The issue of illegal migration, in particular that of migrants trying to reach Europe, has sparked an increased focus on border security, not only along European borders, but, as this essay argues, also those beyond. This essay will focus on the role of the European Union, arguing that it should be regarded as the main driver behibd the increased importance of border security within and outside of the African continent. The European Union and its attempts to tackle the issue of migration, particularly in the light of the recent migration crisis, has led to increasing securitisation of the migration issue, attracted the attention of policymakers and ultimately resulted in a spill-over into the African continent. As a result of Europe trying to regulate migratory flows before they reach its external borders, African states have received assistance in the form of money, equipment and know-how from European actors in return for securing their borders; it is there that border security serves the interests of a variety of actors, including states and non-state actors. Increasing border security not only helps control the securitised ‘issue’ of migration, but also serves as a way of accessing external assistance and, furthermore, functions as a tool for constructing new forms of legitimate authority in borderlands and political cores.
Border security has become an important issue in African states in recent years. Furthermore, myriad actors' interests have come to be served by this increased focus on border security.
This essay will begin by analysing the issue of why border security has emerged as an important policy focus with regards to Africa's surroundings, most importantly the European Union (EU), before ultimately drawing its focus on the African continent itself. This paper will show how migration’s threat to domestic security, its ongoing securitisation, and the rapid increase in the numberof migrants have pushed the issue further towards the top of European agendas and ultimately spilled over into the African continent through multilateral agreements and cooperation initiatives. Lastly, the essay will attempt to deconstruct border security initiatives within Africa itself. It will set out to show how policymakers, in particular those of European origin, not only misunderstand the issue of migration itself, but also adopt policies and measures that – instead of acting in the benefit of the people – act in the interests of external actors, African state bodies, and non-traditional, non-state security actors.
Ultimately, this essay will argue that the increased importance of border security within the African continent itself has emerged as the result of efforts made by the European Union and its individual member states. Border security, while doing little in terms of improving the livelihoods of
the African people, serves the interests of the European Union, members of African state organs and non-traditional security actors competing for power and legitimacy.
An Increasing Focus on Migration?
Security threats, as argued by scholars of the Copenhagen School, are socially constructed over time. What starts out as an issue of marginal importance is – through social constructivism, speech acts, discourse and practice – constructed as a security threat against which one must take action, and thus becomes securitised1. In doing so, the securitising actor is able to claim that combating the security threat at hand requires "emergency measures and actions outside the bounds of normal political procedure." 2
Such developments also occur with regards to the issue of migration. Large-scale population flows have become widely regarded as a destabilising factor within both the national and international realm. They are furthermore, by academic literature and the media alike, often brought into connection with a variety of security challenges such as terrorism, crime, and social unrest – thus increasingly depicting migration as a threat to peace and security3.
Even prior to the migration crisis, actions taken by the EU and its border agencies to harden the EU’s external borders against migration related threats, have contributed to the securitisation of migration in the region4. The EU and the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders, now known as the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), can be seen as securitising actors. This emphasis on hardening Europe’s borders has created an inside-outside doctrine, both in political circles and the minds of citizens, and the policies have facilitated "the creation of migration as a destabilizing or dangerous challenge to west European societies"5. Combined with the fact that the vast majority of Frontex’ budget stems from so-called "community contributions" – contributions from member states – a positive feedback loop may have been created, resulting in an ever-growing demand for control over Europe’s borders and further securitisation of the issue of migration6.
Much of this securitisation of migration has been taking place since the 1980s. However, the most recent increases in the numbers of migrants, particularly those of Middle Eastern and African origin, have once again brought Europe’s focus to the issue of migration. While in 2010 there were around 260,000 asylum applications in all 28 EU member states, fueled by wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Eritrea, and other states, the numbers increased significantly to over 1,100,000 applications in 20157. The overwhelming influx of migrants fleeing war and economic hardship quickly caused Europe to become divided and struggle with the situation, taking the "issue of EU migration governance and its securitisation to an unprecedented level of [importance and] complexity.8
With migration already having been securitised in past years, the rapid influx of migrants arriving in Europe over the course of the past decade forced the EU and its agencies to adopt "emergency measures and actions outside the bounds of normal political procedure"9. Initiatives were undertaken beyond European lands in an attempt to tackle the issue at its roots. In doing so, the emphasis on border security spilled over from Europe to the surrounding regions, and to Africa in particular. As part of its attempts to control and regulate migratory flows from Africa, the EU and its member states, through bilateral and multilateral agreements, have actively worked to increase border security, not only within Europe or its external borders but also within the African continent10.
For the Benefit of the People?
Governing migratory flows in Africa is a somewhat paradoxical issue. The very assumption at the core of European border security initiatives within the African continent is that the vast majority of people crossing Africa’s internal and external borders do so with the ultimate goal of reaching Europe; migrants are often considered to be escaping poverty, environmental disaster or violent conflict11. In reality, some 80% of Africans who migrate do so inside the continent, with only 15 to 20% taking the route to Europe12. While many Africans are thus negatively affected, there are three distinct sets of actors who profit from an increased emphasis on border security: external state actors, internal state actors, and non-traditional security actors.
External State Actors: The European Union
One of the primary factors behind the increased emphasis on border security within Africa is the interest of external actors, and, in particular, those of the EU. In working directly with migrant-sending countries in Africa – through multilateral agreements, the provision of financial and material resources, training and personnel – the EU attempts to stop or divert migratory flows before they even reach Europe’s external borders13. Through often short-term-oriented migration policies and border control initiatives within the African continent, the EU was able to produce concrete results, bringing about a 30% drop in the numbers of migrants between 2016 and 2017.
However, despite some attempts to address the causes of migratory flows towards Europe through the EU Trust Fund for Africa, deeper, structural challenges remain mostly unaddressed. The EU's approaches focus too much on producing visible results in Europe through the short-term treatment of symptoms, as opposed to addressing causes. In the case of Libya, for example, while the EU and Italy in particular have invested heavily in border and migration management, the chaotic political situation within Libya and other structural challenges are being cast aside and largely ignored14.
Internal State Actors: African States
Money and gifts in exchange for increased border control
With the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016 having closed the Balkan route, African countries have gained new international relevance and unprecedented diplomatic leverage in their relations with European governments15. Portraying themselves as in need of foreign assistance to be able to carry out border policing to the desired extent, African governments have called upon European governments for aid in the form of financial resources, equipment, training and personnel. Money, vehicles, and other equipment such as flashlights and cell phones make their way from Europe to Africa in exchange for increased policing of borders16. This is what Jean Francois Bayart calls "extraversion": the creation of an African dependency on the rest of the world17. With African countries’ ability and, perhaps more importantly, willingness to police borders being contingent on foreign aid, such aid has become a perceived forced expenditure for the European Union.
However, the needed – or wanted – aid is dependent upon the existence of the issue of migration, thus removing incentives for effective policing of border and curbing of migratory flows. Instead, while some migrants are detained, local actors continue their discourse emphasising the issue of migration and framing it in a way that will require continued foreign assistance, ultimately keeping both the issue of migration as well as flows of money and gifts very much alive.
Controlling Borders to Construct Authority
Besides foreign aid and assistance, building up border security serves a second purpose for African states and the actors within them. It acts as a tool to construct a position of legitimate authority; being able to control one’s border is seen as a key aspect of any sovereign, legitimate state18.
Traditional border scholarship emphasises the importance of political centres, the very core of a nation's political and geographic realm, for the construction of border security. More recent scholarship – in particular with regards to African nations – reverses such notions and instead emphasises the importance of borderlands and the power relations in them for creating and maintaining a political core19.
African borderlands can be regarded as spheres where historical and contemporary forms of non-state networks and their politics remain largely unregulated and beyond the reaches of state authority20. Borderlands thus become areas of power vacuums where a wide variety of actors, both of state- and non-state nature, compete for power and legitimacy21.
Border security initiatives supported by external actors such as the EU enable weak states to bring such areas under state control, and thus facilitate the establishment and enhancement of uncontested state authority at the very edge of a state’s territory22. Such initiatives are therefore key to constructing the image of sovereign, legitimate, and stable states.
The use of border security as a means of building state authority and, in the constructivist sense, creating and reinforcing the image of a stable, legitimate, and sovereign state does not only apply to African states. Border security measures enable the EU to demonstrate its ability to deal with
the issue of migration and manifest its authority and counter the legitimacy crisis it is currently facing. Discourses and policies emphasising the importance of not only increased border controls but also common rules and initiatives in both internal security and EU authority and unity can be found throughout directives and reports issued by the European Union. The 2014 report on European borders and security, emphasises the importance of "common rules [through which] the EU can effectively control its external borders and prevent threats to its internal security, as well as deal with trafficking in human beings and better manage immigration"23.
European borderlands can almost be seen as being similar to African borders, in which a variety of actors compete for legitimacy. Authority is split between a number of member states, with each member state having the primary authority over the control of its borders. Implementing a
common external border control policy under the leadership of the EU and its border agency Frontex is thus not only crucial for Europe’s internal security but also for the EU itself in reinforcing its authority as a supranational actor24.
Non-Traditional Security Actors
The power vacuum in borderlands, combined with the need to provide some degree of border security, provides opportunities and benefits for other actors, both state and non-state actors. Due to the lack of state authority in borderlands and the weakness of many African states, in particular with
regards to the ability to provide security services, what can be observed is a so-called security pluralism. In the border region between South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, "numerous organized forces and intelligence agencies [are] claiming authority and
[representation of] local, state and central government."25 Control over borders is, particularly in the case of South Sudan, rarely carried out by official government forces. Instead, the task of securing borders and borderlands is commonly subcontracted to third parties such as unofficial armed groups, claiming loose affiliations with the central government, or to private security providers. In either case, we can see a moving away from the classic Weberian definition of state authority and sovereignty – that of the state that possesses a monopoly over legitimate means of violence – towards a new form of authority that includes the privatisation of security, providing room for a variety of different non-traditional security actors26.
Not everywhere, however, are states directly or indirectly involved in the provision of security of borders and borderlands. In some cases, states deliberately neglect borderlands, considering them not of strategic importance27. In such cases, opportunities arise for non-state affiliated forces such as vigilante groups and even rivalling armed actors such as rebel or guerrilla groups to step up and provide some degree of stability, order, and security within borderlands.
In cases where non-traditional actors are being tasked with providing border security services and in cases where local groups see themselves as having to take on the task of providing security, similar to cases where the state itself provides security, we experience the creation of new forms of
authorities. Through the provision of services where the government is unwilling or unable to do so on its own, private and other regional actors are able to use their newly-won role and purpose to emerge as regionally confined, legitimate authorities rivaling traditional state authority28.
Securitisation of migration, spill-overs from Europe to Africa, construction of state sovereignty and authority, as well as extraversion and attraction of foreign assistance, stand at the very center of the emergence of border security as a top priority on policy agendas.
This essay argues that the increasing emphasis on border security in Africa can be traced back to Europe, where migration has become increasingly securitised throughout past decades. This securitisation, combined with the more recent spikes in the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe,
and the EU’s struggle to deal with the issue domestically, has led to an increase in efforts to contain migratory flows before they even reach the EU’s external borders. The EU’s migration containment initiative is being done through multilateral agreements with African countries, cooperative border security initiatives, and the provision of aid in the form of money and equipment, which have led to the increased importance of border security in European political circles to spill over into the African realm.
Besides serving the EU's interests in reducing the number of migrants arriving in Europe, the notion of border security serves a variety of other actors within the African continent itself. State actors benefit through their discourse emphasising the issue of migration and their ability to portray
themselves as being in need of foreign aid to police borders, resulting in continued flows of international assistance. At the same time, policing borders not only brings the borderlands, areas of little state authority and continued struggles for power, under the control of governments, it also
serves as a tool for the construction of legitimate state authority and the creation of the image of a stable state.
However, with the inability of many African states to implement their own border security initiatives, this task is often being outsourced to non-traditional security actors, who benefit from the increased importance of the notion of border security, both within political circles and the public
consciousness. Lastly, where states are unable or unwilling to provide the security of borders and borderlands, non-state actors, ranging from rebel to vigilante groups, rise to the task and, in turn, receive regional authoritative power of their own.
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