Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Security Companies and Democratic Governance in Africa


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One key manifestation of the crisis of governance in Africa is the rise of insecurity, not only of the state but also of ordinary life in cities, on interstate
highways and in the countrysides of some countries.Although the state of human security is already now a subject of extensive research, very little is known about the evolution, growth and impact of security companies on democratic governance in Africa. The absence of a coherent and systematic body of knowledge on this sector is a major limitation to understanding the current and changing nature of state power as it impacts on populations in various African urban areas.

The issue of individual, household, community and national security in Africa is
increasingly gaining currency because of a number of reasons. The perceived
illegitimacy of some African governments, combined with widening gaps between the rich and poor, high unemployment rates , declining quality of educational institutions and the continuous scramble for scarce resources, has led to an increase in individual and household insecurity in most African urban
areas. The search for domestic security is reflected in the increased fortification
of wealthy houses by electric fences, walled and gated communities as well as neighbourhood watches, community vigilante groups and armed guards. Where households can not afford to pay for sophisticated security, at the very least, burglar bars are installed on windows and voluntary neighbourhood watches are established. All these activities, fed by real and imagined fears of familial and bodily harm, and the loss of domestic goods, are a response to increased insecurity.

There is evidence to suggest that IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes have created loopholes which have allowed many African governments to abdicate the role of caring for, and protecting citizens, leaving “free market forces” and private companies to fill the gap. Whether this privatization of security has led to a reduction in the size of police forces is unclear, but it has opened up areas in security provision that used to be the purview of the police. Most of these private security companies are run by former and retired police officers who have the technical know how.

Various armed struggles and civil strife have left large caches of arms in many African countries. A lucrative market in the selling and buying of arms has resulted, which provides both a threat and an opportunity for those in the business of providing security. Whether it is matter of a demand for security calling for the supply of arms, or rather a demand for security deliberately created to absorb a supply of arms, remains to be seen. In addition, the end of armed struggle or civil unrest in post – conflict states, also means that there are a large number of people with military skills in need of employment; who can easily be absorbed by security companies.

The relative demise of old forms of militarism in the forms of coups and military governance has not been replaced by the long awaited peace dividend. Instead, there has been a new military politics characterized by privatized violence, global security companies and armed conflict. Under the Bush administration, the United States has used the guise of global democracy to enforce its National Security policy and strategy across the globe, and particularly in Africa and the Middle East. 9/11 resulted in such measures as facial and ethnic “profiling”, intrusive and intensified searches at airports and ever expanding lists of banned substances on flights, in the search for “terrorists”. Most of these security measures meant very little for the African continent but were imposed nevertheless. America’s globalised insecurities created an atmosphere of insecurity in Africa. There is a lot of money involved in the business of providing security. Not only does good security not come cheap, but individuals pay double for the service, first in the form of taxes to purchase security services that are never provided by governments, then secondly by paying directly to the security companies. The fundamental questions that need to be addressed by this Institute are:
· Who gains from Africa’s increasing insecurity? (Globally locally); what is gained?
· Who gains from the activities of security companies? (Globally, locally); who controls them?

But to get to these seemingly obvious questions, one needs to address a few
other basic questions:

1. Is the private provisioning of security services an asset or a liability for governance and democracy in Africa?

2. What are the different types of security companies operating in different African countries? Who owns these companies? Who funds their activities? Who are the clientele? Security companies are not homogenous and may include a whole range of companies from the basic uniformed guard with only a
baton stick to an armoured car with heavy weapons. There are different types of security, including domestic security, industrial security, state security; and the protection of civilians.

3. A look at the evolution and growth of security companies-are security companies increasingly gaining hold in the provision of security in various African countries?

4. What factors may explain the growing insecurity in African urban areas ?

5. What is the relationship between private security companies and state security organs such as the police, national armies and paramilitary and other government institutions?

6. In what ways do various governments use security companies to further
strengthen and entrench their power and control over ordinary people?

7. Exploring the links between security companies and democratic governance in Africa. In particular, do the internal structures, personnel, and operations of security companies encourage or inhibit democracy?

8. Globalization and security companies in Africa.

9. What is the relationship between private security and good or bad political and financial governance and accountability in Africa?

10. How do security companies protect their individual, corporate or national clients from armed state or non- state actors?

The focus on security companies offers chances to explore the shift from blatant militarization to more subtle methodologies of exercise of state power and control. In some cases, however, there may be an adversarial or competitive relationship between security organizations and governments, and/or regional organizations, and it is useful to be aware of these tensions. It also brings into focus the dangers of accepting global rhetoric like democracy, human rights, international security without understanding the dominant hegemonic forces that drive these seemingly innocent concepts. Domestic/household security and the threat of bodily harm can be used by African governments to exploit the basic fears of their own people. If governments can not provide something as basic as security for their own people, it becomes questionable what role they actually play.

November 5 2009