By Lewi Negede Lewi
In 1960, when the then Senator Kennedy accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination to be its presidential candidate, he said, “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier- the frontier of the 1960s, the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils...” While Kennedy’s new frontier represented a host of new economic, social, and security opportunities and challenges that rose following the Second World War, it mainly referenced to the Atomic age, which was the single greatest security threat at the time. Today, more than half a century later, we have another new frontier of security challenges before us, perhaps not as great as the atomic threat but serious enough to demand resolute effort to tackle them. In the age of globalization, countries around the world are increasingly facing non-traditional security challenges that threaten their national, economic, and human security. These non-traditional security challenges are vast, as they range from terrorism to cybercrimes to climate change and transnational crimes. While all these pose threat to the security of all countries, some countries are better equipped to deal with these threats than others. This article will outline the threats posed by cyber-attacks and pandemic of infectious diseases, which are the two most pressing challenges, to African countries and suggest actions that can make countries resilient to the adverse impacts of these threats.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016, 25% of households in Africa use the Internet. Although this number is very low when compared to developed countries, this indicates that one in four African households are prone to cyberattack. Furthermore, governments, businesses, and non-profit institutions are prone to cyberattacks too. The May 2017 cyberattack that affected 150 countries worldwide including many African countries provides a good example for this reality. This attack was different in scope from previous attacks as it targeted both public and private entities all over the world. The Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2017 shows that in 2016, the global economy lost over $450 billion as a result of cybercrimes. While it is difficult to estimate how much of this loss affected African countries, some reports show that Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, which are some of the countries with the highest internet penetration rates in Africa, lost about $800 million as result of cybercrimes in 2016. In addition to the high economic costs associated with them, cyberattacks present threat to a country’s security. Terrorist groups and transnational crime networks might use the cyberattacks as a means not just as an end. They might target individuals, infrastructure, government systems and non-governmental institutions using the internet. These security and economic implications of cyberattacks should be a warning sign to what is to come if cyber defenses are not resilient enough to tackle the challenges that are faced at the new frontiers of national defense.
Pandemic of communicable diseases is the other security challenge that we face at the new frontiers of national defense. The 2014-15 Ebola Crisis is an example of this security challenge. As it was observed during this crisis the disease rapidly spread from its origin, affecting millions of people in a short period of time. The countries affected did not have the capacity to identify the disease and manage the outbreak. That coupled with the slow response from the international community led to the spread of the disease and a global public health crisis. The first major Ebola outbreak during the recent crisis was reported in Guinea in 2014. Shortly after that, the virus spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Although there have been other Ebola outbreaks in Africa prior to the latest crisis, all the previous outbreaks were contained in one country therefore they were not as deadly. The latest Ebola outbreak killed more than 10,000 people in the affected West African countries and has concerned people all over the world. In addition to the innumerable impact of the loss of human life, the Ebola crisis was disruptive to the economy and the development of the affected countries. World Bank projections in 2014 showed that the economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone lost an estimated $2.2 billion in 2015, as the pandemic disrupted agriculture, commerce, tourism, and social life. Liberia lost 8% of its doctors, nurses, and midwives. Similarly, Sierra Leone lost 7% of all its trained medical workers while 1% of medical workers were victims of Ebola in Guinea. These losses are very significant considering that these countries are developing countries with already limited number of medical professionals and resources. During the Ebola crisis, the worst affected countries were reliant on help from other countries to counter the impacts of the disease. The United States deployed around 3000 service members to help manage the pandemic. Additionally, the United Kingdom, France, African Union member states and other members of the international community took part in the effort to tackle the crisis. The international community spent more than $3.5 billion to respond to this crisis. The Ebola Crisis and other pandemics like it are security issues because they destabilize the state by incapacitating large number of people in a short period of time and siphoning government resources from important schemes. As the figures above indicate, the crisis has done an immense damage. Therefore, governments need to work to prevent future pandemics. The impetus to do more to avoid future crises becomes even more urgent when pandemics are perceived as a security threat rather than a mere public health crisis.
African countries need to understand the threats posed by security challenges that are found at the new frontiers of national defense before they begin confronting them. The different circumstances that various countries find themselves in makes it difficult to suggest specific policies to tackle these challenges, but generally countries need to (i) improve internet access, (ii) create policies that encourage people to participate in the solution, and (iii) create a continent-wide forum for cybersecurity, to tackle the challenges posed by cyberattacks and cybercrimes. By investing in improving internet access, governments are laying the foundation for a strengthened cyber defense. This is because improved connectivity will encourage people to be part of the solutions. The constant innovation and change in the cyber world makes it very difficult for governments alone to prevent cyberattacks. Therefore, governments should encourage citizens to be part of the defense against cyberattacks. During the 28th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, the African Union launched a continent wide public health agency to help African Union member states respond to public health emergencies. This body was created because the need for such a body became apparent during the Ebola Crisis. Likewise, the AU needs to create a body to deal with cybersecurity as the issue is too complex for member states to address it individually.
Similarly, the different levels of development that countries have attained in terms of public health make it difficult to suggest specific policies to tackle the dangers posed by pandemics. However, African countries and indeed all countries around the world need to, (i) improve standard of life, (ii) strengthen their health infrastructure, and (iii) invest in public health research to improve the capacity of countries to detect and stop the spread of pandemics. As we become more globalized it is becoming increasingly difficult to stop the spread of diseases. Therefore, prevention needs to be the cornerstone of all policies designed to tackle public health issues.
In the age of globalization, a cyberattack or a health crisis can do more harm than conventional conflict. It can slowdown a country’s development process by harming infrastructure, institutions, businesses, and individuals. Therefore, developing countries must take non-traditional security challenges seriously and be prepared to tackle them. Just as Senator Kennedy laid out a vision for the new frontier that his country faced in the 1960s, African countries must find solutions to the challenges that they face at the new frontiers of national defense at the age of globalization.
Lewi Negede Lewi graduated from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland in May 2017. In College, he double majored in International Studies with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies and Economics. His interests are Public Policy and Security Studies.