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Africa’s Barriers on Multilateral Development in Human Security

Hamish Sneyd | Middle East and North Africa Fellow

Image Credit: Paul Kagame

Africa faces significant barriers to enhancing human security through multilateralism. Human security is a broad concept that encompasses complex and intersecting challenges such as climate change that threaten human wellbeing and dignity. Africa’s numerous multilateral forums present tremendous opportunities for greater development benefits that would better prepare African states for future crises, particularly in human security.


While these multilateral platforms hold positive prospects for Africa’s human security, the continent’s conflicting views on sources of economic revenue, persistent issues of good governance, and institutional fragility may hinder Africa’s development in critical areas relevant to human security. In spite of significant external interest in Africa’s win-win development, any future benefits obtained through multilateral forums and external investment will have a limited impact if these issues are not addressed.


Discussion at the recent Eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8) held in Tunisia, centred on the need for a resilient and sustainable Africa. Human security was identified as a core tenet of TICAD 8 induced largely by the security crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and Japan’s longstanding emphasis on human security within its cooperation with Africa. TICAD 8 resulted in Japan’s commitment of USD$30 billion contributed to African development initiatives including in green growth and decarbonisation. TICAD 8 also included smaller financial commitments to Africa’s food security.


Another African state will play host to a critical multilateral forum as Egypt prepares for COP 27 in November 2022. COP 27 presents an unprecedented opportunity for Africa to accelerate the development prospects needed for Africa to combat existing human security challenges such as the effects of climate change. Climate change and its broader effects including water scarcity, droughts, and rising sea levels pose major threats to regional human security prospects. The growing awareness on climate’s exacerbation of conflict and the indirect environmental causes of regional conflict also demands greater multilateral attention and investments due to the significant threats these intersecting issues pose to the wellbeing and prosperity of Africa’s populations. This has been felt significantly in the Sahel region where land degradation and decreased agricultural productivity brought on by climate change has eliminated socio-economic opportunities for rural populations and has made them more susceptible to recruitment by cross-border radical terrorist groups such as Boko Haram.


Multilateral development forums can play a significant role in attaining the necessary finance for Africa to combat human security challenges such as climate change as seen in the recent results of TICAD 8. Appropriately governed increases in finance in sectors such as renewable energy and health care will enhance the capacity of African governments and populations to become more resilient to future human security shocks such as drought and the increasingly common disease outbreaks. Similar development outcomes are necessary for Africa’s development and investments in renewable energies. Africa possesses some of the world’s largest potential for solar power generation, but was host to just two per cent of global renewable investments in the past two years. While North African states including Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco have managed tangible outcomes in the development of solar energy, more could be done for Africa’s renewable development. However, barriers to this achievement remain.


When analysing continental developments, it’s vital to avoid a monolithic interpretation of Africa. Africa and its 54 politically and culturally diverse states hold various views on African development in conjunction with national development prospects and revenues. This is particularly relevant to climate change and the dilemma between African states seeking a low carbon future, and others seeking an expansion of fossil fuels and the economic benefits of Africa’s large fossil fuel reserves.


Oil dependent states such as Nigeria, which also relies on natural gas and coal for its economic development, holds significantly differing views on fossil fuels compared to that of Africa’s small island developing states such as Mauritius and Seychelles which face key climate-induced threats and development challenges such as rising sea levels. Africa’s conflicting and diverse interests have also applied to other global challenges as seen in the varying responses of African states to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which has dispelled notions of a monolithic Africa. The diverse opinions of African actors caused by their varying interests present a significant barrier to a cohesive strategy for Africa’s development, particularly in renewable energy.


Issues of good governance also remain a persistent barrier to Africa’s development prospects. Many African countries such as Ghana have undertaken institutional reforms that have helped curb the effects of self-serving corruption and dictatorship. However, governance challenges including limitations of freedoms, the abuse of term limits, and unconstitutional changes of power as seen in Burkina Faso earlier this year remain a significant hindrance to political stability and economic development. With Africa’s numerous challenges, the need for good governance and the political will required by African leaders to accrue citizenry and state development benefits has grown increasingly more urgent. However, recent trends of power extensions as seen recently in Tunisia spell some doubt on the blossom of good governance, particularly in North Africa.


While some may look to the African Union (AU) for a collective strategy to accrue development benefits through multilateralism, doubt remains on its institutional capacity amid a dependence on external donors, over-ambition in remedying military security threats, and numerous other criticisms contributing to the doubt of Africa’s multilateral development prospects.


While some benefits for Africa’s development have generated political headway as seen in the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area, more can be done to achieve development goals as found in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for the socio-economic development of Africa’s populations. However, the achievement of these goals and the broader human security development in sectors such as renewable energy will remain as mere aspirations if the persistent continental barriers and worsening regional conflicts are not overcome.


Hamish Sneyd is the Middle East and North Africa Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.

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