The White House is hosting a
major summit of
African leaders this week. Elected and
unelected heads of state and officials from nearly 50 African countries are in
Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of the U.S. relationship with Africa.
The sad part about this
meeting is that the administration's Africa policy is gaining visibility and
attention not so much because of progress in African economic development but
because of heightened U.S. attention to security issues in that continent.
The single-mindedness of the
administration's focus on terrorism and security has dragged the United States,
and especially the U.S. military, into the internal security affairs of a
growing number of African countries, from the 14 countries involved in the Trans-Sahara
Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) program to Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Niger, Liberia, and now Nigeria.
It seems like the United States
cares most about Africa when administrations perceive that U.S. security
interests may be at stake. We really pay attention when we think terrorists and
insurgents are paying attention. When that happens, the "security assistance"
mavens take over, applying those models so carefully (and unsuccessfully)
crafted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army trainers, private contractors, Special
Operations forces, and even the National Guard swoop in to spiff up the
indigenous militaries and security forces of selected African countries.
It is a dangerous model of
engagement, one that could well lead to policy and operational failure, to a
weakening of our civilian engagement in Africa, to serious destabilization of
governance in a number of countries, and to a "blowback" that will actually
compromise U.S. national security and our credibility in Africa.
The United States has been
involved in Africa for some time, though the continent's former imperial powers,
especially France, have been more deeply engaged. More recently, China has
become a major player, with growing investments and foreign assistance. The history of U.S. engagement in Africa has been, in
fact, quite complex, revolving principally around development assistance and
the provision of food and humanitarian relief. We have also had a somewhat
sordid history of providing political and military support to some of Africa's
more distasteful dictators in some countries, ranging from Mengistu Haile
Mariam in Ethiopia to Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire for 32 years.
U.S. development and social
assistance in Africa has traditionally been the responsibility of USAID. When I was associate director at the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) in the 1990s, the Clinton administration set aside more than $700 million
a year for African economic development, health, education, and many other
programs. But it was not very effective
assistance, if the purpose was economic and social development. First, the
assistance was smaller than it seems, as it was scattered over 50 countries,
meaning less than $100 million a year for any one of them. Some, like Ghana,
were countries that showed signs of economic progress and growth, while others,
like Congo (formerly Zaire) were systematic economic and social basket cases.
Second, USAID scattered its assistance like fairy dust through a large number
of activities -- from health clinics to wells, to crops, to schools, and
beyond, meaning the total for any one country was spread so thin it could
hardly have had a significant impact.
The Obama administration is
doubtlessly pointing out at the summit this week that it has upped the African
ante in development assistance.
According to USAID data (extracted
for this piece by my Stimson Center colleague John Cappel), U.S. development
assistance to sub-Saharan Africa averaged roughly $675 million a year
during the Bush years, but had risen to an average of over $1.13 billion a year
through fiscal year 2012. Moreover, the
Millennium Challenge Corporation (a 2004 Bush initiative) has signed "compacts"
or "threshold agreements" with 19 African countries, through which it will
provide another $5.3 billion in foreign economic assistance to Africa. The most
significant U.S. social investment in Africa is the $5 billion a year the State
Department oversees to
fight and control AIDS, the bulk of it
spent in Africa.
These economic and social investments
appear to be working. Economic growth
rates in many African countries, according to
the World Bank, have accelerated in recent years, reaching annual growth rates
over 6 percent in 2013 in such countries as Burkina Faso, the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique,
Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.
It is not clear, however,
that official development assistance is the cause of this growth. Billions of
public dollars spent on African development over the past 45 years by the United
States, Europe, and international institutions like the World Bank did little
or nothing to accelerate economic growth in the continent. A more
important source of growth might be the "discovery" of Africa by foreign
investors (who began to pour private capital into the continent early in this
century). According to the Hudson
Institute's Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances, in 2013, private capital flows from the United States
to the developing world were 3.5 times larger than official U.S. development
assistance. (The index does not provide data by recipient country or continent,
however.) According to the International
Business Times, private equity
investment in African countries has been growing rapidly in 2014, faster than
such investment in Latin America, China, or India.
But it is clear that
increased government assistance and private investment have not eliminated
security problems in Africa. From Boko Haram to Saharan terrorists, to coups in
Mali, to the uneasiness of Somalia, to ethnic conflict in Kenya, to the endless Congo
wars, to the search for Joseph Kony, Africa has been perpetually insecure,
marked by coups, inter-ethnic conflict, and, today, extremist insurgencies. And
the United States has become a major player in the continent in the last few
years, driven by the broader U.S. policy of tackling extremist insurgents and
terrorist organizations on a global scale -- meaning that not only has U.S. engagement in
Africa expanded, but its role there has
taken on an increasingly military character.
One can measure some of this
expansion in dollar terms. While economic and social assistance has been
strong, Cappel and I calculate that between 2005 and 2012, the United States also spent nearly $15 billion on security sector programs in Africa. The bulk ($11.8 billion) of that has been U.S. contributions to U.N.
peacekeeping operations in Africa, principally in Sudan, South Sudan, and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo. But there has also been a rising fiscal tide
of State Department-funded spending to train African militaries and security
forces for peacekeeping duties, law enforcement, counternarcotics operations,
counterterror operations, and to underwrite the expenses of African regional peacekeepers in Somalia, among
Beyond these measurable
security dollars on the State Department side, however, there has also been considerable
expansion of direct U.S. military engagement in Africa, funded in the defense
budget. This expansion includes the creation of the Africa Command in 2008, the
Combined Joint Task Force -- Horn of Africa engagement of the Special
Operations Forces, a somewhat secret U.S. military presence in
Somalia, the Trans-Sahara program noted above, the special training of elite anti-terror forces in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Libya, the deployment of U.S. surveillance drones in Niger,
and advising the Nigerian military as they tangle (or
don't tangle) with Boko Haram. In fact, as of 2014, the United States had
"boots on the ground" in 13 African countries, and advisors and/or private contractors doing
training in even more. The cost of these military programs has not been
disclosed, but in the interests of transparency and congressional oversight,
both the programs and their budgets need more sunshine.
The gradual transition of
responsibility for the U.S. investment and direct engagement in African security
from State to the Pentagon and the Special Operations forces in particular is reinforced
by President Obama's announcement in June that he wants to create a $5
billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, most of which will be implemented
by the military services. As I wrote recently,
this program was announced before it had content, and most of the work of defining
and implementing that content will fall to the Pentagon. This not only leaves the State Department, which has
traditionally had budget and policy responsibility for security assistance programs,
in the dust, but puts more of a military stamp on U.S. engagement. (As I argue
in my forthcoming co-authored book, the
imbalance of the Defense Department and State in our global security engagement, and the growing
role of the U.S. military are going to be a bad investment.) The "securitization"
of U.S. engagement in Africa, by drawing in the military, is fraught with risks
and the promise of an investment gone bad.
There is precious little
evidence that the U.S. military is competent to train another military in
counterinsurgency and counterterror operations, especially when it comes to
such "hearts and minds" activities as economic and social engagement in another
country. But the process of engaging deeply with the security forces of another
country contains an even deeper risk than that of mere failure.
The money, equipment, training,
counseling, intelligence, and operating support the United States provides in Africa
will only be reinforcing the militaries as institutions in their countries.
These militaries already have, at best, a mixed history of corruption, political
domination, and seizure of power. And U.S. military investments provide these
militaries with additional arms and operational training, making it even more
difficult for civilian governments to restrain the military's assertion of
This deeper issue is a central
one in Africa, and the one payoff of all the U.S. investment that we should put
above all others -- above development, above social services, above stronger
security forces -- is the issue of "governance." Governance is what this
summit should be about, above all else. Supporting governance in Africa might
be discussed this week, but it is a goal only weakly reflected in U.S.
assistance programs in Africa.
It is clear that governance
is a central issue in Africa. According to Foreign
Policy and the Fund for Peace's most recent index of "fragile states," of the 25
most fragile states in the world in 2013, 17 are in Africa, and the five most
fragile (on "very high alert," according to the index) are all in Africa: South
Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, and Sudan.
The World Bank has already discovered that governance is the key to economic development.
And it is absolutely critical to real, long-term security. Without capable
governance, the pursuit of security disappears into corruption, coups, and
insurgencies, as has happened all too often in various African countries.
Strengthening the military, internal security forces, or the police without
strengthening the civilian state is on its face an investment that will fail.
For all of its supposedly
rich experience in nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, the political
results in those two countries make it clear that the U.S. military has no core
competence in the field. Sadly, it is equally clear that neither the State
Department nor USAID have greater expertise, nor that they have put support of governance
at the heart of U.S. engagement in Africa. The words are there, but the civilian policies, programs, institutions,
funds, and trained personnel are not there yet.
USAID devotes most of its
programs and funding to development and health, not to governance. The State
Department does not train foreign service officers in the art of governance or
in how to help another country work through governance issues. As I wrote
recently, the State Department needs to use its current Quadrennial Diplomacy
and Development Review (QDDR) to step up to the challenge of reforming the foreign service, its approach to security assistance, and its budgeting to
become more effective in this domain.
And yet governance is central
to development, to adequate social services, and to security. Chris Holshek
with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, who has worked on the military side of
security sector assistance, argues
-- rightly, in my view -- that the goal of security
is "human security," a much broader agenda than well-trained militaries or
cops. But bringing reality to that vision of security depends on having a capable
government in place that can actually raise resources and target them on social
What does this mean? It means U.S. foreign assistance that is targeted at helping strengthen governments that are efficient
(don't spend needlessly), effective (actually deliver "the goods" to the
people), accountable (the public is able to change the government and
effectively alter unacceptable policies), responsive (the government responds
to the public and its representatives), and free of corruption. This is not
something that yet exists in the vast majority of African countries but
is something that is essential if they are to grow economically, bring well-being
to their citizens, and achieve real security.
Creating such a capacity where government is weak and corruption is rampant -- true of many
African countries -- is damnably
difficult to achieve. It is clearly "mission impossible" for an outside entity
like the U.S. military, as Iraq and Afghanistan amply reveal. In fact, $25
billion for the Iraqi military and nearly $50 billion for the Afghan military
have, if anything, only amplified corruption in both states.
The summit this week offers
an opportunity to change direction. Rather than beefing up our military engagement
in the continent, we should be beefing up our investment in governance and in
cooperation with a lot of other countries and international institutions. The
White House may miss this opportunity. Its focus for
the summit is on "how to encourage
progress in key areas that Africans define as critical for the future of the
continent: expanding trade and investment ties, engaging young African leaders,
promoting inclusive sustainable development, expanding cooperation on peace and
security, and gaining a better future for Africa's next generation."
All of these depend on
strengthening governance, and the administration needs to start building U.S.
capacity to undertake this mission and embed its foreign and military assistance
programs in an overall strategy to strengthen governance.
I have one small suggestion
for a step that might help. President George W. Bush created the Millennium
Challenge Corporation to link the provision of U.S. economic development dollars to a
recipient country's willingness to deliver on human services, the reduction of
corruption, and other measures of good governance.
What if, in the same way, we
took some of the billions of military assistance dollars we spend today and
created a fund for security assistance, where decisions were not driven by a
fight with terrorists or support for a favorite strongman in Africa? Instead,
what if we linked providing help on the security front to a recipient
country's measuring up to yardsticks of good governance, both broadly and with
respect to civilian control over its security forces.
It would be only a start, but I
think a good start, toward embedding U.S. economic, humanitarian, and military
assistance funding and policies in a broader strategy that could provide real,
long-term security to African countries. It would put that strategy in the
hands of U.S. civilians, who ought to be running our engagement processes,
anyway. And it would be a real legacy for the administration to leave behind,
not three days of conference rhetoric and a goodbye.
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