Skip to main content

When Development Meets Security: Challenges to Open Societies in Africa

Development policies in Africa now serve more closely than in the past to combat insecurity and more specifically, terrorist threats. In several countries, support for rule of law translates into the primacy of anti-terrorism legislation that enhance the powers of security administrations at the expense of citizens’ protection from abuses.  Marta Martinelli investigates the impact on open society of securitizing donors’ policies in Africa.

During the 1990s, the international security agenda broadened beyond the state and military security to include individual, social and global concerns. In the same decade notions of governance, human rights, democracy and rule of law began to appear in development policies. However, the attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing threats to the security of Western countries have given a new dimension to the security/development link. Social and developmental issues such as poverty, organized crime, mass violations of human rights, population flows and so on are now treated as potential international security threats and the language of security is used to convince the public of their existential character.

Existential threats require special measures to be dealt with effectively. These include “emergency procedures” rather than routine ones; special secrecy or reduced scrutiny rather than full parliamentary and social oversight; restricted groups of decision-makers, endowed with extra-ordinary immunities, as opposed to inclusive policy debates and clear lines of accountability. This provides a formidable threat to open society values as embodied in principles of democratic oversight and participation; freedom of expression; respect and empowerment of minorities; transparency and governments’ accountability.

Trends are emerging in aid allocations by donors that refocus resources on those populations, regions and issues (the periphery) that are seen as presenting a risk to homeland (Western/Northern) security. Arguably, development policies now serve more closely than in the past the objective of combating insecurity and more specifically, terrorist threats. Under pressure to align with Western concerns, regional organizations in the southern hemisphere have also become instrumental in the pursuit of this agenda: African regional organizations such as the African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed their own peace and security structures and strategies. The social implications of this shift are only barely discussed as well as the effectiveness of donors’ policies.

In relation to counter terrorism policies in Somalia, John Paul Lederach argues that the practice of black-listing organizations such as al-Shabaab results in a “whole population effect, creating physical and human geographies that have less and less contact with the outside world” and “making it difficult to know with whom it is acceptable to relate.”  Rather than effectively increasing security, this seems to undermine options for peace building.  It can also put the needs, values and interests of partner countries into second place.

Supplementary budget grants help states instrumental in regional stability to meet the commitments flowing from global counter-terrorism requirements. Kenya, Uganda, Niger, Algeria are examples where key donors have provided security assistance to enable governments to expand their counterterrorism infrastructure; boosted legal advice and training for the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and intelligence services; and concentrated on soft security interventions by addressing “the constituencies of terrorism.”

As they intervene in several post-conflict societies, donors’ concerns focus on stability so that development can occur. This often takes the shape of much needed security sector reform initiatives. However, there is some ambiguity in donors’ policies that strengthen state security institutions without at the same time insisting on the oversight needed for their management. In several countries, support for rule of law translates into the primacy of anti-terrorist legal frameworks that enhance the powers of security administrations at the expense of citizens’ protection from abuses.

While the rhetoric of donors/recipients relations often includes references to accountability and the primacy of human rights, the reality often sees precedence given to support for security administrations and programs.

The EU is not exempt from these trends. Human Rights, democracy, rule of law, peace and solidarity are often represented as EU values. EU’s interests, on the other hand, are better embodied in the fight against terrorism and organized crime, controlled migration and expanded trade. The securitization of EU development allows for the coming together of apparently contradictory elements of EU policies and impacts on policy formulation; the institutional dynamics and operational ways of working.

The security-development nexus is evident in the EU Sahel Strategy which establishes that “the EU […] has an important role to play both in encouraging economic development for the people of the Sahel and helping them achieve a more secure environment in which it can take place, and in which the interests of EU citizens are also protected.” Similarly, the Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa includes, alongside poverty reduction objectives, the prevention and resolution of conflicts; the containment of regional insecurity; the development of robust and accountable political structures.

Development programming in the EU has now become a joint responsibility of the Directorate General for Development and of the new External Action Service, with foreign policy actors leading it. Financial instruments have been created that specifically address security concerns and react rapidly and independently of the established norms of parliamentary oversight and budgetary authority.  New priorities and the strategic interests of EU Member States also affect new programs: EU security related missions are about to be launched in Niger, South Sudan, and Somalia and are discussed with reference to Libya with objectives including fighting terrorism and organized crime, supporting law enforcement and reforming unruly armies.

Unquestionably, security is a legitimate concern for both rich and poor. However, evidence from Open Society Foundations work on the ground indicate that the framing of donors’ policies in security terms results in restricted space for human rights practitioners to operate, for the media and the public to exercise their freedom of information and opinion, for parliaments to exercise their function of scrutiny and for citizens to protest. It is not directly responsible for but certainly exacerbates already autocratic regimes and hardens their repressive practices by adding emphasis and enlarging the operational space of partner states’ security administrations.

The emphasis on security, however legitimate, constitutes a serious threat to open societies in Africa.  Ways to reconcile its exigencies with democratic and human rights values have yet to be found. The EU has a duty of solidarity in sharing the burden for global peace and security. It should never come at the expense of those that are most in need of it.

Read more

Subscribe to updates about Open Society’s work around the world