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Opinions of Monday, 23 August 2021

Columnist: Emmanuel Felix Mantey

Security and sustainable human development

File photo of a security camera File photo of a security camera

There are four main pillars of Sustainable human development. These are democracy, equity, social justice, and sustainable poverty-reducing economic development. When the provision of physical security is low, it infringes on, and can even destroy, the ability of societies to achieve sustainable human development.

Irrespective of whether the low level of security results from oppressive security forces, crime, terrorist threats, wars, or deficiencies in the provision of security.

As part of the causes for insecurity in a country, a lack of democratic governance is simultaneously a major underlying factor and a result of physical insecurity and violence.

By this, democratic governance requires a legitimate, transparent, trusted, and inclusive state that is accountable to all of its citizens.

Anytime these are absent, institutions in both the public sector and civil society responsible to mediate disputes over access to political and economic power will also be absent or become very weak to function.

This problem is compounded when rule of law is weak and there is poor or inadequate accountability by the government and the security sector. The consequence is the creation of an environment where the security forces act with impunity in the political sphere, often leading to human rights violations and further undermining opportunities for strengthening political and civil freedoms.

Furthermore, a lack of popular support for the state results in rule by force, through its security forces, particularly where the military sometimes takes over the operations of the police or even the government itself.

More importantly, when democratic space is closed or severely limited, the benefits of economic development are inequitably shared among citizens. Anytime there is political, social, and economic inequality, it leads to resentments among groups giving room for leaders to mobilize one group against another.

By this, conflicts that occur based on ethnicity or ideological beliefs are often the result of group mobilization under conditions of such horizontal inequalities.

The conclusion is that violence is not necessarily instituted by the relatively deprived. The privileged also do so, with the fear of losing their position. This includes, for example, the prospect of possible loss of political power by a government in power, which can act as a powerful motive for state-sponsored violence occurring,

with the aim of suppressing opposition and maintaining power. This is done through collapsing of the financial backbone of opposition leaders, political prosecution of opposition party members, arrest and detention, blackmailing, etc.

Under such circumstances, a major humanitarian emergency is state terrorism, because the government has access to organized force (police/army) which could be used to further undermine its own citizens and perpetuate crime against them.

This was the case, for example, in most of the major episodes of violence in Uganda, in Haiti, and in Iraq’s suppression of the Kurds.

Although security is so crucial for the wellbeing of all people and societies, it is all too often a prerogative of narrow elite groups. It is not provided equally in many societies, but predominantly to those already better off.

At the same time, repression by security forces is more likely to affect those already disadvantaged and marginalized.

It is evident that security forces often play a central role in regimes that uphold social and economic inequality.

Moreover, security, in general, is the policy arena where people have the least say. Institutions charged with providing physical security and control decisions about the size and conduct of these institutions are often highly elitists.

Secrecy, lack of transparency, and accountability are hallmarks of the security sector, and which by extension also generally go beyond to include other sectors of society such as the executive.

To achieve sustainable human development, every effort must be worked at achieving good governance, which of course, meant much more than democratization in a formal political sense.

Another important thing to be done is to reform the public sector including the security sector which should be subject to the same standards as efficiency, equity, and accountability as any other public institution.

Reforming the security sector in a way that serves the needs of the people, and not only of narrow elite groups is key in achieving sustainable human development.

This is because, the damage the unaccountable security sector cause to the promotion of democracy, social justice, equity, and sustainable, poverty-reducing economic development makes them a source of insecurity to the poor and the vulnerable which undermines sustainable development.