Some months before he was elected President of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the Africa Forum on Business and Security, an annual conference of business leaders and security experts.
“We are here,” he said, “because the unique conditions of our time make the discussion on security ever more important and ever more personal for each one of us.” His audience did not, perhaps, need to be reminded of the importance of security; Kenya’s continuing military action in Somalia, ethnic violence on the Swahili coast and a terrorist attack in the heart of Nairobi were fresh in their minds. Yet his call to his countrymen to “unite in a spirit of peace”, combined with a passionate declaration of the importance for Africa of overcoming the Continent’s security challenges struck a chord that echoed beyond the conference centre and may indeed have contributed to his election victory.
Now that he has been elected President, however, Kenyatta may need to keep reminding himself and his colleagues in other countries that the continuation of Africa’s impressive economic boom will depend on tackling a number of security-related problems that threaten to undermine the Continent’s dash for growth.
African countries face an alarming array of complicated security problems – or, as one think-tank puts it rather more seductively, “Africa’s dynamic security environment is characterised by great diversity”. It is a security environment defined not only by conventional challenges, such as low intensity conflicts and insurgencies, but also by seemingly smaller but no less economically damaging problems, such as threats from piracy, corruption, drug trafficking, violent extremism and the growth of organised crime. Whilst many of these problems are interconnected and have similar origins or consequences, all of them have an impact on Africa’s commercial and investment environment.
Although the list of African security problems is long and daunting, there are a number of important areas in which success would have a major impact on the investment environment, sending out an important signal that Africa is not only open for business, but safe for it too.
The first of these is in the field of governance. There is now a widespread and growing recognition across Africa that corruption, electoral fraud and a lack of transparency or accountability are often feeders for bigger security problems, such as terrorism or conflict over resources. At the same time, widespread access to new information and communication technologies (ICTs), combined with growing demands for democratisation in many countries, are beginning to create a realisation that future security solutions must be based on consent, if they are to be effective.
The second concerns cyber security. Successful modern economies are digital and African businesses, along with investors in Africa, need the security of a modern, digital economy, in which Government information infrastructures and the financial sector are protected and in which there are no safe havens for fraudsters and organised online criminals. Dealing resolutely with threats to Africa’s cyber security will be vital for investor confidence in the future.
A determined effort, with international support, to tackle the Continent’s food security problem is also vital for long-term growth. Food shortages in the past have too often been caused by a failure to find effective solutions to security-related problems and thus to ensure security of supply. In a continent as blessed as Africa is with an abundance of natural resources, food insecurity is not only unacceptable but incomprehensible too. The end of food insecurity will be a sign that Africa has finally become an economic powerhouse.
The final key area in which success will have a significant impact on investment is logistics. African economies need to be open to the world with a secure route to and from international markets. They also need secure internal transport infrastructures for the movement of goods and people. The security of ports, airports, roads, railways and shipping lanes is vital for any modern economy. Dealing effectively with threats to this critical communication infrastructure, such as piracy, is essential for the future of all African economies.
Education, training and the raising of awareness are already playing an important role across Africa in helping to overcome these security challenges. Technology, particularly in the form of solutions based on the imaginative use of mobile telephony, is now an essential part of new training solutions that are contributing in a multitude of ways, to the development of a new, more secure and more open Africa.
When Blaise Campaore, the President of Burkina Faso, opens this year’s Africa Forum on Business, Investment and Security in October in Ouagadougou, Africa will still face many security challenges but he, along with other African leaders, will be well aware of the prize to be won if it can be made safe for business.
Dr Harold Elletson is the Chairman of the New Security Foundation, which is one of the organising partners of this year’s Africa Forum on Business, Investment and Security, together with the Government of Burkina Faso, ICWE and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
“Security, Investment and Learning” is one of the twelve opinion pieces featured in the eLearning Africa 2013 Report. To read more about the annual publication, please visit: http://elearning-africa.com/media_library_publications_ela_report_2013.php.