Towards an “African approach” to urban security

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Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), 27 February 2013 – The European and French Forums for Urban Security participated in a seminar on how to shape an “African approach” to community security, held in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) on 25 and 26 February. Other participants were institutions such as the United Nations Development Programme (NPD), UN-Habitat and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

All African cities are concerned by this theme, in particular because urban security issues must be addressed at the local level. Thus, any “African approach” must be built and rooted at the local level.

Mr François Amichia, Mayor of Treichville and president of the Ivorian Forum for Urban Security, with Dr Annabelle Amoin Konan-Brou, Mayor of Djébonoua, and Michel Marcus, Executive Director of the FFSU.

What would be the specificities of the “African approach”?

It would take into account a number of challenges at stake in Africa, such as:

–         The rise of urban population. The irreversible increase of the world’s urban population poses a massive challenge to African cities. In 2000, 47% of the world population lived in cities. This proportion will rise to 60% in 2030. Other key challenges for Africa are urban and regional planning, the production and maintenance of basic infrastructures, access to decent housing, access to safe and clean public transport, access to water and sewage, young people’s access to jobs, and complying with good governance principles.

–         Challenges linked to crime

1)      trafficking in weapons: As is well known, there are too many weapons in circulation in Africa. And to learn to use a weapon means to learn violence. In addition, weapons which are used in military conflicts are increasingly used in civil conflicts.

2)      Drug trafficking: Africa is a transit zone in international trafficking routes. Local bases in Africa are used by traffickers to develop their activities.

3)      Corporate crime: it is a fundamental and worldwide challenge. This is probably the type of crime that most affects local populations who by and large live in poverty. In this respect, participants in the seminar called for the establishment of an international criminal court specialised in financial crime. 

4)      The question of the rights of women and children. It is linked to trafficking in human beings. It is a challenge today, and it will be a challenge tomorrow given the fact that half of humanity is aged under 25.

Any African approach must take these challenges into account. It also must be based on a thorough understanding of the mechanisms of violence.

Crime is not a spontaneous phenomenon. It is the result of a conjunction of factors: inequalities and social exclusion, social fragmentation of urban planning, poor child care, lack of decent housing and accessible public spaces, lack of institutional and social control, lack of coordination between public agencies, lack of access to stable jobs, insufficient human, logistical and financial resources, loss of moral values, and increasing levels of corruption in the higher reaches of political and corporate power.

This situation creates suspicion and intolerance, which in turn generate situations of mob justice, damage social cohesion, and contribute to the poor living conditions of a large part of the population.

To respond to this situation, an African approach would mean developing integrated local security and prevention policies based on social inclusion and solidarity. Such policies would be based on four basic pillars:

1)     A long term vision of security and adequate investment in human and material resources. It is necessary to elaborate proper territorial strategies, with adequate means and tools so as to achieve concrete results in terms of quality of life for all.

2)     The essential question is education in legality. Respect for the rule of law is a commitment. A fair city is a secure city. Judges hand decisions but never hand very good decisions. Criminal justice responses are insufficient. Civilian strategies must be implemented.

3)     The question of citizenship is fundamental and can be tackled through Houses of Citizenship, the objectives of which would be broader than those of the Houses of Justice.

4)     Crime prevention is an imperative for African cities. Experience has taught us that the cities that best resisted major security crises (as in Côte d’Ivoire) had put in place crime prevention schemes, awareness campaigns, and efficient local governance in coherence with local security issues, thus setting good work practices at the local level.

All these elements should be included in a specifically African approach to local security issues, which would have to be implemented at the local level. The French and European Forums for Urban Security will continue to contribute to such an approach, in particular through the Houses of Citizenship.