The first plenary session of the Senior Leaders Seminar opened on June 6, 2011 with the Africa Center’s Dr. Joseph Siegle introducing panelists Dr Benjamin Nickels and Dr. Medhane Tadesse. The two speakers discussed the current and emerging security threats and vulnerabilities faced by African states and proposed solutions for building state security and an effective civil-military apparatus.
Dr. Nickels, an expert on counterterrorism in Africa, set the direction of the discussion by listing what he considered the main security threats to Africa: non-state actors; internal divisions between economic, ethnic, and religious groups; and environmental threats such as climate change and disease. Dr. Nickels followed with possible solutions to alleviate these “societal tensions” before they turn into violence, particularly stressing the concept of “human security”, which involves broadening the focus of security sector actors from protecting states and regimes to protecting individual citizens as well. This approach, designed to ensure human rights, requires long-term improvements in civil-military relations and security sector reform.
Dr. Medhane Tadesse’s identified four key vulnerabilities in African security: the “nature of the state” and weak institutions; ongoing legacies of war and violence; ecological and environmental concerns; and international security challenges. Dr. Tadesse stressed the weak nature of African states throughout his presentation, noting that for historical and other reasons, many “African states do not represent the interest and characters of their populations”. Dr. Tadesse argued that weak government institutions and the inability or unwillingness of some African governments to defend their borders and citizens hinders state legitimacy in Africa. Dr. Tadesse, who is the Senior Security Sector Reform Advisor to the African Union, identified the creation of strong and autonomous government institutions and the subordination of the security sector to governmental authority as key areas for progress. He finished his presentation by highlighting the need for regional approaches to many of Africa’s transnational security challenges.
The Senior Leaders Seminar successfully wrapped up its first full day with a special plenary session on “Security and Development” with guest speaker Mr. Nigel Roberts, Director and Special Representative of the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report. Mr. Roberts discussed the changing nature of modern violence, arguing that there has been a decline in the number of civil wars but a spike in other types of violence. He argued that international trafficking in drugs, people, and weapons was the greatest security threat to African countries. Mr. Roberts attributed the rise of international crime and the associated cross-border conflicts to structural shifts at the end of the Cold War.
Mr. Roberts stressed that violence is one of most important, if not the key, development issues of the day. In order to escape institutional fragility and endemic violence, Mr. Roberts contends that steps need to be taken to recreate confidence in public action (e.g. forging inclusive leadership coalitions) and to rebuild legitimate institutions. Mr. Roberts emphasized that the transformation of state institutions is a twenty to thirty year process and that violence prevention is a long-term, continuous process.