By: Thembani Mbadlanyana*
The demise of a bi-polar world inaugurated an astounding change in global geo-politics. Much of the post-Cold War period has been characterised by a dismissal phase of declining prosperity, increased insecurity and incomprehensible complexities and as such, considerable attention has been given to issues of global governance and security. This attention is even more today as we witness the intensification of calls for the reform of the United Nations (UN) and the shifting global balance of power away from traditional hegemonic powers such as the United States (US).
In particular, with this shift in the locus of authority from West to East, a number of questions arise. Firstly, does this shift necessitate reconfiguration of international systems of governance (e.g. reform of the UN Security Council)? Secondly, what opportunities and/or challenges is multi-polarity bringing with it? Thirdly, whose security will be most at risk in a multi-polar world: that of global citizens or that of nation-states? And what are the associated threats to state authority and how will the state react? Fourthly and more importantly, where does Africa fit into these debates? If new rules are to be formalized, whose rules is Africa likely to follow? To what extent will Africa be part of setting the agenda and rules? Since Africa has always been the object of global trends, will it become an active actor and play a more meaningful role in the governance of international security and management of global commons? And lastly, will Africa shoulder a responsibility in management of international security threats like piracy, organized crime and terrorism?
At the core of all these questions is an intellectual longing for a more nuanced and erudite exposition of Africa’s role, not only in the emerging economic and political order, but also in the governance of international security. Whilst we cannot ignore these questions, our energies and our attention should be channelled towards looking analytically at Africa’s normative role in governance of international security in a multi-polar world. In doing so, we need to focus on the work of the African Union (AU) and that of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) like Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as it relates to the United Nations (UN) system. It is my view that, the AU’s evolving African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is one of the prisms, though not the only one, through which Africa’s contribution to the governance of security can be viewed.
South African President, Jacob Zuma recently argued for instance that in a multi-polar world marked by effective multilateralism, Africa will play a more active role in governance of security where there is a reformed UN system. This is so not only because of the renewed interests on Africa and the continent’s relevance to the new economic and political order, but also because Africa has a share in social, environmental and security problems with global impact. There is an increasing acknowledgement amongst African leaders that the continent has a shared responsibility to contribute to global public good.
In addition, as terrorism in North and West Africa, porous borders and organized crime in West Africa and piracy in the Horn of Africa are once again finding their place near the top of the international agenda; they are also dominating the African Agenda too due to their adverse ramifications to the continental development and stability.
Notwithstanding that Africa will no doubt be an active actor. It might not be a key player in the near future but it will have greater agency. I do not predict that any of the African countries will have the power to dictate the outcomes and decisions in the international security arena on their own, I do however think that they will be able to exert some greater influence. More so, due to incapacities at regional level and continental level, African activism in the governance of security is likely to draw on global governance tools and resources. Since the UN Charter vests in the UN the powers for management of global security, African countries will continue to work through the UN structures and will continue to see UN as the only legitimate and legitimizing body. Since the new economic giants like China lack a vision of African security for Africans but rather are looking at the security of Europe or the United States, the notion of “African Solutions to African Problems” will continue to drive African activism.
*Thembani Mbadlanyana is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here .