Dr Paul Vallet: Welcome to the Geneva Centre for Security Policy weekly podcast. I'm your host, Dr Paul Vallet, Associate Fellow in the GCSP Global Fellowship Initiative. For the next few weeks, I'm talking with subject matter experts on issues of peace, security, and international cooperation. Thanks for tuning in. For observers of international relations and development, Africa is never out of the news. The recent past has been rich with more developments from several presidential elections to the offensive of jihadist fighters reaching Mozambique, Ethiopia's dispute with neighbouring countries or on the Nile basin water management, are among many issues affecting human security. I'm joined today by Dr Delidji Eric Degila who has been one of the experts on Africa addressing the Leadership and International Security Course this year at the GCSP. Dr Degila is with the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Relations and Development, where he's a visiting lecturer in the Department of International Relations and Political Science, a senior researcher with the Global Migration Center, and a research associate with the Center on Conflict, Development, and Peacebuilding. He focuses his work on state building, on armed conflicts, religion and politics, migration, foreign policies and international organisations and on global health and development. His academic career spans both Africa as an associate professor at the École Nationale d'Administration et de Magistrature du Benin, but also here in Geneva, also in France, in Morocco, in Mexico, and also two distinguished universities in Japan, Waseda and Sophia. He also advised several international organisations including the African Union. Welcome to the podcast Dr Degila and thank you for joining us today.
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: Thank you very much for your kind invitation.
Dr Paul Vallet: My first question to you is has the COVID-19 pandemic overcome the importance of the other security challenges that are faced by the African continent?
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: No. The COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented global crisis, shed light on the urgent need to strengthen public health systems in Africa. The human security challenges in the region remain the same bet the pandemic exacerbated then, by worse humanitarian crisis in many parts of the continent. They are related to situations of extreme poverty, or recently inequalities and bad governance which produced structural violence. As you know, the concept of structural violence refers to the negative impact produced by social structures in a context of deep inequalities and lack of basic human needs. It underlines the inability of a State to assume it fundamental duties, notably access to health for all citizens. For example, the relationship between structural violence and life expectancy is well established in the specialised literature. In Sierra Leone, life expectancy was less than 55 years old in 2020. For the same year, life expectancy in Switzerland was over 83 and almost 85 in Japan, obviously, a context of structural violence is conducive to increase complex human security challenges in Africa, and COVID-19 worsened such dynamics.
Dr Paul Vallet: Indeed, well thank you very much for quite a sobering reminder of the realities that are faced. And so of course, my next question to you would be, as someone who observes and charts, all of these structural security problems you're just mentioning, the question is what lessons are currently emerging from Africa itself in the management and problem solving of these security challenges?
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: Well, an important lesson that we can learn in relation with security challenges in Africa is the need to adopt a holistic and nuanced perspective on such issues beyond conventional explanations, based on essential discourses. Contemporary Africa, faces multiple security challenges, including hybrid and asymmetric threats, such as Al Shabaab, and Boko Harams criminal actions, food insecurity, primarily due to climate change, the phenomenon of piracy, or the proliferation of transnational criminal networks. Another common security challenge in the region is civil war. This type of internal armed conflict, but also violent extremism, often analyse the true identity lenses in terms of ethnic or religious violence. Such dimensions are relevant, but it is crucial to adopt a broad perspective to capture the complex dynamics that threaten peace and stability in the region. To illustrate my point, I would like to mention the case of the Civil War, which devastated Cote d'Ivoire, in 2000. If issues of identity can be conflict prone in Africa, just as elsewhere, the multiethnic nature of African countries doesn’t per se produced Civil War. It is rather the misuse of differences in identity by some political elites that often leads to armed violence. The concept of Ivoirité is a relevant example of how elites can exacerbate identity discourse to achieve their political goals in 1990s, in Cote d'Ivoire, the notion has been designed to define who is an authentic citizen of Cote d'Ivoire and consequently, who is not. Such dynamic is termed ethnonationalism, a sort of political configuration based on the notion of “autochtony” besides the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire, was also a result of deep horizontal inequalities defined as the degree of disproportionality between the size of groups and their respective share of certain resources or assets, such as political power, education, wealth, etc. and here I refer to the work of Francis Stewart. These types of inequalities are term arisen term to distinguish them from inequalities among individuals, which are vertical inequalities. And basically, the literature offers four types of horizontal inequalities which are important to understand how conflict dynamics are very complex on the ground. First, you have equalities, horizontal inequalities, for example, income, the issue of access to land job opportunities, and in Cote d'Ivoire actually, it was very difficult for people who are from other identity groups to access to job or land and this produced a lot of grievances which fuelled conflict dynamics, you have also social horizontal inequalities related to human capital, access to health, housing, etc, political horizontal inequalities, a possibility to access to top level positions. And again here you can see how the concept of Ivoirité have been instrumentalised with some political elites to the top level position and finally, you have a cultural orientation inequalities which follow the dynamics were States per se as used some traditions in a country which is supposed to be open for all types of an identity. So you can see how horizontal inequalities are particularly conflict prone in multicultural contexts, such as Cote d'Ivoire, where State apparatus promoted the exclusion of some identity groups from the civil tasks that is the Ivorian national and social construct.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, I can see that obviously, in one sense, the research you do is one of the important elements to actually understanding the nature of the problems. And in particular, the horizontal inequalities that you were just mentioning. What I would turn now is also to some issues about problem solving. And as you're well aware, for this year in international Geneva, in particular, it's been a year in which we've seen the first African woman become the Director General of the World Trade Organization. And, of course, with the worldwide response to the pandemic, it's also another African Director General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization, who's also been on the on the forefront of the public response. So, my question to you now would be whether you feel that Africa's mark and footprint in improving the areas of global governance and international organisation, is that progressing in your sense?
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: Well, I think that Africa plays a key role at a global level. And African states used to follow actually the doctrine of Pan Africanism to promote a sort of African voice. As you know, Pan Africanism is the oldest and most prominent expressions of African regionalism. It is a doctrine based on a common vision of what should be desired. It belongs to a family of regionalist ideologies, built on shared conceptions of history and culture. And here I refer to the work of Amitav Atariya. According to Thandika Mkandawire, Pan Africanism is a strategy of social solidarity, as well as cultural, political and economic emancipation among African nations. Today, the African Union is the privileged framework to promote such projects. And you mentioned two African citizens who are leading two main international organisations in Geneva, I can tell you that they have been elected, thanks to this idea of solidarity that the African group plays, usually for these kinds of elections African States try to find a consensus behind one candidate. And I think this is something important in terms of electoral strategies. But if you look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is managed in Africa, you will notice that the regional organisation has been quite successful through this Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19. For example, in terms of access to vaccines, the African Union has been able to secure the double numbers of doses in comparison to what COVAX, the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access, the multilateral framework provided to the continent. Basically, African States used to follow the strategy of “Together we are strong.” And you can see how under the auspices of the African Union, they used to design a sort of common African position on key global issues. For example, during the negotiation which led to the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, African States came with an ambitious project, which promotes the need to protect biodiversity and natural resources. They also advocate on issues related to desertification and deforestation, which are critical for Africa. Notably, its sub equatorial zone and in the desert of Sahara. Of course, Africa is not a geopolitical homogeneous configuration. But when it comes to deal with key issues, such common position is often the result of a sort of common denominator.
Dr Paul Vallet: Thank you very much also for this, I think very important reminder of the paramount role of the African regional organisations, especially in in tackling specifically African problems. And that leads me, of course, to my fourth question, which would be whether these organisations and all of the scholars such as yourself who look at African questions, whether you're identifying now, any future or emerging problems, that will would be of most concern to Africans in the coming future years?
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: There are several potential challenges Africa may face in the coming years. Let me emphasize on one of them here. By 2050, Africa will count 1,300,000,000 working age people only in its Sub Saharan patch. Experts present the demographic dividend in the region as an asset, and it is a case if young people are well educated trends and included in national development policies. However, the exponential growth of youth population in the region may become a time bomb, especially in context of inequalities, neopatrimonialism, and bad governance. As in development previously, terrorism and violent extremism often proliferate, when State authorities fail to assume its sovereign duties. In a search configuration, youth can be used as a negative instrument. In the past, we saw an extreme case of this phenomenon in West Africa with the famous war of Charles Taylor, who instrumentalized child soldiers for years in Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. More recently, we observed in the Sahel how violent extremist groups such as AQMI [French acronym for “Al Qaeda au Maghreb Islamique”, aka Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib], Ansar-al-Dine, Al-Mourabitoun, a now emerging movement called Jamaat nusrat al-islam wal-muslimin [Arabic name for the “Support Group for Islam and Muslims”, organisation founded in 2017] take profit of youth distress in the complex context described both to recruit and indoctrinate hundreds of young people in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya, etc. The same dynamic is at work in Somalia and Kenya with Al Shabaab. Thus, it's critical for each African States to develop relevant national policies to promote sustainable development by placing people, especially the youth as its raison d’être. Interestingly, the African Union, the framework of its agenda 2063 is advocating for a search term with a particular emphasis on people driven development policies. To achieve this, access to education is key in my point of view.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, indeed, Africa being in many senses, for the coming century, the continent of youth, I think, here to where your, your insight on that is quite important. So as we approach the end of the interview, I have one last question for you, which you've perhaps already answered in a way, but I wanted to ask you whether the sort of Afro-pessimism that was manifest sometimes in studies and so on, regarding Africa a few years ago, is that really a thing of the past or for most of the academic observers of Africa's context?
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: In my point of view Afro pessimism is all about the issue of positionality. I would like to quote here Chinua Achebe, a well-known Nigerian writer, who in 1988, wrote in his book “Hopes and Impediments,” this: “Africa is not only a geographical expression, it is also a metaphysical landscape. It is, in fact, a view of the word, and the whole cosmos perceived from a particular position.” So, for me, Afro-pessimism is how you approach things. I'm not saying that the life is perfect in Africa, but I can see also positive dynamics on the ground. And it is true that the continent must deal with multiple challenges, as I mentioned, from civil war to violent extremism, illegal migration to Ebola. But I do believe that Africa is a high potential region. One of the main States for Africa is the issue of ownership, and how to find a way to mobilise its own driving forces. And the launch of the ACFTE, the African Continental Free Trade Era last year, is a positive sign, among others. From this point of view, Africa has something positive to say to the rest of the world beyond an Afro-pessimism rhetoric.
Dr Paul Vallet: Well, I guess that will conclude our interview, I wanted to thank you very much, Dr Degila, for having joined us to talk with such depth on these issues of Africa this week. And I'm wishing, of course that in your continuing functions with the Graduate Institute, you will continue also to interact with the GCSP Leadership and International Security Courses and anything that we do in relation to the field of Africa and African Development. Thank you very much.
Dr Delidji Eric Degila: Thank you again for your kind invitation.
Dr Paul Vallet: You're most welcome. And to our listeners, I'm inviting you to join us again also for the next week for the next six weeks and throughout June and half of July, to continue hearing about the latest insights on international peace, security and cooperation. So please don't forget that you can subscribe to us on Anchor FM on Apple iTunes. You can follow us on Spotify and on Soundcloud still, I'm Dr Paul Vallet with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and until next week, bye for now.
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