Africa’s Security Paradox

The Munich Security Conference Core Group convened in Addis Abeba between April 14 and 15, 2016. Being a European innovation, it was the first ever gathering to be held for discussion of regional and global peace and security matters on African soil in the 51 years of the Group’s existence.

“The importance of Africa for global security, the problem of political violence surrounding elections, the impact of large trends like demography on Africa’s security as well as its peace and security architecture,” were indicators of the Agenda, according to the press release from the German Embassy in Addis Abeba.

The core group session involved scores of high-level attendees from across Africa, Europe and the US, including Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Another security summit of a comparable nature followed the above-mentioned congregation in the city of Bahir Dar between April 16 and 17, 2016. The latter was the Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa which has been evolving as an informal gathering of both sitting and former African Heads of States. Other participants were international and regional dignitaries, eminent policymakers, senior executives of non-governmental organisations and private sector institutions, prominent peace and security experts and the academia. The Forum, an independent initiative of the Institute for Peace & Security Studies (IPSS) at the Addis Abeba University, benefits from all-out support and inspiration of eminent African personalities, one of them being the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

This year’s central theme for the fifth edition of the Tana Forum deeply explored Africa’s growing quest for its rightful place in the global security arena. Admittedly, there is no doubt that the continent is now too big not to be taken seriously enough in world affairs, including peace and security issues. Its geopolitical setting, demographic context, strategic location and as well as huge and untapped natural resources make Africa so important that it can no longer be underestimated in the eyes of the global forces.

Hence, its desires and aspirations for greater attention on the part of the hegemonic powers in particular, and the international community in general, are understandable, to say the least. Against their age-old and painful relegation on all fronts, Africans of all racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds need to strive hard with a unified voice and action until they are accepted and treated with equality and dignity on the part of their dominating contemporaries.

In the wake of this developing ambition, however, one is left to grapple with a dozen crucial and inter-related questions likely to overshadow the continent’s legitimate quest for equal treatment.

This necessitates a review of how national security systems in Africa function. Is the continent secure enough to be relied upon and thereby win the full confidence of its global partners? If not, where does its mainstream security threat come from?

The national defense, security and intelligence systems in Africa are, by and large, organised and structured in such a way as to provide maximum protection to the regimes in power, rather than their respective populations. In other words, the level of their orientation towards public security remains relatively low so long as the safety of the central state authorities is maintained in the name of law and order. On account of this attitude, the security of ordinary citizens inhabiting the peripheries is always strikingly compromised due to the delayed response in times of urgent need for protection from potential attack by enemies both within and without.

Thus, it is not uncommon to witness cross-border infiltration into and invasion of peaceful civilian villages, agricultural farmlands and livestock grazing pastures by armed bandits. Human trafficking activities, cattle raids, smuggling of small arms and light weapons, and inter-tribal clashes over scarce natural resources are also common issues. These issues are experienced by almost all outlying regions throughout the continent. Due to poor attention and failure of governments, international borders in Africa are not secure enough to attract communities for life and work.

According to the statement released by the Government Communication’s Affairs Office (GCAO) on Saturday, April 16, 2016, another devastating action of the Murle tribe had taken place in the Gambella Region of Western Ethiopia. The Murle had crossed the border on April 15, 2016 and mercilessly massacred over 208 defenseless people, abducted more than 102 children, and took with them over 2,000 heads of cattle into Buma State of South Sudan without any sort of immediate reaction.

One can imagine how painful and deplorable this news could have been to receive while, in fact, we were participating at the Tana Forum. Paradoxically, we had to wrap up the series of peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building sessions of the forum when we were informed of this frightening and heart-breaking human catastrophe. It was extremely shocking that the murder and kidnap of people and children as well as the scale of the cattle raid had taken place in the host nation, of which Africa, (if not the world), is proud. Ethiopia has a shining record and has been a successful champion of peace support operations at the global level. What a tragic coincidence!

Is that not a security lapse amidst an important security discourse affecting the continent? What went wrong with our special border guards and internal security forces in the face of this unprecedented strike against our communities on such an unimaginable proportion? Where were our national defense forces at the time? They are constitutionally bestowed with the heavy responsibility to defend the country’s unity, territorial integrity as well as the safety and property of the local communities.

In the interest of transparency and accountability, these and other crucial questions deserve adequate explanation on the part of the government without further delay. Our legitimate claim to be incorporated into the global security system is justified only if we are capable of first providing basic security guarantees for our respective citizens and communities at the domestic level.

It must be underscored here that these types of incidents are not, by far, isolated exceptions to Ethiopia, which shares long borders with neighbouring South Sudan. Almost all international borders in Africa are less secure and thus inhospitable for indigenous inhabitants.

By Merhatsidk Mekonnen
Merhatsidk Mekonnen has Bachelor's Degree in Law and a Master's in Peace & Security Studies.

Published on May 03,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 835]



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