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Peace and Security

This page updated on-line at http://www.africafocus.org/intro-peace.php.

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Talking Points

  • Despite the image of a conflict-ridden continent, most African countries are at peace. They are afflicted not by war and warlords but by the less-visible kinds of "everyday" structural violence that prevail around the world: violence against women or migrants, for example, as well as abuses in police and prison systems, street crime that disproportionately affects the poor, or, more generally, systematic inequalities in access to basic social rights.

  • African civil conflicts, where they are occurring, are most often interpreted in terms of simplistic narratives applied to the entire continent. But each country is distinct. When there is open war, as in Somalia, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria, or the Central African Republic, the causes are complex. Using explanations such as "age-old hostilities" or "tribalism" is wrong. But so is seeing external powers such as the United States or France as the primary contributors to violence, although colonial and Cold War histories, as well as current arms sales, have decisively influenced the context of today's conflicts.

  • In responding to internal conflict, terrorism, and criminal violence, leaders in Africa and around the world most often rely on militarized responses that are ineffective and abusive of human rights. Although leaders give lip service to addressing the root causes, it is standard formulas of repression and funding for security forces that take priority in practice.

  • In those countries where violent Islamic extremism is present, standard global counter-terrorism strategies are almost certain to further inflame the situation. "Wars" on drugs and crime, as well as higher walls and deportations against migrants and refugees, have likewise been consistently ineffective and counterproductive, producing more rather than less violence.

  • Security forces, both of African governments and of multilateral organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations, are needed to protect civilians from violence carried out by non-state actors. But peacekeeping actions are often underfunded, misdirected, or both. The responsibility for funding and accountable management of such missions should be global as well as regional and national.

  • There are no simple or "one-size-fits-all" solutions to violence and terrorism. Greater efforts are needed to address long-term causes and exercise preventive diplomacy. But people affected by conflict also need immediate help, both humanitarian assistance and accountable, adequately funded protection from violence.

People internally displaced by conflict in South Sudan find only vulnerable shelter - UN Photo/Isaac Billy

Most recent bulletins on peace and security

November 13, 2017  Africa/Global: Counterproductive Counterterrorism http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/cve1711.php
    What strategies work to counter terrorism effectively, whether in Africa or anywhere else in the world? Few would claim to have a convincing answer to that question. However, there is some real evidence of what strategies do not work and are even counterproductive. For example, a new UNDP study studying recruitment to violent extremism, based on interviews with former extremists in Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia, found a number of factors underlying the growth of violent extremism. Particularly striking was the finding that 71 percent of recruits interviewed said that it was some form of government action that was the 'tipping point' that triggered their final decision to join an extremist group.

November 13, 2017  USA/Sahel: Questions Asked, Unasked, Half-Answered http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/sah1711.php
    The U.S. military presence in Africa, which has been growing steadily since the years following the 9/11 attack, has been having a spotlight in U.S. media after the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger on October 4. But despite numerous questions raised, and the prominent attention given to the characteristically obtuse and insensitive response from the White House, the questions raised have been at best half-answered. And fundamental questions about counterterrorism strategy and U.S. policy were left unasked in the Washington-focused debate.

October 30, 2017  Africa/Global: Recent Books Read & Recommended http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/books1710.php
    As with other publications largely focused on current events, AfricaFocus Bulletin is confronted with an exponentially increasing bombardment of daily news. My approach as the editor is to select a particular topic of interest, sometimes highlighted in the news and sometimes not, and try to put it into context for readers with excerpts from the most relevant sources. But I also find it essential to try to step back and refresh my understanding of the wider context. For that, I find I must turn to books.

October 19, 2017  Somalia: Not Only a Somali Tragedy http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/som1710.php
    "I think it's really quite tragic that a strategy run from Washington, D.C., and from the European headquarters in Brussels pays so little attention when over 300 people are killed, massacred, and another 500 people are struggling for their lives, and that very little support comes from the United States and the European Union to help the Somali government clean up this, help the people who have been injured or people who have lost their parents or their children." - Dr. Abdi Samatar

August 23, 2017  USA/Africa: No Policy? Bad Policy? Or Both? http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/usa1708.php
    "Africa is terra incognita for the Trump Administration: a continent it cares little--and understands even less--about. With no dyed-in-the-wool Trumpian Africa hands available, the administration appears ready to cede Africa policy making to career civil servants and a few mainstream Republican appointees." - Matthew T. Page

May 24, 2017  Nigeria: Corruption Undercuts Boko Haram Fight http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/nig1705.php
    "Nigeria's corrupt elites have profited from conflict; with oil prices at a record low, defence has provided new and lucrative opportunities for the country's corrupt kleptocrats. Former military chiefs have stolen as much as US $15 billion a sum equivalent to half of Nigeria's foreign currency reserves through fraudulent arms procurement deals." - new report on "Weaponizing Tranparency"

April 3, 2017  South Africa: Rising Outcry for Zuma to Go http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/sa1704.php
    "We call on Ministers and leaders of the ANC who care about the future of democracy and the Constitution to speak up and call on the President, in the best interests of the country, to step down. We call on the parliamentary leadership of the ANC, supported by all opposition parties, to insist that parliament be recalled immediately to debate a motion of no-confidence, proposed by the ANC leadership in parliament. We call on all members of Parliament to unite and support a motion of no-confidence." - Statement by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, March 31, 2017

March 28, 2017  Liberia: Mining, Displacement, and the World Bank http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/lib1703.php
    "The roots of the New Liberty Gold project stretch back before 1995, when a resource extraction license was issued by former warlord turned president Charles Taylor to a mysterious company called KAFCO. The permit changed hands a few times and, today, Avesoro holds its permit via a wholly-owned subsidiary, Bea Mountain Mining Corp a company created in 1996 by Keikurah B. Kpoto, one of Taylor's closest associates. In 1998, foreign interests bought Bea Mountain Mining. The beneficiaries of the sale were well hidden. According to a document IRIN procured, three quarters of its capital belonged to a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. The rest was held by owners of bearer shares." - IRIN investigative report, March 21, 2017

March 21, 2017  Africa/Global: Scaling Up Solar http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/clim1703.php
    Even in the United States, where action on climate change is under threat from aggressive assault by climate deniers in the Trump administration and Congress, renewable energy is projected to continue to advance rapidly, on the basis of its still growing cost advantages over fossil fuels. According to a report just released by GTM research, the US total solar market, already supplying the largest share of new power production, is poised to triple over the next five years. The prospect for renewable energy to power increased access to electricity in Africa is also dramatic, according to a new report from the Africa Progress Panel.

March 14, 2017  Africa/Global: Invisible Crises, Failing Safety Nets http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/hum1703.php
    "Famine 'largest humanitarian crisis in history of UN': UN humanitarian chief says 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria face starvation and famine," says the headline in Al Jazeera, echoed in the BBC and other international media, but easily ignored without the high-intensity spotlight that occasionally targets disasters with greater geostrategic centrality. In the United States, while headlines rightly focus on the 24 million who would lose health care under the Republican Trumpcare plan, no one has yet calculated the toll from a proposed 50% cut in the U.S. budget for support of the UN.

May 5, 2016  Uganda: Accountability and Child Soldiers http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/uga1605.php
    "After two decades spent fighting in the bush, Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander in the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), faces trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on seventy counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. ... the first time that a former child soldier will be prosecuted at the ICC and the first time that an accused faces charges for the same crimes perpetrated against him. As such, the Ongwen trial raises myriad questions and poses difficult dilemmas regarding the prosecution of child soldiers." - Justice in Conflict symposium

April 27, 2016  Nigeria: Shapes of Violence, 2 http://www.africafocus.org/docs16/nig1604b.php
    "It has been two years since the world's deadliest terrorist organization Boko Haram abducted 271 girls from their high school in the town of Chibok a tragedy that would shine much needed international attention on conflict in northeastern Nigeria. Sadly, the Chibok girls are only one part of a much larger story of violence against women and girls in the northeast. ... the needs of all those whom the Chibok girls symbolize thousands upon thousands who have suffered gender-based violence at Boko Haram's hands are being unaddressed." - Refugees International

Complete listing of bulletins on peace and security, 2003-present