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04 June 2020 | Story Prof Hussein Solomon. | Photo Sonia Small
Prof Hussein Solomon.

As young Political Science undergraduate student, phrases such as ‘national security’ made sense. It was the 1980s and the machinations of the Cold War rivals fascinated me. In the national context of apartheid South Africa, the national security management system of former President PW Botha drew my attention. The realpolitik of the time, both global and national, resulted in me avidly reading countless tomes of first-strike capabilities of the nuclear powers and regional destabilisation strategies of the apartheid pariah. 

National security considerations vs lived experiences of ordinary people
With the passing of time, I grew increasingly disillusioned with national security as a suitable fit for contemporary times on account of two reasons. First, national security considerations were far removed from the lived experiences of ordinary people. A US factory worker in Michigan is more concerned about the closure of his local automotive plant than the machinations of Beijing in the South China Sea. National security always reflected the concerns of the elites in their respective societies, as opposed to the bread-and-butter considerations of the vast majority of humanity. In the African context, such elite-driven state security was often purchased at the expense of the human security of ordinary citizens. Here, the guns of the military were often directed at marginalised and hapless citizens, as opposed to being directed at keeping borders safe from a possible foreign invading force. National security therefore needs to be expanded to incorporate the concerns of ordinary citizens. Second, in this rapidly globalising world, insecurity anywhere is a threat to security everywhere. The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates the point well, whether one resides in Wuhan, Milan, Moscow, New York, Sao Paolo or Cape Town. The world is one, and national security needs to be jettisoned in favour of more integrated conceptions of security.

Regional mobilisation
The current locust plague sweeping across East Africa vividly highlights the need for more expanded definitions of security. This locust plague has been labelled by the UN as an “extremely alarming and unprecedented threat”. Currently, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda are all affected by swarms of locusts travelling at 90 miles per day and eating their own body weight in crops. To put matters into perspective, a swarm of locusts of only one-third of a square mile can eat the same amount of food as 35 000 adults. This undermines food security across the region. To exacerbate matters, the lockdowns as a result of the coronavirus has hampered efforts to eradicate the swarms. Regional governments are overwhelmed, as Helen Adoa, Uganda’s Minister of Agriculture, admitted. This admission highlights the fallacy of national security in a globalising world. Regional governments need effective regional organisations to support their efforts and should partner with international organisations, including the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, civil society, and business, to holistically respond to the threat. I write this paper on Africa Day, 25 May – a day celebrating African solidarity. 

This African solidarity stands in sharp contrast to the realpolitik and insular politics embraced by the concept of national security and its corollary national interest. Sovereignty in defined areas needs to be ceded to regional organisations and global institutions in an effort to craft truly regional and global solutions. No one country can deal with either COVID-19 or swarms of marauding locusts.

An integrated understanding of security 
The origins of the current locust infestation currently overwhelming East Africa also points to the imperative for integrated understandings of security. Climate change has created the ideal breeding ground for the locust population in the Arabian Peninsula to increase by 8 000 percent. A phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole created unusually dry weather in the east, which resulted in wildfires ravaging Australia. The same phenomenon, however, also created cyclones and flooding in parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia. The resultant moist sand and vegetation proved the ideal conditions in which desert locusts could thrive. Aiding the burgeoning locust populations is the collapsed state authorities in both Yemen and Somalia, ravaged by civil war and fighting Al Shabaab insurgents. As the writ of the ‘governments’ in both Sanaa and Mogadishu hardly goes beyond the capital, neither country can even launch a national response to the locust plague. 

The origins of the swarms of locusts devastating east Africa link climate change, civil war, state authority and capacity, and the COVID-19 pandemic. This stresses the need for holistic solutions which are rooted in expanded and integrated conceptions of security. We cannot afford to work in silos at national, regional, or international level.

Extraordinary times call for more holistic conceptions of security. The Cold War is over, my undergraduate lectures on security are a poor fit to today’s realities. The world stands at a pivotal point, much as it stood following the Thirty Years’ War in Europe and the resultant 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, the 1815 Congress of Vienna following the Napoleonic Wars, and the aftermath of the Second World War. We need to be brave and refashion our security architecture to reflect integrated, global, and human security considerations. 

This article was written by Prof Hussein Solomon, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Studies and Governance, and first appeared on Muslims in Africa.

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