Lesley on Africa practices small talk

On my About Me page, I alluded to the possibility of writing about my experience traveling in Africa – to add an entertaining counterweight to my more analytical rants and musings on the events unfolding on the continent. The following is a story about my attempt to bridge the gap between my previous work on conflict and my expanded portfolio, which sometimes includes health:

Guide: South Africa’s health facilities are among the best on the continent. Many people come here for medical treatment.

Lesley: Yes, I understand South Sudanese warlords come here for treatment.

Guide: (Awkward silence)

Lesley: (Makes mental note to draft better small talk points and practice with close friends. Or avoid social interactions altogether.)


The time I got acronymed into submission

Apologies for my unscheduled blogging hiatus. In addition to dissertating, I’ve been learning more about U.S.-Africa relations outside of security assistance and trying to find linkages to what I know best. Like the time I suggested that assistance to health systems should also be harmonized to address infectious disease among trans-border populations based on my knowledge of regional counterterrorism interoperability. But I digress.

People complain that I use too many acronyms. And although I am a huge supporter of efficient communications, this was more a function of working the world of security assistance. Terms like Forward Operating Base (FOB), Guidance for Employment of the Force (GEF), Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and Cooperative Security Location (CSL) were my language. And while these are still part of my lexicon, I’ve been given the opportunity to learn a whole new world of acronyms. Yay.

I was recently traveling across South Africa doing urban and rural site visits to learn more about the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). My lord, health people. I have never had to learn so many acronyms in such a short amount of time.

Let me give you a freebie – HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). But then we get to terms like Voluntary Male Medical Circumcision (VMMC), which if you say the acronym really fast, makes me think it’s actually Mixed Martial Arts Circumcision – which I kind of hope isn’t a real thing. Then we also have People Living with HIV (PLHIV), Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT), Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), Men who have Sex with other Men (MSM), Female Sex Workers (FSW), Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP).

So now the acronyms of the security assistance world seem super easy. Thanks health people. I have finally been acronymed into submission.

Four Weaknesses of South Sudan’s Military Integration Process

Originally published by Security Sector Reform Resource Centre on August 18, 2015)

In December 2013, South Sudan’s military integration process faced its most serious challenge, as a political crisis that had been developing throughout the year within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) suddenly escalated, dragging the country into civil war. Within days, Nuer elements of Division 8 in Jonglei state, Division 4 in Unity state, and Division 7 in southern Upper Nile state had defected from the military and formed an armed opposition. These units had been comprised of armed groups that had fought the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), but had since been integrated into the South Sudanese military. By February 2014, South Sudan’s parliament estimated that up to 70% of the SPLA had defected to the opposition.

The fragmentation of the SPLA certainly escalated the rate at which the political dispute metastasized into the civil war it is at present. However, the fighting that erupted between Dinka and Nuer members of the Presidential Guard and quickly spread to SPLA Headquarters at Bilpam in mid-December 2013 was a reaction to a political trigger. Consequently, beyond simple correlation, there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the government’s decision to integrate armed groups into the SPLA and the political crisis that led to the outbreak of conflict. Rather, a poorly managed, open-ended integration process and the failure of rightsizing initiatives left the SPLA in a state of arrested development, forestalling efforts to professionalize the military from gaining traction, and making the force more likely to fragment along factional lines during periods of heightened political competition.

(Read the rest of the post here.)

Highlights from SFRC Hearing on Security Assistance in Africa

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health held a hearing on U.S. Security Assistance in Africa. The hearing was webcast, and you can also find the testimonies of Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Puneet Talwar, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory, and Lauren Ploch Blanchard of the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Testimonies focused on security assistance programs that have been in place for several years as well as the new security assistance initiatives proposed within the last year (Security Governance InitiativeAfrican Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, and Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund).

 Highlights, taken directly from the testimonies, are as follows:

  • U.S. security policy addresses three broad priorities: peacekeeping and the prevention of additional conflicts, strengthening the security sector in partner states, and countering terrorism and other transnational threats.
  • U.S. security assistance still comprises a small percentage of overall U.S. foreign aid to Africa, but both have grown considerably. 
For historical context – in FY1985, security assistance for Africa was $168M, or about 17% of all U.S. aid for Africa at that time. 
By CRS calculations, security assistance for Africa in FY14 was approximately $800M (~$500M provided through State Department funds and ~$300M under DOD authorities), representing approximately 10% of the aid total for Africa.
  • Between FY10 and FY14, Department of Defense-appropriated security assistance represented 29% of U.S. security assistance to Africa. These Title 10 security cooperation funds totaled $53.7M in FY10 and $379.6M in FY14.
  • The increase in DoD (Title 10) funds in Africa has been tied to increased efforts to build African counterterrorism capacity through East Africa and Yemen Counterterrorism (1203), Global Train and Equip (1206 and 2282), and Global Security Contingency Fund (1207) authorities.
  • Relative to FY14, the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF), announced by President Obama at West Point last May, could represent a doubling of U.S. security assistance spending in Africa, and DoD’s FY16 budget request for CTPF would dwarf State Department-administered funds for the region – if funds requested in FY16 are appropriated and obligated as the Administration has proposed.
  • DoD’s FY16 budget request for CTPF includes approximately $1.27B (out of a global request of more than $2.1B) for East Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Sahel/Maghreb, building on planned DoD CTPF funding of more than $460M for these areas in FY15.

For many years, there’s been chatter about the U.S. military “ramping up” in Africa or some sort of “Africa Pivot” (a play on the “Asia Pivot” that was discussed earlier in the Obama Administration). In my opinion, the notion of an “Africa Pivot” ignores the reality that the continent still ranks relatively low in the global context of U.S. national security priorities. Regardless, the initiatives being developed and implemented are the biggest expansion of U.S. security assistance in Africa since the standup of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007/2008. The budget numbers show that while U.S. security assistance to Africa is increasing, it’s still a relatively small percentage of total U.S. assistance to Africa (10% in FY14, compared with 17% in FY1985). The increase in spending is tied to DoD (Title 10) programs that are focused on countering terrorism, which far outpaces State Department funding for non-military security assistance to law enforcement, border security, and criminal justice – as mentioned in the testimonies. I’d be interested to see how these percentages shake out once FY16 funds are appropriated and obligated, and whether this increase in security assistance to Africa – particularly for DoD – will continue into the next Administration. More importantly, I’d be interested to see how this expanded DoD security assistance will be monitored and evaluated, and how those results will contribute to the debate on whether the type of security assistance the U.S. offers “works.” (My thoughts on that here; the gist is that counterterrorism assistance is necessary, but insufficient to contribute to stability.)

In closing, I’d like to recommend Lauren Ploch Blanchard’s testimony as a valuable source on U.S. security assistance in Africa. Her testimony gives the historical context of such assistance, links it to evolving strategic guidance, fleshes out the various security assistance accounts, authorities, and programs, and previews the Administration’s FY16 budget request as it relates to security assistance in Africa. This is the (insert culturally appropriate religious text) of security assistance in Africa.

Buhari Against Boko Haram: What He Brings to the Fight

(Originally published in War on the Rocks on June 1, 2015)

Since February, the counter-Boko Haram fight has gained momentum, a function of the imperative imposed by a need to improve security prior to Nigeria’s elections, as well as increased regional cooperation with neighboring Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, and an influx of South African mercenaries. Yet, up until weeks before his loss to the newly inaugurated president Muhammadu Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan’s approach to Boko Haram was a microcosm of the ineffectiveness that plagued much of his administration. Buhari’s inauguration now raises the question of whether he can contain the spread of terrorism from northeastern Nigeria more successfully than his predecessor.

In spite of recent momentum, several factors are working against the new president — namely the damaged credibility of the Nigerian military, in which General (ret.) Buhari served for over two decades, including as a military ruler between 1984 and 1985. Formerly a major contributor to United Nations and regional peacekeeping missions, Nigeria eventually withdrew the majority of its forces from Mali and Darfur due to its difficulty managing the expansion of Boko Haram. Its reputation as a regional security provider bruised, Nigeria now has half as many peacekeepers in UN missions as it did in 2008. Morale is low, with some of the military’s rank and file asserting they have not received the training and equipment necessary to be effective in military operations in the northeast. Some soldiers have been fired for cowardice, while others have been sentenced to death for refusing to engage Boko Haram in combat. There have also been allegations of security sector corruption, which has eroded the military’s ability to fight Boko Haram.

(Read the Rest of the article on the War on the Rocks website)

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