I highly commend to my friends who are Africanists or African, or Americans who have not been directly involved in the “national security” professions, a short op-ed piece today from Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.):
Karen Blixen’s evocative 1937 memoir “Out of Africa” was about the British Empire’s experience in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century, when European powers were scrambling to consolidate colonies across the massive landmass of Africa. Over the ensuing century, Africa has gone through massive decolonization, a population expansion, and enormous turmoil. Recently, US involvement, while episodic at best, has at least helped contain the rise of violent extremism. But the US is now considering withdrawing much of its military and intelligence capabilities in a shift designed to free up resources for a renewal of “great power competition.” This potential move out of Africa is a mistake, and we should examine the reasons for a sensible level of US security involvement on the continent.
The size and scale of Africa are important to understand, as are its economic and demographic growth. The continent is huge — you could fit China, India, the US (minus Alaska) and western Europe into it comfortably. It is a continent rich in diamonds, gold, rare earths, excellent farmland, and other natural resources including oil and vast, flowing rivers. Economically, the continent is the second-fastest-growing in the world and may hit 4% annual growth (despite many challenges, especially in the larger economies). Sudan, Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya are all pushing 8% growth. And from a population perspective, it already represents 16% of the world at 1.3 billion people, projected to grow to 2.5 billion by 2050 and perhaps 4.5 billion by the century’s end. Demographically, it is exploding. Nigeria, with a massive population spurt and a youthful populace, has been called the “Black China.”
But Africa’s future — despite its manifest advantages — is dependent on creating stable systems of governance and overcoming pockets of violent extremism that are dangerous and spreading. In west Africa, the ultraviolent group Boko Haram maintains a stronghold on much of northeast Nigeria; in east Africa, the al-Shabab group conducts constant terror attacks up and down the coast of the continent; piracy is still at work both in the Gulf of Guinea and the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean; and the entire Sahel — the region separating the northern Arab states from sub-Saharan Africa — has a strong and violent strain of al-Qaeda at work. And of course in the northern tier, ISIS is still attempting to recruit and conduct operations along the Mediterranean Sea.
With the creation of US Africa Command in 2007, the US military began to focus with great seriousness on working toward a more secure environment throughout the continent. At the time, I was a four-star combatant command in Miami at US Southern Command; I had my hands full in Latin America and the Caribbean with a virulent insurgency in Colombia, massive narcotics smuggling throughout the region, Cuban influence rising, Hezbollah in many spots, and an increasing level of Chinese political, intelligence, and military activity. In some ways, the challenges were similar in Africa, and I reached out to my new counterpart, General Kip Ward. He wisely decided to use a blend of hard and soft power to counter the security challenges, much as we were doing in Latin America. He had both a military deputy (a three-star officer) and a civilian deputy (an ambassador), the latter in charge of merging diplomacy, development, and defense, as well as coordinating efforts across agencies (State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, National Security Agency, etc.). I saw the command stand up and create a wave of momentum, eventually deploying around combat 7,000 troops but also working medical diplomacy, humanitarian operations, counternarcotics, disaster relief, rule of law, and other soft-power initiatives.
All of that has had a real effect in combating terrorism — both indigenous and the even more concerning export variety — against the groups noted above. One notable effort has been against the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, which operates on the borders of Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. . . .
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Stavridis thus provides an extremely “high altitude” look at the Continent and its past and future in support of his argument that keeping AFRICOM at its present relatively very small size is both inexpensive and strategically smart in the global sense, and also just in reference to China specifically. (Let me be clear that part of my point here is to flag but let readers draw their own conclusion about Stavridis leading with Karen Blixen and “Out of Africa” and the other stereotypical elements of his presentation.)
Adm. Stavridis retired from the Navy in 2013 after an extremely accomplished career. He served as Commander of the U.S. Southern Command from 2006 to 2009, then served as Commander of the European Command and Supreme Allied Commander. The perspective of a recent former SOUTHCOM and EUCOM Commander on AFRICOM is clearly invaluable to understanding that way of seeing the world.
Stavridis graduated from the Naval Academy in 1976 and climbed the ladder as a distinguished Surface Warfare Officer, along with UN/NATO deployments to Bosnia and Haiti in the 1990s. He ultimately commanded the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group “conducting combat operations in the Arabian Gulf in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom”.
Along the way, he did his PhD in International Relations at Tufts, along with other graduate degrees from Tufts, and the National and Naval War College. After retirement he served as the Dean of Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. So he is simply put a superstar by background and experience.
Today he is the Operating Executive for The Carlyle Group, the famous global defense-focused equity fund [NASDAQ: CG] and the Chair of the “Board of Counselors” of McClarty Associates, the famous Washington-based global consulting firm [“We know diplomacy; We provide diplomatic solutions”].
By way of disclosure, I retired from 12+ years as a defense industry lawyer working primarily in Navy shipbuilding around the time Stavridis retired from the Navy. I was on unpaid “public service leave” from this position for my East Africa democracy assistance work at the International Republican Institute. So Stavridis’ “high altitude” and military-centric perspective is very much something I was used to being around but will not be intuitive to those from other places (such those living in the various countries in Africa) or backgrounds.
I had already been a democracy assistance volunteer trainer for IRI before I started my career in the defense contracting world. So the notion of working at a “micro level” to assist the development of “democracy in one country” at a time–as opposed to focusing on the “ionospheric” overview of global strategy subdivided on the military side among the regional combatant commands (which did not yet include Africa as a separate region until the fall of 2008) was much of the reason I decided to take my temporary duty assistance job with IRI in 2007.
By law, promoting democracy is one of our defined American foreign policy priorities as established by Congress so there is no reason that funds should not be appropriated to USAID to then fund bona fide independent “International Election Observation Missions” and even independent polling programs that are not subject to interference from diplomats acting on normal short term preferences (such as “building capital” with an incumbent president who has previously disappointed us for indulging corruption).
From a macro geopolitical level our success in building our system around free and fair elections is an area of comparative advantage relative to the PRC. Thus spending a small amount of money in a way that it is not subject to “reach back” or diplomatic meddling to help citizens of African countries secure their votes and build durable democratic systems makes good strategic sense in a “great power competition” with China as well as more globally.
As for McClarty Associates, longtime readers or those who otherwise follow Kenyan elections closely might remember that McClarty Associates Vice Chairman John Negroponte was Deputy Secretary of State during the 2007-08 election crisis in Kenya. Negroponte met with representatives of the ODM opposition seeking release of the embargoed USAID-funded International Republican Institute exit poll done with the University of California, San Diego, showing an Odinga win. I learned through FOIA that Kalonzoo Musyoka met with Negroponte the same day:
The Kalonzo-Negroponte meeting was the same day as U.S. Senate hearings on the Kenyan election, lobbying by ODM with IRI and Negroponte for release of the USAID/IRI exit poll and that evening’s announcement that IRI found the poll “invalid”. (My FOIA did not result in any documents regarding the ODM-Negroponte meeting.)
From my e-mail to Joel Barkan in 2012:
Kalonzo meeting with Negroponte was in Washington on Feb 7, 08–also included [Kenyan Ambassador] Ogego and a staffer from Kenyan embassy. He said power sharing would be a set back for democracy as Kibaki win was “evident” from review at ECK. Would be willing to step aside as VP for Raila, but the Kenyan people would not support it as it would be “undemocratic”. Kalonzo assured that the violence was now under control, but that the U.S. should continue to call it “ethnic cleansing”. According to Salim Lone interview in Standard back in December ’08 he and ODM delegation met with Negroponte that day to push for release of exit poll before meeting with IRI.