Academic journal article African Studies Review

Security Studies in Southern Africa: Old Practices, New Ideas

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Security Studies in Southern Africa: Old Practices, New Ideas

Article excerpt


Nana Poku. Regionalization and Security in Southern Africa. New York: Palgrave, 2001. xv + 164 pp. Tables. Notes. Select bibliography. Index. $65.00. Cloth.

Nana Poku, ed. Security and Development in Southern Africa. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001. viii + 166 pp. Tables. References. Select bibliography. Index. $59.95. Cloth.

Mwesiga Baregu and Christopher Landsberg, eds. From Cape to Congo: Southern Africa's Evolving Challenges. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2003. x + 401 pp. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $22.00. Paper.

Peter Vale. Security and Politics in South Africa: The Regional Dimension. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2003. vii + 251 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $53.00. Cloth.

These four volumes, two edited collections and two monographs, all try to understand why the regional peace, security, and cooperation that so many observers anticipated would follow the end of apartheid in South Africa have been elusive. There is agreement that states are part of the problem. In particular, states remain committed to state sovereignty and to the pursuit of state power vis-à-vis other states and have not given due recognition to human security-the security of individuals and communities. This behavior parallels premises about states in conventional security studies, which all the contributors under review reject. Common ground ends here. For Peter Vale, the state in southern Africa has imposed control through coercion at the expense of human security. In this zero-sum game between states and people, he advocates that states must go if people are to enjoy security. The other three volumes assume that states are capable of collective action, despite much evidence to the contrary, and also see human security as a desirable state goal, even if it is yet to be attained.

For the distinctions between mainstream security studies, often equated with the realist approach in international relations, and the human security approach, senior U.N. researcher and British-based academic Nana Poku offers a useful overview in his monograph, which he sees as a "supplementary text." In traditional security studies, says Poku, the state is presumed to represent the national interests, military security, and the protection and well-being of its people. State sovereignty is assumed to be sacrosanct. Because of the assumption that states act in the national interest, conventional security studies focus on how they secure external security. It is taken for granted that in their interstate relations states have a propensity toward violence in order to augment their power.

Critics of security studies, however, do not believe in state sovereignty or the identity of state and national interest. They point to states as the source of much internal insecurity, because states are either unable or unwilling to protect ordinary people; indeed, states may be the principal source of internal violence. Critical security studies, and more specifically human security studies, seek to give voice to the security concerns of marginalized individuals and communities, be they local, national, regional, or global, about which traditional security studies are silent. While mainstream security studies accept the status quo, critical security studies seek to emancipate humans from their everyday insecurities. The route to emancipation is to show that the current arrangements of states and the international state systems are not "natural" but historical constructions, that alternative social arrangements are possible, and that states and societies may create new practices and discourses of security.

The struggle to promote human security is not confined to the margins of academia. The concept of human security was used in the U.N. Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Report of 1994 to direct the security agenda after the cold war toward more development-oriented concerns. …

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