United States Military Engagement in Africa: More Engagement, Less Military


Africom- via Newsone

I read a nice blog post at the Center for Global Development recently on US military engagement on the African continent, the main points of which can be summed up as follows:

“1.Africa is not a threat to the United States
2.Terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy
3.Unintended consequences cause serious harm [drones + militarized aid]
4.Stable, accountable states are ultimately the highest interest of the United States in Africa.”

The piece concludes:

I welcome US military engagement with African militaries in support of developing more professional, accountable African security forces that protect and defend their citizens rather than prey upon them. Ultimately, this contributes to stable, inclusive, and accountable states and best serves US interests in Africa, including with respect to counterterrorism.

Yes and No.

The counter-terrorism agenda in Africa is seriously harming the continent, never mind US relations with African countries. AFRICOM is facing tough times within the U.S.  Department of Defense itself, not to mention the tough resistance it is facing from other African states.

Engagement with African militaries in support of better security forces is most certainly needed, and if the United States is one country able to answer that need in a correct manner, then sure, why not. But the predatory nature of security forces on the continent, their inefficiency, lack of communication, accountability and outreach are all problems with their counterparts in what some call the broader security system and others call the security sector.

So if these problems are addressed solely by the Department of Defense, it is missing the systemic nature of many security issues. Rule of law, good governance and accountability within the military and police, but also within the justice system, informal policing bodies, local government and others are inextricably connected to security. To leave that to DoD, as it is being done, is just as much part of the problem.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) at the Department of Defense is one example of a more soft power approach to African security relations, which incorporates elements of human security in their outreach programs to African countries. All well and good, but its very military-centric approach means that there are very few non-‘traditional’ security sector actors (non-military, non-police, non-gendarmerie) at their workshops. The discussions they have and the recommendations they make are rather shallow, and have little resonance when it comes to questions of governance or human security.

But imagine if DoD research and engagement centers cooperated more, not with AFRICOM like they do, but with the State Department, with civil society actors on the U.S side, such as the National Democratic Institute to systematically engage African partners year after year on holistic security concerns… then maybe I would agree more with the author of this otherwise very on-point piece.

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Chris Blattman

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