Africa security challenges: a case for increased Japan-Europe cooperation


Picture of Akira W. Jingushi
Akira W. Jingushi

Akira W. Jingushi is a Research Fellow at the National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan

When dealing with the increasingly diversified security challenges in Africa, partnerships between external partners as well as those between partners and the countries in the region, play a key role.

While military threats persist in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan, many other countries are now more concerned with the “non-military” security challenges. These challenges, ranging from organised crime and infectious diseases to natural disasters, may seem mundane and insignificant compared to armed conflicts. However, they severely affect human security in the region, claiming a far greater number of victims every year. For example, in 2015, malaria alone killed nearly 400,000 people in Africa, while conflict-related deaths were estimated to be at approximately 35,000.

This diversification of the security environment requires tailored, context-specific solutions, necessitating deeper commitment from external partners, such as Japan and Europe, in each African country. However, no single actor can afford to engage with the necessary means in the more than fifty countries in the region.

Partnerships have indeed helped Japan to overcome some important constraints

Given that multidimensional, long-term and cross-border response is often necessary when reacting to many of these challenges, the importance of partnerships becomes even more obvious. For example, security measures alone are not enough to eradicate organised crime: the key is to change local economic and social conditions that help criminal organisations to thrive. Long-term assistance is also needed so that a lasting positive change is achieved. Furthermore, transnational criminal activities cannot be stopped without cross-border cooperation. However, a multidimensional, long-term and cross-border approach requires a huge amount of resources as well as a strong political will from both the host government and the external partners. Partnerships can help reduce the burdens Africans and external partners are facing.

Partnerships have been an important part of Japan´s approach to African security. The Japan Self-Defence Forces (SDF) have usually been deployed within multilateral frameworks such as the United Nations peacekeeping operations and the international counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Support for peacekeeping training centres and capacity-building assistance to the military engineering units of several African countries have also been provided in cooperation with the UN and its agencies.

The European Union as well as the individual European countries are also becoming important partners for Japan. In addition to its operational cooperation with the EU on the counter-piracy mission since the late 2000s, Japan agreed with France on plans of cooperation on sustainable development, health and security in Africa in 2015. The United Kingdom has also been an important peacebuilding partner.

Partnerships have indeed helped Japan to overcome some important constraints: multilateral cooperation has alleviated the persistent political concern over the SDF deployment overseas, especially to Africa where Japan’s core national interests are often not seen as being at stake, and partnerships with European countries are expected to give Japan access to their networks and expertise on the region.

While opportunities for Japan–Europe cooperation may be abundant, two areas crucial to African security and likely to benefit most from their partnership should be highlighted: security sector reform and public health.

First, a capable and accountable security sector, including military and police forces, is indispensable when dealing with the many security challenges in Africa. However, weak capacities, poor equipment and unprofessionalism have severely hampered their effectiveness and accountability. Reforming the security sector is therefore crucial, especially in post-conflict countries and those on their way to democracy. The EU and European countries have played leading roles in this area through Common Security and Defence Policy missions and bilateral assistance. Japan’s assistance in this area is still limited, but the country has provided long-term assistance to police and judiciary sectors in some Asian and Latin American countries. Japan has also recently started providing capacity-building assistance to some African militaries.
Despite these records, security sector reform is not an easy area for either Japan or Europe. It often requires strong diplomatic engagement, and substantial amount of time and resources need to be devoted in order to nurture professionalism and build credible institutional frameworks. Precisely because of these challenges, the merits of Japan–Europe cooperation and the advantages of sharing the assistance for reforming the security sector will be huge and worth exploring.

The merits of Japan–Europe cooperation and the advantages of sharing the assistance for reforming the security sector will be huge and worth exploring

Secondly, public health is a promising area of cooperation. The 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa demonstrated how public health emergencies not only affect human security at the local level but also sometimes become “a threat to international peace and security”, as stated by the UN Security Council. Japan and European countries have been playing important roles in this area. They are assisting many African countries to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) in order to ensure people’s access to the necessary health services at an affordable cost.

However, a vast amount of resources and expertise needs to be mobilised to achieve this goal. UHC requires, to name just a few, professional health workers, systems of health financing, medical equipment and basic infrastructure, such as water and electricity. Sharing the burden and expertise through Japan–Europe cooperation will thus be crucial in addressing these multidimensional tasks.

As Japan opened its diplomatic mission in the African Union this year, opportunities for Japan–Europe cooperation on Africa will further expand. Although cooperation may begin in areas that are relatively easy and straightforward, they should also consider cooperation in areas where the benefits of partnership can be most substantial, including security sector reform and universal health coverage.

Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the NIDS or the Japanese government

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