T. Glawion: The Security Arena in Africa

The Security Arena in Africa. Local Order-Making in the Central African Republic, Somaliland, and South Sudan

Glawion, Tim
272 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Ulf Engel, Institute of African Studies, Leipzig University

To forestall my conclusions: this is an extremely interesting and well-written book on conflict and security provision in three of the most conflict-ridden countries on the African continent: South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Somalia’s northern breakaway state of Somaliland. The volume combines systematic political science insights with bottom-up perspectives based on in-depth field work with dozens of interviews carried out between 2014 and 2018. Leaving behind the normative debates of the 1990s and early 2000s on ‘state failure’ (although sharing Weber’s notion of the ‘monopoly of violence’), Glawion aims at comparing ‘the processes of ordering security in nine cases across three conflict-affected countries” (p. 2). His case studies are well-chosen: “State forces are virtually non-existent in the CAR, where dozens of fragmented militias roam the country. In South Sudan the government commands a massive repressive apparatus, which it has used to violently intimidate its own citizens and fight heavily armed opposition groups that were once part of the government. Moreover, assigning such labels to entire countries masks variations within those countries. For instance, in the case of Somalia, the south continues to be ravaged by war, while de facto independent Somaliland enjoys relative security” (p. 5).

At one time, these three countries were at the bottom of the (questionable) Fragile States Index. Within these case studies the author has concentrated on three localities each. In this environment, Glawion’s comparative interest is on the impact of local ordering struggles on perceptions of security. Yet while the concept of ‘arena’ is discussed at length, less reflection is shared on the author’s very notion of ‘ordering’.

Since 2020 the author is a research fellow at the Hamburg-based GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies) Institute of African Affairs. He did his PhD in the context of the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre 700 in Berlin which analysed governance in areas of limited statehood. Glawion graduated from Freiburg University (2014–2017). The PhD was supervised by Andreas Mehler who now is a professor at Freiburg University and also director of the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute. Glawion holds a MA in Conflict Resolution from King’s College London and a BA in Political Science from the University of Heidelberg. In addition to the works of Mehler, Glawion’s dissertation has been substantially influenced by Lotje De Vries who did her PhD on state-building in South Sudan (2012).

The book is structured into 12 chapters. Following the introduction, Glawion discusses how processes of ordering in the field of security can be conceptualized. In chapters 2 and 3 the historical, local and contemporary background to political developments in the CAR, Somaliland and South Sudan is provided. In chapter 4 different ways of ordering and their interaction with various actors are discussed. This is modelled along an understanding of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ parts of the security arena. And the following chapters the local level is examined with regard to varying forms of ordering: ‘stable’ (chap. 5), ‘fluid’ (chap. 6) and ‘mixed’ (chap. 7). In chapter 8 the dynamics of actors embedding or detaching themselves in security arenas is the central theme. This is followed by conclusions along four dimensions: the “historical legacies of centre-periphery relations, distinctions between inner and outer circles, competition or complementation between stable and fluid ordering forms, and embedding or detaching interventions” (p. 14).

Glawion concludes that stable ordering tends to build institutions, channels and hierarchies, whereas fluid ordering is characterised by negotiating procedures and relations. Accordingly, he proposes to replace the fragility-stability dichotomy with a fluidity/stability continuum. Hence, he is also favouring the notion of oligopolies of violence (as portrayed by Mehler) against Weber’s monopolies of violence.

Located at the interface of order-making and security governance, Glawion’s comparative study on the Central African Republic, Somaliland and South Sudan offers rich empirical and conceptual insights into protracted processes of making, communicating, and maintaining, but also contesting order in parts of the African continent. His work is convincing because of its consequent actor-centred perspective and the diligent work with local sources and interviews. The author’s interrogation of interactions between local actors and external interveners yields important insights into the dialectic and often contradictory dynamics on the ground. His conclusions certainly go beyond the three cases. In sum, this monograph contributes significantly to a better understanding of the circumstances and effects of what the author calls ‘fluid’ and ‘stable’ ordering of the security arena on the African continent. In areas previously classified as ‘failed states’, a focus on the co-production of order also helps to go beyond simple normative debates and their implications for one-size fits all policies. This book is also an important contribution to further the dialogue between political science approaches to African Studies and anthropological ones.

Editors Information
Published on
Temporal Classification
Regional Classification
Subject - Topic
Book Services
Contents and Reviews
Additional Informations
Language of publication
Language of review