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Outline for Globalization and African Regional Security

By Donald Rothchild; University of California, Davis

Work in Progress

I plan to look here at security in a rather traditional and restricted way, but as Ed Keller points out in his paper, security has many, complex strands. 


When our analysis of security leads to a focus upon Africa’s marginalization in the world today, we begin to understand how Africa’s insecurity about the future can lead to anger and possibly rage.


Globalization often contributes to a conflict of identities.  To the extent it involves the spread of Western cultures and values, it can be threatening to Africa’s traditional self-identification.  Then, if Africa embraces globalization and is denied full integration on an equal basis with the West, it feels shut out of the newly emergent global culture.  This sense of exclusion can be threatening to Africa’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.  It can result either in (a) an inward-looking, tradition-oriented self-reliance or (b) an aggressive reaction to all things regarded as Western.


African security has been haunted by four interrelated problems: weak states, low availability of information, lack of credible commitment to regional organizations, and low levels of development.


The cumulative effect of these has been limited regional cooperation and high levels of insecurity.


Instability can become regional, as problems of weak states and international penetration escalate (conflicts in the Republic of the Congo and Liberia-Sierra Leone).


Conflict diamonds are sold into global markets and proceed to fuel trans-state wars.


  1. Impact of weak states on the international environment.


An effective state is critical in terms of negotiating the terms for Africa’s participation in the global system.  It mediates with other states and between internal interests and multinational corporations and the technological community.


Instead of emphasizing its role as an intermediary between the African society and the global arena, the state is all too often viewed from an internal perspective -- as a prize that enables groups to gain access and a favored share of allocations. 


This outlook tends to overlook the integrative role the state can play both in bridging the distance with the external environment and in protecting society from exploitative initiatives from abroad.


  1. Low information creates suspicions about what other leaders in the region may be planning.  Lack of knowledge about the intentions of rivals deepens suspicions and therefore aggravates international tensions.


  1. Lack of credible commitment makes it difficult for weaker parties to commit to peace accords.  If a leader assumes that a rival leader will use a peace agreement to his or her advantage and in the long-term will renege on his or her promise, then distrust may cause a party (especially a weaker one) to pull back from cooperation.


  1. Low level of economic development reduces inter-unit cooperation.


As borders become barriers and leaders look inward, the effect is to complicate the creation of a borderless economic region.  Investment and economic aid from stronger global actors exacerbate fears of exploitation and loss of autonomy.  As a consequence, misgivings about asymmetrical exchange disrupt emerging global ties between the relatively industrialized and relatively non-industrialized parts of the world. 


In sum, Africa’s security is likely to be strengthened if (and only if) the various states in the region become integrated in a constructive way into the global system.


Third parties have a critical role to play in creating an enabling environment, fostering opportunity and protecting the peace (facilitating commitment and providing reliable information). 


Transnational conflicts require transnational solutions.


            Sovereignty requires responsible governmental leadership.


Olusegun Obasanjo: “An urgent aspect of security need is a re-definition of the concept of security and sovereignty.  For instance, we must ask why does sovereignty seem to confer absolute immunity on any government who commits genocide and monumental crimes of destruction and elimination of a particular section of its population for political, religious, cultural or social reasons?  In an inter-dependent world, is there no minimum standard of decent behaviour to be expected and demanded from every government in the interest of common humanity” ( Obasango and Mosha (eds.), Africa: Rise to Challenge, p. 260).  


So long as state leaders uphold human rights, then state sovereignty must be respected.  However, where state leaders engage in mass violations of human rights, then regional organizations have a right – an obligation – to intervene.


            No more Rwandas are acceptable!


New thinking is evident in the proposals for a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA), launched by Olusegun Obasanjo in Kampala in 1991.  What is significant here is that the proposals for far-reaching security innovations came from Africans themselves.


There is a need for greater coordination between the UN and regional organizations to deal with complicated security threats (such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia -- on this, see Margaret Vogt’s paper on the OAU for U.S. Peace Academy).


Problem: are we in the midst of a process leading to more robust global institutions, or will the private interests of leaders and the disappointment of the general public frustrate meaningful cooperation and commitment in the years ahead?


Realism (not myopic realism) in these perilous times must involve an element of enlightenment if we are to achieve its essential purposes. 

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