Last week I was in Panama City to deliver the inaugural address at the 2nd Latin American seminar on good practices in municipal management. My topic was the challenges of sub-national governance in the region, after thirty years during which local political democracy has gradually become the norm, accompanied by a growing share of fiscal revenue devolved to local government. However, as I pointed out in my address, progress in creating a genuine career system at the municipal level has proceeded at a snail’s pace, mainly due to the opposition of local and national political leaders, for whom the gift of political appointments remains a key tool in winning votes at election time.
I was also a member of a panel to select prize-winners for the ‘best practices’ carried out by local governments. Three things stood out. First, many of the 35 entries from around the region were rather mundane activities (e.g. modernising a municipal records office or a setting up a farmer’s market) that would be considered nothing special in the municipalities of northern Europe. Second, little Uruguay (pop. 3.5 million), won many of the prizes, as it did last time round. There is a simple reason for this. Uruguay has the most educated population, least unequal income distribution, and oldest demographic profile in the region. This combination, leavened with a radical cultural tradition passed on by forefathers from Italy and Spain, has produced one of the highest incidences of ‘active citizenship’ in the world. Finally, and related to this, some of the entries (especially the winners) were extremely innovative in the way that citizens interacted with local government.
Take for example the entry by the Metropolitan Tax Authority (SAT) of Lima, Peru, which won 2nd prize. In order to deliver council tax bills to householders in dangerous parts of the El Cercado inner city neighbourhood, SAT recruited unemployed, very low-income and older residents of El Cercado, giving special preference to single mothers. After training, these local staff proved to have a much higher success rate on bill delivery than the private firm to which the service had been previously contracted out. Their self-esteem and income rose, they become valued colleagues on the municipal staff, and this ‘social capital’ approach encouraged a higher rate of tax compliance by residents.
So how can there be so much creativity and innovation in local governance when municipal authorities often lack the solid career structures that I was lamenting in my address? Well maybe it is not such a contradiction after all. When an elected mayor has such freedom over appointments, this can be used for good or ill. Some just pack departments with friends and family, often as ghost-workers, and milk the system while in office. But many others, such as those represented at the Panama event, use that freedom to bring on board a team of dynamic, younger professionals, from academia, NGOs and the private sector, in order to spearhead radical change. What is exciting about this is the way that they actually put into practice the concept of ‘local democratic governance’, developed by UNDP, with a genuine passion. These mayors and their advisors get involved in day-to-day initiatives, work out-of-hours, are on first-name terms with junior staff, and are prepared to delegate real power to citizens. One way of getting this moving is through participatory budgets, whereby citizens actually decide municipal investment priorities in their neighbourhoods. These have become commonplace throughout the region.
The end result is that this variant of Latin America’s local government culture gets things done more much more rapidly and in a much more inclusive manner than the cold managerialist culture of English local government, with its silo mentality, nine-to-five approach, and where ‘community involvement’ is purely a tick-box devise used to extract funds from central government or the EU. So aren’t I contradicting myself? On the one hand lamenting the absence of a genuine local career system yet at the same time admiring the ‘passion’ of the personalist mayoral system of Latin America. This is a tricky issue to resolve. Indeed the ‘informality’ of the system does mean that many brilliant initiatives come to a grinding halt when a new mayor is elected, often seeking to distance him/herself from his/her predecessor by simply killing projects, even when they were successful. So this lack of an ‘institutional memory’ does make it more difficult for reforms to bed down. But as shown by the SAT project, which has already survived three periods of office of different mayors, this is not impossible.
Former coalition defence minister Gerald Howarth has expressed concern that “the UK is effectively subsidising the defence budgets” of its aid recipients.
Drawing on research undertaken by the House of Commons Library, Howarth highlighted that as Britain has increased the aid sent to a range of recipients, including Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the same countries’ defence budgets have swollen.
This was born out by analyses charting defence spending increases since 2012/13. Rises from $330m to $400m in Tanzania and from $430m to $460m in DRC did indeed coincide with injections of UK aid funds into those states. Picking up the story, the media announced with horror that British aid is “paying for foreign armies”. But Howarth’s “discovery” is rather less revelatory than it seems.
As any student of international development knows, all aid is “fungible” –- that is, if you put money into a state, it frees up cash for that state’s government to spend elsewhere.
An international non-governmental organisation that builds a school or hospital in a remote province might well believe it’s to be far removed from the grubby business of funding corrupt or authoritarian regimes.
Their actions, however, mean that these regimes have one less school or hospital to build themselves as few regimes can survive without providing any services to their populations. That releases space in the budget for other items, such as paying soldiers’ wages or purchasing helicopters.
The UK has also directly funded foreign militaries in a range of African states for some time. In recent years, it’s made major contributions to United Nations-sanctioned operations in Somalia, DRC, South Sudan, Mali and elsewhere, providing training, logistical support and sometimes considerably more.
It has also long provided training to many African militaries, police and security services – a strategy Whitehall views (perhaps somewhat optimistically) as a pragmatic attempt to foster professionalism and stability in some of the continent’s most conflict-ridden and violent regions.
Clearly, there are no guarantees in such a complex and risky arena. Given he served as a minister for international security strategy in a department that funds many of these operations, though, Howarth’s outrage at the indirect “subsidising” of militaries by other UK ministries was perhaps somewhat disingenuous.
Security and prosperity
What is perhaps most interesting about this particular controversy was the response provided to Howarth’s critique by the UK’s development arm. The Department for International Development’s spokesperson argued that UK international development investment “helps create more stable, secure and prosperous countries” and that more economically prosperous countries tend to spend more on their militaries.
On the face of it, that’s a slightly strange response. In the cases highlighted in the House of Commons Library research, we can see a rise in defence spending, but rarely a rise in the percentage of GDP spent on defence. Between 2012-2014, the latter has remained constant in DRC, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire and has fallen in Nigeria. In Tanzania, meanwhile, a 20% net rise in defence spending means that now 1.1% of the country’s GDP goes on defence rather than 1%. (By comparison, the UK spends 2% of GDP on defence.)
But of course, “stable, secure and prosperous” states are not necessarily democratic, transparent and accountable.
Many of Africa’s more stable, secure, and economically prosperous countries also trend towards authoritarianism. Many of these states are also major recipients of UK assistance for both developmental and defence, and in several of them, one party has held power for decades. These include Uganda (since 1986), Rwanda (since 1994), Ethiopia (since 1991) and Mozambique (since 1975).
Whether this is coincidental or not is an open question, but plenty of scholars (including me) have argued that it isn’t. Over several decades, a range of semi-authoritarian African states have successfully managed their relationships with Western governments and bureaucracies to their advantage over several decades. That has won them the support and resources they needed to construct the decidedly illiberal structures of rule they now preside over.
The difficult question here is not so much whether Whitehall is aware of its role in all this – it is – but whether it cares.
Over the past decade, the focus of British diplomacy and development policy has moved decisively away from promoting democracy, peace, political space and transparency in Africa and towards stabilisation and security. These days, London’s objective is to help nurture African states that won’t cause populations in the UK too many problems, whether in the form of terrorism, migration or disease.
In one sense, this is only fair; it is after all a government’s job to protect its citizens from harm as far as possible. But doing so at the expense of political freedoms abroad conflicts with some of the fundamental values of British political culture – and authoritarian states make unreliable and unpredictable allies.
Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.
The signing of a major peace agreement by ten rebel groups in the Central African Republic is a welcome step towards peace after years of violent chaos.
Things really began to get out of hand when a December 2012 coup brought together a handful of northern rebel groups into a loose group known as the Séléka (the coalition). Previously rivals, they grouped together to overthrow president François Bozizé and install Michael Djotodia in his place in March 2013.
This led to an escalating series of reprisal killings in the capital, Bangui, by “anti-Balaka” self-defence militias.
The Séléka itself was not religiously motivated, but its members were disproportionately Muslim. Unfortunately, as with many loose confederations of armed groups, they proved impossible to control: Djotodia lost his grip on them almost immediately following the coup, and the Séléka looted the capital.
The anti-Balaka groups, however, explicitly described themselves as Christians and portrayed the conflict as a religious one, escalating the crisis beyond the initial political coup. The spread of violence between the two factions resulted in a religious schism that has killed 5,000, made almost 300,000 people refugees and displaced a million more.
The peace agreement must give hope to the thousands of victims caught up in the disaster, as must the release of 357 kidnapped children in the town of Bambari, about 200km north-east of Bangui. It is estimated that around 6,000-10,000 children are currently working as slaves for the militia groups.
The head of the UN’s integrated stabilisation mission, Babacar Gaye, stated that “on the path towards peace, the step made today is a very important one.” But the situation of the victims is still dire, and this has to be a step towards a lasting peace, not just a lull in the fighting.
The terms of the peace agreement itself make provision for a process of disarmament, demobilisation, reinsertion and repatriation (DDRR), as well as “the initiation of a reconciliation process in which those found responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be prosecuted.”
Such agreements are undoubtedly a critical first step, and in this case it has been reinforced by the repatriation of the 357 children. But without long-term external support for the state, the peace agreement is likely to fail. And the country could return to the cycle of political crises that have seen only one peaceful transition of power (1993) since independence.
The militias themselves are a symptom of an old problem with the Central African Republic (CAR): the depths of dysfunction that beset the central state, which is barely even there. The International Crisis Group has long ranked the country as a “phantom state”, and in fact worse than a failed state. It has lacked any meaningful institutional capacity since the fall of Jean-Bédel Bokassa in 1979, and prosperity has never been enjoyed by any but a few at the very top.
With all this history weighing heavy, the recent peace agreement is welcome, but it has to be treated with extreme circumspection. The CAR’s terribly poor institutional capacity has led to endless breakdowns of previous efforts to construct peace. In fact, the roots of the current conflict lie in the failures of previous peace agreements – and explicitly stem from the state’s failure to adequately implement their conditions.
The most prominent group within the Séléka is the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), which was included in the 2007 Birao Peace Agreement. That agreement ended the CAR Bush War, which broke out in response to Bozizé’s 2003 ascent to power. It was followed by the Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreements of 2008, which laid out an amnesty programme for rebel forces alongside a DDRR plan.
Many argue that the amnesty conditions that resulted actually provided an incentive for the creation of new rebel groups. Alongside the express intention of being subject to a generous amnesty, seen as being preferable to suffering within a desperate economy.
The agreement in the CAR faces several critical challenges, not least the liquid nature of the armed groups themselves and their lack of boundaries or stability. At the same time, any DDRR process will require significant resources, training and monitoring. The UN has announced a 10,000 strong peacekeeping force, but it remains unclear whether this will be sufficient.
At the same time, even if the international community was to provide the resources, DDRR requires two basic things that the CAR lacks: an economy for those who wish to make the transition from combatant to civilian; and state structures for military and leadership to integrate in to.
Is it enough?
Even if the CAR had these things in place, moving on from the conflict would be no easy feat. In the medium term, reconciliation has proved difficult even in countries with strong and capable institutions and governments.
The truth and reconciliation model was famously adopted by post-Apartheid South Africa, but its success was heavily qualified – a pattern that has also dogged subsequent truth commissions. Rwanda used an alternative grassroots model of “gacaca” (justice on the grass), built around decentralised community courts, to try 2m people after the 1994 genocide – but that too was not without serious problems such as access to qualified lawyers.
But even these models could only be carried out because there was significant state capacity and political will. That is conspicuously lacking in the CAR.
In order for this peace process to succeed where so many previous attempts have failed, the CAR government must be able to project its power beyond Bangui into the areas where the country’s militias recruit.
This in turn can only be done with significant state-building support from outside the country – and that has been made far more politically difficult by recent allegations that French troops sexually abused local boys – allegations that the UN was apparently aware of, but did not initially relay to France.
So a step in the right direction the agreement may be, but as with many DDRR agreements, it remains a small one. And in isolation, it will not bring peace to many of the people who need it most.
Jonathan Fisher is a lecturer in IDD. His research is focused on the place and agency of African states in the international system, particularly in the realm of security and conflict. Within this he is interested in the role played by African governments in shaping how they are perceived and engaged with by Western actors. He has a particular interest in eastern Africa and the influence of guerrilla heritage on contemporary patterns of governance, conflict and cooperation across the region. He is also interested in how ‘knowledge’ on African security and conflict is negotiated and constructed in a range of settings.
South Sudan has now been at war since 2013, with no end in sight. And while the two sides focus on defeating each other, the humanitarian situation on the ground is only deteriorating.
The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, has announced that heavy fighting in Unity state, South Sudan had forced all UN agencies and NGOs to evacuate their staff from parts of the region. This would apparently leave around 300,000 people who still desperately need emergency relief without any access to food and medical services.
Sadly, such announcements have become commonplace since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war, a conflict which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced over 1.5m.
To make matters worse, the conflict’s two major belligerents, the government of president Salva Kiir and the rebel movement led (in the loosest sense of the word) by his former vice president, Riek Machar, have shown scant regard for the humanitarian impact of their war.
Back and forth
The reports of the 300,000 stranded people came just after the Kiir government rejected a UN plan to relocate more than 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from virtual imprisonment in government-controlled “protection sites” to areas of their own choosing.
The responses from South Sudan’s factions were predictably stubborn. The Juba regime bristled at the suggestion that it is incapable of protecting its citizens, insisting that the 300,000 people stranded in Unity state have decided to remain there themselves. Machar’s rebels, for their part, attacked this position not for its unhumanitarian callousness, but by emphasising that the citizens concerned “have lost trust in the government”.
This is par for the course in a conflict which has seen the two sides and their variously aligned militias struggle fruitlessly to defeat one another for nearly 18 months. They continue to fight a zero-sum game which has turned citizens into bystanders, pawns, enemies or hostages, turned oil reserves from national resource to campaign funds, and neighbouring states from midwives of independence into allies or traitors.
The two sides have broken countless ceasefires (eight at my last count) and brazenly used regional peace talks hosted by Ethiopia as opportunities for rest and recuperation in five-star hotels. At every step, external involvement has been cynically used to secure an advantage in the field. Few analysts think the war is likely to end any time soon, particularly across the negotiating table.
It is perhaps not surprising that Western and UN officials have increasingly expressed exasperation with the South Sudanese military “aristocracy”, which came to power on the back of a lengthy insurgency.
In September 2014, the UK’s then-undersecretary of state for international development, Lynne Featherstone, visited South Sudan and opined that “South Sudan’s leaders must accept full responsibility for starting the conflict and must work to end it.” More recently, Washington has condemned the two sides’ “lack of political leadership to resolve this man-made conflict”, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has chastised Kiir and Machar for their unstatesmanlike approach to the peace talks.
This is all an interesting departure from the late 1990s and early 2000s, where Western leaders thought nothing of taking responsibility for ending conflicts in Africa.
Interestingly, though, many African states also appear to share their Western counterparts’ frustration an endless conflict driven by the political and economic greed of a selfish elite.
Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn has labelled the war “senseless” and has accused both sides of abdicating “the most sacred duty leaders have to their people: to deliver peace, prosperity and stability” – shockingly candid language by the standards of African diplomacy.
And behind closed doors, similar sentiments can be heard from officials in Uganda, whose military intervened on Kiir’s side shortly after the conflict began. Across Kampala’s political and military elite, there’s a surprising consensus that the two leaders are feckless and their actions shameless.
Meanwhile, a report from the African Union leaked in March 2015 (since disowned as fake by the organisation) recommended that South Sudan be placed under UN/AU trusteeship to end the conflict, with any transitional government then established excluding both Kiir and Machar. If genuine, that’s an astounding recommendation, coming from from a body that has always promoted and defended African sovereignty against the interventionist machinations of the West (notably in Libya in 2011).
From one perspective, this apparent international consensus is encouraging. Leaders across the UN, the West and Africa appear to agree that the problem is the South Sudanese politico-military elite, and its creation of a destructive and extractive state that has essentially become a slush fund.
But the challenge is how to take this realisation and use it to come up with a new strategy to end the conflict.
Talks about the next set of peace negotiations and ceasefires continue within East Africa’s regional security bloc, but few involved can think outside the standard peace agreement model, which has so far failed to bear fruit. In 2014, Hailemariam reportedly threatened to arrest Kiir (then in Addis Ababa) unless he signed a peace agreement – one which was rendered worthless within days when fighting resumed.
This represents both the tragedy and promise of the South Sudan conflict: when the old architectures of conflict resolution fail, it seems no-one has a clue what to do next.
Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform.
The rapid escalation this year in the numbers of people drowned as they flee in leaky boats across the Mediterranean is a direct consequence of the conflict in Iraq, Syria and north Africa, specifically Libya – where the implications of the Western intervention are playing out in the deaths of thousands, whether from the violence itself or as they try desperately to escape to safety.
Four years ago NATO member states and Arab allies began launching airstrikes that contributed to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Now, those same powers are discussing further action in Libya if the UN sponsored peace talks do not end in consensus, but this time the target will be the growing Islamic State movement linked to similar groups in Iraq and Syria.
The legacy of the fall of Gaddafi is the continuing lack of any state institutions coupled with a fragmented security architecture that has divided in to a myriad of armed groups, militias and rival factions that have left the army weak and the country subject to a civil war that has claimed more than 3,000 casualties and numerous human rights violations.
At its heart, the civil war is a conflict between two rival governments in Tripoli and in Tobruk, with only the Tobruk government having UN recognition as legitimate, but left controlling less than half of the country and half of one of the three main cities. This Tobruk coalition contains several former Gaddafi state officials, secularist and federalist elements along with the remains of part of the military.
The UN-recognised government headed by Abdullah al-Thinni, who was appointed by Libya’s House of representatives last year, is opposed by the originally legally installed government, the General National Council, which existed prior to elections held last year. The GNC is backed by a coalition known as “Operation Libya Dawn”, comprising a loose federation of Islamist groups, militias from Misrata and “Berber” groups. In November 2014, Libya’s Supreme Court cancelled the outcome of elections that brought the House of Representatives to power, essentially making its legal mandate void.
The country is also affected by the growth of Islamic State-affiliated groups, which hold territory in the cities of Sirte and Derna, and were responsible for a massacre of 21 mainly Christian labourers in February.
Last Tuesday, the military chief of the Tobruk forces, General Khalifa Haftar, voiced scepticism at any eventual outcome stating that he was “betting on a military solution”. Even with considerable military support from Egypt and the UAE, the Tobruk-based forces have so far failed to make significant progress against the GNC in Tripoli.
This is a critical problem. There does not appear to be a military winner in sight and among all the chaos, a wide variety of armed groups prosper as the centralised control of the GNC in Tripoli in particular weakens.
Ansar al Sharia, for example, is an organisation listed as a terrorist group associated with Al-Qaeda by the UN and is accused of murdering US ambassador Chris Stephens in Benghazi in 2012, but currently has a temporary alliance with Operation Libya Dawn in order to fight Heftar. But Ansar is losing members to the local chapter of IS.
Islamic State rising
IS has grown very quickly beyond its core in the city of Derna. It has a presence in Benghazi and Sirte and even in Tripoli where it has been responsible for a bombing campaign. There are several reasons why IS has expanded but Libyans have a long history of military service overseas and a key driver has been the return of fighters from anti-Soviet movements in Afghanistan in the 1980s, boosted by further fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.
A worrying aspect of the IS growth is proximity to Libyan oilfields – a favourite source of income for the insurgents. This group has also deliberately escalated the conflict to accelerate the fragmentation of the armed groups and enhance the attractiveness of more extreme Islamist groups.
In early April, for example, IS made a calculated attack in murdering 21 Egyptian police officers, prompting Egyptian airstrikes in support of the Tobruk Government’s air assets. While this did not bring Egypt in to the war, it did make that intervention public, reinforcing the view that Libyan stability is critical to Egypt’s domestic security.
The other main player in potential intervention is Italy, which had offered to lead on any UN-sanctioned action in Libya. However, there is significant disagreement over the method of intervention.
What can be done?
The most obvious intervention would be a peace-supporting mission following a UN-brokered peace agreement. This option, currently being led by Spanish diplomat Bernadino Leon, has some momentum amongst pragmatic elements of both rival governments but would need to create a national government capable of working across of these elements and also of maintaining control over government institutions. This government would be able to command international support, but would also need to develop a national approach to combating the growth of IS.
There is hope for this first option and it could command some of the most powerful military groups in Libya, but any UN force could be asked to take control of contested and politically sensitive installations across Libya to prevent those groups taking sole control.
However, this is an option that is likely to take time – and the international community, led by Italy, is unlikely to be very patient over this. With increasing disasters in the Mediterranean involving refugees fleeing the hardships of Libya, the threat of IS reaching Italy looms large – and a more likely approach would be to take the campaign against IS to Libya sooner rather than later.
The most likely outcome, therefore, would be that a UN-brokered peace agreement would be tied to fighting IS and not necessarily tackling the underlying issues fuelling the civil war. Egypt’s involvement in the civil war further complicates this, since any government in Tripoli is unlikely to sanction Egyptian support in any campaign against IS. Such an intervention could eventually exacerbate the conflict rather than solving it through creating new allies for the IS forces that already exist.
Jonathan Fisher is a lecturer in IDD. His research is focused on the relationship between Western aid donors and developing states. He is particularly interested in how donors construct perceptions of foreign governments and key concepts, and the extent to which these knowledge construction processes are influenced by external actors and bureaucratic structures as well as by policy-makers themselves. He has research interests in Africa and wrote his doctorate on the Ugandan-donor relationship between 1986-2010.
Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson published the article Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa in International Affairs in January. Pamela Atanga interviewed Jonathan about what drives his research interest in this field and about some of the issues covered in the article.
What made you interested in researching this topic?
It came out of my PhD work. I have always been interested in why Western governments are supportive of undemocratic, semi-authoritarian militarised governments in Africa and how those regimes try to gain that kind of support through various strategies. Lots of scholars of international relations tend to look at Africa as a passive entity that accepts what it can get and doesn’t have any kind of negotiating strength. This, however, is not always the case. The work David Anderson and I have done for this article suggests that some of the relationships are to an extent led by African states, especially around security agendas. The article seeks to fill that gap in the literature by looking at the agency and negotiating capacity of African states.
How did you choose the countries for your case studies?
We sought to look at the concept of securitisation at a broad level, looking at different regions and countries. The countries were chosen because they are prominent examples of states that are part of the securitisation phenomenon. All four make significant contributions to peacekeeping missions in Africa and all four have benefited from western support in the form of military aid. These regimes also share a common origin, having all evolved from guerrilla movements.
What do you think about ‘African solutions to African problems’ as a stance taken by some African leaders?
On the one hand, African leaders may have sincere motives for pursuing this stance. There is a genuine feeling among African societies and elites that a lot of what has gone wrong in Africa in the past or post-colonial era in terms of security and governance has been due to over-reliance on and interference by international actors and allowing international actors to bring in their militaries and set terms. On the other hand African leaders could be using this stance to pursue nefarious activities. They use the concept as an instrument to justify military spending, interventions in neighbouring states or actions that the international community, domestic or neighbouring citizens may not approve of. It is difficult to disaggregate the two motives for pursuing this stance.
What can donors do to mitigate the negative consequences that may arise from securitising development?
Donors should look at the political implications of the decisions they make. They should pay more attention to what they are funding and what the consequences of their activities may be. There is a tendency among donors to assume that militaries are predictable and independent of their political environment and that by funding them you will be able to professionalise them, transfer norms and move them in a particular direction. However, this is not the case: militaries are not static but are part of political and economic processes. By funding these militaries you are also fuelling these processes which may be negative, positive or a bit of both. Donors need to carefully analyse how support is going to affect these circumstances.
Donors also need to be more honest with themselves and the Western public about the potential consequences of providing this form of support. Supporting these regimes can be justified under certain circumstances, but it is important to acknowledge that problems can arise. My colleague Danielle Beswick, for example, has shown how Rwanda has been both a significant contributor to peacekeeping in Africa, but also a contributor to instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What is the take-home message from the article?
Securitisation of development is not necessarily driven solely or primarily by Western donors. There is a need to think more carefully about how African states engage with the process and how they drive it forward, in order to get a more rounded picture of the situation.
Adrian Campbell is an organizational theorist with longstanding interests and experience in leadership and human resource management and he has researched, taught and consulted in these fields for over thirty years.
The apparent disappearance of Russian president Vladimir Putin between March 5 and 16 provoked a festival of Kremlinological speculation on a scale not seen since the temporary ousting of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the abortive coup of 1991.
Underlying the speculation have been rumours of a power struggle between the security services (primarily the FSB) and Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov. Neither are allies Putin can afford to do without, but little love appears to be lost between them. And although Putin is an FSB officer by background – and the security services have become powerful under his rule – as president he also may seek allies to balance the power of his service colleagues.
Russia has never been a simple nation state. Below the ruler there has rarely been a tightly integrated government. Indeed, successive Russian rulers carefully avoided this. Instead there are quasi-autonomous power blocs, sometimes known as “clans”. These compete for resources and favour but it is in the ruler’s interest to make sure no one bloc becomes too powerful.
The rules are not that different to those in Western political systems, except for the fact that the blocs are administrative rather than party-political or ideological. A closer analogy would be with the office politics of a large corporation.
In his first term, Putin’s regime succeeded through the ability to bridge competing institutions and ideologies. It involved a paradoxical alliance of economic liberals, statist St Petersburg lawyers and current and past members of the security services.
As the regime’s competitors – notably the business oligarchs – were overcome, security services such as the FSB increasingly filled the power vacuum. Soon the security services – or siloviki, as they are collectively known – became so powerful that the president struggled to maintain a balance of interests at the centre of power. The problem was not just between the siloviki and others but between the different siloviki factions themselves.
In 2007, for example, the head of the president’s own security service, Victor Zolotov, was deployed to defend one of the smaller security services against marginalisation by the powerful FSB. The FSB won the battle but soon after, Zolotov was appointed by the president to head the internal troops of the Ministry of the Interior. Since that ministry and the FSB are traditionally seen as rivals, the decision was interpreted as a move to redress the balance of power.
However, with the slowing down of the Russian economy in the late 2000s, the last significant bastion of liberalism in the Putin coalition – the state-owned Gazprom group which had previously provided such a strong power base for Putin’s once-closest ally Medvedev – began to to lose ground to the siloviki, so that the original coalition of forces became less balanced.
By this time, Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman president of Chechnya, was emerging as a key Putin ally. Having fought for independence in the first Chechen war of 1994-6, Kadyrov and his militia supported the Russian government in the second Chechen war that began in 1999. It was through the transfer of power to Kadyrov that the war in Chechnya was brought to an end.
Under Putin’s presidency, regional leaders have kept a lower profile than they used to but Kadyrov has been the exception to this rule. Kadyrov’s power is based on the consensus that, without him, Chechnya and indeed much of the North Caucasus would be lost. His presence is seen as preventing the region from being plunged into instability and extremism.
The assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February, appeared to bring matters to a head. After the FSB investigators arrested the suspects – apparently loyal members of the Chechen interior ministry forces – a series of newspaper reports, leaks and blog comments created the impression that there was now a power struggle between the FSB and Kadyrov and even that Kadyrov and the FSB were now “at war”.
Combined with the president’s unexplained absence, these signs of a high-level power struggle in the wake of the boldest political assassination for decades, against a backcloth of economic pressures and international tension, created a febrile atmosphere.
Hard evidence of a rift between the FSB and Kadyrov is not easy to come by, however. At a meeting in Pyatigorsk in the North Caucasus on March 11, Nikolai Patrushev, former FSB leader and chair of Russia’s Security Council, even praised Karydrov’s contribution to security in the region. The meeting did not give the appearance of two sides in a bitter dispute.
Meanwhile there may be signs of a new pragmatism within the Russian security elite. In a speech on January 15, former prime minister Evgeny Primakov (long regarded as associated with the FSB) called for more power to be handed to Russia’s regions and businesses and for co-operation with the West, especially on terrorism.
As if in response, FSB head Alexander Bortnikov, visited Washington the following month and spoke about the need for renewed co-operation with the US on terrorism.
In contrast, Putin’s return coincided with a dramatic order, via defence minister Sergei Shoigu to mobilise and test the battle-readiness of the entire Northern Fleet in response to new threats identified by Shoigu (presumably recent NATO deployments).
One possible reading of what has occurred is that a rift has grown between Putin and the FSB over what the next steps in the growing confrontation with the West should be.
Some signs suggest that the FSB is potentially looking to re-establish co-operation and reduce international tension. At the same time there were signs that FSB or its allies may have been putting pressure on Putin’s key ally Kadyrov.
Putin would be concerned that if Kadyrov falls, the Caucasus would be lost. In a bid to avoid being dictated to by the FSB, the president may have enlisted the support of the now-powerful Ministry of Defence.
However, just as the FSB may have an interest in returning to stability, the military may have an interest in escalating tension with the West rather than defusing it, at least in the short term. Thus the chess game of power relations within the Russian government has become enmeshed with Russia’s confrontation with the West, with unpredictable results.
All that said though, Putin’s visible discomfort during his public appearance on March 16 could suggest a far simpler interpretation of what has happened. It may be that Putin is indeed seriously ill and that this has been known to his immediate circle for some time.
If this is the case, the Nemtsov shooting and the subsequent in-fighting and rumours of a coup may not have been about Putin but the post-Putin world. This could be the start of a succession crisis and a power struggle. The FSB may have been trying to sideline Kadyrov as potential successor. Who their candidate would be and whether they will support or compete with Shoigu as a potential successor it is too early to say.