2011 - African Migration, Global
Inequalities, and Human Rights: Connecting the Dots.
Current African Issues Paper for Nordic Africa Institute.
August 1, 2010 - Oped in Providence Journal U.S.-Africa 'reset' requires honesty about America's wrongs
President Obama has inspired hope in Africa and around the world.
Africans who heed his call to build the future, however, must still
reckon with the stubborn fact that the United States can be an
obstacle as well as a partner.
Spring, 2010 - Foreword to issue of Articulate -
End "Aid," Invest in Global Public Goods
Let us agree that the "aid paradigm" is fundamentally flawed, in that it is based on
a model of the rich "helping" the poor. But the paradigm advanced by free-market
fundamentalism, that poor countries and poor people can and should lift themselves
up by their bootstraps, without benefit of support from the wider society, is also
April, 2010 - Zimbabwe: Demystifying Sanctions and Strengthening Solidarity,
by Briggs Bomba and William Minter
In the case of Zimbabwe today, both supporters and opponents of
sanctions exaggerate their importance. The international community,
both global and regional, has other tools as well.
October, 2009 - Africa: Climate Change and Natural Resources,
by William Minter and Anita Wheeler
Africa will suffer consequences out of all
proportion to its contribution to global warming, which is
primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy
countries. But Africa can also make significant contributions to
mitigating (i.e. limiting) climate change, by stopping tropical
deforestation and ending gas flaring from oil production.
March, 2009 - Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa,
by Daniel Volman and William Minter, for Foreign Policy in Focus
html | pdf (283K)
Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent focus
on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize
bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the
United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to
respond to Africa's own urgent security needs? If the first option is
taken, it will undermine rather than advance both U.S. and African
February, 2009 - Inclusive Human Security: U. S. National Security Policy, Africa,
and the African Diaspora, edited for TransAfrica Forum html (150K) | pdf (2.8M)
Fundamentally, it is necessary not only to present a new foreign policy
face to the world, but to shape an international agenda that shows more
and more Americans how our own security depends on that of others. The
old civil rights adage that "none of us are free until all of us are free" has
its corollary in an inclusive human security framework: "None of us can
be secure until all of us are secure. "
April, 2008 - Migration and Global Justice, pamphlet written for American Friends
html | pdf (379K)
"As the global economy drives global inequality, movement across borders
inevitably increases. If legal ways are closed, people trying to survive and
to support their families will cross fences or set sail on dangerous seas
regardless of the risks. "
December, 2007 - "The Armored Bubble: Military Memoirs from Apartheid's
Warriors," pp. 147-152 in African Studies Review
html | pdf (70K)
"The books reviewed in this essay are a small sample of one genre of war
literature: detailed accounts of battle from the perspective of those among
South Africa's military veterans who have no question that they were fighting
a just cause in defense of their country. "
Jan 31, 2007 - Oped in Providence Journal
"Don't replay Iraq in Horn of Africa"
"Somalia is not Iraq, of course. ... But the similarities are nevertheless substantial. The United States and Ethiopia cut short efforts at reconciliation ... They disregarded Somali and wider African opinion in an effort to kill alleged terrorists. And while chalking up military "victories," they aggravated long-term problems."
Jul 8, 2005 -
"Invisible Hierarchies: Africa, Race, and Continuities in the World Order" (pdf)
"The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of today’s unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to address the past, present, and future of American society without giving central attention to the role of African American struggles, so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global inequality requires giving central attention to Africa."
In Science & Society, July, 2005
Jul 8, 2002 -
"Aid—Let's Get Real"
"There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid system will not do. ... For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a common obligation to finance international public investment for common needs."
In The Nation, July 8, 2002, with Salih Booker.
Nov 3, 1992 - Oped in Christian Science Monitor
"Savimbi Should Accept That Democracy Worked in Angola"
"Just one month after Angolans peacefully thronged polling stations in their first multiparty election
ever, the conflict-battered Southern African country is on the brink of all-out war. ... The international
community, including the US, has been unanimous, in urging Savimbi to accept the election results, but Savimbi and his close-knit group of top officers remain both unpredictable and militarily potent. The new conflict, which appears to the starting, will be hard to contain."
April, 1988 - "When Sanctions Worked: The Case of Rhodesia Reconsidered", with Elizabeth Schimdt, in
African Affairs html (97K) | pdf (3.4M)
"Sanctions, while not the only factor in bringing majority rule to Rhodesia, made a significant
long-term contribution to that result. ... Moreover, more strongly enforced sanctions could have
been even more effective. If Rhodesia's petroleum lifeline had been severed and if South Africa
had not served as a back door to international trade, ... the country could not have survived
for more than a matter of months."
"Action against Apartheid,"
in Bruce Douglas, ed., Reflections on Protest: Student Presence in
"But the government usually seems to be a very distant and unresponsive target
[for anti-apartheid protests]. Therefore exposure of U.S.A. business involvement in
Southern Africa - by demonstrations, withdrawal campaigns, etc. - is at least equally
Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa
Daniel Volman and William Minter | March 13, 2009 pdf
Editor: Emira Woods and Emily Schwartz Greco
Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research Project and a member of
the board of directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. William Minter
is the editor of AfricaFocus Bulletin and co-editor with Gail Hovey and Charles
Cobb, Jr. of No Easy Victories: African Liberation and American Activists over a
Half Century, 1950-2000 (Africa World Press, 2007).
At the end of President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony, civil rights leader Rev.
Joseph Lowery invoked the hope of a day "when nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors." No one expects such a
utopian vision to materialize any time soon. But both Obama and Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton have spoken eloquently of the need to emphasize diplomacy over a narrow
military agenda. In her confirmation hearing, Clinton stressed the need for "smart
power," perhaps inadvertently echoing Obama's opposition to the invasion of Iraq as
a "dumb war." Even top U.S. military officials, such as chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, have warned against
overly militarizing U.S. foreign policy.
In practice, such a shift in emphasis is certain to be inconsistent. At a global level,
the most immediate challenge to the credibility of change in foreign policy is
Afghanistan, where promised troop increases are given little chance of bringing
stability and the country risks becoming Obama's "Vietnam." Africa policy is
for the most part under the radar of public debate. But it also poses a clear choice for
the new administration. Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent
focus on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize bilateral
military relations with African countries? Or will the United States give priority to
enhancing multilateral capacity to respond to Africa's own urgent security needs?
If the first option is taken, it will undermine rather than advance both U.S. and
African security. Taking the second option won't be easy. There are no quick fixes. But
U.S. security in fact requires that policymakers take a broader view of Africa's
security needs and a multilateral approach to addressing them.
The need for immediate action to promote peace in Africa is clear. While much of the
continent is at peace, there are large areas of great violence and insecurity, most
prominently centered on Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. These
crises require not only a continuing emphasis on diplomacy but also resources for
peacemaking and peacekeeping. And yet the Bush administration has bequeathed the new
president a new military command for Africa (the United States Africa Command, known as
AFRICOM). Meanwhile, Washington has starved the United Nations and other multilateral
institutions of resources, even while entrusting them with enormous peacekeeping
The government has presented AFRICOM as a cost-effective institutional restructuring and
a benign program for supporting African governments in humanitarian as well as necessary
security operations. In fact, it represents the institutionalization and increased
funding for a model of bilateral military ties — a replay of the mistakes of the
Cold War. This risks drawing the United States more deeply into conflicts, reinforcing
links with repressive regimes, excusing human rights abuses, and frustrating rather than
fostering sustainable multilateral peacemaking and peacekeeping. It will divert scarce
budget resources, build resentment, and undercut the long-term interests of the United
Shaping a new U.S. security policy toward Africa requires more than just a modest tilt
toward more active diplomacy. It also requires questioning this inherited security
framework, and shaping an alternative framework that aligns U.S. and African security
interests within a broader perspective of inclusive human security. In particular, it
requires that the United States shift from a primarily bilateral and increasingly
military approach to one that prioritizes joint action with both African and global
AFRICOM in Theory and Practice
Judging by their frequent press
releases, AFRICOM and related programs such as the Navy's Africa Partnership Station are primarily focused on a
constant round of community relations and capacity building projects, such as rescue and
firefighting training for African sailors, construction of clinics and schools, and
similar endeavors. "AFRICOM is about helping Africans build greater capacity to
assure their own security," asserted Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Defense Theresa Whelan in a typical official statement. AFRICOM defenders further
cite the importance of integrating development and humanitarian programs into the
|AFRICOM releases a steady stream of photographs and
stories highlighting community relations and similar projects. In this picture, a
Ghanaian, Cameroonian and U.S. sailor load donated Project Handclasp materials for a
community relations project in Sekondi, Ghana, as part of an Africa Partnership Station
(APS) initiative, February 26, 2009.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd
Class David Holmes)
Pentagon spokespeople describe AFRICOM as a logical bureaucratic restructuring that will
ensure that Africa gets the attention it deserves. They insist AFRICOM won't set the
priorities for U.S. policy toward Africa or increase Pentagon influence at the expense
of civilian agencies. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August
2007, Whelan denied that AFRICOM was being established "solely to fight
terrorism, or to secure oil resources, or to discourage China," countering: "
This is not true."
But other statements by Whelan herself, by General William "Kip" Ward, the
four-star African-American general who commands AFRICOM, and Vice-Admiral Robert
Moeller, his military deputy, lay out AFRICOM's priorities in more conventional terms.
In a briefing for European Command officers in March 2004, Whelan said that the
Pentagon's priorities in Africa were to "prevent establishment of/disrupt/destroy
terrorist groups; stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction; perform evacuations of
U.S. citizens in danger; assure access to strategic resources, lines of communication,
and refueling/forward sites" in Africa. On February 19, 2008, Moeller told an AFRICOM conference that protecting "the free flow of natural resources from
Africa to the global market" was one of AFRICOM's "guiding principles,"
citing "oil disruption," "terrorism," and the "growing
influence" of China as major "challenges" to U.S. interests in Africa.
Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, General Ward
echoed the same views and identified
combating terrorism as "AFRICOM's number one theater-wide goal." Ward
barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, or conflict resolution. U.S. official
discourse on AFRICOM doesn't engage with the parallel discussions in the United Nations
and the African Union about building multilateral peacekeeping capacity. Strikingly,
there was no official consultation about the new command with either the United Nations
or the African Union before it was first announced in 2006.
In practice, AFRICOM, which became a fully independent combatant command on October 1,
2008, with its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, is built on the paradigm of U.S.
military commands which span the globe. Although AFRICOM features less
"kinetic" (combat) operations than the active wars falling under CENTCOM in
Iraq and Afghanistan, its goals and programs are more conventional than the public
relations image would imply. The Pentagon now has six geographically focused commands
— each headed by either a four-star general or admiral — Africa (AFRICOM);
the Middle East and Central Asia (Central Command or CENTCOM); Europe and most of the
former Soviet Union (European Command or EUCOM); the Pacific Ocean, East and South Asia
(Pacific Command or PACOM); Mexico, Canada, and the United States (Northern Command or
NORTHCOM); and Central and South America (Southern Command or SOUTHCOM), as well as
others with functional responsibilities, such as for Special Forces and Nuclear Weapons.
Before AFRICOM was established, U.S. military operations in Africa fell under three
different commands. EUCOM handled most of Africa; but Egypt and the Horn of Africa fell
under the authority of CENTCOM (Egypt remains under CENTCOM rather than AFRICOM);
Madagascar and the island states of the Indian Ocean were the responsibility of PACOM.
All three were primarily concerned with other regions of the world that took priority
over Africa, and had only a few middle-rank staff members dedicated to Africa. This
reflected the fact that Africa was chiefly viewed as a regional theater in the global
Cold War, as an adjunct to U.S.-European relations, or — in the immediate post-
Cold War period — as a region of little concern to the United States. But Africa's
status in U.S. national security policy and military affairs rose dramatically during
the Bush administration, in response both to global terrorism and the growing
significance of African oil resources.
The new strategic framework for Africa emphasizes, above all, the threat of global
terrorism and the risk posed by weak states, "empty spaces," and countries
with large Muslim populations as vulnerable territories where terrorists may find safe
haven and political support. This framework is fundamentally flawed. No one denies that
al-Qaeda has found adherents and allied groups in Africa, as evidenced most dramatically
by the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. But Islamist
ideology has had only limited impact among most African Muslims, and even in countries
with extremist Islamist governments or insurgent groups (such as Algeria, Sudan, and
Somalia), the focus has been on local issues rather than global conflict.
Counterinsurgency analysts such as Robert
David Kilcullen have warned that "aggregating" disparate local
insurgencies into an all-encompassing vision of global terrorism in fact facilitates al-
Qaeda's efforts to woo such groups. Heavy-handed military action such as air strikes
that kill civilians and collaboration with counter-insurgency efforts by incumbent
regimes, far from diminishing the threat of terrorism, helps it grow.
While AFRICOM may be new, there's already a track record for such policies in programs
now incorporated into AFRICOM. That record shows little evidence that these policies
contribute to U.S. or African security. To the contrary, there are substantial
indications that they are in fact counterproductive, both increasing insecurity in
Africa and energizing potential threats to U.S. interests.
Examining the Record: Somalia
The most prominent example of active U.S. military involvement in Africa has been the
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Speaking not for attribution at a
conference in early 2008, a senior AFRICOM official cited this task force, which has
taken the lead in U.S. engagement with Somalia, as a model for AFRICOM's operations
elsewhere on the continent. In October 2002, CENTCOM played the leading role in the
creation of this joint task force, designed to conduct naval and aerial patrols in the
Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the eastern Indian Ocean, in order to counter the
activities of terrorist groups in the region. The command authority for CJTF-HOA was
transferred to AFRICOM as of October 1, 2008.
Based since 2002 at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the CJTF-HOA is comprised of approximate
1,400 U.S. military personnel — primarily sailors, Marines, and Special Forces
troops. Under a new five-year agreement signed in 2007, the base has expanded to some
500 acres. In addition, the CJTF-HOA has established three permanent contingency
operating locations that have been used to mount attacks on Somalia, one at the Kenyan
naval base at Manda Bay and two others at Hurso and Bilate in Ethiopia. A U.S. Navy
Special Warfare Task Unit was recently deployed to Manda Bay, where it is providing
training to Kenyan troops in anti-terrorism operations and coastal patrol missions.
The CJTF-HOA provided intelligence to Ethiopia in support of its invasion of Somalia in
December 2006. It also used military facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya to
launch air raids and missile strikes in January and June of 2007 and May of 2008 against
alleged al-Qaeda members involved in the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia. At least
dozens of Somali civilians were killed in this series of air attacks alone, and hundreds
wounded. These were only a fraction of the toll of the fighting during the invasion, in
which hundreds of civilians were killed and over 300,000 people displaced by mid-2007.
By the end of 2008, over 3.2 million people (43% of Somalia's population), including 1.3
million internally displaced by conflict, were estimated to be in need of food
assistance. The U.S. air strikes made U.S. backing for the invasion highly visible.
Air Force AC-130 gunships struck al Qaeda targets in
Somalia on January 8, 2007, according to news reports. The reports said the AC-130
attacks hit an area called Ras Kamboni, a heavily forested area near the Kenyan border.
Source: U.S. Air Force (http://www.af.mil)
These military actions, moreover, represented only part of a broader counterproductive
strategy shaped by narrow counterterrorism considerations. In 2005 and 2006, the CIA
funneled resources to selected Somali warlords to oppose Islamist militia. The United
States collaborated with Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia in late 2006, overthrowing
the Islamic Courts Union that had brought several months of unprecedented stability to
the capital Mogadishu and its surroundings. The invasion was a conventional military
success. But far from reducing the threat from extremist groups, it isolated moderates,
provoked internal displacement that became one of the world's worst humanitarian crises,
inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment, and even provoked the targeting of both local and
international humanitarian operations.
In short, Somalia provided a textbook case of the negative results of
"aggregating" local threats into an undifferentiated concept of global
terrorism. It has left the new Obama administration with what Ken Menkhaus, a leading
academic expert on Somalia, called
"a policy nightmare."
Examining the Record: The Sahel
Less in the news, but also disturbing because of the wide range of countries involved in
both North and West Africa, is the U.S. military involvement in the Sahara and Sahel
region, now under AFRICOM. Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) provides
military support to the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) program,
which comprises the United States and eleven African countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso,
Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. Its goals
are defined on the AFRICOM web site as "to assist traditionally moderate Muslim
governments and populations in the Trans-Sahara region to combat the spread of extremist
ideology and terrorism in the region." It builds on the former Pan Sahel
Initiative, which was operational from 2002 to 2004, and draws on resources from the
Department of State and USAID as well as the Department of Defense.
Operational support comes from another task force, Joint Task Force Aztec Silence
(JTFAS), created in December 2003 under EUCOM. JTFAS was specifically charged with
conducting surveillance operations using the assets of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and to share
information, along with intelligence collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, with local
military forces. Among other assets, it deploys a squadron of U.S. Navy P-3 Orion
maritime patrol aircraft based in Sigonella, Sicily.
In March 2004, P-3 aircraft from this squadron and reportedly operating from the
southern Algerian base at Tamanrasset were deployed to monitor and gather intelligence
on the movements of Algerian Salafist guerrillas operating in Chad and to pass on this
intelligence to Chadian forces engaged in combat against the guerrillas. In
September 2007, an American C-130 "Hercules" cargo plane stationed in Bamako,
the capital of Mali, as part of the Flintlock 2007 exercises, was deployed to resupply
Malian counter-insurgency units engaged in fighting with Tuareg forces and was hit by
Tuareg ground fire. No U.S. personnel were injured and the plane returned safely to the
capital, but the incident signaled a significant extension of the U.S. role in counter-
insurgency warfare in the region.
These operations illustrate how strengthening counterinsurgency capacity proves either
counterproductive or irrelevant as a response to African security issues, which may
include real links to global terrorist networks but are for the most part focused on
specific national and local realities. On an international scale, the impact of violent
Islamic extremism in North Africa has direct implications in Europe, but its bases are
urban communities and the North African Diaspora in Europe, rather than the Sahara-Sahel
hinterland. Insurgencies along the Sahara-Sahel divide, in Mali, Niger, and Chad,
reflect ethnic and regional realities rather than extensions of global terrorism. The
militarily powerful North African regimes, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, have
very distinct experiences with Islamic extremism. But none have a record of stability
based on democratic accountability to civil society. And associating all threats to
security in Nigeria with the threat of extremist Islam is a bizarre stereotype ignoring
that country's real problems.
In his November 2007 paper on AFRICOM, cited above, Berschinski noted that the United
States and Algeria exaggerated the threat from the small rebel group GSPC (Salafist
Group for Preaching and Combat), officially allied with al-Qaeda. A scary, if
geographically inappropriate, headline in Air Force Magazine in November 2004,
heralded the threat from a "Swamp of Terror in the Sahara." The emphasis on
counterinsurgency, Berschinski argues, has disrupted traditional trade networks and
allowed local governments to neglect the need for finding negotiated solutions to
concerns of Tuareg areas and other neglected regions. In the case of Mali, Robert
Pringle — a former U.S. ambassador to that country — has noted that the U.S. emphasis on
anti-terrorism and radical Islam is out of touch with both the country's history and
Malian perceptions of current threats to their own security. The specifics of each
country differ, but the common reality is that the benefits of U.S. collaboration with
local militaries in building counterinsurgency capacity haven't been demonstrated.
U.S. troops deployed in Operation Flintlock 2004 conduct
training exercise in Niger.
Source: U.S. European Command
Cases to the contrary, however, aren't hard to find. In Mauritania, General Mohamed Ould
Abdelaziz overthrew the elected government in August 2008, leading to sanctions from the
African Union and suspension of all but humanitarian aid from France and the United
States. U.S. aid to Mauritania for the 2008 fiscal year that was suspended included $15
million in military-to-military funding, as well as $4 million for peacekeeping training
— and only $3 million in development assistance. More generally, the common
argument that U.S. military aid promotes values of respect for democracy is decisively
contradicted by what resulted in Latin America from decades of U.S. training of the
region's military officers. If democratic institutions are not already strong,
strengthening military forces is most likely to increase the chances of military
interventions in politics.
With at least a temporary withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the election of moderate
Islamic leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed as president of the transitional Somali government,
there is at least the option of a new beginning in that country. But no one expects any
quick solution, with all parties internally divided (including the insurgent militia
known as Al-Shabaab) and international peace efforts distracted by multiple agendas.
There will be a continuing temptation to continue a narrow anti-terrorist agenda, even
if this path is now more widely recognized as self-defeating.
In the region covered by Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara, the conflict in Chad,
where the World Bank abandoned efforts to ensure accountability for oil revenues, is
still intimately tied with the larger conflict in Darfur to the east, as well as with
the legacy of Libyan intervention. Although the United States has deferred to France in
active military and political involvement in Chad, it has also supported President
Idriss Deby, who has been in power since 1991 and changed the constitution in 2005 to
allow himself another term. Despite attacks by rebels on the capital in February 2008,
Deby retained control with French military assistance. In northern Niger, uranium
resources threaten to provide new incentives for the conflict with the Tuareg minority
reignited there and in Mali since 2007. Mali is generally seen as one of West Africa's
most successful democracies, but it's also threatened by Tuareg discontent which
requires a diplomatic rather than military solution.
Of particular strategic importance for the future is Nigeria, where U.S. military
concerns of anti-terrorism and energy security converge. As Nigeria specialists Paul
Lubeck, Michael Watts, and Ronnie Lipschutz outline in a 2007 policy study, the threat to Nigeria from
Islamic extremism is wildly exaggerated in statements by U.S. military officials. In
contrast, they note, "nobody doubts the strategic significance of contemporary
Nigeria for West Africa, for the African continent as a whole, and for the oil-thirsty
American economy." But the solution to the growing insurgency in the oil-rich Niger
Delta isn't a buildup of U.S. naval forces and support for counter-insurgency actions by
the Nigerian military. The priority is rather to resolve the problems of poverty,
environmental destruction, and to promote responsible use of the country's oil wealth,
particularly for the people of the oil-producing regions.
Currently, U.S. military ties with Nigeria and other oil-producing states of West and
Central Africa include not only bilateral military assistance, but also the naval
operations of the Africa Partnership Station and other initiatives to promote maritime
safety, particularly for the movement of oil supplies. In recent years, United States
military aid to Nigeria has included at least four coastal patrol ships to Nigeria, and
approximately $2 million a year in other funds, including for development of a small
boat unit in the Niger Delta. According to the State Department's budget request justification
for the 2007 fiscal year, military aid to the country is needed because "Nigeria is
the fifth largest source of U.S. oil imports, and disruption of supply from Nigeria
would represent a major blow to U.S. oil security strategy." In fact, maritime
security is a legitimate area for concern for both African nations and importers of West
African oil. Piracy for purely monetary motives, as well as the insurgency in the Niger
Delta, is a real and growing threat off the West African coast. Yet strengthening the
military capacity of Nigeria and other oil-producing states, without dealing with the
fundamental issues of democracy and distribution of wealth, won't lead to security for
African people or for U.S. interests, including oil supplies. Likewise, a military
solution can't resolve the issue of piracy in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.
The threats cited by U.S. officials to justify AFRICOM aren't imaginary. Global
terrorist networks do seek allies and recruits throughout the African continent, with
potential impact in the Middle East, Europe, and even North America as well as in
Africa. In the Niger Delta, the production of oil has been repeatedly interrupted by
attacks by militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
More broadly, insecurity creates a environment vulnerable to piracy and to the drug
trade, as well as to motivating potential recruits to extremist political violence.
It doesn't follow, however, that such threats can be effectively countered by increased
U.S. military engagement, even if the direct involvement of U.S. troops is minimized.
The focus on building counter-insurgency capacity for African governments with U.S.
assistance diverts attention from more fundamental issues of conflict resolution.
It also heightens the risks of increasing conflict and concomitantly increasing
hostility to the United States.
Continuity or Change
Will the Obama administration seriously reexamine the Africa policy it has inherited
from its predecessors? Or will continuity be the watchword? The few indications we have
so far, from campaign statements and Obama's choice of top officials, point to
continuity. Yet the critical tests will be in practice, as African crises force their
way onto the agenda even while the administration's energies are primarily focused on
more prominent domestic and international challenges.
Patterns from the Past
During his presidential bid, Senator Barack Obama's statements signaled continuity with
Bush administration policies on Africa, including security issues. Paralleling his
prominent remarks on Afghanistan, the candidate's reply to a questionnaire from the Leon
Sullivan Foundation in September 2007 noted that "there will
be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to
fight terrorism with lethal force," leaving open the door for attacks on Somalia.
In an article written for AllAfrica.com in September 2008, Witney Schneidman, deputy
assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration and
adviser on Africa to the Obama campaign, said the new administration "
will create a Shared Partnership Program to build the infrastructure to deliver
effective counter-terrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated
action against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa and elsewhere." He added that
the program "will provide assistance with information sharing, operations, border
security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and the targeting of terrorist
financing." Schneidman further argued that "in the Niger Delta, we should
become more engaged not only in maritime security, but in working with the Nigerian
government, the European Union, the African Union, and other stakeholders to stabilize
Even more significant a signal was Obama's choice of General James Jones (Ret.) as his
national security advisor. As commander of NATO and EUCOM from 2003 through 2006,
General Jones was an enthusiastic advocate of AFRICOM. U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations Susan Rice, who is well-placed to be an advocate for multilateral approaches to
peace in Africa, is nevertheless on record as having endorsed Bush administration air
strikes on Somalia at the time of the Ethiopian invasion. And she has been a prominent
advocate of direct bilateral U.S. military action in Darfur.
On February 9, 2009, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Phil Carter, speaking at the
Pentagon's Africa Center for Strategic Studies, opened his remarks with the claim that "the one foreign
policy success of the previous administration is Africa." He outlined four
priorities, beginning with "providing security assistance programs" to African
partners, followed by promoting "democratic systems and practices," "
sustainable and broad-based market-led economic growth," and "health and
social development." Although he prefaced his list of priorities with a reference
to support for ending conflict in Africa and "African solutions to African
problems," it's telling that the description of the security priority includes
military capacity-building and AFRICOM operations, but no mention at all of diplomacy.
Such indications do not give great confidence in any major shift in security strategy.
Nevertheless, there are also signals that U.S. officials, including some in the military
and intelligence community, do recognize the need to give greater emphasis to diplomacy
and development. The initial U.S. welcome to the election of moderate Islamist Sheikh
Sharif Ahmed as president of Somalia is potentially an indicator of a new approach to
that complex crisis. Incoming Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate in his first
annual threat assessment that "the primary near-term security concern of the United
States is the global economic crisis." Blair's survey covered traditional security
threats, including "extremist groups using terrorism," but also stressed the
need for the United States to not only deal with "regions, regimes, and
crises" but also participate in developing new multilateral systems.
For Africa in particular, realities call for a different ordering of priorities,
recognizing the significance of less conventional threats and the inadequacy of narrow
military responses. In a report released in February this year, TransAfrica Forum called for a new policy framework based on "
inclusive human security." Such a framework would require fundamental shifts
in thinking, stressing multilateral cooperation over unilateral initiatives, a broad
range of threats than only those from violent enemies, and investment in basic economic
and social rights over blind trust in the market.
U.S. Africa policy based on such a framework would look very different than that
outlined by Assistant Secretary of State Carter as the inheritance from the Bush
administration, even if containing many of the same elements. In the economic and
development arena, it should build on the example of the response to AIDS, both
multilateral and bilateral, to address African needs in health, education, food,
economic infrastructure, and the environment, with all countries paying their fair
share. The United States should open a genuine dialogue about trade and development
policy, instead of imposing rigid free-market policies that are systematically biased in
favor of rich countries. And the administration should draw on the insights and
contributions of the large community of recent African immigrants to the U. S., many of
whom are engaged in family and community projects to help their countries.
Within the arena of traditional security issues, the United States should minimize
bilateral military involvement with Africa, which risks sucking the U.S. into local
conflicts, in favor of multilateral diplomacy and peacekeeping, including paying U.S.
peacekeeping arrears at the UN. It should take care not to aid repressive regimes or to
prioritize military-to-military relationships, in favor of dialogue not only with
incumbent governments but also civil society. In short, it should shift from an emphasis
on counter-insurgency and building Washington-centered networks of influence with
African military establishments to an emphasis on U.S. participation in multilateral
efforts to enhance African security.
In theory, AFRICOM's activities, as well as related peacekeeping training programs
administered by the Department of State, should be integrated within overall U.S.
policy, including diplomatic action on African crises and collaboration with African,
European, and United Nations partners in peacekeeping operations. In practice, as the
Henry L. Stimson Center's Victoria Holt and Michael McKinnon have said, the United States has been ambivalent about multilateral action,
under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Democrats and Republicans alike have
approved and supported United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions. But the
United States is still regularly from $700 million to $1.5 billion in arrears on
owed the United Nations. And it failed to respond even to urgent requests for
essential logistical support, such as helicopters for the mission in Darfur.
Coordination of diplomacy with support for peacekeeping has been weak even within the
U.S. government, while the U.S. military remains opposed to U.S. participation in
multilateral operations that are not commanded by U.S. officers.
The most innovative U.S. program to support multilateral peacekeeping has been Africa
Contingency Operations and Assistance (ACOTA), administered by the State Department, and
part of the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) decided by G8 leaders in 2004.
This program has trained some 45,000 African peacekeepers since 2004, with a training
package and "train-the-trainer" components that are said to be based on UN
standards. Yet there is no evidence that this program is integrated into a broader
strategy of U.S. diplomatic priorities in Africa or capacity building in collaboration
with the United Nations. As a bilateral training program under exclusive U.S.
management, when the United States is also engaged in bilateral counter-insurgency
training and operations with many of the same countries, it inevitably raises questions
about the real priorities in military-to-military relationships.
The United States does have resources, particularly logistical and financial, that are
relevant for peacekeeping operations, and has the responsibility to make its fair
contribution as a leading member of the international community. But ensuring that these
actually contribute to peace requires a new framework, giving priority to multilateral
diplomacy and peacekeeping over bilateral programs.
Elements of a New Security Framework
Moving to a new framework isn't a matter of finding new formulas to replace the
inherited emphasis on building counter-insurgency capacity against terrorism and threats
to natural resources. There's no one prescription for those countries now facing violent
conflicts, much less for the wide range of issues faced by over 50 African countries.
Africa's serious problems, moreover, will not be solved from outside, either by the
United States or by the "international community."
Nevertheless, it's important to ensure that U.S. Africa policy does no harm and that the
United States makes a significant contribution to diminishing the real security threats
on the continent. Once one recognizes that U.S. national security also depends on the
human security of Africans, some essential elements of such a framework do become clear.
To what extent they can be embodied into practice will depend not only on the internal
deliberations of the new administration in Washington, but also on whether Africans
working for peace and justice on the continent can themselves chart new directions and
make their voices heard.
(1) Prioritize long-term inclusive human security.
At a global level, National Intelligence Director Blair's threat assessment echoed the
growing recognition that economic, environmental, and other "non-military"
threats can only be ignored at our peril. The implications for Africa policy should be
clear. The optimistic assumption that developing regions could be "delinked"
from the global economic crisis has quickly been abandoned. While there may be no direct
link between hardships deriving from economic, health, and environmental threats and the
threats of violent conflict, ignoring such broader threats is a sure recipe for
disaster. Investment in sustainable development, preserving the environment, democratic
accountability, and broad access to basic rights to health, education, and housing
between and within countries is not charity. It's only prudent. And solutions in Africa
and in the United States are interconnected.
Take an example from only one sector: energy and global warming. The development of
alternative energy sources in the United State can reduce the demand for oil, thus
reducing the presumed need to support oil-producing regimes regardless of their human
rights records. It's also essential to slow global warming, which is already having
severe consequences for the environment in Africa, even though Africa produces only a
small fraction of world's greenhouse gases. At the same time, the United States should
support efforts to make both oil companies and governments accountable for the use of
oil revenue, investing it both to benefit their citizens and to foster development
sectors not so vulnerable to the boom and bust of the oil economy.
None of these measures are easy, of course. Nor are they a substitute for resolving open
conflict in critical oil-producing regions such as the Niger Delta in Nigeria. But the
fact is no other approach has a chance of being sustainable. Prioritizing counter-
insurgency provides no short-cut. In such a context, providing U.S. military assistance
is only to add fuel to the flames.
More generally, U.S. policy toward each region of the continent — including
strategic countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and
the Democratic Republic of the Congo — must feature cooperation and dialogue on a
wide range of issues affecting human security rather than prioritizing military-to-
military relationships. As noted below, it is critical to foster new opportunities for
both societies and governments to dialogue about solutions to common problems of human
(2) Pay Attention to Crises, but Avoid "One-Size Fits All" Approaches.
Governments don't have the luxury, however, of paying attention only to long-term
structural issues. Immediate crises demand responses. Violent conflicts or failed states
have consequences not only for the lives lost and the countries directly involved, but
also for surrounding regions and for the continent as a whole. The costs of humanitarian
response from the international community multiply in proportion to the delays in
acting. And, as the surge of piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea has
recently reminded the world, the consequences are economic as well as humanitarian.
Within conflict zones, personal and collective investments in health, education, and
infrastructure can be wiped out in a matter of months.
The list of Africa's hottest crises is familiar: Sudan (including but not limited to
Darfur), Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe. Others fester as
well, out of the spotlight of the world's media: Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, and Uganda,
to name only a few. In each case, it's not only the countries and their immediate
neighbors that are involved. Other stakeholders, including regional African
organizations, the African Union, the United Nations, and global powers such as the
United States are called on to respond. And the responses — or failures to respond
— matter. But no "one-size-fits-all" response can possibly make sense,
and certainly not the AFRICOM model focused on building counter-insurgency capacity for
In shaping the mix of diplomacy, pressures, humanitarian, and peacekeeping actions that
have the best chances for success in any particular case, a unilateral U.S. approach is
sure to be ineffective or counterproductive. But simply advocating "African
solutions for African problems" is a rhetorical gimmick rather than a real
alternative. African political leaders must be part of the solution, and, with very few
exceptions, diplomacy must engage all parties to a conflict, including those most guilty
of aggression or human rights abuses. But those states closest to the crises, and
prominent in regional organizations, also have their own interests. Even when there
is consensus, such as with the creation of the African Union mission to Darfur, the
resources may be lacking, setting up such a solution for failure in advance.
And while the institutional capacity of the African Union for peacemaking is growing,
like the United Nations its effectiveness depends on member states and on the political
compromises among its leaders. The selection of Muammar Qaddafi of Libya as chair of the
African Union for 2009, for instance, isn't likely to signal increased capacity for
But the time has long passed for anyone to take current African heads of state as the
only spokespeople for the continent, or to focus hopes for change on replacing one
leader with another. Finding the best way forward in responding to crises or to Africa's
structural problems, must go beyond the top. Africa's resources for change and for
leadership are also found in civil society, among respected retired leaders and other
elders, and among professionals working both in governments and in multilateral
organizations, including both diplomats and military professionals. The challenge for
U.S. policy is to engage actively and productively in responding to crises, bringing
U.S. resources to bear without assuming that it is either possible or wise for the
United States to dominate.
(3) Build Institutional Capacity for Multilateral Peacemaking and Peacekeeping.
In contrast to the emphasis on building bilateral U.S. military ties with Africa, being
institutionalized in AFRICOM, U.S. security policy toward Africa should instead
concentrate on building institutional capacity within the United Nations, as well as
coordinating U.S. relationships with African regional institutions with United Nations
capacity-building programs. At the same time, it should work to ensure that both U.S.
and United Nations policies and operations with respect to African crises are
transparent and open to review by legislative bodies and civil society groups in Africa,
in the United States, and in other countries that are involved.
As of January 31, 2009, there were 91,049 uniformed
personnel on 16 United Nations peacekeeping missions, at an annual cost of about $7.1
billion. Of these, over 70%, or 65,270, were deployed on seven missions in Africa,
including 18,411 in MONUC (Democratic Republic of the Congo), 15,179 in UNAMID (Darfur),
11.963 in UNMIL (Liberia), and 9,999 on UNMIS (Sudan). Of the total uniformed personnel
on UN peacekeeping missions, the United States contributed 90, or less than 1/10 of one
This proposal for a new direction isn't based on any assumption that the United Nations
has the answer to Africa's crises. On the contrary. In a statement on February 23,
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, told
the Security Council that the organization's peacekeeping efforts are overstretched and
in several cases at risk of "mission failure." Missions in the Democratic
Republic of the Congo and in Sudan have mandates that far exceed their capacity, and the
Security Council has just voted two new mandates for forces in Chad and in Somalia.
"We face operational overstretch and, I would argue, political overstretch
too," he added. "There is a constant strain now between mandates and
resources, between expectations and our capacity to deliver."
Nevertheless, even governments as congenitally opposed to multilateralism as the
outgoing Bush administration have found United Nations peacekeeping to be an essential
resource. UN actions will always be dependent on the willingness of member governments
to cooperate, and vulnerable to indecision and bureaucratic delay. But it's long past
time to strengthen the institution's capacity for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Public
opinion around the world, and in the United States, has long favored increased
responsibility and resources for the United Nations. Polls in
late 2006 in 14 countries in different regions, for example, showed that majorities of
64% favored "having a standing UN peacekeeping force selected, trained, and
commanded by the United Nations." In the same poll 72% of U.S. respondents approved
this option. While the stereotype persists among U.S. policymakers that the public is
skeptical about the United Nations, polls consistently show strong public support,
including for payment of dues in full (
see Benjamin Page and Marshall Bouton, The Foreign Policy Disconnect,
University of Chicago Press, 2006).
Building United Nations peacekeeping capacity implies not only financial resources, of
course, but also internal and external oversight to check possibilities for corruption
and abuses, just as would be the case for governments in Africa or in the United States.
The framework for inclusive human security released by TransAfrica Forum in February,
for example, calls for new mechanisms to ensure civil society and legislative input and
review of both U.S. government and multilateral agencies.
Despite the expectations for change, it is likely that shifts by the Obama
administration in security policy toward Africa will only emerge piecemeal, if at all,
after appointment of new mid-level personnel and policy reviews reportedly under way in
every agency. The new president's popularity and the range of domestic and global
problems he faces are likely to give the administration a large window of opportunity
before disillusionment sets in. But events on the ground will not allow indefinite
delay. It will soon become apparent, in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, and perhaps in other crises not now predictable, to what extent African hopes
placed in President Obama will find answers in changes that make a difference for
Daniel Volman and William Minter, "Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa," (Washington,
DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, March 13, 2009).
Author(s): Daniel Volman and William Minter
Editor(s): Emira Woods and Emily Schwartz Greco
Production: Erik Leaver