Although the African Union has something of collective ‘force’, African security has been inexorably bound to external intervention that in many cases has left a state of greater instability and insecurity among states which even after such interventions, continue to struggle with the very internal conflicts it sought to contain.
Put bluntly, it is time that Africa realised the gross lack of agency that can be dwarfed by the appearance that external military forces are required to salvage peace. And whilst this may come across as a particularly sensitive topic, giving the justified racial undertones, it cannot be ignored that European powers, and France in particular, continue to remain entrenched in the security of its former colonies, reminiscent of its reign of terror over large swathes of the continent.
This is not to imply that Europeans are forever barred from peace-making because of an ‘entitative’ or essentialist element of ‘post-colonial’ ambition inherent in European foreign policy. However, it is bewildering that countries that fought for independence and freedom from colonialism, are still dependent on these very powers for their own security.
‘Operation Barkhane’, a French military anti-terrorist mission that spans Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso Niger and Chad in conjunction with ‘Operation Serval’ that took place in Mali, US and UK military personnel used to assist Ebola prevention in West Africa are key examples of contemporary intervention and dependency. 31 October marked the official end of ‘Operation Sangrias’ one of many French emergency operations conducted in the Central African Republic.
However, the irony is that often the crises these interventions seek to remedy are often the direct result of European and US ‘meddling’ in internal affairs. The de facto system of patronage whereby foreign powers back candidates has created a vast gulf between the people and their leaders. Moreover, these political manoeuvrings often underestimate the social fabric and structure of ‘African’ nations, neglecting tribal grievances, enmities, ties, kinship, customs, all of which penetrate even the highest levels of government.
One need look no further for an example of this than South Sudan and the inevitable falling out between President Salva Kiir from the Dinka tribe and Riek Machar, the former Vice President who hails from the Nuer tribe. United temporarily in their bid for to separate from Sudan, the country is now engulfed in a war whose lines are drawn based on ethnicity. And even more ironic is that these tribes have now sought the patronage of Uganda and Sudan respectively, who are each in talks with greater European powers and the US over finding some solution to the horrific crisis.
Moreover, these interventions often do more harm than good and re-ignite anti-colonial sentiment following atrocities committed by ‘peacekeeping’ forces. Human rights organisations reported French soldiers raping boys and girls they were supposed to be protecting in Central African Republic. The French response was to punish the whistle-blower who exposed these crimes.
Yet despite this, the extent of the dependency ‘syndrome’ is such that CAR President Anicet Georges Dologuele responded to the suggestion of French withdrawal from the country that it was “far too early” and that “our security forces are not ready to take over”. This was met with an embarrassing retort from the French Defence Minister that “it’s always too early…these responsibilities are, above all, your own”.
Even Western-led initiatives to promote economic interests are often implemented at the risk and expense of the African state itself. Djibouti, a small poverty stricken state that many may not have heard plays host to what can only be described as an international airport for military and naval bases. Japan, china, France, and EU are all powers that use Djibouti to conduct anti-piracy missions. However, the rise of China, has made the US and Japan nervous, resulting in plans for future expansion of the operation to include monitoring Chinese naval movements in the region. This impacts increased Chinese submarine presence in the Indian ocean, U.S India cooperation in anti-submarine warfare and trade links from the straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden. In other words, myopic financial gains for playing host to global powers may revamp future East-West competition instead of internal development of such a poor country.
Nevertheless, the reality is that an alternative is yet forthcoming and trading a former colonial nation for rival African forces is hardly appealing. Border contestations continue, and rivalries between the larger powers have exacerbated local conflicts. Although peace-making countries such as South Africa have made progress in promoting an African-led crisis management system, such endeavours remain limited and hindered as a result of the current dynamics of the relationship between Western states and African ‘despots’.
However, there are changes in the wind following the recent announcement by the ICC to investigate crimes by peacekeeping forces in Africa, an initiative that has come about following threats by African nations to withdraw from what has been described as a ‘court to convict Africans’. Moreover, the Arab Spring has resulted in greater collaboration within the African Union, fast-tracking plans for visa-free travel to promote intra-continent trade and closer economic ties. Change is taking place, even if it is slow. However such progress will always remain under threat so long as dependency continues to be a mainstay African security policy.