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Volume 21 Number 2
1 June 2012

In the last 20 years, Africa has experienced a steady decline in violent conflicts, despite anapparently paradoxical increase in peacekeeping operations. Some long-term conflict studies have revealed a changing landscape of security challenges on the continent: from violent conflicts to more diffuse forms of threats to the stability of fragile state constructions, with low levels of human security. Large parts of the continent, however, still face the consequences of violent conflicts, which seem to have entrenched themselves in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia. This is the main reason why the central hub of the current issue of African Security Review is conflict. The contributors to this issue approach the concept of conflict from the unique angles of their diverse disciplinary fields, creating a wagon-wheel of contributions that are diverse in subject matter, but are all related to the concept of conflict – its prevention and its management by different actors. The latter dimension features the South African contribution to peacekeeping in Africa, analysing the country`s record and experience in a field where Pretoria seems to have recently reviewed its priorities. In any case, all featured articles broach a dimension of conflict which, without necessarily being new to the debate, sheds original light on various aspects

Shannon Bosch and Juanita Easthorpe engage with existing and ongoing conflicts from a legal perspective. In their article, ‘Africa`s toy soldiers, non-state armed groups, and “voluntary”recruitment: anything but child`s play`, they deal with the increased recruitment of child soldiers – often at the hands of non-state armed groups – in conflicts across Africa, despite a prohibition under international humanitarian law against recruiting children under the age of 18. As is often the case with humanitarian legal obligations at an international level, a disjuncture exists between what states sign up for and what is implemented at the domestic level. Indeed, where conflict exists states are often unable or unwilling to engage with and/or effect international and even regional legal requirements. This article examines two sides of the child-soldier coin: what amounts to the unlawful recruitment of children in the light of customary international humanitarian law; and whether a child can ever void this protected status by volunteering to participate directly in hostilities. Beyond the law-enforcement dimension, this article also highlights African states` weakness when it comes to protecting their youth – a challenge that has the potential to spiral, in light of prospects for population growth.

The role of the South African National Defence Force in peace operations during or post conflict across Africa is the subject of a series of three articles by Lindy Heinecken and Rialize Ferreira. South Africa has been involved in no fewer than 14 peace missions over the past 11 years, and the fi rst of the articles deals with the background to the conflicts in Burundi, the DRC and Sudan, the different United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) mandates under which peacekeepers had to operate as well as their objectives, and the extent of South Africa`s involvement in the various missions. The second article describes and analyses the diverse experiences of the South African military personnel deployed on peace missions to the aforementioned conflict zones. The authors examine their operational experiences, the challenges posed by the rules of engagement, as well as shortcomings in their training and readiness, and their interaction with other role players. The third article turns our attention to the psychological dimensions of deployment in such challenging peace missions, including: the motivation(s) to serve in missions where SANDF personnel were required to help, protect  and save mostly civilians in countries to whom they owe little allegiance; how peacekeepers cope with the stress associated with these missions (not only on operations but with the long separation from family, friends and loved ones); and how they adapt and reintegrate into society and their families upon their return.

The timing of these three articles is particularly pertinent, as they assess the contribution of one of Africa`s most important countries to peacekeeping on the continent, at a time when South Africa is serving as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Assessing the role played by South Africa may highlight the country`s capacity to deploy beyond African borders, as is expected of permanent members – an objective that is central to this country`s foreign policy.

A form of conflict that does not routinely make news headlines, but is nonetheless increasingly important in an age of  burgeoning technology and virtual information storage, is that of cyber warfare. Marthie Grobler and Joey Jansen van Vuuren`s article considers the influence that South Africa`s cyber defence system has on the international position of the government. The authors contend that in an age of technical revolution, where cyberspace consists of complex and dynamic technological innovations that are not well suited to any legal system, Africa does not have a coordinated approach in dealing with cyber security. What is needed, they posit, is the creation and maintenance of a partnership or collaboration between business, government and civil society, on the development of adequate responses to cyber crime. John Siko agrees with Heinecken and Ferreira on the vital role the SANDF has played in peacekeeping missions across Africa since 1994, but he goes on to attribute great importance to the involvement of South Africa`s military in the regional and international conflict arena since as far back as World War I. Having acknowledged this, Siko asks to what extent the defence establishment`s leadership – specifically the country`s ministers of defence – drove the country`s foreign policy agenda during the same period. Have relationships or circumstances proven most important in determining Defence Minister influence throughout South African history? The primary focus of the article is on comparing the 20 years before South Africa`s democratic transition, to the post-transition paradigm under presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

This issue of African Security Review ends with a conflict of a very different nature, but one that is vital to the very existence of our planet: the importance of COP17 in mitigating against the developmental and security implications of climate change. More specifically, dubbed the ‘African COP`, this conference offered an important opportunity for African countries, with South Africa at the helm, to steer the debate on a global climate change regime. In her ‘Africa Watch` article, Lisa Otto examines the ‘African COP` and investigates the significance of its outcome for Africa.

Paul-Simon Handy (Guest editor)

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