Surveillance over a Zone of Conflict: Africom and the Politics of Securitisation of Africa

By Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J.; Ojakorotu, Victor | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Surveillance over a Zone of Conflict: Africom and the Politics of Securitisation of Africa

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Sabelo J., Ojakorotu, Victor, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


The United States of America's establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) is one of the practical indications of the post-9/11 discourse of 'securitisation' of Africa under the discourse of war on terror. Within the post-9/11 Western and American thought there was a shift from seeing Africa as a humanitarian case into a new conception of Africa as a zone of conflict within which terrorists would launch their activities. Confronted with this situation, African states should act together and formulate unified foreign policy options if Africa would survive the scourge of securitisation of the continent. In this article we examine the security terrain within which AFRICOM was established and reasons why there was a push for it to be established on the African continent. We see it as part of American hegemonic drive to maintain surveillance over the continent under the guise of monitoring terrorist activity. We also raise the often ignored issue of existence of weak states that is not only used as justifications for such phenomenon as the AFRICOM as well as proliferation of private security companies, but also that inhibits and limits the African foreign policy options. The justification is that African security situation marked by poorly policed borders makes the continent a zone of conflict that has dangerous spill-over to affect the Western and American zones of comfort and peace.


In the current securitisation discourse the interactions between the powerful nations of the North and Africa are marked by shifting politics within which the African continent is approached as a terrain of risk, fear and threat to global peace and stability. This thinking has the danger of reviving the dangerous argument of seeing Africa as offering nothing but chaos, risk and threats to the supposed 'peace zones' of North America and Europe. The open indicator of the securitisation of Africa came in the form of establishment of the United States Africa Command (USAfrican or Africom) on the 1st of October 2007. This was defined as a new unified combat command of the United States Department of Defence to be responsible for USA military operations in and military relations with fifty-three African nations in the exception of Egypt. The justification for this interventionist move was containment of terrorism.

The end of the Cold War in general and the 9/11 terrorist incident in particular had far reaching impact on global power politics and shaping of global security architecture. This article analyses how Africa has featured within this shifting global politics and in the evolving global security architecture. Since the end of the Second World War and Truman's speech of 1949, Africa featured mainly in global politics as emerging from colonialism and as part of the underdeveloped world that needed humanitarian rehabilitation. But the dynamics of the Cold War particularly the 'proxy wars' made Africa feature into East-West global security calculations and the West's drive to contain communism. It was during the Cold War that securitisation of Africa began as Soviet imperialism contended with Western imperialism in the centre of Africa in such places as Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Somalia, Congo and many other Cold War theatres of war. The securitisation partly took the form of shipments of arms of war into the African continent and partly competition between the West and East to sponsor warring factions within the continent. The liberation struggles against colonialism offered the East and the West outlets to intervene in Africa with the Soviet Union backing many African liberation movements like Movement for Popular Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in Angola, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU in Zimbabwe, African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa and many others in its bid to paint the continent red.

At the end of the Cold War securitisation of Africa took new forms characterised by proliferation of specialised private companies offering military and police services that were previously the preserve of the state.

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Surveillance over a Zone of Conflict: Africom and the Politics of Securitisation of Africa


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