Breaking the 'Insecurity Trap'? How Violence and Counter-Violence are Perpetuated in Elite Power Struggles

GIGA Working Paper No. 87

38 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2008 Last revised: 16 Aug 2012

See all articles by Andreas Mehler

Andreas Mehler

German Institute of Global and Area Studies

Date Written: September 9, 2008


Half a century after independence, African elites, at least those in conflict ridden countries, often live in constant fear for their life. Real or invented coup attempts, political assassinations, beatings of opposition leaders, the distribution of death lists, etc. have a profoundly traumatizing and self perpetuating effect. Purges, not least in the security apparatus, are not uncommon, particularly after changes in government, be they peaceful or violent. These purges come at a cost: the excluded elites are frequently tempted to use violence to come back into the "dining room" - and the excluding government tries to prevent reentry by all means.

This contribution draws a dense picture of elite (in)security in three African countries (Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia). A comparative analysis of elite security needs and devices is undertaken, permitting the author to draw some preliminary conclusions: The ineffectiveness of state institutions (presidential guards, etc.) in breaking the insecurity trap by providing special elite protection services is obvious. The record of private security services is most debatable and efforts by international actors need to be looked at more closely: UN peacekeepers can be effective when they are sufficient in number and have the appropriate mandate. The record of French interventions in former colonies has over time become ever more ambivalent and has lost any preventive meaning.

Keywords: Africa, elites, security, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia

Suggested Citation

Mehler, Andreas, Breaking the 'Insecurity Trap'? How Violence and Counter-Violence are Perpetuated in Elite Power Struggles (September 9, 2008). GIGA Working Paper No. 87, Available at SSRN: or

Andreas Mehler (Contact Author)

German Institute of Global and Area Studies ( email )

Neuer Jungfernstieg 21
Hamburg, D-20354

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