01. April 2022

Sustainability, Stability and Security in Africa: Key Findings in the Sahel Sustainability, Stability and Security in Africa

Dr. Maria Ayuk

Dr. Maria Ayuk on sustainability, stability and security in the Sahel region.

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In recent times, several geopolitical developments have stressed the importance of the Sahel region to sustainability, stability and security issues. The region faces the threats of sustainability, instability, and insecurity simultaneously. This report is anchored by a comprehensive and detailed analysis of three pillars of sustainability, stability and security in the Sahel, including climate change, security and migration. The intersections of climate change, security and migration, as mutually reinforcing constitutive elements, have scantly received scholarly and policy attention in the Sahel region. These issues, which are by nature traditional and non-traditional security threats, are considered threats in a landscape that has been described as transnational. 

Strengthening relations with African countries has been of strategic importance for the European Union due to the pressing global challenges and the increasing geopolitical importance of the African continent, particularly the Sahel region as a hotspot for climate change, insecurity and instability, migration, extremism, terrorism, rapid population growth and rapid urbanisation. More importantly, the European Union has remained a critical partner of Africa in addressing these issues. Concerned by threats that these issues pose to traditional and non-traditional security, the Initiative on Sustainability, Stability and Security (3S Initiative) was launched to address Africa's daunting sustainability, stability, and security issues. The report seeks to reflect upon the current situation in the Sahel regarding non-traditional security challenges, particularly issues of sustainability, stability, and security. The objective is to analyze the intersections of climate change, migration and security and their impact on EU-Africa relations. The main goal is to enhance evidence on climate change security and migration. 

The study draws upon climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ and a ‘wicked problem’ to show the various dimensions of securitization and their deleterious ramifications in the Sahel region, one of the hardest hit by climate change. As a threat multiplier and wicked problem, climate change is driving instability, triggering displacement and migration, worsening existing conflicts and threatening national, regional, and global security. Building on the qualitative method, the gathered data was collected through interviews via remote technology such as telephone, Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Team. Grey literature was also consulted. Data from grey literature was analysed through content analysis where discourses were picked up. 

What emerged from the findings is that despite heavy capital injections in intervention models such as the 3S Initiative and Africa-Europe relations, they have not paid climate security dividends in the Sahel region. Results show that sustainability, stability, and security hinge on the nature of the domestic political economy of the Sahel region. The political economy is characterised by two fundamental institutions: extractive political institutions and extractive economic institutions. These two institutions have combined to sire state fragility. The 3S Initiative won't take the same speed as expected by the EU or, if implemented, won't be sustained unless the African leaders' grievances on finance are resolved. As such, the 3S Initiative is likely to be short-lived. Findings show that Africans understand security from a state centric-traditional perspective. In contrast, the European conception of security is influenced by their foreign policy that perceives both hard (traditional) and human (non-traditional) security. Extractive economic institutions in the Sahel are not inclusive; they discourage participation by many of the citizens. which are central features of climate security or the 3S Initiative. Further evidence shows policy failure in the intervention strategies, namely the 3S response model and the Africa-EU dialogue. Results have proven that migration and insecurity will not stop unless these institutions are transformed or reformed. The political elites must feel secure first to create space for creative destruction and technological change necessary for climate security. Therefore, the puzzle is: how can the 3S or Africa-EU negotiations transform these extractive institutions without reducing the benefits of the political elites? 

This research also discovered that concepts and intervention strategies on climate change, security and migration are invariably contested and conceptualised among the international community, national elites and local actors. Often climate change is treated in isolation from security and migration, resulting in piecemeal sector-specific intervention strategies. The findings reveal the lack of depoliticization of climate change, as power dynamics among the actors tend to carry the day. There is no evidence among scholars on how data and knowledge on the symbiotic relationship between climate change, security, and migration have been mined and reconciled. In the Sahel, these three domains are still treated in silos. 

However, what is striking is the behaviour of Sahelians in their efforts to access and control the diminishing water and land resources in response to the vagaries of climate change - coalitions, alliances, and breakaways. It is a fluid situation, and complex to interpret and intervene in. In the Sahel, local communities have come together and coalesced in response to climate change. For example, women have organized themselves through groups where they farm each other’s land to fight desertification and soil infertility. Regarding security, youths and local communities who feel victims of state-sponsored poverty take up arms to obtain political power, significantly raising political and economic grievances. 

Further findings show the selective securitization of climate change is increasingly influencing tension rather than collaboration among climate actors in the Sahel region. Each actor is looking to control the climate security narrative and take coercive and forceful action in defence, especially when they feel their vital interests are under existential threat. Results show the various tensions, contradictions, and complexities in the securitization of climate change by the EU, AU, regional organisations, ruling elites, and local communities, particularly the contentious mitigation, resilience, and adaptation elements. While the EU preferred securitizing climate mitigation, their African counterparts pressed for resilience and mitigation. At the local level, the ruling elites continue to take coercive or forceful action against the youths’ active participation in climate security. Such selective securitization has made other salient topics to have escaped a full-fledged securitization. The research concludes by observing that if adequate action on climate security remains elusive, the survival of Sahelian communities is seriously under threat. 

Profile of Dr. Maria Ayuk


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