Eye on Africa: Rethinking national security

Posted in Africa | 11-Jan-05 | Author: Mvemba Dizolele

Salih Booker is executive director of Africa Action

WASHINGTON -- At their summit in Canada following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the G7 countries agreed that terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation were the greatest threats to world security. The rest of the world, however, sees different urgencies.

"The G7 countries (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada) still have a narrow definition of national security, even with the changing dynamics," says Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, the oldest Africa advocacy group in the United States. "For the 'G6,' or the 6 billion people in the world, the greatest threats are poverty, HIV/AIDS and local conflicts."

Poverty and the lack of access to resources create the right conditions for the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Furthermore, the struggle for control of resources is at the core of conflicts in Tibet, Kashmir, Darfur, Congo and Ivory Coast.

In today's interdependent global village, the notion of national security teeters on the verge of obsolescence. The greatest security threats do not arise from nations, but from loosely structured organizations feeding off the lack of economic opportunities for millions around the globe.

The world can no longer sustain the growing gap between developed and developing nations. Neither can the millions of poor continue to support the rich few.

"How do you reduce this imbalance between wealth and poverty?" asks Booker. "As the most impoverished, but naturally wealthy continent, Africa is the greatest challenge to world security."

The time has arrived for the G7 to adopt a new national security concept -- one that considers the G6's greatest threats -- human security. If developed nations aligned their priorities with those of the rest of the world, Africa would be their most pressing concern.

"Should we find a solution to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa," Booker elaborates. "Then, that model could be applied elsewhere in the world." As the United Nations struggles with its peacekeeping operations, African crises also provide opportunities in conflict resolution methods, which could be replicated.

In the past three years, the African Union has undertaken several initiatives both to prevent and solve conflicts. However, many conflicts still exist.

"Africans have come a long way and have shown signs of political maturity and energy in resolving their own conflicts, such as in Liberia and Sierra Leone," says Leonard Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the Africa Society and former deputy assistant secretary of State for African affairs. "They have taken the reins in Burundi and Congo, but that is not enough."

"There is a strong democratic movement in over half of African countries," he continues. "Democracy is not easy. Just because you hold elections does not mean democracy is growing roots. India is the largest democracy and the United States is the oldest in modern history, but these countries continue to have problems. Look at what happened in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio these past elections."

Antonio Guterres, Portugal's prime minister from 1995 to 2002, is more forceful. "The greatest crime against humanity is taking place in Africa," he tells me.

"With the growing gap between rich and poor nations, Africa drifts by the side as poverty increases at an alarming rate on the continent."

The international trade regime further hinders poverty alleviation efforts.

"With the exception of South Africa, the World Trade Organization isolates the majority of African countries," says Guterres. "They do not even participate in it. At less than 2 percent, Africa's share of global trade is very small and decreasing."

The number of failed states has also increased due to mismanagement and poor leadership in post-independence years.

In order for Africa to fully participate in the free market economy, the international community needs to do more to support the creation of public institutions in the new democracies. A democratic failed state is and will remain a failed state unless it rebuilds its institutions.

Many countries have embraced democracy in its various forms. However, years of dictatorship have gutted these countries of any viable public institutions critical to democracy. The lack of functioning institutions is a serious menace not only to the nascent democracies, but also to the African Union itself, curtailing its initiatives.

"The African Union has made great strides. Africans are likely to endorse its initiatives as they do not reflect neocolonialism," says Guterres. "But the union does not have the financial or logistical means to enforce its own agreements."

"We need a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa to alleviate poverty," says Guterres. "The developed nations should be ready to fund critical portions of the public budget in democratic countries such as Mali and Ghana for a number of years until their institutions could function."

Until public institutions take hold, Africa's new democracies will remain weak and may never mature.

"In 2003, Portugal and Spain received $3.4 and 7.2 billion in structural and cohesion funds from the European Union," explains Guterres.

"These funds are used for social programs, agriculture, transportation, infrastructure and environment. This is more than the total amount all of Africa received in aid for the same period."

If old democracies like Portugal and Spain still require assistance for institution building, the need in Africa is evident.

Now is the time to broaden our definition of national security.

Comments may be sent to mvemba@worldsecuritynetwork.com