Why Africa can’t find its footing in new world security order


Africa celebrated the Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18, the icon’s 95th birthday. The fete offered an ideal moment to reflect on Africa’s long walk from centuries of humiliation under slavery, colonialism and felonious regimes based on racism and apartheid to relative peace.

The good news is, today, most Africans are living in a more secure continent than ever. Africa is closer to realising the dream of Pax Africana in the 21st century than ever before. Ali Mazrui’s book, Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition (1967), is back in vogue as an intellectual trailblazer in Africa’s search for peace.

A free Mandela popularised the concept of ‘African Renaissance’ to capture the continent’s quest for Pax Africana. And the world echoed his optimism, celebrating an ‘Africa Rising’.


Even then, an outdated trope of Africa as a war-ridden continent persists. Africa is bearing an inordinately heavy burden of the chaotic and anarchic world order, the real threat to Pax Africana.

Sustaining dialogue within the international security community is, perhaps, the only way to build trust, reduce the risk of another cataclysmic world war and contribute to peaceful resolution of conflicts.

This has given to platforms on global security including the Munich Security Conference (Germany) and the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa (Ethiopia). One of the newest of these platforms for global peace is the World Peace Forum (WPF) hosted by the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China since 2012.

Sadly, as in the Munich Conference, Africa was only marginally discussed during the 2018 WPF on July 14-15 under the theme of “Constructing a Security Community: Equality, Equity and Justice”. This is not without reason.


Although the continent continues to participate in world security affairs, has contributed troops to United Nations peace keeping missions and constitutes one of the regional security blocs in international security arrangement, it is still under the thumb of the America-led West in security issues.

Euro-centrists still view Africa as a “White Man’s Burden” in the world security system. In 2014, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair mocked Africa as “a scar on the conscience of the world”.

As a result of instability, Africa has become the poster child of powerlessness and object of the West’s ‘humanitarian industry’. However, in the 21st century, moved by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Africa has adopted an ambitious plan for a “Pax Africana” to fix its security crises and create a peaceful environment for development.

The Pax Africana plan sits on two legs. One pillar is Africa’s capacity to enforce peace upon itself. In his book, Africa Must Unite (1963), Kwame Nkrumah called on Africa to establish “a unified military and defence strategy.”


Decades later, Africa heeded Nkrumah’s clarion call, approving the Constitutive Act that of the African Union (2000) as a new legal and normative framework underpinning the emerging continental security architecture. The second pillar is African Agenda 2063, unveiled in May 2013 as the blueprint to move Africa from poverty and humanitarianism to development and prosperity.

Investing in peace is paying off. Wars in Africa have declined dramatically. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Project, the number of conflicts in Africa declined from an average of 12 in the late 1990s to an average of 3.5 from 2010-2013. This partly accounts for Africa’s impressive GDP growth at an average of 5 percent per year since 2000.

Despite these strides, Pax Africana has a new threat in the form of incipient populism, isolationism and protectionism. Globally, the ‘Trump phenomenon’ across the West is undermining NATO and Washington’s European allies, unwittingly, dismantling the security architecture on which America’s global influence rests. In the age of protectionism and isolationism, the West is tightening its grip on former colonies in Africa.

With America on the decline, the balance of global power and security is tilting towards China, resurgent Russia and a constellation of emerging middle powers, including Brazil and India — collectively known as the BRICS.


With 1.42 billion people (18.5% of world population), the world’s second largest economy, the world’s fastest growing naval fleet, a nuclear stock, a seat in the United Nations Security Council and drawing on the ethos of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, China is a superpower.

But scholarly and policy debates on China’s security role in Africa is akin to the biblical Tower of Babel. To some, China is a new redemptive force in Africa; to others, it is a new colonial power extracting and siphoning African resources and using debts to exact its influence in a new 21st century scramble for Africa between China and the West.

However, Beijing sees itself as a non-hegemonic power. The benchmarks of its global power are set by President Deng Xiaoping’s promise to the world: “If one day China should seek to claim hegemony in the world, then the people of the world should expose, oppose and even fight against it”. On this point, Africa can supervise China.

Prof Peter Kagwanja is a former government adviser and currently chief executive of Africa Policy Institute (API). This article is an except from a paper on: “Security Cooperation in Africa” presented at the 7th World Peace Forum (WPF) under theme: “Constructing a Security Community: Equality, Equity and Justice”, July 14-15, 2018, Beijing China.

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