The growth across Africa of private security, military companies and vigilante groups can be laid at the door of inadequate security services supplied by member states of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Africa region.
This assertion was made by Zambian MP Aaron Mbulakulima and reported by the South Africa Parliament website. He was speaking during the Association’s recent elective conference in Gaborone on a legislative framework for the regulation of vigilante groups, private security and military companies. These groupings are often perceived as potential sources of coups and political instability in Africa.
He is quoted as saying “security service providers have penetrated continental security fronts which were previously the preserve of the state”. More critically he added “as long as weak states exist, efforts to regulate the private security sector in Africa might remain a pipe dream”.
The lack of effective and efficient oversight and accountability of the operations of these entities compromised their regulation and control, he said. “Coupled with ineffective oversight and accountability most African states also lack adequate legislative frameworks and enforcement mechanisms, making it difficult to identify security weaknesses.”
The only existing policy framework to curb this growing threat to the sovereignty of African nation states dates back to 1977 in the form of the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa. This convention, initially ratified by the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), has now been adopted by the African Union (AU). Out of 53 African member states, 28 have ratified it, meaning these entities remain, by and large, unregulated, according to the website.
He was of the view parliaments of CPA nation states have a role in ensuring the security sector is accountable. “As democratically elected representatives, we have a mandate to review the comprehensiveness of the legal framework and enact and amend laws relevant to the preservation of public order and security and the sovereignty our nation states.”
The regulation of private security is not optional, but a must, he said, adding “it can take various forms including enacting legislation and setting standards related to selection, recruitment and training of private officers”.
This would “avoid liability and ensure adequate background screening and good conduct”.
In Zambia, private security companies can only operate after being registered by the Patents and Companies Registration Agency, which serves “as a legal depository of information tendered for registration and licensing of private security companies”.
Speaking on the emergence of vigilantism in Zambia, Mbulakulima said when crime was on the rise in Zambia in 1985 then president Kenneth Kaunda decided to establish a vigilante system involving ordinary citizens in the fight against crime.
This was a response to threatened state security, exacerbated “by insufficient police personnel”.
A problem arose because most vigilante groups “lacked adequate knowledge to distinguish between a breach of criminal law and that of morality and they overshadowed the work of the police often taking the law into their hands”.
Through the establishment of a legislative framework and robust parliamentary oversight, the Zambia Police Act now regulates the activities of vigilante groups.
He urged other African parliaments to “review the comprehensiveness of legal frameworks and enact and amend laws relevant to preserving public order and security”.
According to him, “African parliaments have an important role to ensure the security sector is effective and accountable”.
Security is the responsibility of the state. African countries run a risk of breach of the law and insecurity that could lead to instability if not anarchy, many delegates observed, according to the official SA Parliament website.
The need for regulation and oversight over these entities is crucial because Africa has many resources that are possible targets for exploitation. That responsibility cannot be handed to entities that don’t have the best interests of Africa’s people at heart, but are driven primarily by the dictates of profit over the security of African sovereignty and the continent’s ideals of peace and security for its people, Mbulakulima said.
CPA Africa region is part of the CPA international organisation comprised of African countries formerly under British rule, with limited exceptions. Some countries are also members of other regional and international bodies such as the Pan African Parliament (PAP), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Southern African Development Community-Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF), the East Africa Legislative Assembly and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Membership pf CPA Africa region is open to national parliaments and provincial or state or territorial legislatures.