Africa has come to rank high on the US and EU agendas this summer. After the EU hosted its fourth EU-Africa meeting on 2-3 April, US President Barack Obama is preparing his first ‘US-Africa Leaders Summit’ for 4-6 August. Meanwhile, French President François Hollande is visiting the Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Chad this very weekend. His tour comes only days after France announced its decision to replace ‘Operation Serval’, undertaken in response to the military offensive of radical Islamists in Mali in early 2013, with a wider counter-terrorism operation codenamed ‘Barkhane’. Other EU member states are also redefining their engagement with Africa: Germany, to name one, is seeking closer military cooperation with France in the Central African Republic and is in the process of elaborating a new Africa strategy.
What emerges from this renewed attention towards the continent is that both the US and the EU have subscribed to a two-pronged approach encompassing a focus on security and economic cooperation. Thereby, they converge on a specific understanding of both security and economic aspects. While security is largely framed as countering violent extremism, economic cooperation has primarily come to be seen through a trade lens. However, such confined conceptualizations of security and economic development are problematic. For one, restricting security to military operations in general – and counter-terrorism activities more specifically – risks hobbling ongoing efforts in support of democratic governance and state-building, as a recent study of the Life and Peace institute has shown for the case of Somalia. For another, although trade carries the potential of fostering economic development, this is not a foregone conclusion.
This Alert examines how both the US and the EU have subscribed to a renewed attention on a narrowly defined security-economy nexus. It argues that past international engagements in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and elsewhere have, however, shown that a broader understanding of security is needed, if the challenges emanating from both extremism and underdevelopment are to be tackled effectively and sustainably. Similarly, it proposes that trade is not the ‘silver bullet’ to eradicate poverty, but that it needs to be accompanied by social investments and redistribution policies. At its most basic, the alert postulates that both African crises and opportunities can only be seized to the benefit of all involved, if a narrow focus on security and trade is expanded to include the strengthening of governance mechanisms and build-up of effective states.
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