Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Security Threats Facing Africa and Its Capacity to Respond

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Security Threats Facing Africa and Its Capacity to Respond

Article excerpt

Africa is currently facing two entirely distinct security threats, one from the rise of radical Islam, the other from increased natural resource extraction. African security forces are ill-equipped to meet these threats. Much of this is deep-rooted, rather than due to deficiencies that could readily be addressed. I first set out each of the new security threats. I then turn to Africa's military capacity, tracing its limitations to underlying motivations. I suggest that the most straightforward way of changing the belief systems that generate motivation is strengthening national identity, but that this has been made more difficult by the divisive force of electoral competition. I conclude that Africa will need three forms of international support.

Threat l: Radical Islam

Radical Islam is a global phenomenon, generated by the uncontrolled dissemination of extremist ideology, supported by vast private wealth in the Gulf, the use of which is not subject to scrutiny. It poses a distinctive threat to Africa partly because many African countries have substantial Muslim populations that, in conditions of poverty and poor governance, can easily become disaffected. Additionally, the threat is distinctive because the organizations needed to counter it effectively require a level of sophistication and cost that are beyond the means of most African militaries.

The threat from radical Islam has recently been evident in Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya and Nigeria. In Mali and CAR it was existential: without timely French military intervention both states would have been overrun and fallen to radical Islamic forces. In Nigeria and Kenya the threat has taken the form of sensational terrorism that, while not threatening the states themselves, is highly damaging to their international reputations. This difference in consequences is primarily due to the greater military capacity of Nigeria and Kenya: both countries have economies that are sufficiently robust to finance militaries with the capacity to defeat feasible rebel challenges. However, their security forces are not adequate for the more demanding task of preventing the escalation of terrorism.

In all four situations the Islamic terrorism is a spill-over from failing neighbouring countries in which Islamic militants have been able to build their military capacity. The meltdown in Libya, which is ongoing, provided a base from which a rebel force could equip itself sufficiently to defeat the Malian army; the endemic insecurity of vast areas of the Sahel enabled a rebel force to defeat the army of CAR and to infiltrate North-East Nigeria; and Islamists in Somalia were able to mount terrorist attacks in Kenya. Geography, more than policy differences, probably accounts for why it is these countries and not others that are facing the worst threats: these countries border on failing states. But there is clearly potential for terrorism to spread.

Threat 2: Natural Resource Discoveries

Although Africa has long been a natural resource exporter, until recently it was only lightly prospected: resource extraction per square mile was much lower than in other regions. The high commodity prices of the past decade have triggered a wave of investment in prospecting and, because Africa was the least explored region, it became the favored location for exploration. During the past decade many valuable resources have been discovered in previously resource-poor African countries, often in remote areas. During the present decade the mines and transport infrastructure will be developed in order to exploit these discoveries.1

While natural resources have the potential to finance development, they also have the potential to catalyze violent conflict.2 Valuable resources have sometimes been a source of finance for rebel groups, as with diamonds in Angola and Sierra Leone. They have also raised the stakes for capturing power, while reducing the need for accountability to citizens by displacing taxes as the primary source of state revenue: the resulting contamination of politics has long been illustrated by Nigeria. …

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