Surveillance over a zone of conflict: Africom and the politics of securitisation of Africa.

Author:Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J.


In the current securitisation discourse the interactions between the powerful nations of the North and Africa are marked by shifting politics within which the African continent is approached as a terrain of risk, fear and threat to global peace and stability. This thinking has the danger of reviving the dangerous argument of seeing Africa as offering nothing but chaos, risk and threats to the supposed 'peace zones' of North America and Europe. The open indicator of the securitisation of Africa came in the form of establishment of the United States Africa Command (USAfrican or Africom) on the 1st of October 2007. This was defined as a new unified combat command of the United States Department of Defence to be responsible for USA military operations in and military relations with fifty-three African nations in the exception of Egypt. The justification for this interventionist move was containment of terrorism.

The end of the Cold War in general and the 9/11 terrorist incident in particular had far reaching impact on global power politics and shaping of global security architecture. This article analyses how Africa has featured within this shifting global politics and in the evolving global security architecture. Since the end of the Second World War and Truman's speech of 1949, Africa featured mainly in global politics as emerging from colonialism and as part of the underdeveloped world that needed humanitarian rehabilitation. But the dynamics of the Cold War particularly the 'proxy wars' made Africa feature into East-West global security calculations and the West's drive to contain communism. It was during the Cold War that securitisation of Africa began as Soviet imperialism contended with Western imperialism in the centre of Africa in such places as Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo and many other Cold War theatres of war. The securitisation partly took the form of shipments of arms of war into the African continent and partly competition between the West and East to sponsor warring factions within the continent. The liberation struggles against colonialism offered the East and the West outlets to intervene in Africa with the Soviet Union backing many African liberation movements like Movement for Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Angola, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU in Zimbabwe, African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and many others in its bid to paint the continent red.

At the end of the Cold War securitisation of Africa took new forms characterised by proliferation of specialised private companies offering military and police services that were previously the preserve of the state. This new phenomenon developed within a terrain of the existence of very weak African states and very vulnerable African leaders. This phenomenon became also intertwined with the changing role of the state. Traditionally, the state enjoyed monopoly of the means and resources of violence and this distinguished it from other social formations. What is even more ominous is that privatisation of security happened in tandem with traditional mercenary activities taking a corporate form and fishing in the troubled waters of Africa.

Current efforts at securitisation of Africa are closely tied to the politics of weak and collapsed states in Africa particularly how the rulers of weak states have used their agency to invite private security sector into Africa for regime security purposes since the end of the Cold War (Ashley, 1988; Ashley, 1987). What has not received scholarly attention is the issue of deliberate compradorisation of some African states by their cunning leaders and the phenomenon of 'imperialism by invitation.' At the global level the present era is also characterised by intensification of 'securitization' of Africa that is, defining Africa as a security risk and a zone of conflict. This discourse came into the centre of international politics following 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in the United States of America. Within this discourse the African continent is an abode of weak, failed and collapsed states that are in turn abodes of terrorists.

It is important to highlight from this outset that the weak African state is not an innocent political formation requiring humanitarian rehabilitation. It is a dangerous phenomenon if conceptualised from a security perspective. The rulers of weak African states have engaged in all sorts of complex survival techniques that include inviting those companies that sell military skills to the highest bidder across the world into Africa. In a bid to outwit competitors in power games, leaders of weak states like Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola and many others have wilfully transformed their states into what one would term comprador regimes, that is, those regimes that did not care much about the welfare of their citizens but who served as agents of foreign interests and foreign businesses (Rodney 1982: 12-18). Closson (2006:1) conceptualised weak states in security terms as 'an arena for the operations of trans-territorial networks locked in a struggle for resources.' In weak states, sovereignty is highly contested, 'given that the weak state is an arena for local and global actors.' Sovereignty 'belongs to many and is loosely sanctioned' (Closson 2006: 1). Within this scenario, rulers of weak states are actively engaged in what Michael Doyle (1968:8-12) terms 'imperialism by invitation' in which these rulers openly invite powerful Private Military Companies like now defunct Executive Outcomes (EO) to help them deal with local rivals who might also be having their own foreign connection and backing. One broad traditional argument on weak states is that which emphasised the notion of 'First World' being complicit in the weakening of the 'Third World.'

This argument has dominated debates in the analysis of global arms sales, proxy wars waged by the superpowers during the Cold War, current economic debates regarding protectionist policies of developed countries in the agricultural sector, and international organisations and transnational corporations implicated in bribe scandals in developing countries. This approach is sympathetic to the weak states and presents these states as victims of external manipulation and ignores the dangerous agency of the leaders of these states, particularly how they invite private military forces to operate in Africa and to engage in African conflicts. Weak states cannot be studied as mere orphans of the Cold War who are falling prey and victim to the machinations of Private Military Companies (PMCs) and Private Security Companies (PSCs) and as victims of powerful global forces that deliberately sap their strength and compromise their sovereignty and stability in order to exploit such resources as minerals and oil. Robert Rotberg (2002:127) has noted that:

Failure and weakness can flow from a nation's geographical, physical, historical, and political circumstances, such as colonial errors and Cold War policy mistakes. More than structural or institutional weaknesses, human agency is also culpable, usually in a fatal way. Destructive decisions by individual leaders have always paved the way to state failure.

The importance of Rotberg's argument is that it captures the often-ignored human agency and the role of such leaders as Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Mohamed Said Barre of Somalia in the weakening of their states. These leaders were also responsible for instrumentalisation of disorder that opened the gates for private military forces to intervene in their countries. If weak states were ever victims of powerful forces that compromised their sovereignty and stability, they must be understood as willing victims presided over by weak but cunning leaders who are able to operate within complex global commercial networks for personal interests, personal gains, and regime security. Leaders of weak states are also active in supporting the process of securitisation of Africa as long as this process ensures their political survival. Other African leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are using the discourse of terrorism to justify their authoritarianism and repression including such draconian pieces of legislation as Public Order and Security Act (POSA); Interception of Information Bill and Access to Information and Privacy Act (AIPA). The opposition forces are easily label as terrorists that deserve liquidation.

Rulers of Weak States and their Agency

Many scholars have examined how the end of the Cold War left numerous African states in very weak position, having been abandoned by the Cold War godfathers and patrons. Some of the African leaders who seemed to be managing to control and even suppress internal threats to their power because of external support were suddenly left alone bereft of internal legitimacy but also unable to eliminate or manage military challenges from armed local strong men as well as vocal civil society. During the Cold War it was very easy for weak leaders and their weak states to solicit loans, diplomatic and military support based on ideological orientation. With the end of the Cold War support for weak regimes in Africa dwindled drastically...

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