Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

Rethinking Regional Security Through Africa's Economic Integration

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"790","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"148","style":"float: left;","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"148"}}]]By Aya Chebbi 

In 2013, I was shooting a documentary called “Kenya’s Conscious Transformation” under the Africa Inspire Project, when Kenya witnessed the Westgate attack. At least 67 people died.

Following the peaceful 2013 general elections, I decided to explore and highlight the role of youth and women in the peace process that transformed its previous 2007/2008 volatile post-election violence. On my last day in Nairobi, a few hours before heading to the Westgate shopping mall, I heard about the Al Shabab attack. It was a tragic and sad day, waiting for the fate of the hostages and praying for the victims.

Two weeks ago, Tunisia has also witnessed an attack on the Bardo Museum in the heart of the capital city, Tunis, next door to the Parliament. I experienced the same saddening feeling. 

International media, as usual, don’t help much in such events, especially when it happens in Africa but the headlines actually make it worse. The headlines have been as dramatic as “Tunisia's tourism fights for survival”, ignoring that we have had at least 20,000 foreign visiters entering Tunisia after Bardo attack, and as lame and wrongful as “Tunisian town near 'Star Wars' backdrop now features in battle against ISIS” ignoring that Les Dunes Electroniques, one of Tunisia's biggest festivals have taken place on the set of star wars just few weeks ago on 21 February where over 10,000 people attended. I remembered then, during my interviews in Kenya, the youth telling me about their campaign on Twitter #SomoneTellCNN and #CNNApologise. 

The Kenyan online community reacted with harsh criticism to CNN’s reports of the grenade blasts in Nairobi. The news network reported on the story with footage from 2007-08, giving the impression that violence had erupted all over the country. 

Like Kenya, Tunisia had its fair share of CNN misinformed disseminated news. Though we are all witnessing equal tragedies of non-state actors’ crimes, the coverage is, for instance, different from the Charlie Hebdo attack with a Western perspective. 

However, what we need to actually reflect on is the relationship between regional economic integration and regional security, which shall depend on the nature of the security threats that defines the region. 

In Africa, we are yet to boost the economic integration, while we are witnessing the rise of armed attacks. Why can’t we yet secure the flow of goods but control the flow of arms? Following Libya’s war, the Mali conflict, the Amenas hostage crisis and other security threats, cross-border terrorism and arms smuggling are on the rise. Transitional politics and fragile stability are impeding policy-makers from drafting lasting and coordinated frameworks to combat this. The impact and leverage of armed attacks will continue to affect African countries transnationally. 

However, the over-stated threat of terrorism is far from feeding exclusively on economic and social grievances or the democratization process. It is as much the creation of states’ quest for internal regime stability, as the result of their own incapacity to effectively collectively address the security vacuum in different countries (for example, northeastern Mauritania, southwestern Algeria, northern Mali, and Niger).

Some argue that regional economic cooperation will foster insecurity rather than security. Besides, building a viable intra or inter-regional cooperation is a challenging proposition because of post-colonial African states and governance. However, I think this situation ushers in a much more fluid context, affording fresh windows of opportunity for these extremist groups to exploit divisions, and further its agenda. 

Building regional economic integration is still centered primarily on security considerations. As African states, we are increasingly concerned with security risks generated by our neighbors arising from poor governance that might cause cross-border instability. These problems highlight that regional economic integration ought to be primarily inter-governmental with a minimum of supra-national aspirations. 

I think we need to:

  • Develop a strategic vision. A critical factor in developing an enabling environment for regional economic integration is whether governments have the necessary leadership to push economic integration. Despite Europe’s recession, the reflexive response in North Africa is to continue to look northward to Europe for economic relations. At the same time, the focus on regional neighbors is often limited to purely security-related concerns.
  • Governments in the region need to think more strategically about the benefits of building closer economic ties with our neighbors. Investing in border regions could prompt greater economic growth and improve security conditions. Good governance and clear investment codes are essential components for that.
  • Promote a strong business environment is a necessary component of a broader enabling environment.

All in all, we need to identify potential growth points and then connect with each other beyond security dilemmas.

Aya Chebbi is a Tunisian activists and blogger who attended the WELDD workshop on public and political participation in December 2013 in Cairo. She has since become an active networker with Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML).

Published at Foresight For Development