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African Agency in International Politics - Seminar Series

Seminar 3
Transnational Security

16 June 2011 — Conflict Analysis Research Centre, University of Kent

Seminar 3

Increasingly Africa's impact on international politics is defined by policymakers in the west in negative terms, as a source of a new range of trans-boundary security problems. This seminar takes up that discourse in relation to three key, and interlinked, issue areas: migration, health, and environment. Environmental problems and especially climate change are often seen as a cause of increased displacement. In turn, displacement, refugee crises and African diasporas are identified as key sources of conflict and instability. The politics of health and trans-border infectious disease throughout sub-Saharan Africa are intertwined, as a driver and outcome of climate change and displacement. Infectious disease has increasingly become a transnational security concern, prompting public health and security interventions by the UN, USA and EU. These all place African agency at the centre of how transnational security is being conceived. Indeed, the UK's 2009 White Paper on Development singles out environment, migration and health, as well as conflict and instability, as key areas of interdependence. As well as presenting assessments of the nature and extent of such security 'threats', the seminar will also interrogate these characterisations examining the dominant portrayal of Africa's as an arena of and source of international instability.

PDF Seminar 3 Draft Programme (77 KB)

PDF Executive Summary (145 KB)

Contact: Anne Hammerstad,

About the Speakers

Health Panel

Professor Stefan Elbe, University of Sussex

Virus Alert: Inciting 'African Agency' through the Securitization of AIDS

This paper is concerned with a complex set of security debates that have arisen around HIV/AIDS in Africa over the past decade. The paper begins by exploring the different security debates surrounding the African HIV/AIDS epidemic(s) - especially national and human security discourses. The paper argues that these debates have arisen not only in response to growing concerns amongst (Western) security communities about the impact of HIV/AIDS; rather these security debates themselves also constitute particular exercises of power deployed in response to the rapid transnational circulation of HIV/AIDS. The paper goes on to tease out and identify the underlying economies of power permeating the multifaceted securitization of HIV/AIDS. The paper concludes that the principal political function of security debates about the AIDS pandemic is precisely to incite greater agency among African governments in terms of addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS. That gives rise to a deeper question: can the political question about HIV/AIDS and Africa be understood only in terms of how 'African agency' is to be better reflected and incorporated in international AIDS policies, or is the very imperative of exerting greater 'African agency' already the intended effect of political technologies brought to bear on African populations in the name of security?

Professor Stefan Elbe is Head of Department in the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex. He has previously held positions at the University of Essex, the University of Warwick, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the London School of Economics, where he received his PhD. Professor Elbe has also served as an expert scientific advisor to the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Dr Hakan Seckinelgin, London School of Economics

HIV/AIDS, Gender and International (In) Security: Reflections on Burundi

Possible links between HIV/AIDS and Security have been debate for the better part of last decade. I am not going to rehearse that discussion; here I will suggest that the best way to understand such links is to consider social relations that are part of conflicts from the perspective of gender governance in a particular society. In this presentation on these bases I will argue that there are number of links between HIV/AIDS and conflict. Then I will raise a question about the way international security concerns might be leading to insecure lives vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The argument considers some of these issues in the context the Burundian conflict.

Dr Hakan Seckinelgin is a lecturer in International Social Policy in the Department of Social Policy, at the London School of Economics. He is involved with various research projects exploring the implications of expanding discussions of civil society within the international policy circles, management of non-governmental organisations, and policy interventions developed by these actors on specific issues. More specifically he is working on the impact of international HIV/AIDS policies on the disease in sub-Saharan Africa (Botswana, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and South Africa) by analyzing the agency of international actors and their knowledge claims.

Climate Change Panel

Dr Clionadh Raleigh, Trinity College Dublin

Urban and Rural Vulnerability in Sub-Saharan Africa

Dr Clionadh Raleigh

This discussion will focus on the intersection between vulnerability perspectives on human security and the geography of instability within African states. Research on a range of 'vulnerabilities' have assumed that the rural poor at the most marginalized within SSA. Such populations are likely to bear the brunt of ecological instability and are believed to migrate in large numbers to mitigate growing destitution as a result of environmental change. However, when considering the range of risks likely to affect rural and increasingly urban populations, urban or peri-urban populations are often poorer, less able to access public services, more likely to live in degraded areas and experience food insecurity and violence. This paper reviews how rural and urban vulnerability have been theorized, the new evidence to suggest a geographical shift in high level vulnerability and possible responses to it.

Dr Clionadh Raleigh is Lecturer in Geography and Political Science at Trinity College Dublin. She is also an External Researcher for the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) and Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset.

Romy Chevallier, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)

Towards the climate change Summit in Durban: The role of the South African government as an agent of change in Africa

The urgency of climate change as the largest transnational security challenge to the African continent is increasingly recognised. As December draws closer and South Africa is set to host the UNFCCC's Conference of Parties meeting in Durban (COP 17), closer attention needs to be paid to the role and actions taken by South Africa in forging a climate change policy formulation that encompasses the continent as a whole. South Africa has been active at climate meetings to date and has a well respected negotiating team. The South African delegation has played the role of bridge-builder at previous COP's and has been seen to form numerous alliances and strategic partnerships with both African countries, large emitters in the South, and countries in the North - trying to promote an inclusive and fair future climate change regime. This raises interesting questions about how South Africa is perceived by its region and whether its diplomatic and political communities are really promoting the idea of an 'African COP' that is fair and equitable for the continent and more broadly for the developing world at large. Is the South African government seriously pushing the 'African agenda' it claims to have? South Africa, as the host of COP 17, has decided to appoint its Minister of International Relations and Cooperation as the Chair of the COP. This position holds major significance in terms of influencing the agenda and pushing for an outcome that is inclusive and democratic. (This role is traditionally played by the Minister of Environment). What does this tell us about the importance South Africa is placing on climate diplomacy and the expectations that the Minister will be able to deliver a conclusive outcome for the future of the Kyoto Protocol? Will South Africa abandon its African partners and seek a less ambitious outcome in an attempt to achieve a successful COP?

Seminar 3

South Africa, as the first African Chair of the COP, has an important role to play in enhancing African agency and increasing the voice of the continent on the challenges presented by climate change, most notably the impacts on Africa's development agenda. The challenges of climate change are further exacerbated by Africa's lack of human capacity and resources to adapt to these negative impacts; the additional financial burden and technological deficit; the lack of a coordinated and coherent voice, and overloaded negotiators at the climate meetings. Climate change is perceived differently across the continent and countries respond according to their national priority and circumstances. Questions have been raised regarding the adequacy of South Africa's own response to dealing with climate change. It has set out ambitious national commitments to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments at the multilateral level reflect the will of South Africa to be seen as a leader in the climate field, and a country that willingly has taken unilateral action. However, these international commitments need to be supported by political will and leadership at the national level - showing domestic actions and long-term strategies that support its behaviour on the international scene. Achieving these targets will be challenging especially due to South Africa's high overall emissions and its poor emissions per capita. It is within the 20 top GHG countries globally and contributes 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gases. This is mainly because South Africa's economy is driven by burning low-grade coal to supply cheap electricity to an essentially inefficient domestic and industrial consumer base. South Africa's future development and growth plans also seem to be coupled with increasing emissions and coal use. This presents numerous challenges for a high-emitting, developing country whose number one priority is to ensure economic growth and job creation. With this in mind, how well is South Africa placed to seek a unified voice on the adaptation to climate change within the Africa Group, and thus strengthen collective African agency in the negotiations at the climate change Summit in Durban?

Romy Chevallier is a senior researcher on the Governance of Africa's Resources programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). Her work focuses on climate change in Africa. She has done research at the United Nation's Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) on integrating climate change and development. Ms Chevallier continues to work on the politics of climate change, looking specifically at the negotiating positions of South Africa and the region. She also has done work on developing country alliances (such as IBSA) and cooperation on climate related issues.

Ms Chevallier holds a BA Honours in Political Science from the University of Stellenbosch and a Master's degree in International Relations (cum laude) from the University of Witwatersrand. During her time at SAIIA she has worked on issued related to the EU's strategic engagement with Africa and South Africa. She also has investigated the role of emerging powers in a changing geo-political landscape – especially in the light of their participation in curbing global challenges.

Migration/Displacement Panel

Suda Perera, University of Kent

Becoming and Unbecoming Refugee: The case of the Warrior Refugee in the Kivus

This paper examines how refugees who show (violent) political agency tend to be either not classified or declassified as refugees by organizations working with refugees. This paper will present the findings of my recent fieldwork; questioning organizations who work with Rwandan refugees. Many of the refugees these organizations work with are currently residing in the Kivu regions of the DRC, where some have taken up violent struggle in a political system where violent agency is often the best form of protection and survival. I question the implications of not including this peripheral category of 'warrior refugee' into refugee-support organizations, and whether the seeming invisibility of this category of refugees may explain in part why they may turn towards violent struggle.

Suda Perera is a PhD student in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. Ms Perera also co-convenes the School's Honours module 'Conflict and Security in Africa'. She recently travelled to Rwanda to conduct field research on refugee warrior groups and the relationship between displacement, identity and conflict in the Great Lakes Region.

Anne Hammerstad, University of Kent

Migration and Xenophobia in South Africa


PDF Towards the climate change Summit in Durban: the role of the South African government as an agent of change in Africa - Romy Chevallier (118 KB)

PDF Becoming and Unbecoming Refugee: The Case of the Warrior Refugee in the Kivus - Suda Perera (273 KB)

PDF Violence, Vulnerability and Migration - Clionadh Raleigh (21 KB)

PDF Conflict and Gender: The Implications of the Burundian Conflict on HIV/AIDS Risks - Hakan Seckinelgin (160 KB)

BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group