Category Archives: U.S. Africa Strategy

Lesley on Africa attends DAWN Weekend


Dear Readers,

This weekend, I attended the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) 6th Annual Leadership Awards and had a blast meeting fellow DAWNers and supporters of DAWN. DAWN’s mission is to develop and support the next generation of African diaspora women leaders focused on African affairs by promoting the role of the diaspora in Africa’s development, diversifying the African affairs workforce, and advancing women’s leadership in the workplace. At the reception, DAWN handed out three awards:

The reception provided some very interesting food for thought, as I became involved in a sidebar on how the United States underutilizes its African-born, U.S.-educated population – many of whom maintain familial and commercial links with the continent – in its efforts to engage politically and economically on the continent. But I’ve digressed and shall leave it to a diaspora expert to expand upon how the U.S. could better leverage this talent pool.

The next day, DAWN held a conference whose theme was “Looking Ahead: Investing in Diaspora Leadership Today.” DAWN’s Founder and Executive Director Semhar Araia reminded participants that the African Union has recognized the African Diaspora as the “Sixth Region” of Africa. (The other five regions being North, South, East, West, and Central Africa).  With this recognition comes the acceptance that the diaspora is more than remittances; it can also wield political and professional capital.

So in sum: I had a fantastic DAWN Weekend and really enjoyed meeting the truly talented women that contribute to this organization. As a relatively new DAWNer, I look forward to being a part of DAWN and DAWNers’ contributions to the field of African Affairs. (DAWN is a global organization and it’s continuing to grow, so if you’re not already a member, join today!)

Lesley on Africa LOVES Fieldwork (or In Praise of Fieldwork)

As the title of this post so emphatically declares, I love when my projects require fieldwork. I’m working on a project in FY13 that has had me traveling to African Country A (Niger), African Country B (Chad), African Country C (Mali), African Country D (Senegal), African Country E (Morocco), African Country F (Algeria) and African Country G (Nigeria). (I’m currently in African Country H and am traveling to African Country I in early September.) And because of my fieldwork, I’m being forced to learn more about these countries and the United States’ relationship with them.

I love doing fieldwork not because I enjoy the unending abuse from Delta/Air France, but rather because I’m a hands-on learner. On this project and the others that preceded it, I’ve found that the assumptions I had before conducting fieldwork were contradicted, or my understanding of how a process did or did not work became more nuanced. I’ve learned, as government-types like to put it, how the sausage is made, and why said sausage sometimes comes out as a cob of corn to the dismay of the people responsible for designing and implementing programs. There is very little that can substitute for this type of learning experience.

Here’s an example of the types of things I’ve learned during my fieldwork in various African countries. Out of necessity, this description is in the abstract and combines the characteristics of multiple countries:

The United States sees the extremist Prophet’s Revolutionary Militia (PRM) as a threat and makes countering the PRM a focus of its programs in the neighboring African countries of Azania and Matobo. However various U.S. government agencies perceive the PRM threat differently and can’t agree on a comprehensive approach. State is concerned about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, while DoD believes the U.S. isn’t doing enough to counter the threat. Dissenters from both agencies believe the PRM isn’t even the right threat to be countering, and that U.S. programs should have a more comprehensive approach to support state stability. However, Azania and Matobo are marginal to global U.S. strategic interests, and a more comprehensive approach reeks of nation-building à la Iraq & Afghanistan. No thank you.

All U.S. government agencies are on the same page about working with the government of Azania because it has a history of democratic transitions, there’s freedom of the press, and the military has a close, longstanding relationship with the U.S. In Matobo, it’s a different story. The State Department is reluctant to work with the government of Matobo, which is a corrupt, nepotist dictatorship. The Defense Department, however, sees Matobo as a key counterterrorism ally and would like to increase military assistance, but State is concerned about governance, human rights, and upsetting the local balance of power within the country. The difference of U.S. government views on Matobo creates discord between State and DoD, whereas interagency relations with regard to Azania are much smoother.

The U.S. government wants Azania and Matobo to increase regional security cooperation to go after the PRM. Yet, Azania and Matobo are reluctant to work together to counter the PRM because the former believes the latter’s military intelligence leaks like a sieve and there are whispers that people in the Matobolese government have a tacit agreement not to go after the extremist group. In addition, Azania and Matobo have historical animosities due to Azania’s support for the independence movement in the Zangaro region of Matobo. This is why when the U.S. tries to hold multilateral exercises or regional conferences geared towards facilitating regional security cooperation that are held in either country, Azania will invite everyone but Matobo, and vice versa. This refusal to work together persists even though the PRM is increasingly gaining revenue from smuggling along the Azania-Matobo border.

Although limited by State’s resistance to military engagement, DoD conducts minimal training in Matobo. However, they routinely have to change their security cooperation plans if an exercise is planned when the dictator is in Europe receiving medical treatment. This is because no military assets are allowed to move if he is out of the country – this is how he prevents a coup. Engagement is also delayed by requirements to do Leahy vetting for each unit. In a country like Azania that has a long history of military professionalism this is not a problem, but the majority of units in the Matobolese military have been accused of involvement in the country’s three most recent coups, as well as of human rights violations within the disputed territory of Zangaro – even though the Zangaro incidents happened 20 years ago and didn’t involve the current soldiers in the tainted units. On top of this, Matobo is not great at keeping records, so it’s difficult for the U.S. to ascertain who was and was not involved in these violations. And on top of that, there’s a dispute within various elements of the U.S. government as to whether these units were involved in these violations. And on top of that, the dictator recently attempted to change the constitution to stay in power another 5 years, so the military just deposed him and intends to support a transition to democracy in 9 months. Since this is technically an unconstitutional change of government, all U.S. military assistance has been cut off.

The money originally designated for Matobo is reprogrammed to help Azania develop more robust border security, but both the Embassy and the Azanian security forces have a problem with absorptive capacity. Since Azania is a permissive environment for government & NGO programs and has few mechanisms to coordinate and deconflict these programs, funds obligated for Azania are not spent until two fiscal years later. In addition, donor nations eventually discover that they have parallel training programs that are training the Azanians on conflicting doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

The current Azanian president is very receptive to receiving more specialized military training from the U.S. However, the U.S. wants to train Azanian forces to go after the extremist PRM, while the Azanian government sees the PRM as more of a U.S. and European problem. Plus, everyone knows the PRM has a safe haven in Matobo from which they launch attacks into Azania, and the Azanians are annoyed that Matobo isn’t pulling its weight in countering the PRM. To complicate matters, the Azanian force designated for U.S. training is not well resourced by the Azanian government because they only have a Captain in charge of their unit. Other Azanian security forces, which may have overlapping missions and compete for influence, have Brigadier Generals in charge and they have the background and political capital to ensure that their forces are well resourced. For these reasons, the force led by the Captain stays in a training cycle and never becomes an operational force that can operate independent of U.S. assistance. Therefore, specialized training never takes root in Azania.

Oh and guess what. There’s been an election and the new Azanian president was indicted by the ICC for his alleged incitement of violence during a previous election cycle, so security cooperation is now experiencing a “strategic pause.” The Azanians have wisely anticipated that U.S. military assistance has strings attached and they’ve recently diversified their security cooperation relationships. They now receive most of their training from European Country X and Asian Country Y.

Hopefully, this little story gives you a sense of the types of factors I’ve come to understand better once I see them in play 🙂

Comments on President Obama’s Africa trip & US-Africa relations published in Think Africa Press

Today, President Obama kicks off his second visit to Africa as since becoming president, and will be visiting Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania over the course of the next week. Accordingly, Thomas Tieku, Mwangi Kimenyi, Cobus van Staden, Witney Schneidman, and I are featured in Think Africa Press’ Experts Weekly: What Next for US-Africa Relations?

My comments in particular refer to the emphasis the Administration placed before the President’s visit to the continent in 2009 on including Ghana in a multi-region tour that included Russia and the G8 in Italy to demonstrate that Africa was ‘not a world apart, but a part of our interconnected world.’ (See the reference to this concept in the full text of his July 2009 Ghana speech). Four years later, this emphasis has been lost. Check out the rest of what I have to say about the significance of the President’s visit, as well as the contributions of my colleagues!

Advancing Peace and Security in Africa

The Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings has just published a new report – “Top Five Reasons Why Africa Should Be a Priority for the United States.” The format of the report is as follows (and includes a contribution from yours truly):

  • Introduction: Why Africa Matters to the United States by Mwangi Kimenyi
  • Advancing Peace and Security in Africa by Lesley Anne Warner
  • China in Africa: Implications for U.S. Competition and Diplomacy by Yun Sun
  • Key Sub-Saharan Energy Trends and their Importance for the U.S. by John P. Banks
  • Transforming the U.S.-Africa Commercial Relationship by Witney Schneidman
  • U.S. Development Assistance and Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities for Engagement by George Ingram and Steven Rocker

In my section on Advancing Peace and Security in Africa, I argue that the United States should:

  1. Rebalance U.S. engagement with African countries so that it is more proactive than reactive.
  2. Establish multi-year funding authorities for building partner capacity programs.
  3. Address the deficient capabilities of African law enforcement personnel.
  4. Continue to support regional and sub-regional mechanisms for conflict resolution.
  5. Use ongoing insecurity in the Sahel as an impetus to re-evaluate the scope of U.S. military engagement on the continent.

Hope you get a chance to take a look at both the remainder of my section and those of my fellow contributors!

AFRICOM Testimony to SASC: Part II (Projected Impact of Sequestration)

During General Ham’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) earlier this week, he delivered prepared testimony and responded to questions posed to him by members of the committee. (You can find the archived webcast of hearing here.) Most of the questions concerned AFRICOM’s posture for crisis response operations, which I covered in an earlier blog post, and the projected impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s missions. Here’s a few points I found interesting:

On Sequestration:

At several points of the hearing, there were discussions centered around the need for the Department of Defense (DoD) to determine how, in an era of budget cuts, the military should be postured to respond to crises on the continent.

  • When asked how AFRICOM could increase response time while maintaining a relatively small footprint, General Ham responded that we (I’m unclear if he was referring to the United States in general or AFRICOM in particular) are much better at prevention than response. He further stated that prevention is much cheaper, but necessitates a better understanding of the operating environment – hence the preoccupation with increasing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.
  • Earlier in the hearing, General Ham had been asked about reductions in flight hours that have already resulted from sequestration, and have impacted the Command’s ISR capabilities. In his response, he mentioned that most operations are funded by the services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Special Operations) through their components of AFRICOM. Two of these components, U.S. Air Forces, Africa (USAFAF) and U.S. Naval Forces, Africa (USNAVAF), have had to constrain their flight operations due to service component funding challenges. General Ham further explained that he’d asked the USAFAF commander to maintain the component’s transport aircraft in a heightened alert posture so that they could move crisis response forces more readily. This, however, requires that the component sustain flight crews on a heightened alert posture, which cuts into normal training and sustainment flights. As a result, the component was having trouble funding both requirements. Similarly, the Navy has had to decrease the frequency of some of its operational reconnaissance flights – again because of the inability to fund its normal flight operations.

General Ham was asked if he was seeing the financial impact of budget cuts on AFRICOM’s U.S. government partners, given that some of AFRICOM’s roles are shared by the State Department, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), etc. He replied that he has seen an impact on the non-Department of Defense (DoD) assets upon which they depend, and implied that if sequestration continued for the balance of the year, that there would be very real consequences on what the State Department would be able to deliver.

When asked about the impact of sequestration on AFRICOM’s ability to train African militaries, General Ham replied that budget cuts may cause some exercises and training to fall by the wayside. A potential upside, however, was that this may lead AFRICOM to seek out opportunities for multinational building partner capacity engagements, since most training has been bilateral. (Here, I’m assuming he was talking about greater collaboration with European allies in Africa.) He also said that with sequestration, DoD may need to revisit last January’s Defense Strategic Guidance.

Finally, a member of the SASC asked if sequestration would precipitate a shift in AFRICOM’s strategy, General Ham replied that he didn’t believe such a shift would give primacy to the use of U.S. forces in military interventions. He explained that although it may be faster to use U.S. military forces, the use of such forces would be counterintuitive because it would ultimately increase the long-term the demands on the U.S. military. The current building partner capacity approach, on the other hand, allows the United States to rely on other nations, thus reducing the demand for U.S. forces.

There were some other interesting parts of the hearing that did not directly relate to crisis response operations or sequestration, but I’ll sum those up in another post later this week.


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