Case studies: Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa – Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda 

30 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

    “For those who hoped to see the strengthening of human rights in Africa, with increasing governmental accountability and transparency, and with more inclusive and participatory forms of politics, this [situation – African resistance, erosion of Western dominance and the securitization of development] would not be good news.”

    – Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson, Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa

New hypotheses and fresh arguments have been coming for a long time now to explain what has been shaping the post-Cold War relations between Western donor states on one hand and aid recipient African states and – to an extent – Eastern European governments on the other.

Nevertheless, in the post 9/11 environment – unlike any time before – there has emerged consensus, which has marked changes in US policy and security strategies. In academic circles, this has necessitated clearer understanding of the emergent relations, their drivers and how the conclusion(s) thereon should be articulated, as Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson have observed, even stressing importance of precision at the level of words, meanings and terminologies.

In the twilight of Obama’s presidency …, written days before the Africa-US Summit held in Washington D. C. in early August 2014, this writer shared the view that, irrespective of whatever spurred those relations in the first place, changed realities ever since the tragedy that befell the United States a little over 13 years ago have elicited different responses. In other words:

    “Washington has attached huge importance to its military and security interests in its relations with the rest of the world… For over a decade now [this] has remained the main driver of United States diplomatic, political and economic relations with other nations”.

For instance, in Africa today the US military and intelligence presence has more preeminence than any time before – including at the height of the Cold War. That article cited relevant reports to show that the United States has active military presence in over 20 African states, with boots on the ground in ten others. In addition, there are many temporary continuous operations in about 38 countries, coordinated from Stuttgart, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Now the article by Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson, titled Authoritarianism and the securitization of development in Africa comes with fresh perspective, new angle and an update, in a way, on the numerous arguments and hypotheses out there about the ‘securitization of development’ in Africa. As pertains to the phrase ‘securitization of development’, whose meaning has been dividing academics, the two scholars have presented what it is in essence and their view of its better definition – viewed from the defining characteristics – and its relevance to Western donors.

Their article appeared online on January 15, 2015 on Chattam Houses’s Journal of International Affairs. They acknowledge the support their research has benefitted from the International Development Department of the University of Birmingham and possibly some other sources too.

However, I am rather inclined to think that their conclusions must have greatly benefitted from participation in a Norwegian project focusing on the Horn of Africa. It is supported by the Research Council of Norway (2012-2015) as part of its study of peace and fragility in the region. That study in particular examines the implications of governance of civil society in a number of African states – from the angle of what it refers to as ‘the state-society-violence nexus in the contemporary history of north east Africa’.

The Norwegian project is understood to have been churning out its findings piece by piece under the rubric of ‘The dynamics of state failure and violence’, addressing problems underlying specific African conflicts and conflict situations.

No doubt, those situations seem to have bearings on policies and actions of those post-conflict and ‘post-liberation states’ pursue, including those four states the article under review has focused on as its case studies: Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.

Fresh insight

An important theme the Fisher-Anderson article underlines is that a range of regimes that emerged from civil wars and out of military guerrilla organizations during the 1980s and 1990 have resorted to what they know best in the governance of their respective states: That is, looking through the lens and managing any situation with their past experiences of wars and conflicts as a guide. Put differently, the former guerrillas-turned statesmen have managed to create relations with Western donors that has been both closer and at the same time characterized by strong resistance, depending on sectors with implications to their continuity in power.

Nonetheless, their arguments in defense of their sovereignties rested either on its name – national sovereignty and its resonance – or responsive to their variegated ideologies and politics, or the use of the conveniences of political propaganda inherent in ‘African solutions to African problems’ or where it suited employing blackmail.

The article convincingly argues:

    “[E]ach [of these states] has found leverage in its relations with donors, and each has successfully imposed its own priorities onto the security policies of its western allies, often at the expense of other development aims and goals, especially in the area of social and governance policies.”

In the light of the above, the authors show that this situation is amply evident especially in the four case study countries, mentioned above. As is the case with all post-conflict and ‘post-liberation states’, the authors stress, these are states that have embarked upon “state-building around a set of authoritarian and militarized practices”.

Consequently, the authors hold the view that these authoritarian regimes negotiate with donors from a position of strength, not weaknesses, as in the earlier days. Evidence of this is that, among the ‘post-liberation states’ only Eritrea remains out in the cold. This is owing to policy clashes with donors and pressure of one of the donor favorites – Ethiopia. Thus the four have continued to enjoy reasonably a high degree of cooperation with their Western partners within the framework of their securitized development.

This has marked beginnings of new modality of relations between the dominant West and the dependent clientele states of the South, which from time to time has shown capability to draw their red lines.

That is to say, while in the past those countries got away with many things that otherwise would have been unthinkable before, it is suggested they have also successfully assuaged donors; they are rendering them valuable services, such as ferrying African forces with donor monies, participating in and contributing troops to the many peacekeeping operations in Africa under auspices of the United Nations or the African Union, a hybrid of the two or a sub-regional enterprise, mostly inspired and financed by donors.

These certainly are in the interest of Western donors if they are to continue to have their place of global dominance in the so-called international system. This means they need not shed their bloods in Africa, for which the article reminds its readers of the instructional value of the 1993 debacle the United States suffered in Somalia.

This thus is the basis of the new modality of the relationship between the West and the South that has given rise to the ‘securitization of development.’ It is a story of resistance in particular the former guerrilla leaders in these four countries have learnt from each other and practiced. Nevertheless, the authors explain, at the same time the irony is “The level of influence these regimes permitted western actors at times made it difficult to distinguish between ‘donors’ and ‘policy-makers’”, especially in Ethiopia before Meles started consolidating power in his hands.

Put differently, while these African states permit donors a major role in some areas of policy, they have managed to deny them any some in others. Fisher and Anderson describe this as “‘socializing’ policy-making in social development and economic sectors in particular — while simultaneously pursuing the explicit ‘privatization’ of other areas, especially defence and security policy.”

I recall reading an important study by US Independent Task Force on the future of US-Africa relations (More than Humanitarianism: A Strategic US Approach Toward Africa (Council On Foreign Relations, 2006), the membership comprising senior and important personages in governemnt acdemia and business (Anthony Lake and Christine Todd Whitman as chairs). At the time, over eight years ago that study warned the US administration and Congress of this African self-awareness and resistance, especially citing the example of stubbornness of Meles Zenawi and Yoweri Museveni, politely characterized as ‘strong-willed’.

In characterizing those individuals in much the same manner as highlighted by Fisher and Anderson now, the task force report in 2006 reflected the same perception:

    “In Uganda and Ethiopia, the demands on the United States are less for resources than for exerting influence on the processes of democracy. In those cases, however, even where both countries are major recipients of international assistance, negative leverage is limited. The leaders of these countries are strong willed and Ethiopia has already talked of reaching out to China to offset pressures from the EU and the United States on its electoral practices. The United States has not yet, however, assigned high-level diplomats to undertake special efforts with Ethiopia or to mobilize a consortium of countries, both African and others, to address the crisis there. In Uganda, perhaps the best path is for the United States to invest much more in the civil and political institutions that can survive yet another term of Museveini’s presidency. In any case, the four countries highlighted deserve special attention if democracy is to flourish on the continent and the recent positive trends are to be sustained. Such a strategy is not yet evident.”

In that regard, the two scholars confirm from available reports and literature that Kagame’s Rwanda and Meles’s Ethiopia have supported this kind of relations with what they saw as ‘preferred donors’, while the corollary has made them preferred aid recipients. On both sides this has been “a conscious and long-term effort to build ‘illiberal states’, framed by a political economy of authoritarianism.” In return, this “has greatly enhanced the ability of African governments to extend and reinforce state authority domestically.”

It is perhaps without realizing its implications that in May 2012 of this Meles Zenawi was quoted boasting, “Unlike all previous [Ethiopian] governments our writ runs in every village.”

‘Securitization of development’

Fisher and Anderson argue that these relations between the West and African states are characterized by ‘securitization of development’. This in its benign rendition must have its origin in the needs of the United States and its allies to bring peace to conflict situations and pacify conflict-prone states. However, more concerning is the fact that even UN peacekeeping operations have not been spared from becoming agency for Western interests via the securitizes of development mechanism.

Hoping to bring about consensus on the meaning and definition of ‘securitization’, the two scholars have chosen to characterize it as situation, wherein “Increasing levels of donor military assistance, funding of security sector reform programmes, regional peacekeeping operations and support for state security institutions are all presented as measures of securitization.”

To make their point, the authors further quote Mark Duffield, who sees ‘securitization’ “as part of a broader western enterprise to regulate the lives and activities of those in the developing world”. On the other hand, Ngaire Woods is seen treating the securitization of development as “the ‘hijacking’ of aid and development policy by defence and security actors to serve the interests of western states.”

Having scanned the various definitions, the authors finally settle down to accepting ‘Securitization of development’ to mean:

    * Empirical increases in “military and security sector assistance” by donors

    * National security objectives enjoy increased priority

    * The combined effects of the above two conspire “to support to African governments in authoritarian actions both against domestic dissent and threat and against threats lying across their borders.”

The Fisher and Anderson article also points out that while US military and security programs in Africa have enjoyed over 50 percent resource increases, development assistance has been trailing by a rise only of 14 percent.

In characterizing the four case study states, the article draws the following similarities about these four ‘post-liberation states’:

    * As regimes that have been in power for long periods – the Idris Déby regime since 1990, the TPLF/EPRDF since 1991, Kagame’s since 1994 and Museveni since 1986 have featured prominently in donor security funding and training initiatives

    * They all have deployed troops to donor-funded peacekeeping missions in Darfur, Somalia, Mali and elsewhere

    * They emerged from guerrilla movements and have constructed and entrenched authoritarian systems of rule in their respective states;

    * They rely upon military force and militarized governance rather than democratic legitimacy to function and maintain authority.

In terms of the essence and behavior of the policies and actions of the case-study states, more particularly that of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda is defined as being characterized by:

    * Heavy emphasis on government ‘ownership’ of development;

    * Centrality of state management and control in securing developmental outcomes

    * Illiberal in their political positions to the extent of being ambivalent in their approaches to political pluralism

Such a stance by these ‘post-liberation states’ has enabled them to get away with anything, including state crimes, as in the case of the post-2005 election massacre of over 193 election protesters in Ethiopia. Fisher and Anderson push this under the rug simply mentioning it in passing as cause for “Meles’s personal entrenchment of power following his near-overthrow by colleagues in 2000, and the consolidation of single-party domination after an unexpectedly close election in 2005.”

The article under review also explains that its primary focus on the donor side is on the United States, United Kingdom, France and the EU, while Sweden and a few EU states have also played non-negligible role in the securitization of development. Based on reviews of bilateral policies between 2007 and 2011, it is indicated that the policies of Australia, Canada, the UK and Sweden have given “increased priority… to African ‘fragile states and conflict-affected states, particularly in Africa.”

African elites have criticized the extensive Western economic and military support for Africa’s repressive regimes. They have used their pens as club to hammer the West’s aid, for instance, to the TPLF/EPRDF regime in Ethiopia. They accuse it of repressive policies and as a violent state, which uses the increased aid for oppression of the people. This has made the West in the eyes of citizens as collaborating it with the oppressors.

Nevertheless, the two scholars raise a valid point in stating whether this came solely because of Western interests (strategic and economic) or those in power in Ethiopia, and elsewhere, have created conditions and shown willingness “to securitize their relationship with donors.”

In that respect, they state, “Securitization is not something that the West has done to Africa, but rather a set of policy imperatives that some African governments have actively pursued.” I have no hesitation in subscribing to the view that not all African governments are victims of securitization, as is heard often.

Who is not bored to death about the media in Ethiopia daily drowning citizens in the ‘developmental state’ politics and ideology, its routine condemnation of neo-liberalism, whose main characteristic is described by ordinary political cadres as rent seeking. On a daily basis accompanying the TPLF campaign against “neo-colonialism” and the “neo-colonial state” that is that it is out by the door hankering to deprive Ethiopians of the fruits of their ‘liberation struggle.’

Even today, January 29, 2015, notwithstanding the ethnicization of politics and divisiveness in Ethiopia, the massive corruption practiced by the ‘freedom fighters’ themselves, Ethiopians on this day are compelled to listen from outgoing President Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank (AfDB) lauding Meles Zenawi during the 24th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly presenting an inaugural lecture to the Meles Zenawi Foundation, whom he eulogized as spearhead of Africa’s ‘Developmental State’.

However, the silver lining for Kaberuka, despite attempts to sugarcoat his concrete examples highlighting development efforts in Ethiopia with concepts in economics, he has noted in his lecture that “Meles certainly did not always get everything right”; as the article under review has confirmed, Kaberuka also has affirmed, based on his so many conversations with Meles, particularly pointing out his wrong belief that development and democracy are merely ideals, with no links between the two!

Along the same line, Journalist and author Peter Gills quotes Meles’s ideological hostility to democracy, human rights, accountability and transparency, where he told him and which has become public knowledge after the 2010 election as follows:

    “We believe that democracy, good governance and transparency and fighting corruption are good objectives for every country, particularly for developing countries. Where we had our differences with the so-called neoliberal paradigm is first on the perception that this can be imposed from outside. We do not believe that is possible. Internalization of accountability is central to democratisation. The state has to be accountable to the citizens, and not some embassy or foreign actor.’”

A number of factors must have contributed to this. While on the donor side primary consideration is serving the national security interests of the donors, on the part of aid recipient clientele states the existence of alternatives such as in emergent China has somewhat eroded Western leverage in the four African states in particular.

Have African states benefitted from securitization of development?

The answer is an emphatic no! While the article points out that the role of securitization in some states such as Kenya and Tanzania has been ambiguous, it confirms that in the more authoritarian states it has served as lifeline in maintaining those regimes in power.

This, the authors explain, is the case in “regimes that originated as guerrilla movements, which construct the state around military institutions, are governed by military personnel, and rely upon the use of force to maintain order and legitimacy.”

In the case of Ethiopia, the article underlines that securitization of development has served the interests of Meles Zenawi who ruled Ethiopia single-handedly. In that regard, it states:

    “In Ethiopia, the key features have been Meles’s personal entrenchment of power following his near-overthrow by colleagues in 2000, and the consolidation of single-party domination after an unexpectedly close election in 2005. Following Meles’s death in 2012, the military has become the de facto political power in Ethiopia, with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn dismissed by a range of officials as a ‘regent’.”

The question is whether donors knew this is the case. Fisher and Anderson indicate that is the case. They explain this as follows:

    “The lack of ‘commitment’ on the part of western donors to specific social development goals in their dealings with foreign aid recipients is well established. Donors are often willing to sacrifice social development and governance goals in exchange for perceived advantages in the security realm, even if doing so involves the marginalization of civil society actors. This tendency has a particular significance in the case of authoritarian regimes, themselves already heavily committed to militarism and according a high priority to security policy. Such regimes know what they want from their relationship with donors, whereas the donors themselves remain unclear as to what their goals should be and how these should be prioritized.104 Authoritarian regimes thus negotiate with donors from a position of strength, not weakness.”



We have read time and again, even on credible papers and by experts with stature about Africa cutting corner for itself having joined the era of elections and democracy. Aside our national experiences, we now learn from the article reviewed that, while coup d’étas have diminished, Africans still languish under donor-supported dictators and authoritarianism, as is the case in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Chad and elsewhere.

Interestingly, the current African dictators have won strong Western support, as if the West had not preached participatory democracy and respect for fundamental human rights in Africa.

Therefore, there would be no better conclusion to end this piece than the opening paragraph of the article reviewed here.

It begins its opening paragraph by underlining that international development in general has become ‘securitized’ and ‘militarized’, most particularly in the ‘hot spots, of the ‘global war on terror’. The two authors thus strongly argue:

    • ‘Securitization’ has had an unwelcome and negative impact on key development areas, such as social development, human rights and governance reform

    • The security agenda of the global war on terror has been devised and promoted by western actors imposing a securitized approach upon passive and vulnerable states in the South.

The unpleasant reality, difficult to internalize, is the fact of the West – no differently from China that does not give a hoot to fundamental human rights – has allied itself with dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. I fear that it may find it difficult to exonerate itself from heavier responsibility for Africa’s lost opportunities, from the human point of view for those suffering and who have lost their lives and are losing under brutal dictatorships!

It is interesting that, without possibly meaning to explore that further, Fisher and Anderson seem to worry that in future possibly “other African countries, then, follow the example of our four case studies.” However, they have not shied away in their observation from exposing donor attitudes and their indifference to human rights violations, and other forms of repression that are quietly diminishing several million Africans.

The fact of the matter is what we have learned about the West and donors in particular from the article by Jonathan Fisher and David M. Anderson explain this in the following manner:

    “The lack of ‘commitment’ on the part of western donors to specific social development goals in their dealings with foreign aid recipients is well established. Donors are often willing to sacrifice social development and governance goals in exchange for perceived advantages in the security realm, even if doing so involves the marginalization of civil society actors. This tendency has a particular significance in the case of authoritarian regimes, themselves already heavily committed to militarism and according a high priority to security policy. Such regimes know what they want from their relationship with donors, whereas the donors themselves remain unclear as to what their goals should be and how these should be prioritized.”


Related article on securitization of development:

    Beyond 2015: A successor vision in the making of next Millennium Dev’t Goals (MDG)


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