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Peace and Security

This page updated on-line at http://www.africafocus.org/intro-peace.php.

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Talking Points

  • Despite the image of a conflict-ridden continent, most African countries are at peace. They are afflicted not by war and warlords but by the less-visible kinds of "everyday" structural violence that prevail around the world: violence against women or migrants, for example, as well as abuses in police and prison systems, street crime that disproportionately affects the poor, or, more generally, systematic inequalities in access to basic social rights.

  • African civil conflicts, where they are occurring, are most often interpreted in terms of simplistic narratives applied to the entire continent. But each country is distinct. When there is open war, as in Somalia, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria, or the Central African Republic, the causes are complex. Using explanations such as "age-old hostilities" or "tribalism" is wrong. But so is seeing external powers such as the United States or France as the primary contributors to violence, although colonial and Cold War histories, as well as current arms sales, have decisively influenced the context of today's conflicts.

  • In responding to internal conflict, terrorism, and criminal violence, leaders in Africa and around the world most often rely on militarized responses that are ineffective and abusive of human rights. Although leaders give lip service to addressing the root causes, it is standard formulas of repression and funding for security forces that take priority in practice.

  • In those countries where violent Islamic extremism is present, standard global counter-terrorism strategies are almost certain to further inflame the situation. "Wars" on drugs and crime, as well as higher walls and deportations against migrants and refugees, have likewise been consistently ineffective and counterproductive, producing more rather than less violence.

  • Security forces, both of African governments and of multilateral organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations, are needed to protect civilians from violence carried out by non-state actors. But peacekeeping actions are often underfunded, misdirected, or both. The responsibility for funding and accountable management of such missions should be global as well as regional and national.

  • There are no simple or "one-size-fits-all" solutions to violence and terrorism. Greater efforts are needed to address long-term causes and exercise preventive diplomacy. But people affected by conflict also need immediate help, both humanitarian assistance and accountable, adequately funded protection from violence.

People internally displaced by conflict in South Sudan find only vulnerable shelter - UN Photo/Isaac Billy

Most recent bulletins on peace and security

February 11, 2019  Nigeria: Many Candidates, Few Alternatives http://www.africafocus.org/docs19/nig1902.php
    “The presidential contest ... will likely be a straight contest between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and challenger Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Dozens of other candidates will be competing. These include: Oby Ezekwesili, the former minister and founder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement; Professor Kingsley Moghalu, the former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; and Omoyele Sowore, the owner of the media outlet Sahara Reporters. But when it comes down to it, it will be a two-horse race.” - Idayat Hassan

January 30, 2019  USA/Africa: Paradigms of Foreign Intervention http://www.africafocus.org/docs19/usa1901b.php
    “[In her new book Foreign Intervention in Africa after the Cold War, Schmidt´s] aim is not to provide a comprehensive narrative or advance an explanatory theory, but to introduce a series of case studies, taking into account global narratives and common factors as well as the particularity and nuances of each case. … As Schmidt explains, global narratives are both essential and misleading in explaining the course and outcomes of intervention in specific conflicts.” - AfricaFocus Editor William Minter

January 30, 2019  USA/Africa: China, Bolton, and Jimmy Carter http://www.africafocus.org/docs19/usa1901a.php
    When National Security Advisor John Bolton presented the administration´s "New Africa Strategy" at the conservative Heritage Foundation on December 13, the Washington Post headlined Bolton´s warning that “´predatory´ China is outpacing the U.S. In Africa" (http://tinyurl.com/ydgrr7ep). And, according to the New York Times, "Bolton Outlines a Strategy for Africa That’s Really About Countering China" (http://tinyurl.com/yc73fx9j). But however prominent the theme of U.S.-China competition in current news, neither this framework nor any other overarching theme is likely to prove a reliable guide as either a description or prescription for actual policy.

July 30, 2018  East Africa: Ethiopia/Eritrea Peace Hopes, Cautions http://www.africafocus.org/docs18/horn1807.php
    For those seeking good news from Africa, there is no better recent example than the dramatic rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Pictures and videos of the overjoyed crowds in Asmara and Addis Ababa greeting the other country's leaders on mutual visits circulated rapidly on social media as well as in international news coverage.

April 23, 2018  Ethiopia: Wax, Gold, and "Ethiopianness" http://www.africafocus.org/docs18/eth1804.php
    The appointment of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister of Ethiopia on April 2 was met with relief and with high expectations by Ethiopians as well as internationally. Although he is a leader of one of the parties in the ruling coalition, he is young (he turns 42 today) and has a reputation as someone open to inclusion and diverse views. Yet the structural problems he and the country face are profound. Ethiopians as well as other informed observers are cautious about predicting to what extent promises will meet expectations, or, in a classic Ethiopian expression, how much gold there is beneath the wax.

February 12, 2018  Sudan: Perilous Crossroads on Refugee Map http://www.africafocus.org/docs18/sud1802.php
    Sudan is one of the central crossroads for African migrant journeys, particularly for refugees from Eritrea and other counties in the Horn of Africa. The international media spotlight falls most often on the deadly crossing of the Mediterranean or slave auctions in the Libyan dessert. But the vulnerability and deadly perils facing those forced to flee by war, repression, or the struggle for economic survival extends to a far wider terrain, of which Sudan is one example.

January 29, 2018  Africa/Global: Humanitarian Attention Deficits http://www.africafocus.org/docs18/hum1801.php
    The international system of response to humanitarian crises is flawed. And the often-repeated call to focus on addressing causes of crises and structural flaws in the system, instead of only providing short-term relief, is undeniably justified. But current trends, paralleling austerity programs and cuts in services at domestic levels in the United States and around the world, are not moving in the direction of fundamental reform. Instead, they are further diminishing the already inadequate resources devoted to saving lives.

December 18, 2017  Cameroon: Speech, Rights, and Aging Autocracy http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/cam1712.php
    Cameroonian-American writer Patrice Nganang, an acclaimed novelist who writes in French and teaches at the State University of New York, Stonybrook, remains in prison in Cameroon after his detention at the airport on December 6. His friends and colleagues around the world have mobilized protests, which has evoked international attention and pressure. But the aging autocracy of Cameroon President Paul Biya is pressing charges against him, and is even more resistant to addressing the issues of discrimination he highlighted in an article just a day before his arrest.

November 13, 2017  Africa/Global: Counterproductive Counterterrorism http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/cve1711.php
    What strategies work to counter terrorism effectively, whether in Africa or anywhere else in the world? Few would claim to have a convincing answer to that question. However, there is some real evidence of what strategies do not work and are even counterproductive. For example, a new UNDP study studying recruitment to violent extremism, based on interviews with former extremists in Nigeria, Kenya, and Somalia, found a number of factors underlying the growth of violent extremism. Particularly striking was the finding that 71 percent of recruits interviewed said that it was some form of government action that was the 'tipping point' that triggered their final decision to join an extremist group.

November 13, 2017  USA/Sahel: Questions Asked, Unasked, Half-Answered http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/sah1711.php
    The U.S. military presence in Africa, which has been growing steadily since the years following the 9/11 attack, has been having a spotlight in U.S. media after the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger on October 4. But despite numerous questions raised, and the prominent attention given to the characteristically obtuse and insensitive response from the White House, the questions raised have been at best half-answered. And fundamental questions about counterterrorism strategy and U.S. policy were left unasked in the Washington-focused debate.

October 30, 2017  Africa/Global: Recent Books Read & Recommended http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/books1710.php
    As with other publications largely focused on current events, AfricaFocus Bulletin is confronted with an exponentially increasing bombardment of daily news. My approach as the editor is to select a particular topic of interest, sometimes highlighted in the news and sometimes not, and try to put it into context for readers with excerpts from the most relevant sources. But I also find it essential to try to step back and refresh my understanding of the wider context. For that, I find I must turn to books.

October 19, 2017  Somalia: Not Only a Somali Tragedy http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/som1710.php
    "I think it's really quite tragic that a strategy run from Washington, D.C., and from the European headquarters in Brussels pays so little attention when over 300 people are killed, massacred, and another 500 people are struggling for their lives, and that very little support comes from the United States and the European Union to help the Somali government clean up this, help the people who have been injured or people who have lost their parents or their children." - Dr. Abdi Samatar

Complete listing of bulletins on peace and security, 2003-present