Tag Archives: Africa

‘Climate security’ and developing country voices

“The impacts of climate change can exacerbate resource competition, threaten livelihoods, and increase the risk of instability and conflict, especially in places already undergoing economic, political, and social stress”, said US Secretary of State John Kerry in a major set of remarks on climate change and security. Emphasising the threat that climate impacts poses to US national security and broader global peace and stability, Kerry said:

“[T]he reason I have made climate change a priority in my current role as Secretary of State is not simply because climate change is a threat to the environment. It’s because – by fueling extreme weather events, undermining our military readiness, exacerbating conflicts around the world – climate change is a threat to the security of the United States and, indeed, to the security and stability of countries everywhere.

“…when we talk about the impacts of climate change, we’re not just up against some really serious ecological challenges. We also have to prepare ourselves for the potential social and political consequences that stem from crop failures, water shortages, famine, outbreaks of epidemic disease, which we saw a near brush with Ebola in three African countries last year. And we have to heighten our national security readiness to deal with the possible destruction of vital infrastructure and the mass movement of refugees, particularly in parts of the world that already provide fertile ground for violent extremism and terror.”

The portrayal of climate change as a security challenge – or in academic terms, the ‘securitisation’ of climate change – is not new. The ‘threat multiplier’ language has been around for much of the past decade, the UN Security Council has held two debates on climate change (in 2007 and earlier this year), and the socioeconomic consequences of drought as a trigger to the Syrian phase of the Arab Spring (and what descended into civil war) is being increasingly noted. There is a lot of talk about ‘greening’ military operations, about the qualitative changes that might be wrought for military missions, implications for ‘other’, conventional efforts at addressing climate change, especially adaptation and resilience-building efforts, and so on.

What does seem new – as an on-off observer of this debate – is not the character of the argument, but who is making it. The novel recent development is not Kerry’s comments (even if there was a very interesting climate mainstreaming announcement about convening a “task force of senior government officials to determine how best to integrate climate and security analysis into overall foreign policy planning and priorities”), or the welter of reports examining the various aspects of climate security agenda.

Instead, it is the engagement of defence ministries from developing countries on this subject that is the interesting new development. While many of the cases cited as signs of the clear and present need to think of climate change in security terms – Syria, Nigeria, Darfur, etc. – are obviously in developing countries (but not all, cf. the Arctic), the broad argument has not been principally made by Southern voices. Many of these linkages and ‘securitising acts’ have, rather, been led by US, European, and NATO officials and politicians, and by thinktanks and research efforts in developed countries such as CNAS and Chatham House. I interned at the Royal United Services Institute in London for a few months in 2009 on exactly such a climate security project, a sign of how a very traditional, armed services-oriented British thinktank was trying to dip its toe into these waters of the ‘new security’ agenda.

This rarity of having developing country policymakers active in this climate security debates was highlighted by a recent conference in mid-October hosted by France ahead of the COP21 Paris conference, ‘Climat et Défense : quels enjeux?’ – which caught my eye because defence officials from developing countries were indeed participants. There was fairly minimal reporting of this meeting (see VOA here and IISD here), but what is of interest for the moment is who was there: defence ministers from Ghana, Niger, Haiti, Chad, Morocco, Gabon, and the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security (in addition to representation from ‘usual suspects’ of France, UK, Italy and Spain).

Here’s Ghana’s defence minister, Benjamin Kunbuor (bringing to mind David King’s very early contribution on climate change being a greater threat than terrorism):

“Terrorism is significant, but naked hunger is as significant as terrorism,” he said. “And the relationship between terrorist activities and naked hunger are obvious. If you look at the vectors of recruitment into terrorist cells, most of the most vulnerable are hunger-prone areas.”

Roundtable on ‘Extreme Climate Events and Human Security’, at the ‘Climat et défense : quels enjeux?’ conference, 14 October 2015. Photo via defense.gouv.fr

The type of linkage being made is itself now new, trying to sketch the causal chain between climate impacts, scarcity, stability and potential conflict. What is new is when it is made by high-level policymakers in developing countries, especially from defence ministries and not the environment, forestry or energy departments that normally do the running on climate change. This sort of involvement can give climate action a different kind of traction in those countries, especially where climate issues may not be terribly well integrated into conventional ‘economic development’ planning and efforts.

Of course, too, such successful securitisation can have both positive and negative implications on how national response to climate change is structured. The language and political attention of ‘security’ may be offset by the militarisation of the issue and narrow security referents of ‘state’ rather than ‘human’ security. Bureaucracies may battle for budgets, and debate over the relative assessment of ‘risk’ within a society may have its own competitive rather than cooperative dynamics.

‘Climate security’ discourse is notable for having been largely championed by Western officialdom over the past decade. That defence and security establishments in precisely the countries on the frontlines of the impacts of a warming world are now publicly engaging with this subject may make it a more global conversation in the years to come.

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Drawing the ‘real’ map of the world

The Guardian – The separatist map of Africa

‘The government in the distant capital doesn’t care about us. We’d be better off ruling ourselves’. This refrain continues to echo the world over as secessionist groups press for autonomy and independence from existing states. The grievance is often historical, but in the here and now, also has much to do with the quality of governance. A better life, secessionist groups argue, comes when we rule ourselves.

The Guardian has a recent interactive graphic that redraws the map of Africa to realise the dreams of all the continent’s secessionist movements – from unmaking modern Libya back into east and west, to the various de facto bits of what was once Somalia. This sort of exercise – accompanying a piece on the Mombasa Republican Council, which calls for the separation of the Mombasa region from the rest of Kenya – often alludes to the artificial character of much of African state creation, inheriting colonial boundaries and having to cope with the multi-ethnic animosities of this new creature. Underneath and criss-crossing these straight lines, the common conception goes, lies the ‘real’ political communities on which more robust states should be built.

But perhaps artificialness is what one makes of it. For as much as some of these separatist groups hark back to a pre-colonial political entity, demarcating these is never straightforward (where did that earlier entity come from, anyway?) and building what we call the modern nation-state is a process that unfolds over time and subject to political compromises. ‘Who is part of the nation’ is little more than an idea, the result of a process of constructing a social group that may be more or less stable at different points in time, but can never be static or fixed.

And this is as true for Africa as it is for the ‘old’ Western world where the nation-state as the political unit that marks modernity came into being. A million-strong march in Barcelona to mark the 300th anniversary of the siege of Barcelona has provided a reminder of the continuing political resonance of the cause of Catalonian independence; a referendum on Scottish independence is due sometime in 2014. The same logic is at play: ‘we’re better off alone, as we once were before’. Ongoing events, in this sense, challenge just how ‘real’ either of these states are: are Spain or Great Britain any more real states than Libya or Somalia? It probably didn’t seem like it in the early days of a united Britain and united Spain, and resolving the question of unity or separation has often come through violence and civil war.

Catalonia’s independence rally – 12 September 2012. Credit: BBC and AP

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Pressing reset on new states

My secret dreams of becoming an urban planner were nurtured by the computer game SimCity, and my secret plans for world domination, by Sid Meier’s Civilization. Both these games have gone through various iterations since the late 1990s when I first started playing them, but the challenge of turning a randomly-generated landscape into a bustling metropolis or cultural hegemon has always been a mischievously alluring one.

For the European adventurers in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries traversing uncharted seas to map Africa, South America and Asia, huge swathes of the map were considered terra nullius – like my randomly-generated computer game landscapes, empty land, upon which claims of possession could be made. ‘Civilization’, in the minds of the colonizers, would begin afresh in these lands.

But as they found then in their relationships with local peoples, and as we find now in the creation of new states, little starts from scratch. As the referendum in south Sudan heads for the conclusion of the count, with independence the expected outcome, wrestling with its historical legacies throws up new challenges for the would-be rulers of the world’s would-be newest state.

Some of these can seem rather prosaic, but matter hugely in the long-term. One is the name of the new country itself – the popular shorthand has been South Sudan, but a range of other possibilities exist:

“The easiest option would be to stick to what people call it now — South Sudan or Southern Sudan.

“But there are some serious branding issues. Say “Sudan” to most outsides and they will immediately think of a list of nasties — Darfur, the never-ending north-south civil war, military coups, militancy and crippling debt.

“A new nation might be grateful for a new name with a clean slate.

“Equatoria has a nice ring to it. But that would associate the entire diverse territory with just three of its current states — Western and Eastern Equatoria, together with Central Equatoria, the home of the capital Juba.

“New Sudan is catchy but perhaps a little presumptuous. Old Sudan would not be happy.”

And so on. Names do matter – and not just if you’re Sarah Palin, confusing North Korea with South Korea over which is the US ally. How differently would we think of Bangladesh if it remained, after independence, as East Pakistan? As statements of identity, names reflect a particular history or geography, conjuring up their own political resonances that seem especially significant for nascent efforts at nation-building and forging a new national identity.

But another illustration of Sudan’s past confronting its present lies in the red and black on Sudan’s economic ledger. Sudan’s oil future, and the potential bonanza to the south, has been well-discussed, but less so has been the state of Sudan’s debts. Jubilee Debt Campaign raise this point, asking how the $35bn of external debt held by the Sudanese government might be distributed between the ‘original’ Sudan and the new state.

The claim against the new state assuming part of the original Sudan’s debt liabilities is at least partly a moral one – debt incurred by a government unrepresentative and unsympathetic to the south, as three decades of civil war testify to. Arguments of ‘odious debt’ are made with regards to debts incurred by dictatorial regimes that now fall on the post-dictatorial government to repay, and there seems at least an intuitive fit with regards to south Sudan. The practical claim may be, additionally, that if a new government starts with a considerable burden to international debtors, its independence may be simply legal and symbolic, rather than substantive. But we’ll leave that element of how substantive sovereignty has to be to be meaningful (or even as a condition for statehood) for another time.

So the difficulties that south Sudan will face in the coming months and years relate not just to how the ethno-religious mixture of its population get along, or how its resource endowment is to be managed, because these can’t be fully grasped without the deeper, broader legacies that its history bequeaths. There is, alas, no reset button (unlike a computer game session when I royally mess things up). Looking towards a new, independent future in the tomorrow, will still have the hand of yesterday on its shoulder.

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Goldman Sachs introduced the handy ‘BRIC’ acronym to the world a decade ago as it sought to highlight change in the global economy as Brazil, Russia, India and China grow in economic prominence over the 21st century.

In the decade since, the ‘BRIC’ term has taken on a life of its own, constructing a new geographical image of power and influence as a counterpoint to the traditional ‘West’: the BRICs are seen at the crest of the wave of emerging powers, challenging the dominance of Western Europe and North America in leading and shaping the global system. Academic interest has jumped on this bandwagon too – where the relevance of the BRIC category comes under scrutiny over how much these four large countries actually do have in common. Russia’s place comes with a particular question mark, and Indonesia frequently suggested as a more appropriate replacement.

From another corporate think-tank – the McKinsey Global Institute – comes a breathless endorsement of the African continent’s future potential, and with it, the implicit suggestion that we could be adding an ‘A’ to that acronym. This, of course, depends on seeing the whole region as a single economic unit, so that the numbers of growth, investment and consumption add-up and come close to BRIC territory:

“An even bigger source of growth will be the rise of the urban African consumer. In 1980, just 28 percent of Africans lived in cities. Today, 40 percent of the continent’s 1 billion do, a portion close to China’s, larger than India’s, and likely to keep growing in the coming years. The number of households with discretionary income is projected to grow 50 percent over the next 10 years to 128 million. Already, Africa’s household spending tops $860 billion a year, more than that of India or Russia. And consumer spending in Africa is growing two to three times faster than in the wealthy developed countries and could be worth $1.4 trillion in annual revenue within a decade.”

There’s a bit of food for thought here about the trajectory that Africa finds itself on, at least in economic terms. Urbanization, high returns on investment, untapped agricultural land and natural resources, all adding up, in the McKinsey analysis, to a coming boom. Population alone offers a hint as to the potential here, as competition in Chinese and Indian markets intensifies over the coming years and decades. Someone remarked to me recently that China isn’t going to want to be the workshop of the world forever, relying simply on low-end, labour-intensive industrial production, and someone, somewhere else is going to get a chance to take up the slack.

But despite this proclamation of the ‘African miracle’, a rising tide doesn’t lift all boats if some boats have holes in them or remain anchored to the seabed. The ‘East Asian miracle’ of the 1980s and 1990s was principally based around a few ‘tigers’ – South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, and while others in the region also saw rapid rates of growth, economic miracles do not, I would think, take place in a uniform, even manner. Those who are already well-placed to benefit, the existing poles of investment, stable governance and communication, are likely to reap the greatest rewards. Perhaps a more pronounced economic differentiation represents the continent’s future, rather than a wholesale leap into the emerging power class.

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Statebreaking and statemaking in south Sudan

In the last ten years, there have been just five new members of the United Nations: Tuvalu, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro and Timor-Leste. Of these territories, three were once parts of existing UN members themselves: Timor-Leste included within Indonesia, and Serbia and Montenegro what remained of the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo, about which I got slightly excited earlier in the year, may still be the coda to this, nearly two decades after the other ex-Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia became UN members.

So the process of statebreaking and statemaking – where existing states are decomposed into new territorial units – is a relatively rare one in recent history. All too often, these have involved violence, in efforts to force secession or preserve unity (German reunification and Czechslovakia’s dissolution the more notable exceptions to the rule). South Sudan has had an incredibly violent past too, with civil war running for well over two decades, halted only by a peace agreement in 2005 – but an important threshold for full statehood now looms with a coming referendum on independence in early January.

Registering to vote has now begun, but there is a horrendously complex mix of things affecting the prospects for peace in south Sudan – both with the referendum process itself, and the percieved legitimacy of it; and about what happens post-referendum, if (as is widely expected) the vote favours self-determination and independence for the south. Sanctions on the north, an ICC warrant for Sudanese president Omar Bashir, oil in the south, contested boundaries, a southern diaspora population living in the north – as well as, of course, the still-unresolved situation in Darfur – have left me peering at the situation through my fingers.

Possibilities for peaceful secession are indeed being suggested, and the importance of oil to both north and south might even help to grease a nonviolent transition, but how external actors respond is crucial, in the pressure they place on authorities in north and south to settle their differences. One observer has put it this way: “In the end, Bashir is making a straightforward calculation: What do I get for playing ball; what do I lose for breaking up the game? The great imponderable for him is the role of the international community”. Statebreaking and statemaking ultimately, are processes mixed in with the interest and norms of the international community rather than just being the result of compromise (or the failure thereof) between ruling and secessionist parties.

The dream of independence persists for disenfranchised minorities around the world, where the belief in (often ethno-religious) self-determination continues to be a potent one. But the established international order has tended to treat the prospect of secession with caution, fearing destabilizing consequences. Preserving order has tended to trump the injustices and grievances of minorities. And governments in developing countries, themselves frequently multiethnic entities, have tended to fear the slippery slope consequences for their own territories of approving of any general permissiveness towards secession. The social quality of sovereign recognition, an inextricable part of how ‘statehood’ is achieved, has helped to limit the frequency of such secession attempts: independence leaders know that unilateral declarations will often be folly without some external backer to deter the parent state from forcibly asserting control.

But the type of international involvement and interest in this referendum, and the willingness of the international community to see an independent South Sudan, however, may hint that this traditional caution may be somewhat eased.

I’m trying here to see south Sudan in terms of following in Kosovo’s wake, and what current mood of the collective international tolerance to statebreaking and statemaking is. These attitudes are, of course, informed by the constellation of great power interests involved. But the barriers to entry to international society – if perhaps not quite full UN membership – might not be as insurmountably high as the norms of the past half-century would otherwise suggest.

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Political trajectories after colonialism

A fortnight ago, Tanzania’s incumbent president, Jakaya Kikwete, was re-elected at the end of an election campaign that began in early August while I was in Tanzania for a month on a volunteer teaching project. This is Kikwete’s second term, and his party, CCM, has ruled Tanzania continuously with comfortable parliamentary majorities since independence.

I’m no expert on east African politics (having to rely on a friend to help spell out some of the local issues), but the broader phenomenon of interest is about the kind of long-term postcolonial trajectory that a country like Tanzania is on – and what the continuous rule of a single party, post-independence, might be the symptom of.

An election billboard in Dar es Salaam for the incumbent (and now, newly-reelected) Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete

Conventional discussions of development, and statebuilding hold implicitly that developing countries will, in the long-run come to approximate the image and model of the Western state, especially in its internal coherence and stability. All states will come to look alike, even if they do not right now – the difference between Western states and African/Asian ones is simply a matter of time, currently being at different points on the same historical trajectory. This assumption, manifest especially in good governance discussions, seems also to be central to IR theories that are mostly built upon the historical experience and interactions of European states.

I’ve long found this troubling, particularly for two reasons. The first is about what impact the colonial experience has had on the development and formation of the modern state, in both political and economic terms. Newly independent states have tended to adopt the political institutions of their colonial rulers, structures normally designed to centralize and concentrate power in the hands of a few. And the economic inheritance of newly independent states has often been narrowly focused on a few key crops or industries, with taxation having little connection to democratic legitimacy. These are all broad generalisations – but the colonial experience seems to be one quite different from the iterations of revolution and reform that have characterised the evolution of modern European states.

The second is about the legacy of the decolonisation process in the rigidity of colonial-era borders. Straight-line boundaries that stretch for hundreds of miles across countries of the Middle East and Africa are the most telling signs of these, but so too is the relative stability of these in the years post-independence. Membership of the United Nations by these new states has carried with it a presumption against the revision of territorial boundaries by force – a presumption that would have seemed absurd to the monarchs and statesmen of 18th and 19th-century Europe, for whom conquest was an unremarkable tool of foreign affairs. And while ethnic and religious homogeneity within any given slice of territory can never be total, the inflexibility of colonial boundaries to post-independence revision arguably exacerbates the challenges of societal cohesion and nationalism faced by decolonised states.

When compared to the experience of the European states on which many theories of world politics are built upon, the expectation that postcolonial countries should, in time, come to resemble their former masters, seems surprising, to say the least. Or put differently, it would seem extraordinarily remarkable that the very different circumstances in which Western and developing countries were assembled, should lead to roughly similar political and economic forms. The history and evolution of developing countries takes place not in isolation, but indelibly marked by interaction in a global system of asymmetrical relationships of power and wealth.

Rather than being a quirk on the way to multiparty democracy where government routinely changes hands, might the continuous postindependence rule that Tanzania is just an example of, hint at a globe marked by qualitatively different political trajectories? I’m not sure if I have the imagination to offer answers to the  ‘if not the Western state, then what’ question. Instead, in a more limited fashion, all I have to offer is my hesitation against the linearity of reading the European past as the global future.

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Development vs democracy in Africa?

Democratic governance before economic prosperity, or prosperity before governance? Can you have one without the other – do you need to have one to have the other? A long-running debate over the relationship between development and democracy may find fresh ground in an African context, with one set of indicators pointing to gains in human development but only faltering progress in terms of democratic governance.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2010 index, released earlier in the week, surveys African countries across 88 criteria, with the headline conclusion that “While many African citizens are becoming healthier and have greater access to economic opportunities than five years ago, many of them are less physically secure and less politically enfranchised”. The detail of the index offers an opportunity to differentiate among good performers and lesser ones, rather than lumping them all together into ‘Africa’: some countries remain in the grip of political turmoil, others have been able to make progress in improving their citizens’ lives.

The point of the index is partly to “inform and empower the continent’s citizens”, but there is an inbuilt assumption that democracy and development do go hand in hand. Ibrahim, writing in the Guardian, makes exactly this point:

We cannot afford to ignore this decline [in human rights, the rule of law and safety], or to rationalise it away as the cost of making progress on economic and development issues. This is a false choice. Experience shows that when political governance and economic management diverge, overall development becomes unsustainable.

Does it really? The democracy-development debate gained much of its traction from the East Asian example in the 1990s – the rise of the ‘Asian tigers’ as booming economic powerhouses but with an authoritarian tendency, seeming to counter the liberal Fukuyama-type thesis of the inevitable ascendance of liberal democracy around the world. I wonder if we couldn’t think of the trend reported by the Ibrahim Index in the same way?  This debate, which continues to thrive today, is essentially about how many paths to modernity there are – do countries need to attempt to mimick the model of the Western state? Or might there be a qualitatively distinct Asian, or indeed African, route to power and prosperity?

China remains the frequently cited example of this – a nondemocratic major power, with little sign of being on the edge of political revolution. In response, many are right to point out the fragility of the CCP’s rule – its legitimacy premised above all on its ability to deliver a rising standard of living for its people. But democracy can be pretty dysfunctional too, especially for the self-proclaimed leader of the free world – Stephen Walt frequently muses on whether the US political system is broken, and a just-published exhaustive New Yorker piece reveals the mind-numbing frustrations of trying to get a climate bill through the US Senate.

So when it comes to African states, prospects for political and economic reform offer a way of interrogating the broad contours of world politics since the post-Cold War, democratic optimism (triumphalism?) of the early 1990s: the flow of solidarist pressures on human rights; Western-led universalism that challenges conservative notions of sovereignty and non-interference.

Paul Kagame, recently reelected as Rwanda’s president, has been widely lauded for ensuring relative stability in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, even as complaints about heavy-handed rule persist. And Kagame is far from alone among rulers with an authoritarian streak. The democracy-development debate is a far from settled one, but its questions continue to challenge: Is democratic liberalization still on an inexorable march? Or is the future one more of the uneasy, pluralistic coexistence between authoritarian and democratic regimes?

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