Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Blair's Africa: The Politics of Securitization and Fear

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Blair's Africa: The Politics of Securitization and Fear

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Tony Blair has described Africa as a "scar on the conscience of the world." This article argues that New Labour's increasing attention to Africa is part of an ongoing securitization of the continent; interactions with Africa are gradually shifting from the category of "development/humanitarianism" toward a category of "risk/fear/threat" in the context of the "war on terrorism." The securitization of Africa has helped legitimize this "war on terrorism," but has very little to offer for Africa's development problems. Keywords: Africa, securitization, development, New Labour, war on terrorism.


At the Labour Party Conference that followed shortly after the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair delivered what is widely perceived as one of the most important--and also most powerful--speeches of his political career. With the televised images of the collapsing Twin Towers still etched on people's minds, the speech expressed the prime minister's hope that "out of the shadows of ... evil should emerge lasting good" and outlined his vision of a new, reordered world founded on justice and "the equal worth of all." (1)

Central to the construction of this new world order was Blair's renewed promise to help Africa. "The state of Africa," he declared, "is a scar on the conscience of the world." In his characteristic, almost messianic style, Blair assured his audience that the scar could be healed "if the world as a community focused on it." This would entail a much more interventionist role for Britain and what he called the "international community," and Blair portrayed the new world order as one in which the United Kingdom was always ready to defend human rights and democracy in Africa. Thus, he told his audience, "if Rwanda happened again today as it did in 1993, when a million people were slaughtered in cold blood, we would have a moral duty to act there also."

This speech, and in particular his description of the continent as a "scar on the world's consciousness," is emblematic of Blair's compassionate and intensely moral discourse on Africa. In the wake of September 11, Britain's Africa policy appears at first glance to diverge from the U.S. approach. Whereas U.S. policies toward Africa have moved increasingly toward a more aggressive and militarized approach, justified as part of the "war on terrorism" and aimed at securing access to strategic resources and military bases, British policies continue to attract attention for their explicitly humanitarian, moral agenda, as seen for example in the recent launch of Blair's Commission for Africa. (2)

This article argues that while Britain's actions on the African continent are much less visibly militarized than U.S. policies, New Labour's approach to Africa has changed in subtle yet important ways following the events of September 11. The centrality of Africa in Blair's speech to the Labour Party Conference following September 11 is indicative of these changes. The continent had comparatively few direct links to the al-Qaeda networks, and it is not immediately clear why the prime minister would choose to devote so much attention to Africa at a time when on his own admission many Britons were "anxious, even a little frightened."

My suggestion is that the prime minister's attention to Africa is part of an ongoing "securitization" of the continent, evident not only in the British government's discourse but also more broadly in, for example, U.S. policies and in academic debates. Through this securitization, dealings and interactions with Africa are gradually shifting from the category of "development/humanitarianism" to a category of "risk/fear/security," so that today Africa is increasingly mentioned in the context of the "war on terrorism" and the dangers it poses to Britain and the international community. Given Blair's global profile, these issues go beyond UK foreign policy and raise important questions relating to Africa's place within structures of power and global governance. …

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