For one to understand the politics and security threats which East African states face, one has to look at a number of factors such as history, culture, religion and socio-economic difficulties as well as a number of new threats that the world has come to face, since the advent of the century such as terrorism. East Africa is comprised of a number of states, with some, having a large influence from the Arab world. Certain events indicate the insecurity within the region such as the bombings of U.S Embassies, Kenya and Tanzania, the West Gate mall attack in Nairobi and the shooting of university students in Kenya as well at the “Black hawk down” incident in Somalia 1993. The insecurity that plagues this region rich and diverse in its culture, heritage is not only to land but also at sea. In recent years a number of Somali pirates have been attacking shipping freighters off its coast. However, what can be viewed as the biggest cause of insecurity is the existence of al-Shabab, a splinter group of al-Qaeda. These factors as well as socio-economic grievances, and intra-state wars all play a role in the insecurity of the region.
According to Craig Snyder (2012: 313) “a region is a group of states in proximity to each other within a geographic area… [In addition] people and states need to have a common set of culture values… and historical legacy”. Traditional threats within the region have largely been based on ethnic divides, civil wars and political instability and socio-economic problems. This means that the traditional concept of threats towards security were “equated with the protection and safety of the state, and the management and use of military forces” (Francis, 2006: 86). However, there is enough circumstantial evidence that suggests that non-traditional threats would not exist if there were no traditional threats. Any in nation which the majority of the population are facing socio-economic or political strife - will seek to find options to solve them. These alternatives tend to be groups of radicals who offer people already suffering a sense of hope and a new identity. These groups use violence as their way to get what they want, which gives births to some non-traditional threats. Which includes refugee flows to other nations. Non-traditional threats to security include among others, technological innovations such as the internet, environmental factors and other international interests in the region such as Chinese and American strategic interests in Djibouti. The country hosts the largest American military base in Africa and is located on the Bab - el Mandeb Strait, a gateway to the Suez Canal. It is also located in a region with perpetual violence, with Yemen and Somalia in close proximity (BBC, 2015). China has started the construction of their own military base, this will be the first official overseas base. This is seen as “Beijing establishing a strategic foothold… to the oil trade route” (The Diplomat, 2016). Washington argues that China wants to be dominant in the region (BBC, 2015).
Environmental factors such as drought which results in famine and starvation poses a potential threat to security in the East African region. Technological factors such as the use of the internet may be deemed to be a threat to security in the region as it may be used by perpetrators of insecurity to recruit members to their destructive causes.
David Francis (2006:87) states that “In Africa…dimensions of security such as…poverty, resources…ethno-religious have threatened individual and societal security”. Francis (2006) goes on to argue that the non-traditional threats and challenges to security cannot be managed thus security will need a new type of strategy to deal with the various problems. Strategy is far more than the use of military means to serve a political purpose. General André Beaufre “described strategy as a ‘method of thought’ relating to both philosophy and practical operations” (Schultz, Godson and Quester, 1997: 399). Analysists need to devise new strategies that will help them achieve their objectives. The new security issues faced in any region today are not ones which can be defeated by a single state or political actor (Snyder, 2012: 328), it will take the cooperation and sharing of intelligence of nations to combat security threats and a better cohesion between, states which would also involve non-military intervention.
Numerous disruptive events have occurred in the East African region. Different threats have occurred, from one of the darkest genocides in recent memory in Rwanda, the two decade war in Somalia, to the radical shootings of innocent people in Kenya’s WestGate Mall, to pirate attacks off the coast of the horn of Africa. East Africa has had a great number of security difficulties. However, for one to understand these insurmountable problems in this region, which at times seems to be in a constant state of emergency, one has to look at the history of these nations, and why the biggest threat in the region is now radical jihadi groups with base camps in Southern Somalia.
The main causes for conflict are caused by socio-economic ailments. Francis (2006) claims that corruption and the alienation of groups within states has made Africa a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorist organisations, the most notable in the region being al- Shabab.
“Domestic conflict[s] in…Sudan, Somalia… have created refugee flows and flows of armed rebels across national borders, thus regionalising…what were once domestic conflicts” (Lake and Morgan, 1997: 300), thus security threats within a state started to become regional threats. The lack of respect of some nations for their neighbouring nation’s sovereignty leading to political interference in each other internal affairs has led to insecurity in the region. Rwanda and Burundi are examples of this. Rwanda is weary of the instability in Burundi and the consequences it will have, already large numbers of refugees are in Rwanda. Rwanda intervenes only to ensure that the security of its state remains strong (The New Times, 2015). Each region in the globe has its own characteristics and complications - what may work to stop conflict or a threat in Eastern Europe may not work in East Africa, “each region requires its own theory” (Lake and Morgan, 1993: 8). Therefore, it is of great importance to find out what the root of the problems are and threats they may mitigate as ways to find solutions.
In 1994, Rwanda faced its gravest hours as a civil conflict based on ethnicity between Hutu and Tutsi people turned into a mass genocide (United Nation, 2014) - one which the world watched without interceding.We have a common humanity yet in this grave moment in recent history the world stood by as people fled Rwanda to neighbouring countries seeking refuge.
In South Sudan ethnic wars have been a serious cause of insecurity in the East African Region. A 2014 report by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) highlights that a combination of oil and a lust for power by the two main ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer, are at the heart of the problem. However, what seems to be the biggest threat in the region is terrorism from al-Shabab. The terrorist group, which preaches a radical form of Islam, has claimed responsibility for a number incidents, such as the WestGate Mall attacks in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2013 in which 67 civilians were killed. The Somali based group says it “carried out the attack in response to Kenya’s military operations in Somalia” (BBC, 2015). The terrorist group launched another high profile attack in North East Kenya at the Garissa University College. According to news reports “the attack left 148 people dead… the attack was the bloodiest in Kenya since al-Qaeda bombed the U.S Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, killing 213 people” (Aljazeera, 2016).
Al-Shabab states that its attacks in Kenya are a retaliation for Kenyan troops in Somalia. They made a similar justification for their attacks in Uganda in 2010, stating that it was because a large number of Ugandans were part of the African Union Force in Somalia (AMISOM) (BBC, 2013). The insecurity in the region is not only on land, but at sea as well, as is the case with Somali pirates off its coast. These pirates claim to be protecting its waters and fish from industrial fishing ships and from dumping to occur in the region (New York Times, 2008). However, an argument by Baylis, Wirtz and Gray (2013) claims that terrorists portray the taking up of arms as a last resort to grievances such as the dumping of waste in fishing waters. The trend that seems to occur from this is that Somali militants or pirates attack other people because they too have been attacked. It makes one analyse is the history of the region and critically identify the analysis indicators of conflicts as stated by Francis (2006).
As different as conflicts may be in their various presentations, they can be analysed by common variables, which Francis (2006) alludes to by looking the structures, actors and dynamics of conflict within a region. The analysis of long term factors underlying conflict are security, political, economic and social, while the analysis of conflict actors are interest, relations, capacities, peace agendas and incentives. In analysing conflicts and insecurity one should look at the long-term trends of conflict, what may trigger increased violence and the likelihood of future conflict scenarios to occur. These analysis indicators are guidelines to help academics and strategists devise new ways of dealing with conflict in the region. It is important to analyse the different insecurity problems and come up with methods to combat the insecurity in the region, although a strong case can be made that the problems are all based on poor leadership and politics as well as socio-economic ailments.
Former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali called for a greater role to bu played be regional organisations in order to maintain peace and security. In his Agenda for Peace 1992, the former UN Secretary General states that “Regional action as a matter of decentralisation, delegation and co-operation with the United Nations efforts could not only lighten the burden of the Security Council but also contribute to a deeper sense of participation, consensus and democratisation in international affairs” (Boutros-Ghali, 1995: 64). His successor Kofi Annan echoes the claim for more regional support “…because the United Nations lacks the capacity, resources and expertise to address all problems that may arise” (Annan, 1998).
The UN Charter specifies the roles of regional organisations in the maintenance of peace and security. Article 33 (1) states that “Parties to any dispute…which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security…shall…seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry…or other peaceful means” (United Nations, Chapter VI: 2006). Article 52 (1) states “Nothing in the present Charter precludes the existence of regional arrangements or agencies for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action” ( United Nations, Chapter VIII: 2016). This clearly gives regional states the first level of intervention to any conflict before presenting the situation to the Security Council.
The African Union has a stand by force. The Constitutive Act of the African Union gives the AU the right to intervene in a member state in circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity (African Union Peace and Security, 2015). The rationale behind the existence of the African Standby Force (ASF) was to deploy troops quickly and swiftly and restore order in a nation to avoid the spread of instability other nations in the region. Another regional institution in the East African Community (EAC) is the East African Court of Justice, which is set up to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity (Claiming Human Rights, 2010). The Intergovernmental Authority for Development has set its mission to, inter alia, promote and maintain peace and security and humanitarian affairs and to prevent mechanisms within the region for the “prevention management and resolution of inter-State and intra-State conflicts” (Intergovernmental Authority for Development, 2010). Snyder believes that “by focusing on the specific regional aspect of a global problem [terror] the regional powers are more likely to identify the local influences on the issue and more effectively address both the regional and global aspects” (Snyder, 2012: 328).
The implications of insecurity in the region have created low standards of living, poor infrastructure, a lack of opportunities, and a constant struggle for survival in a hostile environment in which the pursuit of happiness is far from being a reality. Insecurity has given birth to an environment in which it is easy to breed and radicalise young men and women to join terror groups in order to give them a sense of purpose. With the youth not being able to get jobs or an education, their options to break out are limited and thus they resort to causing conflict in the region and in the hearts of many. Insecurity brings about migrants to boarding nations, as was the case for many people from Rwanda and Somalia and as a result puts pressure on those nations in which they seek to start a new life. This can cause xenophobic behaviour within the state. The prevalence of insecurity in regional states puts all states in the geographical location at threat - there is the threat that what happens in one state may spill over into another state. With insecurity comes poor economic growth and development for the nation, resulting in poor healthcare, education and ultimately dire standards of living.
To battle insecurity, new ways of thinking need to be applied. One needs to evolve one’s ideas, strategies and methods, as new problems persist or problems become advanced and new challenges occur.The new security issues that are prevalent do not accommodate old strategic ways. Soldiers and security personnel need to be better informed and trained in the type of battle that they are about to engage in. However, to fight the insecurity, I argue that one needs to look at the root cause of the problem. Taking into account the context of the East African, of these root causes would be socio-economic problems, poor leadership and inequality amongst members of the same state, based on ethnicity, culture or religion. There needs to be a short term and long term plan towards solving the problems.
Socio-economic and political insecurity is detrimental to the development of the region and its people. There is therefore need for political will by leaders in the region to embrace local and international law and conventions that prohibit the causes of insecurity in the region.
I argue that the study of security is limited to wars and finding ways to combat it, rather than finding the root of the problem that has caused the insecurity to begin with. Historical examples are evident in this paper. It is important to study the history of a country and the problems it may face - only then can strategies be implemented or proposed on how to best handle the security threat. Shultz, Godson and Quester (1997) argue that a good policy maker will not only want to know what is happening, but why it is happening and what is likely to follow. Understanding the underlying causes of security problems is important to the study of security in the region.
By looking in depth into the security, political, economic and social structures, which Francis (2006) pointed out, one can find the loopholes (if they exist) and come up with a strategy to prevent possible conflict: This is a key lesson to from the insecurity problems in Africa’s Eastern nations. Policy makers also need to be better informed so that they can propose the best possible solutions. The way I argue to study security is to analyse and contextualise the problems; going to war must at all times be prevented if possible; politicians and strategists should seek to win the battle without bloodshed. Insecurity will remain a feature of politics in East Africa until new strategies and progressive strategies are implemented to combat the non- traditional threats.