their heads away, direct their weapons in a different direction, and may not look at the passing cars.


Continue reading

Posted in Conflict economies, democratisation, Election violence, Elections, Governance, politics, Popular Uprisings, Social protest, Urban issues, Violence | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Inner Beast released after Ugandan Elections 2016, Marianne Bach Mosebo

The Ugandan Presidential Election in 2016 left many Ugandans frustrated and angry at the election process and the announcement of the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, as the winner with approximately 60% of the votes. Unfortunately, rather than uniting the Ugandan people in a fight for a free and fair democratic environment in Uganda, social media is reap with statements blaming the result on the marginalised and already maligned Karimojong people in Uganda’s North-eastern corner. Karamoja is a remote region in Uganda, which has the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the country. Ugandans are angry and frustrated and they are releasing the Inner Beast on those that are easy to blame rather than those who are actually to blame. Continue reading

Posted in #Ugandadecides, democratisation, Election violence, Elections, Governance, Perspectives on Power | Tagged | 2 Comments

Elections in Uganda 2016: Rumours and the Terror of the Unknown, by Henni Alava and Cecilie Lanken Verma

Two parallel realities appear to exist in pre-election Uganda, especially when seen from the northern region of Acholiland ten years after it was declared ‘post-conflict’. In one, everything is ‘fine’: the elections will be smooth. There will be no problems and things will continue as normal. In this view, it seems, elections have to be fine, as peace is the main priority. It simply must not be jeopardized, not even if that means to keep the sitting President in power. In the other, the nation is preparing for war, amid breaking news about pre-election violence and rumors about violence committed and building up to momentum in the scenes. In some towns at the far periphery of the Ugandan political hub you can find mothers preparing to run from their homes with their children and most valuable belongings – just in case things turn sour. Continue reading

Posted in #Ugandadecides, democratisation, Election violence, Elections, Governance, politics, Social protest | 3 Comments

The power of language: discourses and efficacious fussiness in the Ugandan elections, by Anna Baral

On February 15, 2016, three days before Ugandan general elections, the four-times presidential candidate (and never a winner) Kizza Besigye was stopped by anti-riot and military police with his convoy in Jinja Road, central Kampala. Following a script reenacted at each election, scuffles between the opposition candidate and police started, with heavy use of tear gas, stones thrown and bullets shot. Besigye was detained for few hours by police (that denied rumours of arrest, claiming that the candidate was instead just “being advised” on which route he should take for his campaign through the city). Escorted back to his home in Kasangati, a suburb on the city’s outskirts, Besigye came quickly back to town and was stopped again at the big crossroad that separates Makerere University from Wandegeya Police station, famously active in countering students’ strikes. A young man seeking refuge in a building near the crossroad lost his life, shot by police. Continue reading

Posted in #Ugandadecides, Election violence, Elections, Governance, politics | Tagged | 1 Comment

New Developments in Drone Proliferation: How Africa was Deployed to Rescue Drones, by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Debates on global drone proliferation tend to assume that adoption and adaptation of drones follow a universal logic and that the drone industry is a singular thing, geographically concentrated in the Global North. In this blog post I argue that these assumptions make it difficult to critically assess the growth in drone use across Africa. I suggest that one way to think about African drone proliferation is by considering the way drones and Africa are being construed as solutions to each other’s problems: drones are seen as a game changer for develop­ment and security, while in return Africa inspire new and innovative use of drones. The percep­tion of Africa as being in need of external drone intervention dovetails with the drone industry’s efforts to identify and promote good uses for drones — efforts that are central to increasing the legitimacy of drones in the eyes of a skeptical global public. Here I want to highlight three key issues related to drone proliferation in Africa. Continue reading

Posted in Conflict, Drones, Humanitarian aid, Peace Keeping, Security | 2 Comments

Burundi, I, and the year of 2015, by Gudrun Sif Fridriksdottir

“I miss dancing” a friend of mine says sometime in late June. “What?” I reply, thinking I must have misheard him. “I miss dancing”, he hesitates a bit “…and information [independent media]”. I can’t help laughing “Well one is very important for democracy, the other … not so much” I claim. But then again he has a point. At this stage Bujumbura has been in turmoil for almost two months, he lives in a turbulent neighbourhood, I don’t, but we are all already very tired. People just want their regular lives back, and being able to enjoy life, not just live it. Unfortunately this is not to happen in 2015. Continue reading

Posted in Conflict, Conflict economies, Election violence, Excombatants, Governance, Popular Uprisings, Urban issues, Violence | Tagged | 2 Comments