Livelihoods and Security in Africa: Contending Perspectives in the New Global Order

by Goran Hyden, University of Florida


Development, as we typically define it, implies the integration of livelihoods into an increasingly global economy where the destinies of people living continents apart are no longer separate. New forms of social consciousness emerge from the effects of these globalized resource flows. Conflicts arise more and more over control of resource flows and the way in which these resources are conceived, managed, and sustained. These conflicts, in turn, pose challenges to existing ways of governing at different levels. The growing realization that individual livelihoods and the fate of local communities can no longer be viewed in isolation from national or international structures and processes has given rise to new forms of scholarship in which micro and macro considerations are being combined to provide fresh perspectives and insights on issues that previously were studied in isolation from each other. This means that in the same way that we are increasingly interdependent in pursuit of our livelihoods, we are as scholars more and more dependent on each others’ theoretical and methodological contributions. Even though many are slow in recognizing it, interdisciplinarity is no longer something to be despised or discarded.

One field in which this convergence of social and economic forces is influencing the parameters of scholarship is that concerned with “security”. The latter has for a long time occupied a prominent place in the literature on international relations. Debates about security, therefore, have typically been interpreted mainly in terms of what it means to the nation-state, and primarily in terms of military security. This orientation among international relations scholars was particularly pronounced in the days of the Cold War when calculations about military security were driving state policy, especially among the Big Powers. The “realist” school, which argues that states act in the international arena to maximize their own security, was for a long time the trend-setter in the study of international politics.

Realist assumptions continue to influence the field but they have become increasingly challenged, particularly in recent years, for at least two major reasons. The first is the end of the Cold War which has allowed scholars to revisit such concepts as security with a view to making it more applicable to a world where bipolar tensions between the East and the West no longer dominate the international arena. The other is the globalization of the capitalist economy and the threats to and opportunities for human welfare that follow in the wake of this process. Conflicts over resources and their use are now being studied not merely as international political economy but are increasingly analyzed in terms of security. The Gulf War is an obvious case in point but this is evident also in the way that communities within nation-states, e.g. the Ogoni in Nigeria and the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, struggle to protect their security in the light of threats posed by international forces. At the heart of many of these conflicts are often different interpretations of the concept of security. The latter is not only a concern for states, but also individuals and communities. Furthermore, threats to states, communities, and individuals are no longer seen as only military but also include economic poverty, political instability, and environmental degradation. This new debate also alerts us to the different time horizons that often apply to the notion of security. In thinking about what security means, analysts can no longer escape the differential time horizons that apply to various categories of security. For example, with growing interest in the notion of environmental security has come a recognition of the need for studying the long-term consequences of specific state policies or interventions.

The debates among political scientists, and international relations scholars in particular, therefore, are a fruitful starting-point for a closer examination of how macro and micro sets of issues are increasingly being studied in more holistic terms. The perspectives that are evolving in academic circles are of interest not only because of their theoretical or methodological dimensions but also because they serve as the lenses through which eventually policy is likely to be formulated and evaluated. Theories typically shape the way we interpret the world around us and they are of interest, therefore, not only because of their analytical but also their prescriptive value.

The purpose of this article is not to make an exhaustive analysis of the security literature, but to indicate how principal theoretical perspectives today influence our thinking about peace and security in Africa. Africa is a particularly good case in point for this kind of overview because nowhere else in the world do issues of conservation and development, as well as war and security, interface more manifestly than there…

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