USA — Africa Strategy Encourages Democracy, Development

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2011 — The Unit­ed States is pur­su­ing a strat­e­gy that aims to fos­ter sta­bil­i­ty and good, coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ships with nations on the African con­ti­nent, said Michele Flournoy, under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy.
“That strat­e­gy puts a pre­mi­um on sup­port­ing democ­ra­ti­za­tion and the emer­gence of democ­ra­cies in Africa, sup­port­ing eco­nom­ic growth and devel­op­ment and build­ing capac­i­ty,” Flournoy said dur­ing a recent inter­view in the Pen­ta­gon.

U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies work close­ly with each oth­er in Africa. The State Depart­ment and the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment have the lead in the nations of the con­ti­nent. The Defense Depart­ment and U.S. Africa Com­mand are in sup­port of these lead fed­er­al agencies. 

Much of the defense work in the nation is build­ing part­ner capac­i­ty. This can range from small unit tac­tics to med­ical train­ing to peace­keep­ing skills to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance operations. 

“It may be just gen­er­al mil­i­tary train­ing or it may be train­ing them in a spe­cial­ty area like med­ical evac­u­a­tion,” the under­sec­re­tary said. “We also use our mil­i­tary forces to do a lot of civ­il affairs type of work where we are sup­port­ing the inter­a­gency process and work­ing with mil­i­taries and com­mu­ni­ties writ large, again par­tic­u­lar­ly in human­i­tar­i­an operations.” 

U.S. Africa Com­mand is the Defense Department’s newest geo­graph­ic com­mand, and its estab­lish­ment has giv­en more coher­ence to defense sup­port of U.S. strat­e­gy on the con­ti­nent, she said. Pre­vi­ous­ly, the African con­ti­nent was split between three geo­graph­ic com­mands: U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand and U.S. Pacif­ic Command. 

“This led to some­what uneven lev­els of focus, ener­gy, resourc­ing, projects and so forth,” Flournoy said. “Pulling it all togeth­er under U.S. Africa Com­mand gives it a more sta­ble strate­gic per­spec­tive on what we’re doing across the con­ti­nent. It also gives a greater abil­i­ty to pri­or­i­tize effort and resources towards things that real­ly will make the great­est difference.” 

Africa has some increas­ing­ly strong region­al alliances, includ­ing the African Union and Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty of West­ern African States. “DOD works very much by, with and through these region­al alliances,” the under­sec­re­tary said. “We are work­ing close­ly with the African Union and ECOWAS to devel­op peace­keep­ing capacity.” 

One exam­ple of this work is the peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Soma­lia. U.S. train­ers worked with mil­i­tary per­son­nel from Ugan­da, Ety­hiopia and oth­er coun­tries to train them for the mis­sion. These are not large mis­sions, but small teams train­ing the trainers. 

The depart­ment is also learn­ing more about the cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic and eth­nic make-up of the continent. 

“We are under­stand­ing the sub-region­al dynam­ics of the con­ti­nent,” Flournoy said. “The issues that you deal with in the north are dif­fer­ent than those in the south. We are deal­ing with vio­lent extrem­ist groups in North Africa – al-Qai­da in the Mah­greb for exam­ple – that have used ungoverned or under-gov­erned spaces to try to gain a foothold. We’re also see­ing orga­ni­za­tions in Soma­lia –al Shabab, al-Qai­da on the Ara­bia Peninsula.” 

There is a growth in pira­cy cen­tered in Soma­lia and spread­ing through­out the Indi­an Ocean, she not­ed. “We are tak­ing a more chal­lenge-ori­ent­ed approach and a more sub-region­al approach that real­ly looks at how we can take a com­mon chal­lenge and work with a group of coun­tries to build their capac­i­ties to be more effec­tive in deal­ing with that with us in sup­port,” she said. “In 10 years, we hope these coun­tries will have the capac­i­ty and they will be more able to respond to crises, and also get ahead of them and pre­vent them.” 

Much of the progress posit­ed depends on the progress of democ­ra­ti­za­tion and devel­op­ment. “So many of these crises in Africa come from very weak expe­ri­ences with democ­ra­cy and peace­ful changeovers in pow­er – we’re see­ing that right now in Cote d’Ivoire,” Flournoy said. “Every time you have a sit­u­a­tion that becomes a full-time cri­sis, you are essen­tial­ly set­ting back the devel­op­ment effort for a peri­od of time as well.” 

The cre­ation of peace­ful polit­i­cal process­es that set the con­di­tions for devel­op­ment to occur “is the name of the game in Africa,” she said. 

Flournoy said there are many that have had peace­ful tran­si­tions and are expe­ri­enc­ing the growth that such peace and sta­bil­i­ty brings. 

The U.S. is also work­ing with oth­er nations out­side Africa to make best use of resources. For exam­ple he U.S. is col­lab­o­rat­ing with France to com­bat ter­ror­ism in North Africa. Amer­i­can lead­ers are also coop­er­at­ing with ships from Chi­na, India, Rus­sia, Sin­ga­pore and the Euro­pean Union to com­bat piracy. 

One con­stant in U.S. strat­e­gy in Africa is reduc­ing the ungoverned or under-gov­erned pock­ets on the con­ti­nent. The AIDS epi­dem­ic, prob­lems of pover­ty and cor­rup­tion and lit­tle or no infra­struc­ture in many areas ham­pers progress, and that can mean dan­gers to Americans. 

“Vio­lent extrem­ism grows from not ful­fill­ing the needs of the peo­ple,” Flournoy said. 

The under­sec­re­tary praised the Nation­al Guard’s state part­ner pro­gram for its work not only in Africa, but glob­al­ly. The Guard teams come from a state and team with a coun­try to fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion and under­stand­ing. “We have these all over the world,” she said. “We see in so many of these sit­u­a­tions how long-term rela­tion­ships are so impor­tant to build trust and build capacity.” 

This is not a one-time deal for the teams and the nations par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram, Flournoy point­ed out. “They come again, and again, and again and the rela­tion­ships are built, the trust is built and over time real capac­i­ty is built,” she said. “At a time when the active force is so heav­i­ly engaged in Iraq and in Afghanistan, hav­ing the Nation­al Guard teams that can pro­vide con­sis­tent focus and work with­in the coun­tries with which they are paired.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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