Africa: New Dimensions of Human Security

7 May 2011 at 22:59 | 1805 views

By Binneh S. Minteh, USA.

From its traditional notions of national security, that has the nation-state as the soul guardian of security around realist motivations of appropriating both military and economic power over the pursuit of ethics and ideals, a paradigmatic shift to new dimensions of security emerged in the last three decades.

These new dimensions are defined under parameters of human security, “symbolizing security from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression and environmental hazards”(Ginwala, 2002). Along those parables, human security is defined as “protecting the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms, human fulfillment, and fundamental freedoms constituting the essence of life, and protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations”(Ogata, 2002). The revolutionary caravan of change that has drifted across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa provides reasons to rethink the realities of the new human security dimensions.

Arguably, the shifting dynamics along generational lines, and the global economic crisis that has lasting implications on the human security dimensions such as unemployment, disease, hunger, social conflict and political repression, brought to light the realities of a world that has shifted from the traditional state centric security notions to one of human security as the all encompassing tool determining sustainable governance across the contemporary era. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the sources of the Non-violent Movement that ushered in change were driven by these appalling human security dimensions.

Characterized by widespread political repression, endemic corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude, the Mubarak government in Egypt and the Ben Ali government of Tunisia, were consumed by an educated young generation and a vibrant middle class demanding protection from pervasive threats of human decadence in terms of political freedom and sustainable development – Food, Employment, Health and Political Security. The 2010 United Nations Human Development rankings of Egypt and Tunisia in term of Human Security provide an explanation along those parables; Egypt ranks 101/169 and Tunisia ranks 81/169. The crises in both Egypt and Tunisia stemmed from well defined government failures in the progressive containment of human security dimensions that emerged over the years.

The crises in Libya could very well be attributed to human security challenges in a different trajectory. Although Libya ranks 54/169 on the 2010 global human security index, the most recent political instability may be due to widespread political oppression and human rights abuses, which form a core of emerging contemporary human security dimensions. Characterized by a four decades autocratic rule, Libya’s advances in technology, education, infrastructural development and sustainable health care is indeed undisputable.

However, with the shifting dynamics along generational lines coupled with a revolutionary caravan symbolized as a cock-pit of political change in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, the spiraling dynamism propelled Libyans to demand more freedom, more rights and a sustainable democracy to end decades long one man rule. The 2010 Human Development Report was therefore justified to note that political and economic growth will be determined by “the ability of individuals and groups to engage with, shape and benefit from political and other development processes in households, communities and countries”.

Similarly, the emergence of widespread political instability in Sub-Saharan countries such as Guinea, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and most recently Senegal, Mauretania, Uganda and Burkina-Faso falls along the same human security trajectories. There are also fears that the minuscule West African nation of The Gambia may soon join the bandwagon of nations demanding more political and economic freedoms. Arguably in the Uganda ranking- 143/169, Burkina-Faso ranking- 161 /169, The Gambia ranking -151/169 and Mauretania- 136/169, the low global human security ranking is characterized by corrupt authoritarian regimes, decaying political freedoms, growing unemployment, and high cost of living (surging food and energy prices). Equatorial Guinea’s ranking -117/169 and Cameroon with 131/169 have also been characterized along similar human security parables. These emerging trends further confirm the usurpations from traditional state centric notions of security to new human security dimensions.

Underlying these parameters, human security conditions means “creating systems that give people the building blocks of survival, dignity and livelihood, and connecting different types of freedoms – freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to take action on one’s own behalf.”(Ogata, 2002).

Arguably, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and “the convergence in how we understand issues of security on the lives of people is already evident in the founding documents of the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa, and the reformed Southern African Development Community, including its Organ on Politics, Defense and security.”(Human Security Now, 2002)

By the end of the Cold War, it became evident that personal security and food security constitute a core of the usurping formulations from traditional notions of national security. Fundamentally, it became evident that no other aspect of human security is vital for people other than their personal security – security from violence, food and health security. With the changing dynamics of global social, political and economical trends, disturbing trends in terms of food and personal security is reported from several countries. For example the 1994 United Nations Human Development Report noted, 14 million crimes in the US, a 10% increase in Germany; in Canada, 225 people in every 100,000—and in Australia, 400-suffer each year from drug-related crimes, and in Kenya there were 3,300 reported car thefts-an increase of 200% over 1991. Similarly, despite considerable increases in the availability of food in recent years the United Nations reported growing food shortages with an estimated 800 million people around the world going hungry.

The idea of health security fits very well in the new formulations that usurped traditional notions of national security. In the midst of the growing fray, it came to light that menaces of disease pose one of the most critical security threats to mankind. With globalization and interdependence, the impacts of these threats in one part of the world thus have lasting consequences on other parts. Along those reasoning, a campaign to confront the pandemics of HIV/AIDS/ MALARIA as a contemporary security threat, took a forefront of International Security. Despite the progress made following the international outcry, some “22 million people died of preventable diseases in 2001 and HIV/AIDS has emerged as the greatest health catastrophe”(HDI, 2002). In developing countries, the major causes of death are infectious and parasitic diseases, which kill 17 million people annually, including 6.5 million from acute respiratory infections, 4.5 million from diarrhoeal diseases and 3.5 million from tuberculosis. Retrospectively, in developed countries, the major killers are diseases of the circulatory system (5.5million deaths a year), often linked with diet and life style, and cancer (Human Security Now, 2002).

With new dimensions suggesting prospects of violence from the widening of income gaps and deep –rooted social and economic inequalities, and a need for people to be able to take care of themselves, economic security emerged as a major formulation usurping traditional notions on the preeminence of national security. Paradoxically, globalization raises new sets of human security challenges, as patterns of world trade, production, and finance take on dimensions that, if left unregulated and uncontrolled, will further impoverish the world’s poor with dire social and political consequences (Osler et al, 2002). Mike Fell was therefore justified to note that considerations of Human Security in the contemporary era requires considering the embodiment of humanity within a global social structure and the capitalist world economy. A fundamental impact of economic security is lack of income, homelessness and subsequently violence, and this is true of both developing and developed nations. For example, “nearly a quarter of a million New Yorkers-more than 3% of the city’s population , have stayed in shelters over the past five years; 400, 000 registered homeless people in London, and France has more than 500,000-nearly 10,000 in Paris."(New Dimensions of Human Security, 1994).

Along similar dynamics, political security provides us with another interesting understanding of usurpation from traditional notions of the prominence of national security. The rights and rule of law conception of human security holds that a major threat to human security is the denial of basic rights and due process and the absence of democratic systems of governance. Under such abysmal conditions political systems are threatened and the risk of social and political anarchy increases and with it poses a threat to individual rights and freedom. Contemporary reports from human rights organizations on political oppression, torture, ill-treatment and disappearances provide explanations of the growing importance of political security in the literature of new global security dimensions. In that vein, Amnesty International concluded that “unrest resulted in human rights violations in 112 countries and in 105 countries there were reports of torture, political detention and imprisonment”.

Whilst new dimensions hold political security as a critical component of human security, community security emerged as new formulations of human security usurped from traditional notions of national security. With tradition and culture perpetuating oppression and repression under certain circumstances, most people derive security from membership of respective communities – family, organization, a racial or ethnic group. In several nations, ethnic tensions are on the rise, often over limited access to opportunities whether to social services from the state or to jobs from the market.

Apart from political security, the growing alarm of environmental degradation helped consolidate the shift from traditional notions of national security to new formulations of security dimensions. Environmental security has not only moved the security agenda from weapons of mass destruction, it became the catalyst placing the requirements of sustainability, primarily if not exclusively at the core of the human security agenda (HDI, 2006). These environmental problems are seen as directly threatening the security of people and nations around the world. Amidst intensification of intellectual challenges to traditional conceptions of security, the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Sustainable Development, epitomized the defining moment of Environmental Security as a bastion of contemporary security formulations.

Whilst descriptive, evidences suggested are both comprehensive and suggestive, and provides an analyses of the shifting dynamics of security from traditional notions of national security to new formulations of human security. With the shifting dynamics from traditional state centric notions of security driving change in North Africa and the Middle-East, there are well defined indications that Sub-Saharan Africa may follow the tale of new human security challenges as the ideological vanguard of CHANGE.

Editor’s note: The author, Binneh Minteh (photo), was a former Gambian army First Lieutenant. He is currently a Doctoral Candidate (Global Affairs) and an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Jersey.