Deteriorating Human Security in Member States Should Be a Key Concern for the EAC

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Richard Bard Byamukama
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There is consensus among security experts and scholars that the greatest challenge to human security has its roots in the way countries in the region pursue state security at the expense of people’s rights. This regime-oriented security approach poses a challenge to issues of citizenship.

It is thus imperative to ask if the East African Community has addressed the occasion of enhancing human security as a regional group. Governance/democracy is about the protection of life and property, the enforcement of law and order, the administration and dispensation of justice, the settlement of disputes, and the defense of the polity against external aggression.

The region, just like much of Africa, naturally adopted a militarized concept of security, which is challenged by the holistic concept of human security. While securing the territory is paramount for post-colonial conflict states, equally demanding issues such as:

  1. Hunger in newly admitted Somalia, Karamoja in North Eastern Uganda, and war-torn South Sudan.
  2. Healthcare.
  3. Crime prevention.
  4. Political and civic freedoms such as rights of expression and movement of all key political actors, where most member states have enacted laws or changed their constitutions to limit this freedom, and many of them have ended up in jail.
  5. War prevention and democratic participation, all compete for government attention, among other issues.

Development indicators show the region is struggling in terms of the quality of life experienced by its citizens.

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A conflict in any one of the EAC countries has far-reaching effects as it inevitably affects the whole region in one way or another. The regional dynamics of conflicts and the cross-border nature of security threats, such as arms and human trafficking, require the collaborative role of regional and sub-regional actors who have an intimate understanding of the local contexts. Human trafficking is one clear indicator of defective security sector governance, and all EAC countries are victims of this menace.

Complexities of the violence in the EAC have been partly caused by and have resulted in hostilities among individuals, groups, and states. Although colonial legacies have fueled the conflicts, especially between the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda and Burundi, the Mijingo question between Kenya and Uganda, the long-standing insurgency in Eastern DRC, etc., contemporary violence seems to be a result of failure in both statecraft and state capacity to provide a secure and decent life for the citizens. Exclusionary governance styles and despotism, with the declining democratic values, are largely to blame for many of the conflicts since exclusion from government usually means exclusion from all other developmental prospects.

The refugee question creates community and regional threats. Refugees are a vulnerable group that mostly relies on external agencies for food (mostly from the World Food Program). The region has about four million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and over one million refugees resulting from the long Somali conflict, South Sudan, Rwanda, and the Eastern DRC.

The decline of the rule of law has, for a long time, been a key concern for human security, as this deteriorates the safety of the population. The institutions of law and order—the courts, the police, the army, the judiciary, prisons, and other security organs of the state—are accused of major corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights. No longer confined to the barracks, soldiers man roadblocks, arrest and detain people at will and with impunity in key member states. In fact, they are the source of insecurity to the public, and the entire fabric of society is thus manifested with corruption that inhibits democratic development. Many governments have been accused of rape, robbery, and wanton killings, a situation that usually arises everywhere law and order break down.

Natural disasters caused by climatic changes and human activities (drought, desertification, and floods) force people to abandon their homes as their lifestyles become unsustainable. Pastoralists and peasant/farmers are always the worst hit.

The continued presence of militias, Other Armed Groups (OAGs) mostly in war-torn Somalia, Eastern DRC, and the fractured South Sudan, is unhealthy for long-term stability. DDR and other peace mechanisms have to be planned effectively and timeously to ensure permanent disarmament and sustainable peace.

In conclusion, while containing the security task might seem like a Herculean task, the EAC governments should aim to increase ‘some’ effort to improve security provision for their citizens. Specific areas and issues require targeting. States need to pursue state security that takes into account human security through:

  1. Establishing norms and standards that should be internalized by security agents.
  2. Incorporation of human rights into the national educational curriculum.
  3. Civic education on human rights, vigilance against gangs/organized crime.
  4. Capturing the pastoralist economies into the mainstream economic activities to combat cattle rustling. The diversification of economic activities to lessen overdependence on livestock.
  5. Strengthening community policing.
  6. De-tribalizing politics.
  7. De-criminalizing refugees. Efforts have to concentrate more on protecting refugees’ rights and improving capacity for accommodating them.
  8. Recognizing that conflicts in the EAC cannot be compartmentalized, transnational conflicts imply an inclusive comprehensive regional approach.
  9. Intensifying interstate peace-building efforts at the regional level.
  10. Increasing CSO presence in the region.
  11. Building professional militaries and security forces that are accountable to civilian authorities who safeguard the rule of law and human rights.
  12. Advocating and organizing for inclusive citizenship laws across the EAC through civic education.
  13. Rebuilding North-Eastern Uganda through significant non-political initiatives of rebuilding infrastructure to attend to basic standards of living as well as building local trust through local community services and safety nets.

Finally, it is also important for the EAC as a sub-regional regime to embark on a diplomatic campaign that uses human rights and respect thereof as a diplomatic kite in all of its activities. It should be expected that human rights and democratization records ought to be used as a yardstick for ‘eligibility’ for membership and continued membership in the organization.

Byamukama Richard Bard is a lawyer and a security studies scholar.

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