Competing Regionalisms in Africa and the Continent’s Emerging Security Architecture

by Benedikt F. Franke


While the relationship between the United Nations and Africa’s various regional and sub-regional organisations has already been the subject of much debate, hardly any attention has been paid to the relationships these African organisations maintain with each other and the way they impact on the continent’s emerging security architecture. Consequently, this article aims to shed some light on both the evolution of competing regionalisms in Africa as well as their impact on the prospects and chances of today’s security institutions. It thereby argues that the ongoing proliferation of intergovernmental organisations and the resultant competition for national and international resources, political influence and institutional relevance threatens the viability of a continental approach to peace and security by duplicating efforts and fragmenting support. It further contends that the often uneasy coexistence of these organisations is symptomatic of the deep divisions, nationalist tendencies and regional imbalances underlying the multiple processes of regionalisation in Africa. More optimistically, however, the article concludes that, even though some of these divisive factors seem here to stay, the African Union has taken a number of noteworthy steps to harmonise the continent’s numerous security initiatives. Both, the creation of regionally based multinational brigades as part of an African Standby Force as well as the decision to limit official cooperation to seven organisations are meant to prevent needless duplication of effort and to ensure that the continent’s limited resources are applied to areas of real need. By basing its security architecture on regional pillars and incorporating existing initiatives as building blocs and implementation agencies into its continental policy, the AU has made important steps towards establishing a common front and reversing what Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah had so fearfully termed the “balkanisation of Africa.”

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Benedikt F. Franke is a PhD student at the Center for International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Previously he gained a MA in International and Strategic Studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).