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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

August 26, 2021  Mozambique/Global: “Most Egregious Corruption Case of the 21st Century” http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/moz2108.php
    “In my view the hidden debt scandal is the most egregious corruption case of the 21st century.  In dollar terms, the Malaysian 1MBD case is larger, but Malaysia is far wealthier than Mozambique, ranked 47th out of 185 countries on GDP per capita whereas Mozambique ranks 180.“ - Richard Messick, senior contributor to the Global Anticorruption Blog and pro bono legal counsel to the Budget Monitoring Forum, a civil society coalition in Mozambique.

July 27, 2021  USA/Global: Let Cuba Live! http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/uscuba2107.php
    The Biden administration has now been in office for six months, along with a narrow Democratic majority in Congress. So it seems an appropriate time for a report card. I offered my evaluation in another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, entitled “Building Back Better? Or Not?” But as I was finalizing that Bulletin, I realized that the rising U.S. attacks on Cuba are a key indicator of how things are going.

July 27, 2021  USA/Africa: Building Back Better? Or Not? http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/usaf2107.php
    Last week marked six months for the Biden administration and for the narrow Democratic majority in Congress. So it seems an appropriate time for a report card on U.S. Africa policy. And that also means a review of U.S. policies on today's most pressing global issues, on which the negative effects fall disproportionately on Africans on the continent and in the diaspora.

May 31, 2021  Mozambique/Global: War, Intervention, and Solidarity http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/moz2105a.php
    “No amount of international military assistance will, within two years, create a fighting force that can combat the insurgency. Two other factors complicate external support. Foreign intervention is likely to provoke a response from Islamic State to provide weapons and training to the insurgents. And the fight is already underway between factions in Frelimo over the upcoming 2024 elections. Cabo Delgado politics and economics, the police and military, and the war itself are already caught up in the bitter infighting. Thus the war seems likely to escalate and continue until a new president is in place in 2025.” - Joseph Hanlon

May 31, 2021  Mozambique/Global: Fossil Fuels, Debt, and Corruption http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/moz2105b.php
    “The scandal of Mozambique’s “hidden debts” has already cost the country at least 11 billion US dollars, and has plunged an additional two million people into poverty, according to a detailed study of the costs and consequences of the debt published on Friday by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), and its Norwegian partner, the Christian Michelsen Institute. The term “hidden debts” refers to illicit loans of over two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia in 2013 and 2014 to three fraudulent, security–linked Mozambican companies – Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company), and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).” - report by Centre for Public Integrity (Mozambique) and Christian Michelsen Institute (Norway)

March 22, 2021  Sahel: Questioning Counterterrorism? http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/sah2103.php
    “In the context of complex and protracted conflicts, it is time to rethink the role of the international community and acknowledge its limits. Today, success depends first and foremost on the willingness (much more than on the capacity) of corrupt leaders to reform and renew their social contract with citizens, especially in rural areas. International efforts will fail as long as impunity prevails and local armies can kill civilians and topple governments without consequence.” - Chatham House Research Paper

February 8, 2021  Ethiopia: No End to War in Devastated Tigray http://www.africafocus.org/docs21/horn2102.php
    “It feels strange to write about a humanitarian crisis in this day and age with barely any pictures, videos or witness testimonies from the ground. But that is what the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has come to. Since the conflict between the federal government, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the regional government’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), began in November 2020, access to the region has been extremely limited. Internet and telephone connectivity was cut off as soon as the fighting began, disconnecting about 5 million people. Months later, the internet remains down and telephone communication has only been restored in a few main towns. Journalists and human rights monitors are still denied entry and cannot report to the world the full scale of the violence which has left at least hundreds of people dead and more than 470,000 displaced, according to the UN.” - Vanessa Tsehaye, Amnesty International

November 30, 2020  USA/Africa: Build Back Better on Africa Policy http://www.africafocus.org/docs20/usa2011.php
    “President Trump's overt contempt for Africans is encapsulated in his famously crass remark about African countries. But the principal damage to Africa has stemmed from his administration’s broader policy choices, such as the disastrous rejection of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris climate accords; harsh curbs on legal immigration and asylum; and gutting of gender equality programs. … Nevertheless, the Biden administration should not merely go back to the pre-Trump status quo. … We argue that an even more fundamental questioning of U.S. Africa-related policy is needed.” - Imani Countess and William Minter

November 18, 2020  Ethiopia: Not Too Late to Step Back from War? http://www.africafocus.org/docs20/eth2011.php
    “We, the undersigned citizens of countries of the Horn of Africa, condemn in the strongest possible terms the outbreak and escalation of open warfare in Ethiopia. We are saddened by the attendant losses of life, property, infrastructure and opportunities. We deplore in equally strong terms further stoking of the conflict. … This conflict will not have winners; the only winners in war are those who are wise and courageous enough to avoid it.”

October 23, 2020  Nigeria: A New Generation Steps Up http://www.africafocus.org/docs20/nig2010.php
    “The protest is for our lives, it’s for our future. We want SARS to end but SARS is just the beginning. They should just wait for us. We’re not quiet anymore.” [This response appears] typical of the critical mass of protesters who are around 18-22 years old, are particularly fearless, and are protesting for the first time. - Ayodeji Rotinwa, Deputy Editor of African Arguments

September 28, 2020  USA/Global: Millions Displaced by US Post-9/11 Wars http://www.africafocus.org/docs20/disp2009.php
    “Wartime displacement (alongside war deaths and injuries) must be central to any analysis of the post-9/11 wars and their short- and long-term consequences. Displacement also must be central to any possible consideration of the future use of military force by the United States or others. Ultimately, displacing 37 million—and perhaps as many as 59 million—raises the question of who bears responsibility for repairing the damage inflicted on those displaced.” - Brown University Costs of War Project

September 23, 2020  USA/Global: Overhauling U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.africafocus.org/docs20/usa2009.php
    The most consequential election year in most of our lifetimes has featured stark crises unspooling against a backdrop of vigorous activist mobilizations and simmering public outrage. While the first essential step for progressives is to prevent the reelection of President Trump, that will not be enough. We need fundamental change rather than a return to the status quo ante.

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