The State of Security in Africa
Panelists discuss the current state of security in eastern and central Africa, with a focus on the region’s prominent terrorist groups, as well as U.S. policy in the region and U.S. security assistance to areas of heightened conflict.
ROBINSON: Good afternoon. I’m Linda Robinson. I’m a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, and I will be presiding over this meeting today.
We have four superbly qualified panelists. And you do have their bios, so I’m not going to go through individual introductions. We have a lot of ground to cover today. This is such a complex region. We have a terrific turnout. So I want to try to conduct the meeting in a way that will get everyone into the conversation.
The way I’d like to start is to go through some of the main hot spots in Africa, and then broaden out to some regionwide issues and some policy recommendations. Some of you may follow the AFRICOM annual posture statement. So I thought I would start just by referencing that there are lines of effort in the AFRICOM theater campaign plan. And the first three are, number one, neutralize al-Shabab and transition to the government of Somalia lead. Degrade violent extremist organizations in the Sahel/Maghreb, and contain Libya. And number three, contain and degrade Boko Haram.
And I think this is probably a good place to start, just using the AFRICOM priorities and their own approach to security in Africa. And you are all free to dispute those priorities and add comments of what you think should be the priority for the U.S. government. But I think it’s a convenient way to organize the beginning of our discussion.
And since Amanda Dory, who was the deputy assistant secretary of defense very recently, I think she’s the—the probably the freshest eyes on the campaign plan that AFRICOM was attempting to execute. So could I ask you to start, please, and just give us your idea of the—what appears to be a worsening situation in Somalia and East Africa, relative to a couple of years ago, with attacks on the rise, drone strikes have increased in the last couple of years. AMISOM is set to begin withdrawing. And yet, it appears the Somali National Army is not yet ready. So if you could start perhaps with your perception of Somalia and then look at those other priorities and give us kind of a scene setter.
DORY: Sure. Thank you very much. Thank you for the invitation. This is my first chance as an academic now to have a chance to engage. So I appreciate it.
I think I’d like to start by asking that we all start by taking off our violent extremist organization, VEO, lenses for just a moment, which is the way we tend to look at Africa, for those who don’t spend time on it day in, day out. And I think it’s important because you’re talking about 54 different countries on different trajectories. And when we use the small-map, big hand technique to say, you know, these dozen countries should be colored red because they have a violent extremist organization problem set, it’s very reductionist and it tends to leave out all the countries that are doing reasonably well, which is the majority of them—in particular, the littoral countries, the southern African countries. So I will do my duty and answer your question, but I just wanted to frame by saying the majority of Africa is doing reasonably well for this phase, when you think about their independence, in many cases, about 50-60 years ago, and the process of both political development and economic development associated with that.
So to drill in on the dozen or so countries that are the ones that we pay a lot of attention to, if you look across the Sahelian band, you have half a dozen countries there that are experiencing challenges. The countries of the Lake Chad Basin and then Horn of Africa, as you’ve mentioned. And not to leave out North Africa, which in some geographies is included bureaucratically and some isn’t. But Libya remains a concern, clearly. But I think what you see, if you take a step back, is situations where external organizations—Islamic State and al-Qaida—have been able to inflame a series of grievances in these different countries. And you see a competition now between those groups playing out.
But it’s important to look at the trend lines. And I’m grateful to organizations like the ACLED database, the University of Maryland database that keep such painstaking track of the statistics, because it’s easy to get kind of lost in the day-to-day attack information and news, and feel like the continent is on fire and Somalia is on fire, as you mentioned at the outset. But when you look at the data, the overall trends are somewhat improved in terms of the number of attacks and fatalities since a high point in 2015. That’s not to minimize, though, that more than 30,000 Africans have died at the hands of different extremists in the last five to six years or so.
Your focus on Horn of Africa I think is important. The United States has committed significant resources to Somalia, in particular, over time. And there are some key issues in terms of the trajectory of the AMISOM peacekeepers there, the government formation that’s in process, and the continuation both of Al-Shabab attacks and then Islamic State trying to secure a little foothold in the northern part of the country. So I don’t want to take too much more, so I’ll stop there.
ROBINSON: Thank you. Good, yes. And obviously these issues we can come back to and elaborate on. And I’m sure there’ll be questions from the audience.
General Ham, since you left command as AFRICOM commander in 2013, I thought it would be very useful for us to hear how you compare the scene then with the scene now. And I might just, since Amanda did make some comments about Somalia, and you, of course, were the commander during the Libya operation, to include—because it is certainly in the AFRICOM area of responsibility if not—the State Department lines are different. But I think it’s important to include North Africa, Northwest Africa, the Sahel. And as I understand it, the expectation had been that East Africa was kind of going to be going well with the program of relying on AMISOM and the regional approach, and that more emphasis would need to be placed on the Boko Haram and now ISIS West Africa. Know that the focus of AFRICOM would shift to the west and the north. That may or may not be valid now. So I’d just like to get your views of the environment.
HAM: Well, thanks, Linda. And thanks to the Council for the invitation. I would note this year, 10 years since the establishment of the United States Africa Command. And as you all recall, everything was peaceful and calm in Africa till Kip Ward showed up—(laughter)—and then it was—you know. But as the founding father of AFRICOM, Kip, thanks for that.
I think, Linda, your comment about Somalia struck me. And it’s easy to look at Somalia and say, oh my goodness, it’s a—it’s a disaster and things are, you know, on a downward slope in many areas. But I think it’s also important to take a step back and say: Compared to what? You know, if we are expecting Somalia to be Switzerland, we’ll probably have set unrealistic expectations. I think there are, despite the ups and downs of security across Somalia, there are some very good things that have happened in Somalia.
And at the top of the list I think is the fact that it has been an African-led effort. That should not go unnoticed, because that—certainly from the command standpoint beginning with General Ward, and I think, continuing on through General Waldhauser today, has been one of the principles is that we are better off—the United States is better off—when military activity, security activities, are principally led and conducted by Africans. And certainly, the United States has a role in that, to be sure.
So I think when we look at Somalia, one of the questions to ask ourselves is if AMISOM didn’t exist, if the United States and other partners had not been supportive of AMISOM and others, where would Somalia be? And I think while that’s a bit of an imprecise science, it’s hard to imagine that Somalia would be in a better place without AMISOM, without the United States’ involvement. I think the model that AFRICOM has adapted under General Waldhauser’s lead of advise, assist, and, when authorized and when appropriate, to accompany African forces on operations is a good tool. To use the uniquely American capabilities to augment African forces I think is a—is a good role for us.
The fact is that there are people in Somalia and other places in Africa who need to meet their maker sooner than they’re currently planning. And if we can assist the Africans in doing that, I think that’s an appropriate role for us in Somalia. Again, it’s not—it’s not wonderful, but we’ve seen just fairly recently the graduation of a large number of Somali soldiers trained by the European Union training mission. That’s progress. It’s slower. It’s more incremental than any of us would like, but it is nonetheless progress.
Libya obviously is—you know, shifting to North Africa—Libya is highly problematic. And I think that, again, the United States, we have to define what are our security objectives in Libya. And I think they should begin with maintaining the territorial integrity of the state and denying safe haven for violent extremist organizations inside Libya. And where the United States military can best apply its capabilities in support of others to achieve those objectives, I think that’s—I think that’s where we—where we best apply the capabilities that AFRICOM brings to bear, because fundamentally, I think the underlying purpose of the command is to partner with, enable, and develop African security forces so that they are increasingly capable of providing for their own security, contributing to regional security. That’s good for individual African states, that’s good for African regions, and it’s good for the United States.
ROBINSON: Thank you very much.
Peter, I’d like to turn to you for your thoughts on—you wrote a book called “Somalia: The Most Failed State,” and you’ve also been a veteran election observer. There is a new government in Somalia. You’ve also written about the importance of subnational actors, and I think perhaps this is a good place to start with you, to see what actors in Somalia need to be incorporated, and in what fashion, and perhaps a more broadly speaking—granted, what Carter just said about the territorial integrity of Libya. So you’ve got some tremendous centrifugal forces there. But what is an appropriate approach to subnational actors?
PHAM: Well, I think one of the important lessons to be taken away not just from Somalia but other places in Africa, is that you can’t declare any given state a total failure. Actually, within even places where there are significant failures, like challenges we see in Somalia, there—it’s not the whole geography that’s at stake. Large parts of Somalia have actually achieved, in the two decades of state failure since the collapse of the last truly national government—achieved a great deal of stability by turning in on themselves, building up local legitimacy, building up local security.
And now we have to figure out—one of the challenges is that our foreign policy apparatus, that of our partners, we’re set up to deal with state-to-state on a national level, but very often the sources of insecurity, the grievances are local, and the sources of security, and in some cases development, are also local and regional. So we need to figure out a way to balance the two, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, at the same time working with effective actors. Large parts of Somalia are not perfect, but they’ve managed to stand.
During the piracy epidemic of a decade ago, for example, piracy came almost exclusively from the southeastern coast of the country and part of the northeastern. The northern coast of the country, Somaliland, had no piracy despite having a 500-and-some-odd mile coastline. And again, they’re not perfect, but they’ve had some amazing results there. It’s the only part—country in the region that’s had regular opposition winning the elections and the incumbents ceding place. In 2010, the opposition beat the incumbent, and the incumbent, they turned around in less than 30 days, a peaceful transition. And so I think there are—we have to look for actors.
And then Nigeria, you know, everyone focuses on Boko Haram or things in the delta. Many Nigerian states are very functional. It’s a federal system. The governors are empowered. We have to look for ways to work with those subnational entities.
ROBINSON: Thank you very much.
Ambassador Frazer, I’d like to ask you to talk to us a little bit about Kenya and its important role in East Africa also with an election drama going on, a history of electoral violence, a large number of refugees in the country. And we have relied very heavily on Kenya as one of the anchors of the strategy in that part of Africa. How would you see that country, and what would be your view of tweaks to a regional approach if Kenya is not as stable an actor, or perhaps shouldn’t be the sole anchor for us there?
FRAZER: Sure. Well, thank you very much for the question. I spend quite a lot of time in Kenya, so I love to talk about it. Kenya of course has been a staunch ally of the United States from the very beginning of its own independence in 1963, and I expect that it will continue to be so. It also of course is one of the more stable countries in its neighborhood. It really hasn’t ever experienced a civil war. It’s never experienced a coup d’état, though it had an attempted one in 1981. It does experience regular political violence associated especially with election periods, but even there it’s been fairly contained except for the—sort of the nationwide violence that we saw in 2007, the aftermath of the 2007 election.
Right now, of course, we know that Kenya is in, as you said, a very—I should say protracted election cycle, because the August 8th election—which went off very well. That was—it was managed extremely well in terms of the people coming out and participating, and participating nonviolently, peacefully. But the Supreme Court, which is the final decider on elections, decided that the electoral commission did not conduct the election according to the constitution, strictly according to the constitution, and with some irregularities. This was quite, I think, a surprise for everyone because, first of all, the international electoral monitors from the West and from the AU and others had declared it was a free and fair election—obviously not perfect—because no election is, anywhere—as well as the domestic observers and monitors had declared the same and had done a parallel vote tally that came out about the same as IEBC. And the electronic transmission was not supposed to be the determinate. No one really knows why the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election of August 8th because the Supreme Court has yet to actually deliver its findings. It hasn’t delivered a detailed finding other than to say not as strictly according to the Constitution and some irregularities.
This has opened up Pandora’s box in some ways, partly because without really knowing what the problem was, everybody who lost of course is saying, well, what about my election. You know, it’s the same IEBC who ran the election for the president. What about the elections of the governors, and the MPs, and the county officials. And so you’re going to have a lot of contestations going on in the courts from the losers, effectively.
Now, what does this mean about Kenya’s stability? It’s the question of institution development, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s also the question of the political maturity of a polity that can then have sustainable security and stability.
The courts, whatever one thinks about the decision, actually played their role. I, for one, don’t think that the Supreme Court decision made much sense given the number spread. It was 1.4 million votes that Uhuru Kenyatta won over Raila Odinga, his challenger. I think normally when you say there are irregularities, you have to figure out whether those irregularities are material to the outcome. And without that decision, that detailed decision, we just don’t know that question.
Moreover, the Jubilee, the ruling party won almost 70 percent of the members of parliament in the other downstream elections, which suggests that in fact the president probably got the mandate, and now is expecting to win with much more of a significant difference. He won with 54 percent under the annulled election. They’re now shooting for 70 percent based on the outcome of the other elections.
But the important point is Kenya’s institutions govern the way they’re supposed to. The court made its decision. The Supreme Court made its decision, and the president respected that decision. The executive respected that decision. The Supreme Court is an independent court based on the 2010 new constitution. So it’s working, and we just have to tolerate a little bit of more uncertainty, and the market has to tolerate a bit more uncertainty, but the institutions are actually operating the way they want to despite, I have to say, some irresponsible statements by the political candidates themselves.
ROBINSON: Thank you.
FRAZER: And particularly with, you know, the international community and domestic constituencies having to push the opposition to actually take their case to court and to say that the court actually is a viable determinant of the election. So I think Kenya will continue to be a stable country. It will continue to mature its institutions and its political culture. And the United States can continue to rely on it. The question is, can Kenya rely on the United States? Have we been as strong a partner to Kenya as Kenya has been to us? We actually debated—I think the people in DOD know whether Kenya should actually send forces to be part of AMISOM at the beginning and whether the United States will support it. The right decision was taken. And we did.
How much intelligence sharing are we doing with Kenya in terms of dealing with al-Shabaab’s attacks in their territory? These are the questions of how robust is America’s support for Kenya. There’s no question about how robust Kenya’s support is for the United States.
ROBINSON: Thank you very much.
Amanda, I’d like to come back to you. And I think granting the broader context that all feeds into the question of security in Africa, for Africa, I do want you to address the foreign-fighters issue, because we now have a lot of returning foreign fighters. There is some merging of the AQ groups, at least in West Africa, in the Sahel, and I think some competition obviously that will give rise to further internal turmoil.
But in General Waldhauser’s posture statement, testimony, and the policy of the U.S. government is that the number one threat to U.S. interests is the violent extremist organizations. And given that we’ve seen attacks emanating, at least for Europe, if not the U.S. homeland, I’d like you to just characterize what you think the magnitude and nature of the threat is and where you would place your focus, were you back in the building today.
DORY: Thank you.
I think the foreign fighters have been out there as both a current threat but really more future-oriented, as we’ve watched the ebbs and flows of the campaign against core ISIL in Iraq and Syria and the ability to actually track with any fidelity the movement of foreign fighters on their way into Iraq and Syria and on their way back is challenging, to say the least. If you talk with those in the intelligence community, there are huge gaps when it comes to our understanding with a great deal of fidelity.
That said, the United States is certainly aware of that as a threat. The countries in Africa, in the Maghreb in particular, are tracking that closely as well. And I think the same formula that pertains when it comes to focus on intelligence gathering, intelligence sharing with partners, work to shore up borders of all kinds—land borders, maritime borders, air borders—to seek to manage the flows coming back into the country.
You have quite a few governments in North Africa who are starting to focus on deradicalization. And what does that look like when you have fighters who voluntarily give up and decide to return to their country of origin? And is there a process in place to manage them? Is it a law-enforcement process? Is it a deradicalization and reconciliation process?
So there are a lot of moving parts to be considered when each of these individual countries is putting together its own strategic approach to foreign fighters. I think our role is to continue to provide support as they develop those strategies and to see how strongly the threat manifests.
Certainly the removal of Sirte as a sanctuary in Libya for ISIS was critical in terms of an ability to have a piece of geography on a coastline and the infrastructure associated with that. The removal of that safe haven was critical, I think, in keeping off balance Islamic State and the possibility of a sanctuary for foreign fighters to return to.
That certainly doesn’t mean the job is done. They have—those who were killed in place have dispersed throughout Libya and into some of the neighboring countries. And there’s still the possibility. And I think we see some concerning signs about regrouping in Libya.
ROBINSON: Thank you.
General Ham, I’d like to ask you to address the issue of relying on partners and allies, and specifically the reliance on France and its willingness to play a leading role, and with regard to the Multinational Joint Task Force for the Boko Harm threat with U.K. as well in that tripartite cell, advising the regional approach.
How—what are the limits of this kind of approach? Or do you think that it represents really the way ahead? And granted, this may always be a kind of economy-of-force area. So can you comment on what you think the benefits and limits of relying on partners is?
HAM: Well, it’s essential, I think, for an overarching campaign to counter violent extremist organizations. As those organizations themselves are regional, transregional by nature, I think it then requires a multinational regional approach to effectively counter them.
So where there are willing partners with whom the United States can join, I think that is in all of our best interests. Certainly the relationship in the military domain and certainly in intelligence with France has grown and developed over the past several years. It has deepened now. There’s an element of trust and cooperation that has developed over the many years. And I think that has been beneficial to both France and the United States, but more importantly to the African states in which those operations are conducted, particularly in the Sahel.
But with regard to the Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin area, again, I think there was, we can argue, perhaps slow in coming to recognize that a multinational approach was needed. But now to see Nigeria partnering with its neighbors in a more effective manner, I think, is good news for all.
The real challenge, though, I think, lies beyond the military domain. And while there certainly is a military component, an essential military component, to countering violent extremist organizations, the military cannot—by its own nature, the militaries of the many nations are not postured, equipped, to address the underlying issues that fuel violent extremist organizations. And I think that’s where the focus must be in the future.
There will always be a military component of the campaign. That military component is not likely to be decisive.
ROBINSON: Thank you.
And that anticipates exactly the question I wanted to put to Ambassador Frazer and really talk about those nonmilitary components and the resourcing requirements and the prospects that funding may get even tighter. And if you are looking at a building-famine situation, the demands could even grow for the humanitarian and not just the institution-building tasks ahead.
So how do you look at this? And what are the most effective approaches? Because I think this is one thing those of us who’ve watched these various stabilization efforts over the years is the need to get serious about what works. And if there are development approaches that are simply throwing buckets of money and not producing results, there’s very little patience, I think, on the part of Congress to fund those.
FRAZER: Well, thank you.
I think that obviously Congress and the American people are almost always willing to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And so if there is a famine, large-scale hunger, America is going to show up. And certainly with Mark Green as the head of USAID—I’m a person who was our ambassador in Tanzania—I think that that will continue. I don’t think there will be any shortage of that. But that’s not what we want, obviously.
I think the real dynamic for development has to be an internal one, not one that’s based on foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is never going to be sufficient. So we shouldn’t build a strategy around stabilization, around long-term economic and political development, that is based on outside actors bringing in their money. It really has to be based on self-interest and mutual interest.
And here I’m talking about really trying to stimulate the private sector. And so if I was looking for the U.S. government to do something that would be helpful to Africa over the long term, I would be looking at OPIC and Ex-Im Bank, more so, frankly, than I would USAID. And that’s not to say anything about USAID, but I think what really needs to happen, if you really want to leverage resources, is to leverage our private sector, and especially at a time when the Chinese are doing just that for their private sector, you know, and for their state corporations.
And I’m not saying that this is a Cold War situation of a competition. In fact, anybody who lives in Africa loves to ride along those roads that are being built by the Chinese, because we need that infrastructure development. And it can only actually help American business as well. But we should get in the game from the private-sector point of view. So I think that that’s the key.
The second key, I think, is we need to look—I think Peter talked about it from a security point of view in terms of not looking at the national state. We do need effective sovereignty, but not looking at the national state but at the state level, and even the city level. We have megacities in Africa, and those can be the organizing principle around development, social delivery, social delivery—social-service delivery, security protection can take place. If you look at the impact of Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, what it’s actually doing is forcing a rapid rate of urbanization, even more rapid than you see in Lagos city, which is one of the three biggest cities in sub-Saharan—in Africa actually, not sub-Saharan Africa—in Africa. But Borno State and Maiduguri—those are really organizing.
And the question is, how are they going to urbanize? Is it going to be planned cities where you can have social delivery, or is it going to be, you know, large informal settlements where you have outbreaks of cholera and crime and unemployment? This is the real—the work that I think has to be done.
So us doing better data analysis at that sub-national level, linking into these new centers of growth, not just the state as a whole—that’s not all pink, as you were saying, but in fact it’s localized violence—and building from a private sector and leveraging these young people with the demographic boom of young people in Africa is the way to sustainable stability.
ROBINSON: Thank you. And I think Peter wants to jump in on this topic. I’d also like—I was going to ask you about the China-Russia competition issue, but maybe we’ll save that for the audience and let you chime in before we open up here.
PHAM: Ambassador Frazer just brought up—Jendayi just brought up the demographic, and think that—issue, and I think that’s an important one to keep in mind. Africa is the world’s youngest continent. The median age of an African is under 19 years of age. Globally, it’s well above 29. Then 10 youngest countries in the world are African.
So, by 2050, one in four working-age persons on the globe is going to be an African. This is a tremendous boon, a tremendous opportunity for African growth. This can add 10 (percent) to 15 percent to GDP growth of the countries affected, contributing over time to a one-third growth in overall GDP; or unemployed without the opportunities, without the private sector, this is going to be a security nightmare that really we don’t want to contemplate.
So I think the demographics is the key, and tackling that through a whole-of-society approach rather than looking at it purely as a—the security element is certainly important, but I think the whole prosperity agenda is critical here.
ROBINSON: Thank you, Peter. I’d like to open it up now for members to join the conversation. I would like to remind you this meeting is on the record. And also, we want to make sure it gets picked up by the mic. So Marisa and the others will come around with the mic. And please first state your name and your affiliation.
We have a big room here. I am—I’m intent upon getting every possible question in in the next 30 minutes. So please keep your question concise, and then direct it if you can to one of our panelists. Thank you.
In the back, please.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Alex Toma. I run the Peace and Security Funders Group.
And so I want to pick up on a point that Ambassador Frazer made—or alluded to. You mention the importance of bringing in the private sector. So I represent all the funders that fund in peace-and-conflict in the private sector, the philanthropic sector. And what we’re looking at in terms of security is atrocities in Africa. And I haven’t heard it spoken about on the panel. And so that’s how we’re linking national security and what’s happening on the ground there. So can you talk a little bit about that link and how the philanthropic sector and the private sector might invest in stopping or preventing atrocities?
ROBINSON: Who would like to take that one on?
DORY: She directed it to you. Do you want—
ROBINSON: Yes, she—
FRAZER: She mentioned my comment, but I don’t think it’s directed to any of us. I will take it, though. Obviously—I think you’re right, and I think about atrocities, and I think about human dignity, and I think about the importance of civil society. Part of that is about transparency and having a capacity to actually track and do it on—again, I go back to data, and I would even go even further and say on a forensic level, so that you can hold people accountable that are taking place as individuals, not in a general political way—we’re going to take three from this group and three from that group who may have something to do with something—but no, this is the person that committed this atrocity against that person.
You know, so the investment in obviously media, technology for, you know, greater transparency—I think those are—just off the top of my head, that would be an area in which I would look at and also training these young people to be those witnesses. But I think we have to get really down to a much more serious level of decision-making based on real data and real forensics, especially if you’re going to have any credibility in the international courts in the justice system, which is supposed to hold people accountable for carrying out these atrocities.
HAM: And Linda, if I may just follow on to Secretary Frazer’s comment, just to be blunt about it, many in some African militaries have been the perpetrators of many of these crimes. And so I’m pleased to see now that in some of the so-called dual-key authorities that Congress has authorized to the Department of Defense with the concurrence of the Department of State, there are also requirements in there that those train-and-assist missions, train-and-equip missions have embedded in them an effective component of human rights training, of institution-building. Again, it’s not perfect, but at—but at least that continual emphasis from the United States to say, you know, if you want to partner with us, then there are some standards that you’ve got to meet in order to cement this effective relationship. And I think that’s important as we go forward.
ROBINSON: Yes, in the back behind the—by the camera and then coming forward.
Q: Christian Posch (ph) with the Department of Defense.
My question is for Peter specifically. To your point about how in 2050 one in four—I think you said—adults in the world is going to be—one in—one in four employable adults is going to be African by 2050. So can you speak to the employment and/or labor base that’s there that can employ those numbers? And if it’s not there, how do we make sure that it’s there so we don’t end up with a number of unemployed folks, which then feeds into the extremist groups and recruiting from those unemployed people? Thank you.
PHAM: Thank you for the question. That’s precisely the point I was trying to make by raising that issue. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and we see tremendous—we forget—we’re discussing security, and necessarily we focused this panel’s focus on some of the negative challenges of hard security, the threat from violent extremist organizations and others.
But the sort of Africa—as Amanda said at the beginning, it’s really a very complex story, a complex tapestry of a lot of opportunities. In the current 2016 to 2020, of the 20 fastest-growing economies in the world, 11 are in Africa. So there’s tremendous opportunity in economic growth that we have to look for ways, engaging the private sector as well as the public sector in growing the best practices and those opportunities to get those people employed.
If not, if we don’t work on that side of it, we’re going to have the other side of it, which is those unemployed people. And as Ambassador Frazer mentioned, increasingly they’re urbanized. In a way—I don’t want to sound callous about it, but in the past we’ve been able to—you can ignore a famine out in the rural areas. You cannot ignore food and service needs in cities when people are gathered together. And that’s a security challenge—becomes a hard security challenge as well as challenges of migration, et cetera.
DORY: Could I do a two-finger on that?
ROBINSON: Yes, sure.
DORY: Just to mention, the U.N. Development Programme came out with an important study about a week ago that was looking at African extremism and had gone through a two-year process of interviewing Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab former fighters and trying to develop further understanding of what drives radicalization. And it was interesting to see some of those conclusions, and unemployment was a big factor in terms of adherence to those organizations who can provide work and a salary. Sense of grievance was in there. The ideological piece was much less prominent than I think was expected by many.
So the kind of tagline for the study is that employment will be front and center in terms of thinking about counter-radicalization going forward.
ROBINSON: Yes, please.
Q: Thank you for this panel. I’m Kent Davis-Packard. I am a professor of global theory and history in middle east studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and I also was a beneficiary of Amanda Dory’s mentorship as a young graduate of SAIS. It’s nice to see her again.
My question is, because we are now founding a new program at SAIS for women’s leadership development called SAIS Women Lead and we’re engaging in public-private partnerships—and I know that, for example, the National Defense University is interested in integrating more women into African militaries, or the topic of how women can be empowered in the security sector in Africa. And I wondered if some of the panelists might comment on ideas or initiatives on the table for integrating more women. Thank you.
HAM: Well, I’ll just begin. And in my travels about it was very heartening to see women in African militaries in many countries, not all, begin to rise to positions of greater prominence. And it was not uncommon to engage with a woman of flag rank in some of the African countries. And again, much like in our own country, some of it is breaking down barriers and demonstrating capability. And so the more opportunities that women have in African militaries, I think that’s fine. We would certainly try to encourage that. And we found certainly over time, and I think has increased within the command with expansion of roles for American women in the—in the U.S. armed forces, that there’s a broader engagement, maybe call it role modeling, but there are more American military women engaging with African militaries. And I think on balance that’s a good thing. But that’s one small, narrow sector.
DORY: I’m glad General Ham spoke first, because I think men are a huge part of empowering women. And that it’s not women’s issues and just women who need to tend to women in peace and security. And that is a key part of it. I would say there are national action plans by countries throughout the world, including the United States, that are focused on commitment and action. To this end, there are various things that we’re able to do, for example, within the professional military education realm in terms of when we engage with foreign partners, what we would like the profile to look like in terms of foreign participants. That can be part of encouraging that. But it’s grounded in the society. And we have to work with our partners where they are and encourage them along the path.
ROBINSON: Yes, please.
Q: My name is Macani Toungara. I work for TechnoServe.
My question is around the taboo subject of climate change. So climate change obviously has implications for security because it can trigger migration. There are already the famines going on. But with more desertification, challenges to agriculture, long-term climate change could have significant implications for the security of Africa. So how, from a security standpoint, like, where does climate change rank? Is it being considered? How does it fit with—obviously we’re getting more funds for antiterrorism, but where does it rank in terms of our ability to support Africa with the security threats that it has? Thank you.
ROBINSON: Jendayi or Peter?
PHAM: Well, I think anyone who has spent any time on the ground in Africa, especially along the Sahel belt can see there’s change going on. A little less than a year ago, General Ham and I were up near the Lake Chad area. Lake Chad is today 10 percent of what it was a generation ago. There are—when we talk about fishermen, they are now fish traders of dry fish because the—you know, the islands are—you can walk to some of them. There’s change. It’s clearly happening. And that’s affecting—that’s a driver, one of many. But it’s certainly an accelerant to food insecurity, job, economic insecurity, and ultimately broader insecurity about it. And one could go talk about pastoralists and agriculturalists and others, but clearly there is a—there is a causal relationship.
HAM: And a real driver towards urbanization, I think, as well.
ROBINSON: Yes, Eric.
Q: Hi. Eric Schmitt from The New York Times, for either Secretary Dory or General Ham.
Wondered if you could give us your assessment—
HAM: I know which one I would choose. (Laughter.)
DORY: There’s only one secretary. He is sitting over at the Pentagon.
Q: I wonder if you could give us your assessment of General Haftar’s role right now, particularly as he flirts with the Russians and the others in the region, and for the—is he a detriment to peace and security in Libya? Or does he look like he could open a pathway to that?
HAM: From the military side, I think it’s too soon to tell. You know, certainly he has—he has marshalled some military capability. It has certainly had some positive effect in countering ISIS or ISIS-affiliated organizations in Libya. I think the path ahead for General Haftar and his organization is—at least to me, is unclear. And whether he chooses to play a positive role in the sovereignty and the rebuilding of Libya, I think it remains to be seen. We certainly hope that he chooses a positive path.
DORY: I think I would just add, he’s clearly a key figure both in terms of Libyan politics as well as the security situation. He’s been acknowledged as part of Libya’s future by all the different international actors who are trying to support Libyan political dialogue. You know, I think there are times when his role is more constructive and less so. One of the things that is challenging is the large number of external actors who are seeking to support the Libyans and create an environment of forum shopping, where any of the protagonists can engage, whether with the Russians, as you mentioned, Eric, or the French, or Italians, or Americans or the AU, or the UN, or the partners in the region, in particular the neighbors. There’s so many different venues where the dialogue is happening, it creates the opportunity to continue to drag out the process.
ROBINSON: Yes, please. In the middle.
Q: I’m Mohammed Khaishgi from The Resource Group.
I had a question for any one of the participants. Further west in Africa, and particularly in relation to al-Qaida and their activities centered out Mali, and the impact and repercussions that may have on the countries around sort of the Western belt of Africa—particularly in light of some of the—some of the incidents that have taken place over the last 18 months or so. Would any one of the participants care to comment on what the outlook for that would be? Thank you.
PHAM: OK. Just you—one could have a whole dissertation on—in response to your question. But I think, briefly, we’ve learned a few things. One is, these groups are highly adaptive, especially the fluidity with which they move from one identity to another, whether it be under the AQ brand, whether it be under the Daesh brand, whether it be under one of these ethnic-based subgroups, which enable them to embed themselves within local ethnic or regional grievances, what Jean-Pierre Filiu, my friend in Paris, calls the “glocal” phenomenon. So their adaptivity has been extraordinary. There have been notable successes, I think, cooperation General Ham mentioned between the U.S., French as others, as well as regional partners, but there’s a long way to go. And I think we’re—it’s something that we’re going to have to face in the coming years as they adapt to these. And it’s not a problem that’s going to be solved readily, immediately.
ROBINSON: I’d like to invite further comment on this. I think it’s very important, certainly. And I’d mention at the outset the unifying of these four groups under the JNIM umbrella. And it seems this is an al-Qaida central strategy, really, to encourage this. They’ve done that with Syria as well. And their long-game approach might be worth a few more comments, if anyone has something to say on it.
HAM: So just, on the military side, it is one of the reasons why there has been continued emphasis on the—on building host nation armed forces that are largely representative of the population that they serve. So a multiethnic force we think is, from a U.S. standpoint, and I think increasingly accepted by the Africa partners, that—of the necessity of a multiethnic force, so that the groups with ever-changing allegiances are not able to drive an ethnic wedge, if you will, between various elements of the African armed forces. And the more we can emphasize and help inculcate a sense of unity within the African armed forces, I think it helps counter that effect.
ROBINSON: Yes, please.
Q: Witney Schneidman, Covington.
One area where we’ve seen interaction between the private sector and security issues is in the eastern Congo, related to conflict minerals. Through Dodd-Frank, there’s been a tremendous effort to get companies to deal in a more transparent way, so that there’s a reduction in illicit trade and that arms merchants don’t have access to them and others. I’m just curious, from the Pentagon perspective, General Ham or Amanda, whether you see that as effective or not, whether there needs to be more action in that respect or we have it all wrong?
DORY: I can’t pick up on Dodd-Frank effectiveness in particular, but I think the contributions to transparency in the service of reducing corruption is absolutely fundamental to looking at the different dynamics and grievances that are fueling dissatisfaction with elites who are sitting in the capitals and somehow the beneficiaries of the trade. So, you know, kind of the particular instrument or tool that that is pursued by I think is less important, from a DOD perspective, than that we continue to get after that problem.
ROBINSON: Yes, please, in the middle.
Q: Larry Garber at DMI.
Secretary Frazer, you talked about the private sector. And I’m curious, beyond USAID, OPIC, TDA and others, what specifically, policy-wise, can the U.S. and other countries do to support the private sector in Africa, including AGOA and things of that sort. I mean, where do you see that heading under this administration in the next couple years?
FRAZER: Thank you for the question. It’s a very good one. I think that obviously AGOA has been extremely important. You know, this administration is doing some funny things, I have to say. If you look at East Africa and this whole issue of secondhand clothing and trying to sanction these countries because they won’t allow dumping them into their country while they’re trying to build their own industry—which is the way to grow sustainably—it’s very strange, particularly as a Republican, for a Republican administration to be taking this type of an approach. I’m quite surprised. But that said, I think that actually continuing AGOA from a policy point of view, supporting, as I said, OPIC and Ex-Im Bank. I think there’s been challenges obviously with the need to cut budgets. There’s been questions about which—where do you cut those budgets. I would also support the Commerce Department. You know, foreign commercial officers in our embassies are extremely important. We need to expand that, not contract.
I also think that, you know, Witney asked a question and I was tempted to say, you got it all wrong. But, you know, that’s probably too extreme. But I think Dodd-Frank has actually hurt business and hasn’t helped with conflict prevention in eastern Congo. I think there—I think we definitely need a—how would I put it—a multitrack approach. And so issues of transparency, issues of corruption, we definitely need to address those. They’re critical to African economies growing. But I think sometimes our regulations aren’t written by people of business. They’re written by, you know, people who don’t know. And so we’re undermining American business with some of these regulations. I’m not saying get rid of them. I’m saying fine-tune them so that we’re not actually disadvantaging American business vis-à-vis others globally. And so I think that there’s a lot that can be done by the administration. But the administration, in many ways, is headless, you know, to put it bluntly, right? It doesn’t have the people in place.
And I would go on to say just even further that it’s chopped off the head of so many of our more senior diplomats who it’s going to take very—many, many years to actually replace those people who have that broad understanding. So I think that the administration really needs to—you know, I think they’ve got good people now at the NSC. I think that they need to build out their State Department. You know, like I said, Commerce is important. Support OPIC. Support Ex-Im. Support American business so that it can be involved and can invest more easily on the continent. So I think that the policy at USTR is bizarre, frankly, as related to East Africa.
ROBINSON: Yes, please.
Q: Francisco Sanchez, CNS Global—oh, sorry. Francisco Sanchez, CNS Global Advisors.
The role of food security and electrification on the continent, how are the countries doing? And what is the role that the United States should be playing in those two areas? And while I’m at it, the private sector.
ROBINSON: Go ahead.
FRAZIER: Go ahead, Peter.
PHAM: Obviously, food security without—if you’re not alive, there’s nothing else that we can talk about. So, obviously, food security.
But there—you know, the last administration started a few programs. I think more private-sector involvement. Food security—Africa has enormous potential, not only to feed itself first and foremost, but really to feed the world. The amount of arable land available that’s underdeveloped or underutilized is extraordinary. How to do that sustainably I think is the great challenge for the future.
Fortunately, as the African Development Bank now you’ve got an agronomist who grew up in rural poverty, Akin Adesina, who knows what he’s doing. So I think—so we’ve got some partners there.
On the issue of electrification, I give credit to the last administration for highlighting the need for power in Africa. On the other hand, with all due respect, let’s be candid about it: Power Africa, how many megawatts of power has it delivered in the four years or so? And this is where I think one has to honestly look at it and look if there’s not a better way to help deliver what’s clearly needed, and do so embracing the private sector.
FRAZIER: Yeah, I’ll just add very briefly to that. On agriculture, it’s extremely important, the food security issue is extremely important. It’s the biggest employer of young people—you know, of not just young people. It’s the biggest potential employer of young people, but the bigger employer of the, you know, the population. And so it’s absolutely essential and critical.
And it comes back to this issue, also, about climate change. You know, you see drought. You know, I’ve traveled up into Kenya in areas where they’re just not getting rain, which leads to food insecurity, which has exacerbated the political environment for the election as well. So they’re all interconnected.
And so if I were going to say where we could really invest and focus, it would have to be in the agricultural sector.
ROBINSON: Oh, my. OK, we have five minutes. And I think, yes, in back first, and then we’ll come forward, and then a last one there. So please be succinct, if you could. Thank you.
Q: My name is Esther Ewart, Voice of America.
My question is directed to Ambassador Frazier. Africa has relied on the United States as our partner in many fronts, but of late we have seen a couple of meetings canceled because Africans were denied visas. And I’m wondering if Africa can rely on the United States as a partner. Thank you.
FRAZIER: Well, that’s always been a question, and “rely on” is a big—is a big question. The United States is going to remain engaged in Africa. It’s a question of what that engagement is going to look like. I think that the key issue is that we need to have it based on mutual interest—mutual self-interest. And, you know, when we look at the demographics and we see that young people in Africa are going to, you know, eventually be, you know, the most productive sector, right, because Europe is aging, right—(laughs)—it’s completely aging. So I think that it has to be mutual self-interest.
What we haven’t done very well is listen. We don’t listen very well to African voices. I would say that about the issues of Libya, you know, and the leadup to the war, and the way in which the AU was trying to counsel us about the unintended consequences of Gadhafi’s, you know, being killed and falling. We didn’t listen sufficiently. I would even say on my—on my watch, under the Bush administration, African voices was a little bit different on the—on Iraq. You know, we eventually got them as part of our coalition, a majority, but they had a different caution for us that I don’t think we sufficiently listened to. So I think mutual respect is going to be the key, recognizing that Africa’s future is in its hands. But we can be partners along the way.
I think that we need to—we tend to try to run our policy on Africa through Europe, because those are our partners, right? Those are our strategic partners. I think it’s a big mistake. We have to use and work with the Europeans for sure, but the first call should be Africa.
ROBINSON: I’m going to allow one very brief question. I’m sorry we won’t get to two. Very brief, and an equally brief answer.
Q: (Off mic.)
ROBINSON: I’m sorry, we just have a very strict—you can come speak afterwards. Thank you.
Q: Hi. Josh Haecker from Predata.
A question for General Ham. You mentioned that AFRICOM is now 10 years old. And given the challenges we’ve just heard discussed, I’m curious how else you think it needs to evolve and grow to meet these kind of diverse challenges on the continent.
HAM: I think, you know, General Ward is better prepared to answer this. I think AFRICOM still has not met its full potential in terms of providing, from a U.S. perspective, a whole-of-government approach. As the command was being developed, there was—it was envisioned that up to half, perhaps even more than a half of the command would be—would be comprised of persons from other than the Department of Defense, and that’s just never materialized. There are—there are great non-Defense folks in the command, but not at the scale and the capacity that I think are required to address the whole-of-government approaches that exist in Africa. So if we can find some way ahead to strengthen the non-DOD components of AFRICOM, I think that will posture the command to be more effective into the future.
ROBINSON: I think that’s a terrific note to end this meeting on, and I appreciate all the panelists. Please join me in thanking them. Thank you. (Applause.)