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Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa

1 April 2015

fisher-jonathan01Jonathan 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?

Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia Source: flickr

Burundi peacekeepers prepare for next rotation to Somalia
Photo credit: US Army Africa

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.

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