The Security Arena in Africa is based on first-hand insights into South Sudan and the Central African Republic during their ongoing civil wars, and Somaliland.

The Security Arena In Africa:

Local Order-Making In The Central African Republic, Somaliland, And South Sudan

Tim Glawion, German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Online publication date: January 2020

Print publication year: 2020

Online ISBN: 9781108623629


Subjects: Area Studies, African Studies, Politics and International Relations, International Relations and International Organizations, African Government, Politics and Policy

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The Security Arena In AfricaInformation

Book description

The labels ‘state fragility’ and ‘civil war’ suggest that security within several African countries has broken down. As Tim Glawion observes, however, while people do experience insecurity in some parts of conflict-affected countries, in other areas they live in relative security.

Conducting in-depth field-research between 2014 and 2018, The Security Arena in Africa is based on first-hand insights into South Sudan and the Central African Republic during their ongoing civil wars, and Somalia’s breakaway state of Somaliland.

Gaining valuable accounts from the people whose security is at stake, this bottom-up perspective on discussions of peace and security tells vivid stories from the field to explore complex security dynamics, making theoretical insights translatable to real-world experiences and revealing how security is created and undermined in these fragile states.


Tim GlawionTim Glawion is a political analyst and field researcher focusing on issues of local security within fragile states. He has investigated conflict and peace in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Haiti, South Sudan, and Somaliland. Providing advice to government and civil society organizations, his research is regularly published in journals including Development and Change and the Journal of Modern African Studies.


‘Based on impressive fieldwork, this book explores the dynamics of security and order at the sub-state level. It shows how local, national, and international actors meddle, compete and complement one another in the security arenas found in small towns in Africa’s conflict-affected countries, and what this means for the inhabitants’ perceptions of security. It is essential reading for anyone interested in comparative security studies.’


Alice Hills – University of Durham

‘Concepts like state failure, security, and order are ubiquitous yet remain opaque. Tim Glawion lifts the hood to reveal tremendous variation ranging from state repression all the way to creative non-state security provision. By approaching security from the bottom up, he enriches our conceptual toolbox and contributes to our substantive understanding.’

Stathis N. Kalyvas – University of Oxford

‘One important feature of this book is that the discussions presented almost entirely rely on Glawion’s direct engagement with everyday people whose security is often compromised. This bottom-up approach lends itself well to the topic at a time when most publications are a result of scholars’ privileged macro-level discussions with state officials on security matters. This provides insight into the often neglected ‘local cleavages’. The book also displays impressive field observations conducted over four years in nine locations within CAR, Somaliland and South Sudan. This relatively broad country coverage allows Glawion to examine why there is more security in some arenas than in others, despite sharing remarkably similar patterns of ordering. It is also important to note that these countries are not easily accessible in terms of field research. Finally, the book’s structure and language allow for easy readership and engagement with the arguments presented throughout.’

Philip O. Onguny Source: Africa: The Journal of the International African Institute

‘… this is an extremely interesting and well-written book …’

Ulf Engel Source: Connections

‘The Security Arena in Africa is a refreshingly honest and contemplative work in terms of its voice. Glawion is candid and straightforward in his outlining of the methodological challenges and trade-offs faced in undertaking the fieldwork. Thus, he study represents, in this regard, a valuable contribution to the burgeoning literature on the politics and ethics of research in conflict-affected regions …’

Jonathan Fisher Source: Perspectives on Politics

The Security Arena In Africa:

Local Order-Making In The Central African Republic, Somaliland, And South Sudan

Tim Glawion, German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

The Security Arena In AfricaContents

List of Figures

List of Maps

List of Tables

List of Boxes


List of Abbreviations


1 Ordering the Security Arena

2 National and Local Histories of Security

3 Creating Centers and Peripheries in the National Arena

4 Inner and Outer Circles of the Arena

5 Stable Ordering and Predictable Security

6 Fluid Ordering and Flexible Security

7 Mixing Ordering Forms

8 Embedding into and Detaching from the Arena




List of Figures

1.1 Steps of actor mappings

1.2 Actor mapping with youths from Obo, CAR, 16 February 2016

2.1 Interviewing the Chief Justice (middle) of the state, Baligubadle, Somaliland, May 2016

2.2 A voting booth during the presidential elections, Lughaya, Somaliland, November 2017

3.1 House painted in colors of the Somaliland flag, Baligubadle, Somaliland, May 2015

3.2 Billboard advertising the EU training mission, Bangui, CAR, August 2017

4.1 Police and army parading on Independence Day, Zeila, Somaliland, 18 May 2015

5.1 The acting prefect sitting at his desk on the porch of a closed-down safari hotel, Bangassou, CAR, March 2015

5.2 The prefectural court in session, Bangassou, CAR, January 2016

5.3 Police–community relations committee meeting, Wau, South Sudan, November 2014

6.1 Meeting with Ciise elders, near Zeila, Somaliland, May 2016

6.2 The CPMM holding a meeting, Bangassou, CAR, January 2016

6.3 Police forces in front of their police station, Paoua, CAR, March 2015

7.1 Auto-Defence members and villagers gather for a meeting with the IOM and CASAL, Pendé, CAR, March 2016

List of Maps

1.1 Baligubadle town, Banka plains, and Gumburaha village, Somaliland

1.2 Field research sites (small star = case study; big star = capital)

List of Tables

1.1 Characteristics and examples of more stable and more fluidly ordering actors

1.2 Characteristics of the stable–fluid ordering spectrum

2.1 Key indicators on the nine local cases

2.2 Local cases sorted by relative importance of actor types, degree of remoteness, and level of security

3.1 International Interventions and contributors

3.2 Strategies through which central actors relate to their peripheries

3.3 Strategies through which centers relate to their peripheries in past and present

4.1 Perceived security in inner and outer circles per local arena and number of responses for very good/good/bad/very bad

List of Boxes

1.1 Triangulating the Ugandan Military’s role in Obo, CAR

5.1 Army fuelling tensions in Obo, CAR, July 2015

6.1 Clashes in Daami Quarter, Somaliland, March 2016

7.1 Killing Mandjou, Paoua, CAR, January 2016


The book cover reads only one name and belies the countless people that have partaken in its creation. For four years, I worked together with Andreas Mehler and Lotje de Vries at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA). We had the fortune of gracious funding by the German Science Foundation within the Collaborative Research Center 700 (SFB 700) on Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood. With his encyclopedic memory, Andreas managed to rein in countless of my thoughts that risked getting carried away. He taught me by example to always bring together the two sides of a story – be it that security actors can also bear insecurity, that deep knowledge of a case should never still one’s continued curiosity, and that leadership calls for humility. Furthermore, it is with no exaggeration that I say that this book would not exist without Lotje’s guidance. She accompanied me on half of my research trips. She not only taught me the tools of the trade but also its tricks, its pitfalls, and how to learn from inevitable mistakes. Being in the field together with her not only doubled my insights; it quadrupled them. How many times would I have fallen for a rhetorically gifted armed leader’s lies, lost my train of thought with evasive state officials, or failed to gain the trust of a skeptical farmer? I am honored to have had the chance to learn from Andreas and Lotje.

My eternal gratitude goes out to the hundreds of people in the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Somaliland, and beyond that have entrusted me with their thoughts on such a sensitive topic as are their perceptions of security. I thank in particular the local research assistants that have supported me through geographical guidance, cultural interpretation, language translation, and by keeping me safe while conducting fieldwork. In the CAR, I thank my research colleague Sylvain Batianga-Kinzi for many late nights discussing politics and my research assistants Arthur Lakara, Jean-Noël Yambele Ndilkissim, Jean Balipio, André Bienvenue Bakpe, as well as my assistants Sylvestre Jean Saint Cyr Dothe, Sylvestre Ningassara, and Alain Kanza for their exceptional motivation and drive. In South Sudan, I thank my research colleague Kenneth Akau Athanasio who guided me not only in whom to talk to and how but also in how to stay safe in the tense environment in which I conducted research in his country. I also thank three South Sudanese research assistants that wrote monthly reports on their localities’ security situation but whose names I will keep anonymous for their own security. In Somaliland, I was absolutely delighted to share my adventurous journeys with my research assistants Abdirisaq Aden Abdi, Abdirisaq Boqore, Moxamud Abdi Ismaaciil, and Hassan Abdi Mahamoud, my drivers Abdilahi Indho and Rashid, and my security guards Ahmed and Hussein. All these people and many a local interlocutor have become far more than research subjects – I would like to believe them my friends. My heart is filled with sadness when I think of those people I have met who have lost their lives in Mundri, Raja, and Bangassou or have had to flee their homes due to rising violence in even more places studied in this book.

I wish to cherish their memory by conducting this study in all sincerity and there are more people to thank that made this happen. I express my gratitude to the German taxpayers, to the German Research Foundation (DFG), and to the Collaborative Research Centre (Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) 700 for generously funding this research over four years. On a practical note, I wish to thank Médecins Sans Frontières, MINUSCA, OCHA, and UNHAS for facilitating air transport in the CAR and UNMISS as well as WFP/UNHAS for doing the same in South Sudan. In Somaliland, I greatly appreciated the assistance of the University of Hargeisa with accommodation, transport, and interpretation, and thank in particular Hamse Khayr and Adam Haji Ali of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies for their support and the opportunity to teach a course on governance and development.

Back in Europe, I thank Jan Koehler, Christian von Soest, and Markus-Michael Müller for their feedback on the ongoing progress of my thesis. I also thank the participants of several conferences and workshops, particularly Christine Cheng for hosting me at King’s College London and Jason Mosley for doing the same at the University of Oxford. Finally, my sincerest gratitude goes out to two anonymous reviewers that have been exceptionally constructive in their feedback of my work and whose suggestions helped bring this manuscript to the next level. Their and countless more scholars’ feedback has been critical for embedding this work into the ongoing academic debate.

Last, and most importantly, I wish to thank my friends and family for always being there.


3 R Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation; Engl.: Return, reclamation, rehabilitation (armed group active in north-western CAR)
AMISOM African Union Mission in Somalia
Anti-Balaka Broad term used for a wide array of loosely organized auto-defense groups that fought against the Séléka rebel alliance (CAR)
APRD Armée Populaire pour la Restauration de la République et la Démocratie; Engl.: Popular army for the restoration of the republic and democracy (near Paoua, CAR)
AU African Union
CAR Central African Republic
CAS Comparative Area Studies
CASAL Comité d’Appui Spirituel aux Autorités Locales; Engl.: Committee for spiritual support to the local authorities (Paoua, CAR)
CEEAC Communauté Économique des États de l’Afrique Centrale; Engl.: Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)
CEMAC Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Centrale; Engl.: Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa
CMPP Comité de Médiation Pour la Paix; Engl.: Committee for the mediation of peace (Paoua, CAR)
CPA Comprehensive Peace Agreement (Sudan, South Sudan)
CPMM Comité de Paix et Médiation de Mbomou; Engl.: Peace and mediation committee of Mbomou (Bangassou, CAR)
DDR Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration
DRC Democratic Republic of the Congo
EU European Union
EUFOR-RCA European Union military operation in the Central African Republic
EUTM-RCA European Union Training Mission in the Central African Republic
FACA Forces Armées Centrafricaines
FCFA Franc de la Coopération Financière en Afrique Centrale; Engl.: Franc of the financial cooperation in Central Africa
FNEC Fédération Nationale des Éleveurs Centrafricains; Engl.: National federation of Central African herders
GP Groupe des Patriotes; Engl.: Group of patriots (armed group active near Paoua, CAR)
ICG International Crisis Group
IGAD Intergovernmental Authority on Development
IGASOM IGAD Peace Support Mission in Somalia
IOM International Organization for Migration
LRA Lord’s Resistance Army
MINUSCA Mission multidimensionnelle Intégrée des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation de la République Centrafricaine; Engl.: United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic
MISCA Mission Internationale de Soutien à la Centrafrique; Engl.: African Union Mission in the CAR
MLPC Mouvement pour la Libération du Peuple Centrafricain; Engl.: Mouvement for the liberation of the Central African people (political party, CAR)
MPC Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain; Engl.: Central African patriotic movement (armed group active near Paoua, CAR)
NGO non-governmental organization
NSS National Security Services, South Sudan
OCHA Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
OFCA Organisation des Femmes Centrafricaines; Engl.: Organization of Central African women
ONLF Ogaden National Liberation Front
RCI-LRA Regional Cooperation Initiative against the LRA
RJ Révolution et Justice; Engl.: Revolution and justice (armed group active near Paoua, CAR)
RPF Regional Protection Force (South Sudan)
Sangaris French military operation from December 2013 to October 2016 (CAR)
Séléka Sango word for ‘Coalition’; Rebel alliance formed in 2012 that briefly took power in March 2013 (CAR)
SNM Somali National Movement
SONSAF Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum
SPLA Sudan People’s Liberation Army (army of South Sudan, former armed group in Southern Sudan)
SPLA-IO Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition (armed group, South Sudan)
SPLM Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (political party, South Sudan)
UN United Nations
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNHAS United Nations Humanitarian Air Service
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNISFA United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (Sudan/South Sudan)
UNMIS United Nations Mission in Sudan
UNMISS United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan
UNOSOM United Nations Operation in Somalia
UNPOL United Nations Police
UNSC United Nations Security Council
UPC Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique; Engl.: Unity for the CAR (armed group active in central CAR)
UPDF Uganda People’s Defence Force
USD United States Dollars


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2020

Tim Glawion, German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

From the Book – The Security Arena in Africa: Local Order-Making in the Central African Republic, Somaliland, and South Sudan, pp. 1 – 15


Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Print publication year: 2020


The labels ‘state fragility’ and ‘civil war’ suggest that security in several African countries has broken down. While people do experience insecurity in some parts of conflict-affected countries, in other areas they live in relative security. Between 2014 and 2018, the author travelled to South Sudan and the Central African Republic during their ongoing civil wars and into Somalia’s breakaway state of Somaliland to gain insights from the people whose security is at stake. He develops the concept of a ‘security arena’, wherein he investigate security as the outcome of actors’ local political-ordering struggles on a fluidity–stability spectrum. He finds that neither stable nor fluid ordering per se creates security or insecurity. Security improves when actors seek to cohabit all parts of arenas by using varying ordering forms in a complementary fashion.


Africa, Security, Arena, Peacebuilding, Conflict, Order-making, Fragility, Central African Republic, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan

‘Unfortunately, I am the prefect’, says the man sitting opposite me, half-jokingly.[1] Dressed in basketball shorts and a jersey, the Ugandan army commander rests on a foldable chair in front of his tent. We are almost literally in the geographic heart of Africa, in Obo, a prefectural capital with a population of only 8,000. Obo is situated inland, about 1,000 kilometers from Bangui, the Central African Republic’s capital, and 2,000 kilometers from the nearest coastline. It is surrounded by forest and fertile soils and is allegedly home to one of the continent’s most notorious rebel groups – the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The large, smiling man opposite me is talking in his mother tongue, English, and claims to be the political head of this prefecture, where people speak Zande, Sango, and French. Despite the irony in his tone, he might just be right.

The official state prefect of Haut Mbomou, of which Obo is the capital, has a weak local standing. The state receives next to no support from the national government and the local population has accused the prefect of corruption. The Ugandan army commander allows the prefect and other leading state officials to use the army’s medical facilities. He even provides the state security forces with fuel and other provisions, which they do not receive from their own government. Local inhabitants are well aware of this arrangement. Naturally, they position the foreign Ugandan army hierarchically above the strongest national security forces as in a chain of command. Within this constellation, Ugandans have a strong grip on security events in Obo, even intervening in abuses by state forces if necessary. However, their massive presence in the fight against the LRA also gives inhabitants the impression that they are living on the front line and thereby raises grave security concerns about potential dangers that lurk in Obo’s surroundings.

This book aims to compare the processes of ordering security in nine cases across three conflict-affected countries. By uncovering patterns among local arenas in the Central African Republic (CAR), Somaliland, and South Sudan, I am able to gain generalizable insights into the creation of security and insecurity. Obo is one of nine cases I compare and contrast in regard to actors, processes of ordering, and the impact of ordering on security. In my search for insights from various angles and with minimally preconceived ideas, I witnessed situations on the ground that run counter to official narratives – for example, the Ugandan army commander taking on matters of public security, which should be the role of the state prefect. Because matters on the ground can change quickly (as evidenced by the Ugandan army’s abrupt departure in mid-2017), I abstracted insights into security to the analytical level. These answers provide understandings that go beyond one case at one certain point in time.

Such an analysis necessitates finding a concept through which varying local security dynamics can be understood and compared across cases. This includes re-evaluating notions of state, non-state, and intervention and studying the often blurred lines between them. This research avenue also requires scholars to look at local forms of ordering and the way they impact a populace’s security perceptions. I thus ask the following question: what are the effects of varying forms of ordering on perceptions of security in local arenas?

So far, studies of sub-state security are rare and mostly limited to case studies[2] and statistical analyses.[3] Generalizable qualitative insights into security and insecurity are scarce[4] and a comprehensive concept of local security arenas has yet to be developed.[5] Here, I invite the reader on a journey to understanding security in three countries which, at first sight, appear to be engulfed in conflict: the CAR, South Sudan, and Somaliland (a self-declared independent state in Somalia). I find careless and repressive state institutions, creative non-state forms of security provision and arbitrary violence, peacekeepers drinking beer at the market and others hiding away in their air-conditioned tents, and a Ugandan army commander claiming to be the head of a foreign country’s prefecture.

Going Beyond the Failed States Paradigm

For many international policymakers and academics, the CAR, Somaliland, and South Sudan lack the political institutions necessary to order larger societies as they fall short of Max Weber’s widely used definition of the state: ‘diejenige menschliche Gemeinschaft, welche innerhalb eines bestimmten Gebietes … das Monopol legitimer physischer Gewaltsamkeit für sich (mit Erfolg) beansprucht’.[6] According to this concept, a state must have a delineated territory, a specified populace, and a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.[7]

In 1993, Gerald B. Helman and Steven R. Ratner triggered a debate on the ‘failed state’.[8] According to Robert I. Rotberg, ‘state failure is always associated with intrastate violence’.[9] Others take this a step further by linking failed states to ‘the coming anarchy’[10] or ‘the spread of pandemics … criminals and terrorists’.[11] Some authors, therefore, attribute the root causes of many forms of insecurity to the failure of the state.[12] However, the remedy – state monopolization of authority – has an ambiguous effect on security. It can facilitate security provision by offering predictability but a monopoly of authority can also be abused and heighten suffering as documented in the rich literature on authoritarianism.[13] Consequently, some peace- and state-building scholars warn against singularly focusing on state capacity-building as a natural remedy to insecurity.[14] As one research team fittingly put it, ‘The calm following the monopolization of power by one particular actor never meant peace for all, but only for some.’[15]

The crux of the ‘states with adjectives’ literature (e.g. ‘failed’ or ‘weak’ states) is a normatively loaded reading of the nature of political order in non-monopolized settings. Authors analyze non-monopolized nations as lesser forms of the ideal state, which is represented by Denmark.[16] This historical propensity towards statehood is based on the seminal work of Charles Tilly, who proposed that ‘state structure appeared chiefly as a by-product of rulers’ efforts to acquire the means of war’.[17] Such state-making wars would press smaller entities to ‘merge into larger units’.[18] A victor’s peace was necessary to consolidate states.[19] In Africa, however, colonial powers created boundaries, which were later upheld by international organizations.[20] Furthermore, population pressures were often too low to call for boundary consolidation from within.[21] Thus, while in Europe the state emerged as the most powerful regulator during the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century,[22] competition in Africa was confined to fixed borders between strongmen who bargained over resources and legitimacy with outside actors rather than their own populations.[23] Catherine Scott thus proposes that state failure describes the historical inability to fill the colonially inherited boundaries with legitimate political order and are thus in effect failed post-colonies.[24] While the failed state concept implies that a once functioning state has now failed, political order in the Weberian sense has never been present in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa.[25]

Putting all political orders on an imagined continuous path towards an ideal state lumps political entities together that differ considerably. Indeed, numerous state indices rank the three country cases here among the worst in the world, if not the worst.[26] However, the political trajectories of the three cases, especially with regard to security, could hardly differ more. 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.[27] To go beyond the debate on state failure, I developed the concept of the ‘security arena’, which allowed me to investigate the impact of local ordering struggles on perceptions of security.

Security in the CAR, Somaliland, and South Sudan

Choosing the three ‘most fragile’ countries in the world – the CAR, South Sudan, and Somaliland (as de jure part of Somalia) – offers particular opportunities to examine divergent security trajectories in countries where the state does not play a dominant role. Having ranked similarly in a prominent fragility index for four years in a row,[28] the three countries would appear to be on like paths in politics and conflict; nevertheless, they have in fact been marked by very distinct recent developments. South Sudan has experienced elevated conflict over long periods of time, whereas the CAR has seen a recent spike in violence. Meanwhile, Somaliland has witnessed a calming of its conflict. Different localities in the three countries provide a wide spectrum of ways to create security or insecurity.

Driven by myriad forms of resistance by southern actors against the oppressive ruling regime in the north, the decades of armed struggle in Sudan have shaped its politics. After a lopsided peace agreement in 2005, South Sudan gained independence in 2011. The new state’s institutions are led by former militia leaders-turned-government officials. The security apparatus similarly has its origins in the violent independence struggle and continues to be shaped by the divisions and organizational structures of that era. This characteristic facilitated the rapid disintegration of the national army after the leadership struggles erupted into violence in December 2013.[29] Today, inhabitants of the peripheral localities face a heavily resourced central actor that shows little will to provide public services but goes to great lengths to suppress resistance. The immense levels of conflict South Sudan has experienced have spread throughout the young country, triggering a number of national and local conflict lines, resulting in all sides committing atrocities against civilians. The overlap between national and local issues is the main cause of spiraling conflict.

The security situation in the CAR is also marked by high levels of violence. Successive CAR governments have neglected the country’s peripheries and have reduced state administration and security personnel to extremely low numbers. In 2013, the CAR made international headlines for the first time in a decade when the Séléka rebel alliance took control of the capital and toppled the president. Séléka’s ensuing violent rule led to the creation of ad hoc Anti-Balaka militias, which sought to protect their communities; however, the militias have also gone on to commit violence against civilians. Numerous peacekeeping missions have been deployed since the mid-1990s. Nonetheless, despite accomplishing a number of military successes against rebel forces, they have failed to rein in the violence between armed groups. When Séléka leader Michel Djotodia lost control of his forces, he had to secede to a transitional government in early 2014. Two years later, general elections brought a democratic, peaceful change of power in government and Parliament. Nevertheless, security is again deteriorating as fragmented Anti-Balaka and former Séléka forces spread and trigger spiraling violence between communities. The ongoing conflict has deepened social divides in the CAR and hundreds of thousands, predominantly Muslims, remain displaced.[30]

Somalia is often dubbed the clearest example of state failure.[31] Mogadishu has changed hands countless times since 1990 and much of the south-central areas are still contested between the radical Islamist Al-Shabaab and the government with its international and local allies. Puntland, however, has fared somewhat better, while large areas of Somaliland have been peaceful for fifteen years. It is for this reason that I chose Somaliland as the focus of this study. Somaliland shares a comparable history with South Sudan, as both experienced an armed struggle against an abusive central government which ultimately led to the declaration of independence. Despite Somaliland’s 1991 declaration preceding South Sudan’s by twenty years, it is yet to be formally recognized by other states. Scholars often describe it as a de facto state,[32] given it has attributes that resemble those of formal states, such as an administrative structure, a defined (albeit contested) territory, registered citizens, and status as a legitimate authority. Nevertheless, Somaliland today provides a peculiar model in which state and traditional institutions are heavily intermixed.[33]

New Comparative Insights on Local Security

With this book, I aim to contribute both empirically and theoretically to the field of comparative security studies. From an empirical perspective, the countries of interest here are broadly under-researched (specifically the CAR) and largely inaccessible due to conflict (especially South Sudan). The insights I gather here often stem from contested localities that are some distance from their capitals and have seldom been studied. The original data for this analysis was gathered between 2014 and 2017 and contributes to the debate on local security by incorporating empirical aspects from locations thus far rarely studied.

From this vast empirical data and the literature on arenas,[34] I derive the concept of the ‘security arena’. Clarifying the conceptual lens of a security arena can aid our understanding of security dynamics and facilitate the comparison of local contexts. By looking through this conceptual lens – but not becoming limited by it – I aim to contribute broadly to the nexus between order-making[35] and security governance,[36] a relationship that thus far remains ‘under-utilized and under-theorized’.[37] I critically engage with debates on state-building,[38] non-state security alternatives,[39] and international intervention.[40] Many of these studies emphasize decisions international actors can take to improve security;[41] in doing so, they limit local agencies.[42] Agency draws from sociocultural aspects to enable a group of individuals to act collectively[43] and in general is understated in security studies, which often use institutional and functional approaches.[44] I thus adopt an actor-focused, process-oriented viewpoint on the above-mentioned issues.[45] Using a bottom-up perspective and a comparative lens, I aim to fill a gap in local security studies by showing how physical security improves or deteriorates for inhabitants on the ground.

This analysis can also serve as a guideline for policymakers of all types (e.g. revolutionaries, administrators, interveners) to understand the respective security arenas they are engaged in. As will be laid out in the following sections and throughout the book, actors tend to collaborate with those groups that use similar ways to order a security arena and thereby neglect other aspects of the arena. With the help of the varying ordering effects on security deciphered in this book, those present on the ground can gauge the effects of their actions, particularly towards those ordering forms and actors that are most different from their own and from themselves.

Core Argument: Stable and Fluid Ordering in the Security Arena

A security arena is composed of actors that interact on the issue of physical integrity around a preselected center of study. Security is the felt durability of physical integrity and insecurity is the felt threat of physical harm. The centers of study are the main meeting points of the small town chosen by the researcher. The actors of the arena have different organizational characteristics, attributes, and resources. In trying to order security arenas in ways that seem fit to them, actors draw on varying strategies from a fluidity–stability ordering spectrum to relate to other actors, including supporting or threatening one another.

There is no ‘better’ side on the fluidity–stability ordering spectrum. Perceptions of security vary widely within and across cases, as well as over time. In Somaliland security is ordered with vast degrees of fluidity and people generally feel relatively secure. The South Sudanese government, on the other hand, tries to impose rigid structures; however, widespread conflict there makes the country’s inhabitants some of the world’s least secure. In the CAR, the state and international actors claim to order in a stable manner but this is matched by a large degree of real fluidity on the ground. Struggles over the forms used to order security arenas impact people’s perceived levels of security.

Towards the stable end of the ordering spectrum, actors establish institutions, channels, and hierarchies by investing significant resources and thereby making themselves highly visible. As a result, a change in ordering becomes costlier.[46] Stable ordering can create continuous security, as well as constant insecurity. Fluid ordering, on the other hand, is less able to create continuous, predictable security but thus also avoids institutionalizing organized insecurity. Fluid ordering offers particular possibilities to change individual or group aims and to negotiate contrasting aims because it does not seek to rigidly impose certain modes or institutions on an arena. In sum, stable ordering generates more predictability, while fluid ordering creates more modifiability.

The key research interest lies in the relationship between ordering and security. In this book, I thus suggest that there is a spectrum from ‘stable’ to ‘fluid’ ways of ordering and that ‘security’ is the outcome. Actors seeking stability is therefore not the same thing as actors seeking security – an easily made mistake since ‘stability’ and ‘security’ are widely used in close connection or even interchangeably in the literature.[47] Within a security arena, however, the two are clearly differentiated: actors seeking stability use stable forms of ordering, including regularized hierarchies among actors. This is the process of stable ordering. Although stable ordering processes can, as an outcome, generate security for the populace, they can also create insecurity.

Different actors in an arena might pursue contrasting forms of ordering depending on their particular interests. Actors who believe that the current modes of ordering best suit their interests might seek to (further) institutionalize them. Those threatened by the more stable parts of the current security arena may seek to generate more leeway to act independently. Actors can change what they pursue over time and may seek to stabilize a particular part of the arena while keeping other parts fluid. This analysis differs from other conflict studies, which focus on the types of interests (e.g. economic, political, social, or rational/irrational) that result in security or insecurity.[48] Here, I concentrate not on a specific interest but rather on the trajectory – that is, the type of ordering – via which actors believe they can best pursue their interests.

Neither side on the ordering spectrum is linked to more or less insecurity per se. Security deteriorates when competition over ordering turns violent. How ordering struggles impact people’s perceptions of security is shaped by where the struggles take place and who is involved. There are four key relations in the security arena that explain ordering variations and their impact on people’s perceptions of security. First, negotiations between actors and inhabitants of the center and the periphery create higher levels of security for both sides than does central actors’ neglect of the periphery or pursuit of submission. Second, at the local level, the security arena is divided between an inner circle dominated by stable forms of ordering and an outer circle dominated by fluid forms of ordering. The more prominent the division appears on the ground, the more strongly inhabitants perceive that insecurity is emanating from the outer circle. Third, at first sight, state actors and internationals seem to tend towards stable ordering, while non-state actors allegedly favor fluid ordering to pursue security provision. However, all types of actors vary their ordering along the full spectrum of the arena competing over who and how should be in charge over security. Fourth, international actors have to deal with the entire spectrum of ordering forms, actor types, and arena parts in order to improve people’s perceptions of security. One-sided interventions unbalance arenas and create insecurity among populaces. These four key dimensions explicate a large degree of ordering variation in security arenas and the impact thereof on security.

A common criticism of my research endeavor is that the explanations for security variations are much more obvious than reflections on security arenas might suggest. For example, colleagues have pointed out that the CAR is in conflict, while Somaliland is not. However, conflict leading to insecurity seems too tautological to hold analytic value. Pre-, in-, and post-conflict settings are not independent conditions or causes of the security arena.[49] The question must rather be why there is security in some arenas of Somaliland and insecurity in many of those in the CAR. One condition I found that could clarify why unarmed non-state actors can provide security is that they do not have to face external spoilers. This then raises the question of why spoilers are a problem in some local arenas in the CAR but not so much in those of Somaliland. The answer is not the absence of heavily armed groups in Somaliland’s vicinity – there are potentially threatening actors in the Ogaden, in the rump of Somalia, and across the Gulf of Aden.[50] Rather, Somaliland’s state security forces, unlike the CAR’s, take protecting their borders very seriously. Without these outside spoilers, non-state actors in Somaliland are better able to take up security matters than their CAR or South Sudanese counterparts because they need only deal with internal matters. Nevertheless, all three Somaliland security arenas witness levels of internal social tensions comparable to those found in the CAR and South Sudan; though theirs have not escalated. In the CAR, international actors are often the ones that keep a lid on tensions as the impact of traditional authorities is limited, as is also the case in South Sudan. In Somaliland, on the other hand, traditional institutions and ordering forms play a key role in maintaining security, while the state often only takes on an enabling role; international actors are mostly absent from Somaliland. In short, rather than simply seeing conflict as a cause of insecurity, I aim to identify additional explanations of why there is conflict and insecurity in many of the CAR and South Sudan cases I observe and why Somaliland’s inhabitants witness much less conflict and insecurity. I shall do this by examining their respective local security arenas.

Book Structure

Everything seems to be connected to everything in the security arena: history to present, peripheries to centers, and state to non-state and international actors. I successively investigate varying aspects of ordering security arenas to uncover generalizable trends across my nine arenas of study. The book structures the rich underlying material from the broad to the detailed, from history to the present, and from theory to empirics. It is divided into three parts, the first of which establishes the theoretical and historical basis of my analysis (Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2). The second part focuses on the shape of the arenas and detects different spheres on an international, national, and local level (Chapters 3 and 4). In the third part, I use short succinct chapters to investigate ordering struggles in the security arenas by looking at why actors use stable ordering, fluid ordering, mix the two forms, or detach from the arena altogether (Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8). Finally, the Conclusion brings the successive aspects together.

In Chapter 1, I provide the research framing of this study. First, I discuss relevant academic works on arenas and combine them with my own empirical insights. I define ‘security’ and describe the two key dimensions of actors and their interactions. Second, descriptive commonalities and differences in ordering practices in the local security arena lead me to decipher analytical insights that call for more in-depth investigation – namely, the respective roles and interactions of state, non-state, and international actors; the dividing lines between inner and outer circles in the local arena; and different relations between peripheral local cases and their respective centers. In the methodological section, I explain why I chose these three countries and the local arenas within them, how I gathered data through an explorative mix of methods, and how I analyzed the data through process tracing and the Comparative Area Studies approach.

In Chapter 2, I provide the historical and local background to my analysis. I describe political developments in the CAR, Somaliland, and South Sudan before, during, and after colonization. These changes shape the way these countries’ respective political systems function today. I then move to the local level and provide a brief description of the key actors and issues at stake in each of the nine local security arenas. These case descriptions on the national and local levels will form the basis of the analysis that follows.

In Chapter 3, I draw on the historical basis laid out in the prior chapter to establish how the current national security arenas of each country came about and what it means for the local cases under scrutiny here. Going beyond the national level, decisions made by peacekeeping headquarters and mission contributors inform the actions of international actors and form a sort of international security arena. The described historical legacies, narratives, and capacities of actors on the national and international levels shape the corridor in which different ordering practices can be negotiated at the local level.

In Chapter 4, I focus on the local level in order to examine the way different parts of arenas lend themselves to varying forms of ordering. Within an inner circle, actors engage more regularly, revealing themselves to one another and thereby creating pressure for a stable order. An outer circle is more illegible, diffuse, and widespread, which allows actors to use it as a refuge for fluid ordering. The shape of an arena is not a deterministic structure but rather one that actors deliberately mold to support the forms of ordering that benefit them most. I pursue this line of research by ascertaining (1) why, how, and where actors create the dividing line between an inner and outer circle (drawing the line); (2) why and how actors enter or leave an inner circle (crossing the line); and (3) what forms of interactions make a line obsolete between inner and outer circle actors (erasing the line).

Having discussed the shape of the arena both above and across the local level, I then turn to ordering struggles in security arenas. In Chapter 5, I first investigate more stable forms of ordering the security arena. They are characterized by clearly voiced claims, hierarchized actor relations, and structured processes of security provision. Such ordering is commonly expected by the state but state practices often fall short of its narratives of stable ordering. Other actors also turn to stable ordering, when they believe they are able to gain larger stakes in the arena. Actors can even resort to force when they have the means to press their claims. Stable ordering can create predictable security but it can also create organized insecurity.

In Chapter 6, I show how actors turn to more fluid forms of ordering to adapt to movements and new issues in the security arena. Fluid ordering can compensate for minimal resources but can also reduce possible gains in the security arena. Non-state actors often attempt to mediate security issues as an alternative to absent state enforcement but often lack the influence to resolve conflict. State and international actors themselves recurrently choose to engage the arena through flexible conflict resolution. Fluid ordering that turns violent is particularly hard to grasp as perpetrators deliberately keep their actions and organization obscure. Ordering towards the fluid end of the spectrum can improve security by allowing for more modifiability but it also allows insecurity to arise as violence remains unchecked.

Neither of the two sides of the ordering spectrum should be seen by itself. In Chapter 7, I analyze how actors frequently mix forms of ordering within their actions and by collaborating with other actors. Mixing ordering can bridge the difference between center and periphery as well as inner and outer circle by using appropriate forms for each – centers and inner circles lend themselves more to stable and peripheries and outer circles to fluid ordering. Actors also collaborate or compete among each other based on their different forms of ordering. When actors see the use of other forms of ordering than their own as threatening, security quickly deteriorates, while security improvements can be achieved through the collaboration of differently ordering actors. Security is thus not the outcome of one form of ordering but of the complementarity of ordering within the security arena.

In Chapter 8, I scrutinize why actors should embed themselves in the arena in the first place and when they prefer detaching from everyday security. The question of embedding or detaching is particularly relevant to newly arriving peacekeepers but also poses itself to national militaries. Embedding into the arena forces an actor to engage in fluid ordering as everyday contact and spontaneous security events necessitate immediate reactions. Detachment, on the other hand, allows for more organized and directed engagement of the security arena through stable ordering. However, detachment can fuel rumors and allegations thereby deteriorating the overall security situation. Actors become torn between fulfilling local demands for robust intervention by accepting fluidity, on the one hand, and meeting international demands of stable ordering through detachment, on the other.

In Conclusion, I sum up by establishing patterns of how actors order different parts of an arena and create security. I present the key findings along the four dimensions of the historical legacies of center–periphery relations, distinctions between inner and outer circles, competition or complementation between stable and fluid ordering forms, and embedding or detaching interventions. My analysis contributes novel answers to questions about local security in conflict-affected countries and an original framework capable of facilitating future comparative analyses on the matter.

I aimed to keep this book as concise and accessible as the matter allows – that is, four years of research in nine localities across three countries in less than 250 pages. Nevertheless, for the reader with little time on her or his hands, I can recommend reading the theoretical Chapter 1 on the security arena, the key analytical Chapters 4 and 6 on the inner-outer circle, and on fluid ordering, respectively, as well as the Conclusion, first. For all other readers, I promise to consecutively build a picture of the security arena in Africa from Chapter 1 to the Conclusion, wherein the reader will progressively become more familiar with the issues at hand, the people involved in dealing with them, and how this can deepen our understanding of local order-making.


[1] Interview with UPDF commander, Obo, CAR, 18 March 2015.

[2] E.g. Pendle 2014; Vandekerckhove 2011.

[3] E.g. Cederman et al. 2011; Fearon & Laitin 2003.

[4] E.g. Reno 1998. This is not counting the many edited volumes on security that use multiple cases but fall short on the comparative side of analysis.

[5] In fact, I found only one social science article with ‘security arena’ in its title; though the article’s author does not specify the concept: Hills 2014a.

[6] English translation: ‘That human community, which rightfully asserts its monopoly over the legitimate use of physical force within a certain territory’, Weber 1992 [1919]: 6.

[7] Such legitimacy can be gained through tradition, charisma, or legal rationality. Weber’s classification of ideal types of rule has heavily influenced European and American policy and research on statehood ever since. Weber 1922: 19.

[8] Helman & Ratner 1993. More recently among others Acemoglu & Robinson 2012.

[9] Rotberg 2003: 30. See as a counter-argument to conflation of conflict and failed statehood: Aliyev 2017.

[10] Kaplan 1994.

[11] Rice 2005.

[12] E.g. Howard 2010; Rotberg 2003.

[13] E.g. Bellin 2004; Gandhi & Przeworski 2007.

[14] Cf. Schneckener 2010; Schroeder 2010.

[15] Simons et al. 2013: 700.

[16] E.g. Krasner & Risse 2014.

[17] Tilly 1990: 14. Interestingly enough, Tilly himself suggested in later chapters of his book that this trajectory is unlikely to repeat itself in the developing world.

[18] Diamond 1999: 283.

[19] Luttwak 1999; Herbst 2004.

[20] Cf. Jackson 1990; Rubin 2005: 96.

[21] Herbst 2000: 11; Diamond 1999: 284; Kraxberger 2012: 109.

[22] Erdmann 2003: 268.

[23] Leander 2004.

[24] Scott 2017.

[25] Engel & Mehler 2005: 91.

[26] Cf. the Fragile States Index: Messner 2017; the indices of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2015) ‘States of Fragility 2015’:; Monty G. Marshall (2017) ‘State Fragility and Warfare in the Global System 2016’:

[27] Glawion et al. 2019.

[28] Messner 2017. See online data center for rankings on all measured years:

[29] Good introductions into the recent crisis can be found in de Vries & Justin 2014; Rolandsen 2015a.

[30] On the recent developments in the CAR, see Glawion & de Vries 2018; Lombard 2016a; Marchal 2016.

[31] E.g. Spanger 2007: 86; Ottaway 2002: 1002.

[32] E.g. Caspersen 2012: 6; Balthasar 2013: 218.

[33] Good introductions into Somaliland politics can be found in Bradbury 2008; Renders 2012.

[34] See Chapter 1.

[35] E.g. Kalyvas et al. 2008; Meagher et al. 2014.

[36] E.g. Bagayoko et al. 2016; Baker 2010; Krahmann 2003; Van Munster 2007.

[37] Worrall 2017: 709. Cf. also Luckham 2017: 109.

[38] E.g. Call & Wyeth 2008; Fukuyama 2004; Lund 2016; Tilly 1990.

[39] E.g. Reno 1998; Jackson 2003; Mampilly 2011; Mkandawire 2002.

[40] E.g. Autesserre 2009; Kühn 2011; Stedman 1993.

[41] E.g. ICISS 2001; Krasner 2004; Paris 2010.

[42] E.g. Mac Ginty & Richmond 2013; Schroeder & Chappuis 2014: 141.

[43] For a more in-depth discussion of actors and their agency in modern society, see Meyer & Jepperson 2000.

[44] E.g. Daase & Friesendorf 2010; Kühn 2011.

[45] E.g. Collins 2008; Elwert 1999; Kalyvas 2006.

[46] Or as Roger MacGinty puts it, stabilization ‘risks excluding creativity, innovation, dissent, resistance and pluralism’ (2012: 27).

[47] Cf. Mac Ginty 2012. The OECD and many international policymakers use the term ‘fragile and conflict-affected contexts’, which suggests the two go together, while the opposite would be ‘stability and peace’.

[48] See discussion in Chapter 2.

[49] Cf. Richards 2005: 13ff.

[50] Cf. Hoehne 2015.

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