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More Than Military Might
Thursday, February 4, 2016
The United States should support integrity training and economic development to establish stability in Africa.
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Earlier this month, at its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, the U.S. Africa Command announced a five-year plan: With respect to the Islamic State group-aligned Boko Haram in West Africa and the failed state of Libya, home to an Islamic State satellite province, "contain" the threat.
In contrast, in war-torn Somalia, home to the al Qaida-affiliated al-Shabab militia, "neutralize" the threat and hand over responsibility for securing the country to the Somali government under the aegis of the African Union Mission in Somalia. Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Guinea and Central Africa, disrupt smugglers' routes and the criminal cartels that use them to traffic in people, weapons and drugs. And for all these troubled lands, develop a cadre of Africans to serve as peacekeeping forces and disaster assistance providers for a generation to come.
This vital agenda is ambitious for a small command with only one permanent base on the African continent (in Djibouti). With limited resources, AFRICOM appears to be pursuing a triage approach: Deal a deathblow to the militia in Somalia that has been most effectively degraded in recent years while striving to weaken and limit the spread of the Islamic State group and its potent West African ally, Boko Haram, both of which appear to have the wind at its back.
The concurrent goals of interdicting criminal networks and preparing African troops to hold their own territories go to the heart of the challenges the continent faces: Terrorism thrives in environments where the government is either too corrupt to provide for its people, too dysfunctional to fight its enemies or both.
Organized crime, snaking across Africa, is both a symptom of this dynamic and a lifeline to those criminals who kill not for greed but for ideas: In the 21st century, there is so much overlap between those who traffic in weapons and those who use them, for example, as to make it difficult to draw a clear distinction between the two.
Without minimizing the difficulty of countering the likes of the Islamic State group, the second set of goals – building governance and demolishing cartels – is a challenge that goes beyond what military might can do. Consider, for example, that the smugglers' routes of Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea – themselves only a small portion of a criminal architecture spanning the continent – are not only a lifeline to terrorists, but also a livelihood to legions of poor people in economically barren areas with bleak prospects for work.
Without a parallel program to develop the economies that immediately surround the criminal activity, Western militaries may be viewed by much of the local population as a disruptive force, not concerned with their well-being.
Consider as well that most of the training provided by African soldiers from their Western partners is purely technical in nature – how to fight, how to shoot – and therefore entirely transferable. In other words, absent an educational component that teaches the African brigades why they are fighting to protect the borders of a state – why the cause of nation building is a virtue and the cause of a false caliph is a vice – their loyalty is vulnerable, both to the ideological overtures of the Islamic State group as well as the promise of a better life from criminal enterprises.
Americans have seen the result of the latter trend repeatedly: In Afghanistan, an unacceptable number of American-trained troops joined the Taliban and the heroin cartels. In Iraq, years of soldier training did not yield a fighting force capable of defending or taking back the country from the Islamic State. And in Syria, there has been enormous crossover from the Free Syrian Army supported – to some degree – by Western nations to the jihadist groups the United States now fights.
This past week saw reports that the United States is mulling a new military deployment in Libya with the goal of stopping the Islamic State group from taking over the country. If the plan is pursued, it would signal a commitment of resources beyond those currently available to AFRICOM.
But meanwhile in Libya, the bright hopes of 2012 for a sustained American commitment to political and economic development are long since gone. That shortcoming on the part of the United States is inseparable from the conditions that brought about civil war and jihadist enclaves in the country in the first place, now perhaps requiring an even greater expenditure of hardware and brawn to mop up the mess. What applies to Libya applies to its many neighbors south of the Sahara as well.
A facet of these problems, in turn, was dramatically illustrated by a new report from Transparency International, the Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index for Africa, which documents the massive graft in defense expenditures across the continent. In nearly every country in Africa, funds and equipment are systematically plundered – at every level, from senior defense ministry officials to rank-and-file soldiers – such that 47 out of the 54 African countries surveyed received a failing or near-failing grade.
AFRICOM's leadership is not unaware of these problems. In 2012, Maj. Gen. Charles Hooper, then the command's director of Strategy, Plans and Programs, acknowledged the interplay of crime and corruption, economic malaise and terrorism in a significant article in the "Joint Forces Quarterly."
It was clear from his formulations, and numerous other statements from AFRICOM officials, that there was a desire to invest what was needed for the economic development of the organization's partnering nations. But defense cutbacks and the general relegation of Africa to the backwaters of Washington policy have prevented the United States from acting on these instincts. Meanwhile, the problem of providing integrity education to African troops alongside their weapons training remains largely absent from American deliberations.
The U.S. can and should do more on both tracks. With respect to economic development, it can build on the principles of partnership to which the White House committed during the 2014 African Leaders Summit in Washington, and the goodwill generated by the president's landmark visit to Kenya a year later.
With respect to integrity training, the U.S. also has proven capacities that can be applied to Africa. In Colombia and Mexico over the past two decades, for example, a small American nongovernmental organization with U.S. government support was able to introduce curricula and training modules to bolster security-sector trainees' commitment to their nation-states and the populations they serve.
They learned that by serving the people with integrity and living by the laws of the state they were sworn to uphold, they ultimately protected themselves and enriched their environments by supporting the conditions necessary for an economy to flourish. Migrating this expertise to Africa is nothing less than a global security priority.
It should also be recognized that some countries in Africa have indeed managed to build viable polities, secure them and sustain them – and can do much to assist the goals of stabilization to which AFRICOM aspires. One such country is Morocco, a staunch American ally. Its king, Mohammed VI, put it well in a landmark speech in which he reflect on the continent's needs.
"Whether we look at it from the angle of the continent's dynamic forces, its resources or its potential, Africa is a great continent. It therefore has to take its destiny in its own hands. Africa is no longer a colonized continent. This is why Africa should learn to trust Africa.
Our continent does not need assistance so much as mutually profitable partnerships. Africa needs human and social development projects much more than it needs humanitarian aid." As Americans hopefully work harder to support the sustainability necessary to move forward alongside security in Africa, they will find many friends, all-too willing to lend a hand.
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