Academic journal article Parameters

Security Assistance in Africa: The Case for Less

Academic journal article Parameters

Security Assistance in Africa: The Case for Less

Article excerpt

Abstract: US strategic approaches in the African Great Lakes region are primarily based on security assistance for training and equipping African forces for operations in East, North, and West Africa. This assistance risks causing more incidents of violence. A new strategy, based on a comprehensive approach to the security challenges in the region, as well as the deployment of international "boots on the ground"--American or others--is needed to reduce violence and to minimize the risk of new terrorist safe havens appearing in central Africa.


One of the main security interests of the United States in Africa is to counter the violent extremism perpetrated by organizations such as the al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). (1) In order to do so, current US military strategy aims at training and equipping African forces for peacekeeping and counterterrorist operations. (2) Violent extremism in the Great Lakes region in central Africa (here understood as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda) is rare; nonetheless, over the past seven years, the United States has trained tens of thousands of troops in the region for deployment to other parts of Africa. Burundi and Uganda, for example, have almost 12,000 troops currendy deployed as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and Rwanda has more than 3,500 troops deployed in Sudan as part of the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

The Great Lakes region is highly unstable and characterized by a long history of violence, weak governments, a great number of armed groups, and regional power struggles. The most violent and unstable state is the DRC, where 7 million people currently require humanitarian assistance and nearly 2.8 million are internally displaced. (3) After three decades of authoritarian rule and widespread human rights violations by the government of President Mobutu Sese Seko (1965-1997), two regional wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003), several insurgencies, and perpetual local conflicts, the DRC is currently one of the world's five most fragile states. (4) The ungoverned territory in the eastern part of the country is utilized as a safe haven by a variety of domestic and foreign armed groups, including several from neighboring Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Over time, conflicts have been fueled across borders, creating an intricate web of violence within the region.

This article argues improving the capacity of the armed forces in this unstable region to conduct peacekeeping and counter-terrorism operations against violent extremists, current US military strategy actually risks escalating violent conflict in the Great Lakes. Not only would such an escalation be devastating for the populations living in the region, it would also be counterproductive for the United States, increasing the risk that terrorist safe havens will increase in central Africa.

There are two major problems with the current strategic approach. First, states in the region are fragile, making security cooperation perilous. Second, bilateral approaches in this region, which is characterized by intricate entanglements, risks disturbing the balance of power and increasing the risk of violent conflict.

By changing the current US strategy of bilateral security assistance and small-footprint interventions to one of putting international "boots on the ground"--American or others--the same amount of US resources might have more success in countering violent extremists in Africa. The United States should therefore support a regional intervention, either by the United Nations or the African Union.

United States in the Great Lakes Region

The United States military strategy in Africa rests on the principle that "efforts to meet security challenges in Africa is best led and conducted by African partners." (5) The United States thus relies on providing security assistance and small-footprint interventions. …

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