The politics behind security discourses

Tendoh Constance Inju asked:

The politics behind security discourses.


Identity recognition is an integral part of life. It is very important to know ‘who’ we are (i.e. constructing our identities), where we belong and claim this identity by making others accept us the way we see ourselves. This means that our constructed identities; whether group or individual should be accepted by those outside our circle. Once we are unable to claim our identities, there is a problem. Most conflicts in Africa today are as a result of identity recognition. When the marginalized is not accepted in the society the way they think they are[1], it is dangerous.  The search for a global culture in today’s globalizing world has been received in most parts of the world with a lot of violence. Many people see it as a way to totally wipe out their cultural identities as the International institution imposes democracy as the absolute political system of rule; meaning that all societies need to be transformed into democracies. As a result, they respond in violence just to defend and protect their identities. Once we claim our identities, we look for means to secure them from the dangerous others outside our group. An attempt to protect ourselves and to create a sense of security may also bring danger, threat, fear, violence to the scene as the struggle for social recognition is a matter of power. Thus, as Maria Stern rightly puts it: ‘who we are depends on belligerently defining and killing who we are not’ (Maria Stern, 2006).  Identity is therefore a process of representation and difference, drawing a line separating those inside from those outside. This line needs to be policed so that those outside (the dangerous others) will not cross over since they do not have the same identity.  Security, as defined by Ole Waever is a speech act (Waever, 1995:55). For Lynn Doty, security is socially constructed through speech acts in a particular way within a particular community (Lynne Doty, 1999:79). Burkhe (2002:7) identifies ‘an urgent need to interrogate the images of self and others that animate (in) secured identities and to expose the violence and repression that is often relied on to police them’. How then do we construct and secure our identities from outside threat? Is it possible to secure our constructed identities from outside threat as promised by security experts? This will be my point of focus in this paper and the politics behind security discourses will be highlighted with an empirical focus on the indigenous women in a small village in Cameroon who reclaim their identity after emancipation through the processes of globalization.

During the pre-colonial days, the indigenous woman was considered as an object of low value. Having a girl child in the Metta land was equal to having no child. The girl child was exempted from rights to education, property, freedom of speech and of course, she was a man’s slave. Her role in the society was to take care of the household and bring forth children. Her place was the kitchen and nothing more. Young girls were mutilated and their parents would choose their husbands even before they were born. With the processes of globalization, women in this society discovered they worth more than that and formed alliances and through one will and one voice they struggled to reclaim their identity as Metta women of substance entitled to human rights and capable of contributing not only to the stability of the household but to global economy as they did a lot of farming and produced much foodstuff which was exported to other parts of the globe. These women name themselves as subjects of security. They differentiate from the ‘dangerous others’ which is the tradition and the men of Metta. The culture, which tramples on their identity, becomes a threat, which they need to counter through security strategies. Security is therefore a political strategy to counter threats from outside. The concept of security exists because of the insecurity caused by the dangerous others outside (the tradition). Because of insecurity, those inside (the Metta women) have established a fluid borderline separating them from the dangerous others. The difference between the subject and those outside produces a repulsive violence. As those inside try to secure their identity, those outside struggle to trample on this identity by either threatening the women violently or making negative discourses about globalization which is becoming a threat to their tradition. To ensure security therefore, the referent object needs the support of security experts to guide them on how to police this borderline to keep it safe so that those outside cannot cross over to attack them. But the problem is how reliable are these security discourses. Politicians, security experts and security narratives present the referent object for security as being fixed entities making their promises to secure this referent object seem possible. Security and insecurity are inseparable as one cannot exist without the other. Security can only be thought of if there is insecurity; what a paradox!  In order for the subject of security to be securable, it must have an identity, it must know those who belong to his group and those he considers as threats. Identity is therefore temporal and is constructed vis a vis the threat at hand. For instance, in securing their identity, the Metta women identify the tradition and men of Metta as the dangerous others. In this case they are the enemies because they do not share the same identity as Metta women. But when it comes to cultural or national identity and security, the Metta men will definitely share a common national identity with the women of Metta as Cameroonians and they will together fight as a group to defend the national identity and culture of their fatherland; Cameroon. The enemy in a given circumstance has now become a friend in another circumstance. Therefore, identity is constructed vis a vis the threat at hand. This makes it evident that the discourses of security experts making the referent objects seem static are thus a failure.

In order to secure the subject (be it the state, the community, tradition or a group) the borders need to be secured and imagined self homogenized. An attempt to secure these boundaries or imagined self can cause violence and lost of lives. When the referent object is made securable, any threat to its identity can thus be countered through security strategies. It is through these strategies that discourses of (in) security come up which will never be fulfilled since threat as well as identity is a discursive process that is not stable.

 No matter how the concept of securitization is viewed, what is important is the fact that the referent object needs to be protected from outside threat. There is thus a ‘we’ against a ‘them’ in security; a given entity needs to protect itself from invasion by foreigners. When people identify themselves to a particular group, it means they have chosen to submit themselves and to live according to the rules binding that group. In such a case, anarchy, discord, conflict heterogeneity is far fetched among members of this group. This can justify the liberal claim that there is a kind of liberal peace enjoyed by members of that realm (democracies) that is why they do not go to war with each other. For the world to enjoy such a liberal peace, all nations have to be transformed into democracies. The boundary line, separating the included from the excluded needs to be policed for security reasons as mentioned above. Now, the security experts come into play with their security discourses acting as advisers who advise the unified voice or the object of security on how best to maintain safety on this borderline.

With the processes of contemporary globalization, borderlines for security have fallen apart as cultural, economic, social, etc barriers are sinking making the world a global village. The fact that security knows no limit makes it obvious that it is always present. As long as people, goods, and ideas interconnect, there will always be threat and the need for security. Therefore, security experts should learn to understand the realities of the globe in which we live and stop treating the referent object as a fixed entity which makes security possible. As long as security seems possible, threat changes its form and the quest for security will continue to be in high demand; that is our world.  The solution to this issue of security is not the policed borderline but flexibility, adaptability and sensitivity to changing circumstances.  All the discourses of politicians and security experts guaranteeing security are just political campaigns and unreliable. Therefore, we should all learn to adapt to changing situations, be sensitive to them and of course be flexible. We should not depend on a fixed security technique in front of different threats.


[1] When the minority group is unable to claim its identity, it turns to see the ’other’ as dangerous, as a threat to its identity and as an enemy. The outcome is hatred, which sometimes generates to violence.

You may also like...