November 9, 2006 | World Defense Review

A U.S. Security Agenda in Africa — Part I

One of the frustrations that foreign nations and individuals have with the United States is Americans' biennial self-absorption in electoral campaigns during which pressing international concerns – which, of course, neither go away nor can be put on hold – are nonetheless virtually ignored in slavish obedience to the late House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O'Neill's dictum (and subsequent title of his memoirs): “All politics is local.”

The situation is perhaps even worse for regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, which, even in the best of times, receives cursory attention at most from policymakers in Washington.

Now that the midterm elections are over, however, perhaps it can be hoped that the incoming 110th Congress might spare some time for a continent which, as I have repeated argued, is more now more vital to U.S. strategic interests than ever before and will only become more so in the coming years.

To this end, I propose this week and next to briefly survey the “Top 10” priorities for a U.S. security agenda in Africa on which the Bush administration and the new Congress will hopefully find ways to collaborate. While there are, without a doubt, a great number of other issues affecting Africa, including health, human rights, and other concerns, I have purposely limited my list to ten issues more directly related to security that will require focused attention on the part of the U.S. government – Congress and the president as well as executive agencies and the military and intelligence services – within the next year.

Dealing with Islamist Radicals in Somalia. This situation in the Horn of Africa, which I have recently warned was headed to inevitable confrontation between the U.S. and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist radicals of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), continues to worsen. After the collapse last weekend of negotiations between the ICU and the ineffective, but internationally-recognized, “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia, armed forces have massed for a final confrontation at Deynunay, just 22 kilometers east of the TFG's last redoubt in Baidoa. Should the ICU's militants, now backed by foreign jihadi fighters, defeat the feeble TFG's protectors, not only will the Islamists control a geographically strategic country, but they will be in an even better position to attack neighboring countries on whose territories they have never hidden their designs, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Djibouti, the last of which hosts America's Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Less than six months ago, while giving Congressional testimony, I had to argue with officials who disputed whether the Islamists were even a threat; last Thursday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was warning about suicide bombers being sent out from Mogadishu. How long will it be before America summons the will to deal with this rising threat?

Engaging Nigeria's Future. With nearly 36 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves – to say nothing of its vast deposits of natural gas – Nigeria is America's fifth-largest supplier of oil. But as it moves towards national elections scheduled for April 2007, the country's very future hangs in the balance. As I noted last month, if things go smoothly, the poll will be a major boost “to regional stability and international security, including the strategic interests of the United States, as an oil-rich nation with a Muslim population three times that of Saudi Arabia consolidates its budding democracy.” On the other hand, if they don't, the country risks becoming unglued in what would be an economic, political, and military nightmare of the first magnitude. Yet even as the former scenario looks increasingly unlikely – just last week the U.S. consulate in Lagos warned that a militant group in the oil-rich Niger Delta about which this column has previously dealt is planning a major wave of bombings and other attacks – American policy towards Nigeria remains entirely focused on the best possible outcome rather than likelier, less-optimal, eventualities, for which there has been little, if any, contingency planning.

Stopping the Genocide in Darfur. With the end of the rainy season which impeded their attacks, the janjaweed (loosely, “devils on horseback”) backed by the Islamist government in Khartoum are now free to resume their attacks on the roughly two million surviving Darfuris who have been displaced since the now three-year-old conflict began. In recent weeks, the increasingly emboldened killers have also launched attacks into Chad, hitting refugees who thought, erroneously, that crossing an international border gave them safety. Not surprisingly, the United Nations has been unable to implement its own Security Council Resolution 1706, which cruelly offered the hope of a 17,300-strong military personnel international peacekeeping force only to predicate its deployment on the consent – unlikely to ever be forthcoming – of the genocidal Islamist regime whose actions necessitated its creation in the first place. The U.S. Congress was the first official body in the world to declare the humanitarian crisis in Darfur a “genocide”; now is the time for a “coalition of the willing” or, as I suggested in this column some time back, an authorized private military force to carry out the minimal necessary operations – enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur and selective degradation of Sudanese military assets used in the genocide – to stop the killing.

Restoring Normality to Côte d'Ivoire. Last week, a far-less-than-ideal resolution was passed by the UN Security Council regarding the situation in Côte d'Ivoire, where for the last four years, as I have previously noted, “a failed coup-turned-rebellion by disgruntled partisans of a failed military dictator, the maneuvers of a political leader ready to exploit the violence to accede to power, and the neo-colonial machinations of the country's former colonial rulers came together in a 'perfect storm' of tragedy.” Rather than letting the UN bureaucracy or the interests of France (which amazingly operates its own uninvited – and lawless – “peacekeeping” force in the country alongside the ineffective UN force) carry the day, American leadership, including Congressional interest, is needed promote the rule of law, constitutional order, democracy, and, yes, our own enlightened self-interest (even the French press does not bother denying that the crisis in the country is the result of President Laurent Gbagbo having taken pro-U.S. stances and opened his country to American trade and investments which challenged longstanding French economic interests).

Balancing China's Expansion in Africa. Most American media, preoccupied with covering the final stretch of the election campaign, hardly noticed that the People's Republic of China (PRC) hosted last week the biggest diplomatic conference in the Middle Kingdom's millennial history. More than fifty heads of state and government and other ministers, representing African forty-one countries, gathered for a summit meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation heard Chinese president Hu Jintao promise to double the PRC's aid to Africa and offer more than $5 billion in loans and credits over the next three years with the stated goal of Chinese-African trade topping $100 billion by 2010 (by comparison, U.S. trade with Africa last year was valued at $60.3 billion). Coming within the context of already unprecedented Chinese engagement across the continent – as noted in an earlier column, an approach encompassing the quest for natural resources, business opportunities, diplomatic initiatives, and strategic partnerships – this expansion into a region which is more and more vital to U.S. interests, by America's only likely near-competitor for the foreseeable future, requires careful study and focused counterpoint by Washington, including both executive and legislative initiatives.

J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.