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Problematising Security Governance in Africa: A Case for Policy Convergence? Workshop Summary

Participants to this second workshop were invited to reflect, in their papers, on the issue of convergence between international organisations within the African security regime. Discussions during the workshop were fuelled by the high quality of papers, the diversity of perspectives, approaches and case studies adopted by the participants and the intensity, sincerity and active engagement in dialogue throughout. We are most grateful to all participants for the time and effort they invested to make this an academically challenging, interesting and informative event, as well as a wonderful human adventure.

The concept of convergence was at the centre of the workshop and much of the discussions focused on making sense of and defining it in the context of the African security regime. When does convergence take place between international organisations? On which aspects of security governance is convergence most likely? How does it take place and what forms does it take? How sustainable is convergence in this field? What is the impact of convergence when it takes place? Is it always desirable? The conversations that took place between paper-givers, discussants and the audience allowed us to explore all these questions and to progressively elaborate a more complex analytical understanding of the processes of convergence between actors (and actions) within the African security regime.

One of the workshop’s first tasks was to define, as precisely as possible, the concept of convergence. A starting point was provided in the workshop’s concept paper, which suggested that convergence could be understood as ‘a process of positive alignment in which actors, through resource exchange, together occupy a common policy field and cooperate to reach a common goal resulting in a more unified system of complex but also dispersed responsibilities and tasks.’ Participants felt that the notion of dispersed responsibilities and tasks was particularly useful to avoid any temptation to understand convergence as a long-term, all-encompassing, unifying, necessarily positive and linear process. It was noted that the very diverse nature of convergence needed to be established more precisely. Rhetorical convergence can be very different from normative convergence, for example, or from technical, political and/or practical convergence – and participants agreed that these different categories of convergence should be defined and acknowledged in order to achieve a better understanding of the processes of convergence. It was also felt that the relationship between the concept of convergence and that of norm-diffusion, partnership, regimes, socialisation and/or security alignment also needed to be considered so as to clarify our understanding of convergence and how it both relates to and differs from these other inter-connected concepts.

While all papers agreed that a degree of convergence could often be observed both within and between international organisations on issues related to African security, it was also noted that the notion of divergence should not be dismissed too hastily. Indeed, beyond rhetorical convergence, or a convergence over a broad set of norms, actors, it was found, often diverged on the actual definition of agreed norms or on the implementation of programmes to be derived from these norms. Divergence, it was felt, thus also needed to be defined and analysed and attention given to its root causes. Participants, in particular, underlined the multiple forms that resistance to convergence could take, from outright rejection of further cooperation to disagreement on follow-up reforms to subtle forms of political and bureaucratic resistance. These differences in approaches to convergence could be accounted for by the specific diplomatic and security culture, interests and capacities of the organisations involved and their member-states, by the nature of the partnerships established between them and by the political context and nature of the crises to which processes of convergence are confronted.

Participants also noted that the notion of power was at the very centre of the processes of convergence and divergence, and that this aspect was all too often neglected. Power games, rivalries and often informal hierarchies between the different international organisations involved in the African security regime, their member-states and institutions as well as with and between local political actors, often accounted for the nature of convergence. In other words, these power interactions have a considerable impact on which aspects of security governance it will focus, how long it might be sustained for and how it can be translated in practical terms. These power games in turn account for the great fluidity of convergence, which was highlighted in most papers.

This issue of power in turn raised the question of agency, i.e. which actors – member-states, institutions, local political actors – play an instrumental role in the move towards convergence (or divergence) and in its actual implementation (or the lack thereof). It was highlighted, in particular, that international organisations should not be analysed as purely homogeneous actors but, rather, as diverse entities often confronted with the necessity of reaching compromises between their different (an possibly diverging) elements. The agency of member-states and local political actors and their capacity to instrumentalise organisations, in particular, needs to be acknowledged and may account for the highly ambiguous nature of convergence.

Discussions also pointed to the question of time and sustainability of convergence. Many papers agreed that international organisations often agreed, in their discourse, on a number of norms relating to security governance in Africa – from an outright rejection of violence, coups and unconstitutional changes of government to democratisation (notably through the organisation of elections) to their shared responsibility in providing security, including with military means. Beyond this rhetorical and broad normative convergence, however, often lay an uneven path, where stages of divergence might succeed stages of convergence, where actors who had initially agreed on common norms disagreed on their definition and implementation and where convergence might take different forms. The durability and continuity of convergence is all too often taken for granted. The non-linearity in the process of convergence, and its potential non-sustainability, thus needs to be taken into account in research examining convergence/divergence, its effectiveness and impact – strategically, politically and on the ground.

Our second workshop took place on 28th and 29th June 2012 at the Wits Rural Facility in Mpumalanga. Our thanks go to the European Commission’s Jean Monnet Lifelong Learning Programme, which supports this project financially, and to the University of Witwatersrand, which hosted our two workshops. We are planning to publish a selection of the papers presented at the second workshop in form of a special issue in 2013.

Annemarie Peen Rodt and Marie Gibert

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