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1 / JUNE 2009


U.S. Security Engagement in Africa
By William M. Bellamy

◆ Despite significant recent gains, Africa’s security environment remains fragile with a wide array of
ongoing and emerging threats placing great strains on already overburdened governments.

◆ United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa have realized some success in recent years, especially
when they have involved direct support from members of the Security Council.

◆ Much more cohesive interagency coordination under strong White House direction is required if the
United States is to contribute to Africa’s sustained stability given the region’s persistent conditions
of poverty, inequality, and weak governance.

A significant development in Africa over the as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the rebel-
past decade has been the generalized lessening of lion and repression in Darfur that continue to gen-
violent conflict. Revitalized, expanded international erate international outrage, and the prospect of a
peacekeeping, bolstered by a newly launched Afri- renewed north-south civil war in Sudan, where a
can Union (AU) determination to tackle security referendum on secession is scheduled for 2011.
challenges, has reinforced this trend. The 9/11 attacks also awakened U.S. officials
In most cases, however, progress made in to Africa’s broader vulnerabilities. With its porous
peacemaking remains fragile and tentative. More borders, ungoverned spaces, societal tensions, and
often, rebellions and insurgencies have been con- law enforcement shortcomings, Africa appeared to
tained by negotiated agreements that have not offer ideal territory in which terrorist or criminal or-
been followed by meaningful political accommoda- ganizations could seek refuge, acquire and stockpile
tions and other forms of compliance. It is thus far weapons, recruit members, conduct training, and
too soon to assume that African states have found plan operations without much fear of official inter-
permanent solutions to the political rivalries and ference. Many observers also consider Africa poten-
governance problems that lie at the root of most tially vulnerable to Islamist extremism. More Mus-
recent conflicts. A reminder of the difficulties fac- lims live in Africa than in the Middle East. Where
ing peacekeeping operations can be seen in the on- they live in communities undermined by poverty,
going disintegration of Somalia, which now rates unemployment, and a sense of exclusion and official

neglect (a situation that applies to many non-Mus- and fuel, intensified competition for diminishing
lim communities in Africa as well), it is arguable natural resources such as water, and dislocations
that they are prey to extremist messages and eventu- caused by environmental stress and climate change
ally to terrorist recruitment. seem certain to bring more pressure to bear on al-
Thus, chronic weaknesses that had previously ready overburdened African governments.
attracted the attention mainly of humanitarians
and development experts—poverty, joblessness, PEACEKEEPING SUCCESSES
disease, illiteracy, corruption, and weak gover- In recent years, the United Nations has quietly
nance—were discovered to have new strategic im- improved the effectiveness of its conventional peace-
portance. This situation fed a tendency to conflate keeping operations in Africa. The first turnaround
all forms of U.S. assistance to Africa—security, de- was in Sierra Leone where, despite initial humiliation
velopmental, and humanitarian—with overriding at the hands of rag-tag Revolutionary United Front
counterterrorism objectives. militias, a credible UN force was deployed to con-
Less spectacular but equally important will be tested areas of the country by mid-2001. Large UN
a host of new and less conventional security chal- peacekeeping operations also scaled up in the Demo-
lenges. Piracy is dramatically up in African waters, cratic Republic of Congo in 2001, in Liberia in 2003,
threatening commerce and disrupting humanitarian and in Côte d’Ivoire in 2004. All were Chapter VII
assistance operations. A growing number of African missions authorizing the use of force. All were gener-
states are becoming important transit points for nar- ally “successful” in that they either checked violence,
cotics serving European markets, though the drug helped establish conditions in which conflict could be
bosses and networks controlling this trade are rarely contained, or contributed to postconflict stabilization.
African. Other criminal activities, including illegal
fishing, human trafficking, and grand scale theft of oil “this situation fed a
in the Niger Delta, have expanded markedly, threat- tendency to conflate all forms
ening to destabilize already fragile governments. of U.S. assistance to Africa—
Official corruption remains an important con- security, developmental, and
tributing factor to the spread of criminal activities in humanitarian—with overriding
Africa. Yet even when governments are determined counterterrorism objectives”
to combat criminal influences, profound institution-
al deficiencies often prevent effective action. Africa UN operations were most successful where they
has the lowest percentage of police officers (180 per were effectively “sponsored” by members of the Se-
100,000 population) and judges per capita of any curity Council willing to unilaterally deploy resourc-
global region. And the effects of these problems do es in support of them. Thus, the United Kingdom
not remain localized: the United Nations (UN) Of- military presence in Sierra Leone, French military
fice of Drugs and Crime estimates that 58 percent of activities in Côte d’Ivoire, and strong U.S. backing
fraudulent insurance claims in the United States are for the UN operation in Liberia all appear to have
made by Nigerians. worked to create a more permissive operating envi-
Adding to this litany is the uncharted danger ronment for international peacekeeping forces.
that the worsening global financial crisis will re- This was also a period in which the newly
verse the strong economic growth that Africa has formed African Union legitimized for the first time
realized in recent years. Shortages of affordable food the principle of collective armed intervention un-
der AU auspices to restore peace or rectify egregious
violations of human rights or humanitarian law. A
Ambassador William M. Bellamy (Ret.) is the Director
of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. He was U.S. new Peace and Security Council was established
Ambassador to Kenya from 2003 to 2006 during which to oversee peace support operations, institute sanc-
time he directed U.S. security programs in the Horn of tions, and facilitate humanitarian action. Armed in-
Africa. He served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secre-
tervention capabilities were to be provided by five
tary of State for African Affairs (2001–2003).

standby brigades, one in each African subregion, Traditional security assistance and counterterror-
supplemented by a continent-wide reserve force of ism programs do not adequately address many of Af-
observers, police, and civilian personnel. rica’s emerging security challenges. Lawlessness and
Consistent with this new regional thinking, the escalating crime, for example, are not security trends
AU launched several peace support operations after that U.S. or African militaries can be expected to
2000. A small, 1-year deployment to Burundi pro- resolve. Nor are there traditional security assistance
vided some measure of security following a ceasefire solutions to the chronic instability that affects many
in 2003, although it failed to achieve its main ob- parts of Africa due to persistent conditions of pov-
jective of disarming rebels and facilitating political erty, inequality, and governance failures. Within the
dialogue. AU missions to embattled Darfur and So- U.S. Government, the State Department’s Bureau of
malia were far more ambitious and less successful.
While security gains are visible and encourag- “traditional security assistance
ing across Africa, they are fragile. In many places, and counterterrorism programs
the underlying causes and drivers of conflict have not do not adequately address
changed. Improvements in UN peacekeeping are en- many of Africa’s emerging
couraging, as is AU willingness to shoulder more re- security challenges”
sponsibility. But a deficit of real African peacekeeping
capacity remains. UN peace operations appear at their International Narcotics Control and Law Enforce-
upper limit in Africa, and globally: close to 90,000 UN ment (INL) is charged with combating international
peacekeeping personnel are today committed to 16 UN drug trafficking and organized crime, money launder-
operations worldwide. Some 70 percent of those per- ing, human trafficking, and building the capacity of
sonnel are in Africa for seven operations. Serious un- partner nation law enforcement and criminal justice
certainty persists regarding Africa’s capacity to respond systems. However, the $34 million that INL commits
to the next big crisis. The growing gap between expec- to Africa annually is clearly too little to qualify as a
tations and demands placed on peace operations argues coherent program of nonmilitary capacity-building.
strongly for a broad reassessment of UN peacekeeping More vigorous, better resourced diplomacy will
in Africa and a new strategy for easing current excess be essential to an effective U.S. response to Africa’s
commitments. It also argues for renewed multilateral security challenges. Well-targeted and sustained assis-
thinking on how to assist the African Union to sustain tance programs are likewise needed. But the United
confidence and enthusiasm for playing an active opera- States will be called upon to move beyond traditional
tional role in ending conflicts on the continent. remedies. Too often, U.S. interventions have been
reactive and compartmentalized, a weakness typified
U.S. SECURITY ENGAGEMENT by post-9/11 counterterrorism programs in Africa and
The United States has significantly enlarged by almost all forms of nonmilitary security assistance.
its security engagement in Africa in recent years. To adequately address increasingly complex security
This includes a U.S. military base in Djibouti, ac- challenges in Africa, the United States will need to be
tive counterterror programs, support for a massive more anticipatory in its actions and more coherent in
expansion of UN peace operations, and the launch bringing civilian and military resources to bear. With-
of the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM). By out improvement in interagency planning and execu-
explicitly designating security resources to Africa and tion, stronger State Department leadership, and more
consistently meeting its assessed obligations to UN forceful and effective White House oversight, the im-
peacekeeping, the United States has helped put Afri- pact of greater U.S. engagement on African security
can peacekeeping on more solid footing than at any issues will likely be limited.
time in the recent past. Yet this security enlargement
has not been effectively integrated with U.S. diplo- SIX U.S. PRIORITIES FOR AFRICA
matic and long-term developmental aims. Indeed, Create an Updated, Baseline Assessment
stark tensions persist across these three domains. of U.S. Security Interests in Africa. During the

Cold War, some strategists considered access to Direction. A striking feature of U.S. global engage-
Rhodesia’s and South Africa’s mineral resources vi- ment in recent years has been the steady growth
tal to U.S. interests. Today, some experts assign the of authority, responsibilities, and resources of the
same importance to West Africa’s oil. After 9/11, U.S. military as civilian diplomatic and develop-
Africa emerged as a potential hotbed of interna- ment capacities have declined. Initial resistance
tional terrorist activity. That perception has shifted to USAFRICOM from African governments and
significantly in recent years to a more focused and development partners stemmed in part from the
realistic appreciation of actual terrorist threats. At concern that a large and well-resourced command
the same time, new nonconventional threats have would inevitably overshadow and “militarize” U.S.
proliferated, and UN peace operations and the as- diplomatic and development programs across the
pirations of the African Union have become criti- continent. The Obama administration will need to
cal components of security in Africa. Some argue address these fears and ensure that U.S. policy in
Africa is carefully balanced among defense, diplo-
“among the most common macy, and development. The administration will
mistakes made by U.S. need a policy framework in which resources and
planners is to assume that capabilities across the U.S. Government are iden-
a robust American military tified and brought to bear in coordinated fashion.
presence is both a reassurance Complex security situations in individual coun-
to friendly governments and tries and subregions are an emerging reality in Af-
a deterrent to extremists and rica. It is not hard to envision a scenario in which
potential terrorists” multiple African governments must cope simultane-
ously with crises as diverse as increased urban law-
that China’s enormous commercial and diplomatic lessness, resource depletion and unrest in rural areas,
investment in Africa will inevitably set off both a the intrusions of international narcotics and orga-
scramble by outside powers for access and influence nized crime syndicates, and chaotic refugee flows
in sub-Saharan Africa and a strategic rivalry with from neighboring conflict zones. In such circum-
the United States. stances, the United Sates cannot afford a dispersal
Others see areas of convergence in U.S. and of the authorities and resources needed to mount an
Chinese interests in Africa and argue for greater effective response. American policymakers should
collaboration with China in enhancing African create an ongoing interagency coordination effort
peacekeeping capacity, for example, or strengthen- (State, Defense, and the U.S. Agency for Interna-
ing maritime security. Above all, the United States tional Development) at the regional level, under
needs a clear-sighted consensus on the security firm White House guidance, to pursue the highest
stakes in Africa today, one that is realistic and en- regional priorities.
compasses new threats and links between sub-Saha- Develop a More Coherent Approach to Com-
ran Africa and North Africa. It should include an bating Terrorism in Africa. At present, the threat
appraisal of UN and AU peace operations and mul- of international terrorists originating or operating
tilateral strategies for easing current overstretched in sub-Saharan Africa is limited. Policies should
conditions. If one concludes that Africa’s strategic acknowledge and reflect this reality rather than
importance in coming years will be linked less to continue to routinely depict sub-Saharan Africa
the threats of war or terrorism than to questions as a zone of high terrorist risk and critical con-
of socioeconomic advancement and effective gov- cern. Where active international terrorist threats
ernance, then enhancing African security will in- do exist—as in the Horn—the most effective U.S.
evitably be a more complex undertaking involving countermeasures will involve working closely
major nonmilitary and developmental components. with local partners who share U.S. strategic goals.
Balance and Integrate Military and Civilian Among the most common mistakes made by U.S.
Initiatives in Africa under Stronger White House planners is to assume that a robust American

military presence is both a reassurance to friendly Africa, overall responsibility for security assistance
governments and a deterrent to extremists and programs should rest with the State Department,
potential terrorists. In fact, many friendly African with USAFRICOM brought into the planning pro-
governments regard a large and visible U.S. mili- cess at the outset and given substantial responsibility
tary presence as a handicap and potential magnet for the co-design and implementation of military-to-
for both domestic political opponents and terror- military capacity-building. More emphasis needs to
ists in search of high-value targets in an otherwise be placed on strengthening institutions and capabili-
target-poor environment. Both Defense and State ties in African militaries rather than simply impart-
should devote more attention to correctly cali- ing mission-specific skill sets. Better criteria should be
brating the size and visibility of the U.S. security developed for assessing the effectiveness of assistance
presence in African host nations. programs, and less use should be made of U.S. pri-
As a matter of policy, military operations to en- vate sector contracts. Finally, renewed efforts should
gage individual terrorists or small groups should be be made to harmonize U.S. assistance with those of
undertaken only when more discreet means fail and other major donors, notably the United Kingdom,
after consideration of the implications of such ac- France, and other European Union states.
tions on other aspects of U.S. policy. The lack of a
clear chain of command has been a persistent prob- “more emphasis needs to
lem with U.S. counterterrorism policy in Africa. be placed on strengthening
Among the highest priorities should be to clarify institutions and capabilities
the respective authorities of Defense and State, and in African militaries rather
specifically of the regional combatant commander, than simply imparting
other relevant combatant commands, and U.S. Am- mission-specific skill sets”
bassadors in Africa with respect to theater counter-
terror policy and programs. As matters now stand, Develop Clear Strategies to Address the Rap-
considerable uncertainty exists in the field, among idly Growing Importance of Nonmilitary Security
civilian and military authorities alike, over respec- Needs in Africa. Weak or nonexistent laws, inade-
tive responsibilities in this area. quate police forces, shortages of trained prosecutors
Take a Hard-nosed Look at Traditional Mili- and judges, and pervasive corruption render many
tary Assistance Programs. Despite years of effort African states nearly defenseless against rising do-
and hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance from mestic and international crime. While African
the United States, most African militaries today are militaries are generally better organized and better
only marginally more professional and more capable resourced than civilian providers of security, task-
of operating in peacekeeping roles than they were 10 ing them to perform law enforcement duties is not a
years ago. Some militaries have regressed over the viable strategy. A top priority for U.S. Africa policy
same period. The net effect is that while African should be to develop a clear interagency consen-
states continue to contribute forces to UN peace- sus, under the shared leadership of the INL and the
keeping operations at a high rate, these forces re- Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, on
main less well trained, equipped, and led than most priorities and modalities for delivering nonmilitary
U.S. observers hoped when peacekeeping assistance security assistance in a more predictable, measur-
programs began in earnest. The AU remains far from able and sustained manner.
the goal of security self-sufficiency. Better Define the USAFRICOM Mission
Donor assistance has not always helped this pro- and Configuration. Despite significant progress
cess. Donors seldom effectively coordinate their se- under USAFRICOM commander General William
curity assistance to African states, and often pitch it Ward’s leadership, misgivings persist in Africa and
to meet their own localized security concerns rather internationally about the command’s role. To im-
than the longer term needs of recipient states. To prove both USAFRICOM’s reputation and effec-
improve and integrate U.S. security assistance in tiveness, the United States should:

◆◆ Determine (and emphasize publicly) that programs in Africa. Just as Secretary of Defense
the USAFRICOM core mission is cooperation with Robert Gates has urged that more resources be
African partner states in traditional areas of security made available to the State Department for sta-
assistance—and that the command’s greatest com- bilization and reconstruction missions worldwide,
parative advantage will be its ability to cooperate so too should USAFRICOM call for a doubling of
in a more coherent, effective, better resourced, and the roughly $250 to $300 million that the State
sustainable fashion. At the same time, the adminis- Department now spends annually on security pro-
tration should not downplay the USAFRICOM sta- grams in Africa. Increases in Foreign Military Fi-
tus as a combatant command. The likelihood of the nancing, the International Military and Education
command conducting combat operations in Africa Training program, and peacekeeping operations
may be remote, but this capability and potential role funding should be used to fund USAFRICOM en-
should not be dismissed or disguised. gagement initiatives.

◆◆ Single out maritime security cooperation ◆◆ Connect USAFRICOM priorities more di-
as a special USAFRICOM priority. The impor- rectly to UN and AU peacekeeping in Africa. The
AFRICA CENTER FOR tance of offshore oil and gas production in West AU now has an organizing structure through which
Director: Ambassador William Africa is well known. Of increasing international all international partners can coordinate. Moreover,
M. Bellamy (Ret.) concern are piracy, grand-scale oil theft schemes, with the UN present in virtually every corner of
National Defense University
300 Fifth Avenue, Building 21 narcotics shipments, human trafficking, and il- Africa, often in a security-building or peacekeeping
Fort McNair legal immigration in Africa’s mostly unpoliced capacity, it will be impossible for USAFRICOM to
Washington, DC 20319-5066
Phone: + 1 202 685-7300 coastal waters. Unchecked illegal fishing threatens operate for long without intersecting in some way
the livelihoods of millions of Africans, as does se- with UN activities. Whatever its operational short-
AFRICA CENTER vere environmental degradation in many maritime comings, the UN and its specialized agencies com-
IN DAKAR zones. African governments are beginning to con- mand respect and support from almost every African
Regional Manager: front these challenges, although maintaining navies government and from all levels of African society. To
Elisabeth Feleke
Phone: 221 33 869 61 00 and coast guards is still a low military priority for the extent that USAFRICOM is perceived as sup-
most of them. Many African states would welcome portive of UN security and peacekeeping missions,
AFRICA CENTER US AFRICOM programs to improve maritime sur- international acceptance of the command will grow.
veillance and enforcement capabilities. By helping
Regional Manager: to restore physical security, USAFRICOM could This Africa Security Brief was synthesized from
Kevin Crawford
Phone: 251 11 517 42 05 become an enabler of more broadly based “human Ambassador Bellamy’s “Africa Policy: Recom-
Email: security” initiatives in coastal Africa mendations for the Obama Administration,” in
U.S. Africa Policy Beyond the Bush Years: Critical
Editor: Joseph Siegle, Ph.D.
Challenges for the Obama Administration (Wash-
Phone: + 1 202 685-7300
◆◆ Increase both budgetary and personnel ington, DC: Center for Strategic and International
Email: support for State Department security assistance Studies, 2009).

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) supports the The Africa Security Briefs series presents research and analysis
development of U.S. strategic policy toward Africa by providing high- by ACSS experts and outside scholars with the aim of advancing

quality academic programs, undertaking policy-relevant research understanding of African security issues. The opinions, conclusions,



and analysis, and fostering awareness of and open dialogue on U.S. and recommendations expressed or implied within are those of
strategic priorities and African security issues. Toward these aims, the the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the


Africa Center is committed to building networks of African, American, U.S. Department of Defense or any other agency of the Federal


European, and international military and civilian leaders and articulating Government. For more information on ACSS visit the Web site at
African perspectives to U.S. policymakers.