Security assistance in Africa needs an industrial boost

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Ethiopia’s civil war with its population of Tigray is now a national emergency. The violence escalated so much last week that the US State Department advised all Americans to leave the country using “trade options” – a sign the local embassy may not be able to support their exit.

Reports of concentration camps, massive famine and ethnic cleansing are common. It should therefore be noted that Ethiopia received over $ 1 billion in foreign aid from the United States last year – more than any other African country except Egypt. Unfortunately, these tragedies are not isolated events.

Over the past year, Africa has seen four successful military coups, two escalating civil wars, the assassination of a president and numerous humanitarian crises. As the United States continued its strategic pivot of terrorism in the Middle East to compete with China, thousands of Africans have been killed by violent extremists.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of US aid to countries like Ethiopia goes to emergency response efforts designed to strengthen the security sector and respond to crises, not necessarily prevent them. This means that infrastructure development, education, governance and other “soft power” initiatives combined are less than the emergency response budget.

Since 2001, the national security policies of Western powers such as France, Britain and the United States towards Africa have relied heavily on limited counterterrorism efforts and covert security cooperation activities. . They could be called “on the horizon” strategies.

Prior to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden pledged to stay focused on terrorist groups that the US Africa Command recently assessed as global threats, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya. . The presence of around 6,000 US troops on the continent means that the Defense Department is uniquely positioned to assist in these efforts, especially with its newly formed special operations teams and advisor units. But security assistance alone is not a panacea to Africa’s challenges.

The 2017 deaths of four special operations soldiers in Niger sparked an outcry in Congress that has scrutinized U.S. forces and their effectiveness in Africa. This scrutiny was magnified in January last year when al-Shabaab extremists attacked a small military air base in Kenya, killing three Americans and destroying several planes.

At the end of 2020, President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all troops from Somalia, although airstrikes were there did not stop under the Biden administration.

Security cooperation in Africa continues to face challenges not with the ability of the US forces sent there, but with the host nation’s ability to translate the military gains achieved through its foreign advisers into economic stability and long term policy. Killing terrorists is a good idea in meetings, but it does little to erode the institutional frameworks that give extremist organizations their legitimacy, such as government corruption, lack of infrastructure, ideological indoctrination, and the fragility of political and military systems. Developing effective approaches to security assistance in Africa requires new thinking about the nature of public-private partnerships there.

During his testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy in July, Landry Signé, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, highlighted Africa’s enormous untapped economic potential. . The continent has seen a 300 percent increase in trade over the past decade and is expected to generate an estimated $ 16.12 trillion in consumer and business spending by 2050. The US government’s Prosper Africa initiative aims to capitalize on this growth, but more programs that cut through the public – a private sector division is needed.

Sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to have more than 600 million mobile subscribers by 2025, nearly double the population of the United States. While cell phones were almost non-existent in Africa just 20 years ago, mobile technologies now generate 8.6 percent of the region’s GDP, demonstrating remarkable potential for jobs and economic growth. Chinese telecoms agencies, such as Huawei, have apparently cornered this market in Africa, and large US companies are taking note.

Google’s announcement last month of plans to invest $ 1 billion in Africa’s tech infrastructure – including the installation of submarine cables – coincided with the company’s renewed interest for the Pentagon cloud computing contract. This opportunity should raise eyebrows in Washington. Until recently, America’s tech giants were rather reluctant to invest not only in defense projects but also in a continent that by 2050 could be home to a quarter of the world’s population.

China, on the other hand, has pledged billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across Africa over the next 10 years through its bold “Belt and Road” initiative launched in 2013. While the US exports to Africa have declined 66% over the past 15 years, those to China have increased 233. percent, making it the continent’s largest trading partner. This enables China to pursue low-risk, high-return policies that are embedded in the long-term political and economic fabric of its African client states. Beijing’s soft power approach deserves more attention, given that the Biden administration’s interim national security strategic directions and the U.S. government’s 2022 budget both prioritize competition with China. .

As the strategic landscape shifts to the Pacific, some budgets tighten, and the United States is forced to restructure its priorities, Congress will have to answer tough questions about its investments in Africa. If not tailored properly through broader partnerships and aggressive industrial development, US security efforts in many African countries risk becoming a microcosm of their policies in Afghanistan: a series of impressive tactical victories culminating in to a strategic failure.

Captain Michael P. Ferguson is a United States military officer, author and analyst with decades of operational experience throughout Southwest Asia, Africa and Europe. He frequently contributes national security content for various outlets.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or policies of the United States Department of Defense or the United States government.


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