Africa’s security environment is characterized by great diversity and fluid issues. To solve these issues, senior African leaders need to make informed decisions on policy and practice to deal with Africa’s human security challenges.
To provide lasting solution to Africa’s security issues, the Institute for Security Studies, also known as ISS or ISS Africa was founded in 1991 with an aim to enhance human security on the continent. The ISS carries out independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance. Capital’s Groum Abate caught up with the Institute’s east Africa regional director, and representative to the African union, Dr. Paul-Simon Handy for in sights on Africa’s security and the current issues faced in the east African region. Excerpts;
Capital: What does the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) do?
Dr Paul- Simon Handy: The ISS is an African policy research organization that aims to support strategic decision making in the broad field of human security. As a result we build knowledge and skills that secure Africa’s future by enhancing human security as a means to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity.
At the core of what we do is to provide evidence-based research, backed by policy recommendations that we then use in various forms. We use our convening power to create a series of platforms for dialogue. We bring together a wide range of stakeholders including governments, international and regional organisations (UN, AU, RECS), academia and civil societies and have conversations on how to shape and implement those policies. We do this through seminars, briefings, conferences, and closed-door meetings.
The provision of technical support is another channel we use to implement our research. We help our stakeholders drafting various policies and strategies, provide background informationand sometimes also second staff to help implement those policies. In addition to this technical support, we also providecapacity building and trainings.
Our Institute is a Pan African organizationwith offices in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal and Mali. Our work across these regions covers transnational crime, migration, maritime security and development, peacekeeping, peace building, crime prevention and criminal justice, and the analysis of conflict and governance.
Capital: What are your views on the security in east Africa in general?
Paul- Simon Handy: East Africa is at a very interesting phase and if you would have asked me this question five years ago I would have told you a different story. Five years ago, east Africa looked very promising. There were highly positive dynamics in each individual country. In Ethiopia we had a change of government and a reform dynamic of unprecedented magnitude. In Sudan, we had a street revolution that actually led to the ousting of former President Al Bashir. Even in South Sudan we had promises of possible agreement between the two warring factions. Somalia was still business as usual but was gearing towards elections. In other key countries like Kenya and Uganda, you had more or less positive developments that indicated that the Horn of Africa was moving towards a cycle of positive change. All of a sudden all the gains of that period turned into more negative dynamics.
Each country, particularly the big ones but also the small ones, was facing great various challenges that are generally political in nature.
For example in Ethiopia the warin Tigray had broken out whilst in other countries in the Horn, there were political issues that were having huge impacts on stability, economic growth and social cohesion.
The number of refugees in the horn is quite high which presents a myriad of challenges.
So the Horn is facing big challenges and the biggest problem is that the countries that were supposed to actually bring solutions are themselves facing internal problems, thereby complicating the role of regional organizations.
Capital: What in your view are the possible solutions and how do you see the future unfolding?
Paul- Simon Handy: There’s no easy solution. We should never forget that African countries are relatively young countries, at least in the form they have now. There are old societies like Ethiopia with old states and also there are countries that have taken shapein the last 70 years that is a relatively young in the life of a nation.
Solutions have to be found in three major dimensions.
There are national solutions to which stakeholders within the countries should find appropriate solutions in each and every country. It might take a bit of time. It’s much easier to win a war than actually foster an inclusive solution through dialogue.
But when you win a war you impose a certain order which may last 10 or 20 years and might even go to 30 years, but at one point it will change.
When you find an inclusive negotiated settlement, it has a capacity to last longer because it was inclusive. So the ideal solution at the national level should be inclusive, because if a group or community is excluded, it will bounce back and have a domino effect.
There are also regional and trans-border factors such as refugees, environmental degradation, climate change, transnational crime and epidemics. These are not problems that can be solved exclusively at a national level. So you have to find regional solutions.
The Horn of Africa is a strategic geographic location among others because of the Red Sea and its international trade gateway. Stability or instability in the Horn – as we saw with piracy in Somalia – has an impact on international trade. This partly explains why international actors have a stake in the countries of the region and why they want to be part of national and regional solutions. A good indicator of this interest is the number of special envoys for the Horn that have been appointed in several non-African countries and international organisations.
It will obviously take time to get to a more peaceful and prosperous Horn of Africa because most countries at an early stage of state-building and nation-building. Of course this is a long term outlook that sometimes clash with political actors’ plans. As we all know, politicians are elected in office for four to five year-terms and often have short term goals. And as a result, they generally invest energy and resources to short-term objectives that make them look good and eventually be reelected. Investments for peace are long term and cannot necessarily be boxed into quick wins.
Capital: What is your view on the recent rise up of Al-Shabaab as a threat to the region?
Paul- Simon Handy: Al-Shabaab remains a big treat in the region and will continue to destabilize not only Somalia but also other countries, particularly neighboring countries including Ethiopia and Kenya.
As long as Somalia is not stabilized Al-Shabaab will be considered a threat to the region. Al-Shabaab controls quite a bit of territory in Somalia and the central government does not yet have the means to actually be a force of opposition to Al-Shabaab. What I mean by this is that the central government is at pains even to control the capital city and surroundings. So it’s difficult to expect the central government to be a serious alternative to Al-Shabaab in the country.
Al-Shabaab appears as a provider of public goods of social services to the population because there’s no one else. So international solutions should actually consist ofrendering supportto the central government so that it is in a capacity to provide those social services because that’s how Al-Shabaab wins hearts and minds of the population.
Capital: How do you see the situation in Darfur, Sudan?
Paul- Simon Handy: The stabilization of the central government is a big issue. Sudan is currently at a crossroads. Sudan is one of the few African countries that have seen parts of its territory becoming an independent state. And this territory, South Sudan was the place where oil was produced which was one of the biggest sources of income for the nation.
Of course losing such an economic source is a hard pill to swallow and with the ousting of President Bashir, the country is in a sort of identity crisis as we can see with the political transition. Nonetheless, the Sudanese people ought to decide what type of political system they want.
For Sudan, the conflict comes from a legacy of military rule, where the military was not just controlling the political space, but also having major stakes in the economy.
We have seen many states businesses which exist in Sudan being under the army control. The military is not only having a political hold but also having a grip on the main businesses in the country.
Darfur is a survivor of a conflict that was never really solved. It was actually put on hold, but not really solved; because at one point, the independence of South Sudan appeared as a much bigger problem than the problem in Darfur.
The root causes of what created the conflict in Darfur are still pretty much there. But in Darfur, like in many other places in Sudan, where there are confrontations, the solutions lie politically.
They’re more political in the sense that they are about inclusivity, access to resources and share in development and also, about how the central state considers peripheral communities.
So in a nutshell, Darfur remains a hot spot in Sudan, but I’m afraid that it is not the only one. The Sudanese government will have to go beyond just finding military solutions to the type of conflict they have in Darfur. Solutions ought to be political.
Of course, military solutions can help stabilize a situation and can help fight non state armed groups but they are not a long term solution to stabilize Darfur. They have to find political solutions and agree on some difficult compromises with local communities.
Capital: What are your views on Eritrea? What could be the future?
Paul- Simon Handy: Eritrea is a small country, but a very important country because of its strategic location, geographic location, and its historical importance to Ethiopia.
Because of the type of political system and regime that is ruling Eritrea today and its leadership, I think it is safe to say that as long as the president is still in power the status quo will remain.
The big issue is that if he’s not there, what will Eritrea be like? It’s quite difficult, but there are various scenarios that can pan out. We can either witness continuity or the emergence of a new Eritrea.
If its continuity, the leader who comes after the president ought to have the same type of acceptance within the army and within the political landscape. We do not know if the person who comes next will be a close ally to the current president or a person far from it but regardless that leader must ensure the army, which is the backbone of the regime, is loyal.
The second scenario is that the person who comes to power could realize that Eritrea is not exploiting its full potential and proceeds to maximize on it, which may result in the country opening up. If that is the case Ethiopia might stand to benefit a lot economically and socially. That scenario might also increase competition with Djibouti that substantially benefits from the current situation as Ethiopia’s gateway to the sea.
This is something like a best case scenario with many unknowns. Despite the president’s centrality in the regime, power also lies with some generals who were part of previous wars. Thus, having a concerted decision on paving the country’s way forward may not be a walk in the park.
Eritrea remains a dark spot because we do not have access to the country. It’s extremely difficult to do proper research on Eritrea and this is one of our biggest regret, because we would like to have access to the country to be able to analyze the dynamics in an independent way, which is not in a way that is controlled by government. But we are hopeful.
Capital: Coming to Kenya, what do you expect after the election results are announced?
Paul- Simon Handy: The campaign has been expectedly tough but preliminary results point to a low voter turnout. There’s visibly a certain degree of voter apathy in Kenya, where people are probably tired of seeing the same figures running for president.
So I think that this voter apathy is also a sign of fatigue that Kenyans will not go to war because one person is contesting these results. We see that the race seems to be very tight. The winner will not win by a margin bigger than 2or 3%. So it’s going to be tight.
But on the other side, this voter apathy also shows Kenyans will not go to war just to support one candidate and I believe they have learnt from the post election violence of 2007. Basically, I am confident that Kenyan voters are more mature today than they were 15 years ago. And in that, the middle class has grown so big now that many people have a lot to lose if violence was to erupt.
Capital: What is your evaluation of the war in the northern part of Ethiopia?
Paul- Simon Handy: There are many ways of looking at it. I look at the conflict in Ethiopia today as a conflict of political succession. If you look at Ethiopia’s history, power has generally changed hands in a violent way, either by war or some form of violent dismissal. There are very few exceptions to this.
Ethiopia still faces this problem of managing power transitions. Between Prime Ministers Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn there was a peaceful transfer, but we saw that this peaceful transfer led to something much bigger that ended up in war.
In Ethiopia’s political history there has been violence in a way power has been transmitted. So this war between the TPLF and the central government is another episode of that difficulty that Ethiopia finds in transferring power peacefully. To me this is the biggest challenge for these national reconciliation dialogues.
Of course there are other issues, mostly around the management of diversity. 30 years ago, Ethiopia created ethnic federalism. Now is the time to check; How have we actually performed? Is that the way we should be going? Is there a possibility of imagining another type of federalism remaining within the federal borders, or can we go beyond ethnic groups?
These are tough questions that have to do with recent and ancient history of Ethiopia that has to do with the identity of the different parts that form Ethiopia. It is difficult, there’s no easy way out of it because negotiating a compromise is always much more difficult than winning a war and the process of the national dialogue will have to answer these questions.
Capital: How do you see the negotiations between the Government and TPLF?
Paul- Simon Handy: I don’t think Ethiopia’s problem is just about these two actors, the TPLF and central government. This is the biggest problem now. But it’s just a symbol of all the problems that might erupt.
I’m very hopeful that there are negotiations but we know even the fact that they negotiate already creates other problems in other parts of Ethiopia.
The government has no other choice than negotiating. What is the alternative? But of course when you negotiate, you have to be aware of what you can give and what are your red-lines.
I guess for Ethiopia, the Federal nature of the state is not negotiable. The question is what form the federal system should have? Should Ethiopia keep ethnicity or nationality as the backbone of federalism? Where do we have similar experiences in the world?
Switzerland is a country that also experiences what could be termed ethnic federalism but it does so at a much different scale: lesser ethnic groups, a longer history of national cohesion and it is a very small and rich country. Dividing a big cake between few actors is much easier than dividing a smaller cake between several actors.
Ethiopia has well over a 100 million inhabitants, and Switzerland is about 09 million and it’s a rich country.
Ethiopia might look at the rest of the continent as well, and learn from federal experiences. Questions ought to be posed such as: How do other countries deal with political and national dialogue? What were the success and failures learnt? How far did they go in the history?
There’s no easy answer. And at the end of the day, the solution will be political, it will be a compromise. And a compromise is never a perfect solution.You have to give and take. And at the end, the best solution is always a solution where people have a bit to be happy about anda bit to be frustrated about.
Negotiators should avoid having a community that is terribly frustrated feeling that they’ve been discriminated in the whole process. As a mediator in a conflict, when the two sides start having doubts about you, then actually, that’s the point where you feel you are making a great job because each sides thinks you are closer to the other side. And that’s the job of the prime minister and the government. Not an easy one.
Capital: Do you support the national reconciliation committee?
Paul- Simon Handy: The ISS has been one of the first organizations to talk about national dialogue. At that time the government was not completely convinced of that idea.
We did quite a bit of research in showing what the benefits of national dialogue are, and the examples in the continent that Ethiopia can draw from.
We have a whole team working on analyzing political dynamics in Ethiopia, but also supporting various parts of government. We work a lot with the Ministry of Peace, Foreign Affairs Ministry and the House of Federation.
Our work is quite low key and confidential but we do provide analysis and support when needed.
Capital: Are you involved in the negotiation process?
Paul- Simon Handy: We are not involved in the negotiation process, but we try to follow up on the process so as to provide advice when called upon. But we are not part of the negotiation process.
Capital: Where do you see the east Africa region in the coming five to ten years?
Paul- Simon Handy: The vision we have for the region is actually a positive one, which is a prosperous Horn of Africa. So, I’m actually quite optimistic because the fundamentals of East Africa are great. It’s a region that is strategically important, with a booming demographic, which to meis an asset. The Horn has a lot of natural resources and human resource which is foundationally great. We did a piece of research on the future of the Horn of Africa. We forecast various scenarios that you can find on our website.
Countries within the region just have to fix their political systems and be more stable to create the basis for economic growth. But the fundamentals are great and that’s why so many international actors want to be part of that process so as tobenefit from stability.
Africa has had a tremendous growth over the past two decades whilst other continents except Asia seem to be stagnating. With African countries being developing countries the room for growth is limitless and we have to seize the full potential of our economic growth. We envision a great prospect for Africa and most certainly east Africa.
As ISS we are very optimistic about Africa’s growth prospects. And we have established aresearch program that we call African Futures and Innovation because we believe in African futures, and the continent’s fundamentals.
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