Collective security: what implications for African DSFs?

By Dr. Oswald PADONOU, Searcher in Political Sciences and International Relations

At the last G7 summit in Biarritz, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron referred to "the extension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel". A slight euphemism perhaps, as it is not simply the threat, hostile intentions or plans for devastating attacks of these terrorist groups that are on the rise: their reach is extending geographically and becoming more deeply entrenched in society, while the scale of their attacks and the decline of the State and its institutions are a growing problem in this region. During this meeting, the leaders of seven of the world's richest countries discussed the future of the G5 Sahel, which is made up of five of the world's poorest countries. Yet another security pact was agreed upon, in the hope that it will redefine the "security perimeter" in the region and encourage the Gulf of Guinea countries, particularly Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, to join this alliance, which could become the G8 or the G5+3.

This prospect raises at least two questions. The first concerns this expansion and the second its implications for collective security mechanisms in the region and, inevitably, for Armed Forces and public security operations in the countries affected. First and foremost, we must commend the efforts of Germany, France and our other international partners to put an end to the escalating violence in the Sahel. However, it is important to note the lack of control of these G5 Sahel countries and their neighbours to the south, over their own security and strategic agenda, as well as their failure to recognize that this cooperation framework had reached its limits and needed to evolve.

When in February 2014, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad created this framework for intergovernmental cooperation on security and development matters, backed by France after Operation Serval, they were praised for looking beyond their respective memberships of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), as recognized by the African Union, to form an ad hoc coalition to deal with the immediate danger.

Despite Mauritania being a member of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Chad of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), these five countries demonstrated a willingness to be flexible and to adapt to the trans-Saharan, jihadist threat by joining forces to a certain degree. However, this cooperation framework has produced extremely mixed results, illustrated by the widespread insecurity and violence in the region, thus calling for an essential rethink of the institutional structures on which States base their responses to the growing threat of criminal groups. A review of these structures will require alternatives to temporary, immediate, ad hoc operations and the frantic search for international funding, which has led many to rightly observe that "the fight against terrorism is a source of income" in the Sahel that benefits both Africans and the nationals of countries providing "aid".

However, it goes without saying that the envisaged expansion of the G5 Sahel can only serve to marginalize and weaken ECOWAS, the most active African organization in the region and the only one equipped with proven security control mechanisms.

Assuming that no ad hoc framework can stem the tide of insecurity in structural terms, or tackle the root causes and the various forms it may take, it is clear that simply increasing the number of member countries will not provide a more effective response to security challenges, at least not in operational terms.

Collective security is now a priority, as is reflected in the commitment of States to be bound by a shared destiny and thus to build a common framework for the prevention and management of insecurity. This context should facilitate the (re)mobilization of ECOWAS (including both Member States and the Commission) to ensure an effective return to peace and stability in West Africa.

However, this repositioning of ECOWAS should not be viewed independently of the efforts of other bilateral and multilateral partners whose actions would benefit from greater coordination.

Furthermore, the challenges of a multilateral approach to security in Africa must be addressed. This concerns both developing and implementing a collective security infrastructure over the long term, and creating sustainable or contingency-based defensive alliances able to rapidly mobilize resources, that could serve as an effective deterrent and provide a swift response to the threat of armed criminal or terrorist organizations.

A wealth of firearms and other combat equipment are now readily available to criminal groups and civilians in West Africa, thus contributing to insecurity in the region. Add to this, the economic and social difficulties that have marginalized entire populations, deprived of basic social services, and the result is an environment favourable to the use of violence and, in turn, the rise of what experts are now calling "violent extremism".

In such a climate, the Defence and Security Forces of the countries in this region and the international forces operating in the area are not necessarily viewed as protectors or defenders by civilians.

Aware of their lack of legitimacy, these forces are working to adopt and implement Security Sector Reform (SSR) Programmes, now essential tools for the Armed Forces and police, if they are to continue to perform effectively or to achieve better results, through improved governance.

Rooted in transparency and accountability, SSR programmes promote human rights and the rule of law, not by imposing regulations in a top-down approach, but by establishing a process of ownership based on stakeholder trust.

Trust is the essence of any true cooperation strategy and is therefore key to the successful implementation of SSRs. It becomes even more essential when applied to cooperation between States and Armed Forces, in the interest of achieving a common goal. As such, mutual exchange between liaison officers from different countries at their respective headquarters can help reinforce this structural cooperation in a setting away from high-level political dialogue and periodic bilateral or multilateral discussions.

Moreover, as well as organizing training and discussions among trainees in dedicated centres, African regional integration and cooperation organizations should establish multinational research teams, to develop common armaments programmes or joint acquisitions of specific equipment, both effective means of achieving collective security.

In short, for African States, the existing collective security arrangements involving the United Nations, the African Union and regional communities offer undeniable advantages that thus far, have either not been utilized or have been under-exploited. The challenge for these States is to develop new ways of thinking and to step out of their comfort zones in order to give security regionalism fresh impetus, based on proven national capabilities.

In the Sahel, a conflict that was long-considered asymmetric, has transformed into a conventional war between weakened national armies and opportunist armed groups. This has resulted in developments that require a real paradigm shift, particularly as newly emerging threats to peace and security can mainly be attributed to internal factors; even though in the recent past, external events, such as the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, have acted as a catalyst for the spread of armed violence.

State failures and oppression now serve as the primary motive for war. Citizens of West African States are now taking up arms against their governments, state officials and other social institutions, under the mobilizing umbrella of jihadi ideology. The political and military solution to this threat can only come from the States concerned, with the support of their allies, of course, with a need for far-reaching reforms and profound changes that can rebuild this relationship between citizens and the State, and restore fairness to the national institutions for security and justice.


Dr Oswald PADONOU est Enseignant-Chercheur en science politique / relations  internationales et études de sécurité. Diplômé des Universités françaises Rennes 1 et Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, de l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration et de Magistrature du Bénin et de la Faculté de droit et science politique de l'Université d'Abomey-Calavi au Bénin, il est l'auteur de plusieurs publications consacrées à la gouvernance politique et aux problématiques sécuritaires en Afrique.
Au Bénin, il a été Chargé de mission du Médiateur de la République et enseigne depuis quelques années à l'Ecole Nationale des Officiers (ENO) et à l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Armées (ENSA).
En Côte d'Ivoire, il enseigne à l’Institut Universitaire Jésuite d’Abidjan et au département de science politique de l’Institut Universitaire d’Abidjan (IUA).
Avec la Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, il est en charge de la mise en oeuvre du Programme sur le secteur de la sécurité en Afrique subsaharienne.
Il est Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite de la République de Côte d’Ivoire.


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