In my last post, I explored the fact that Ambassador Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.
In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.
In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. After going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).
The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”
This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.
Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.
One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.
This is a piece reflecting some partly tongue-in-cheek musing on complex and deadly serious larger questions of “who we want to be” in the world, with specific immediate relevance to the Sudan crisis, Libya and Yemen, along with current issues with Iran that I touched on in my last post.
I decided to subordinate the title and add this preface to make sure that it was clear that I hoped to be taken “seriously but not literally”:
If we replaced Turkey with Saudi Arabia in NATO could we acknowledge the Armenian genocide while cutting hypocrisy on current support for religious freedom versus security interests?
There are a few moving pieces here, but stay with me.
First, we have longstanding unfinished business on simply acknowledging historic fact on the Armenian genocide.
This was a basic premise of the Barack Obama presidential campaign in 2008–the whole “hope and change” versus fear and loathing thing. The whole Samantha Power to lead our Mission to the UN thing. Unfortunately, it got Overcome By Events, along with the notion that Obama’s personal background, “story” and manner would allow him to be a sort of “Christian Islamist Whisperer” to realize the hopes reflected in his June 2009 Cairo “remarks to the Muslim world” from Al-Azhar.
Instead, we have let ourselves be embarrassingly bullied by Turkey. See “For Anniversary of Armenian Genocide Obama Calls It an ‘Atrocity’ Instead“, NYTimes, April 24, 2014: (“Although Mr. Obama called the acts against the Armenians genocide as a presidential candidate in 2008 and vowed to do so once he reached the White House, he again chose not to follow through on his promise for fear of offending Turkey, a NATO ally that denies that the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians constituted genocide. Instead, Mr. Obama implied that he still thought it was genocide even if he did not say so directly.”). To what benefit? While we have and will continue to have some interests in common with the regime in Turkey it is clear that Turkey continues to move away from democratic values, including respect for religious freedom and tolerance at the same time they have made it clear that the security relationship is very situational. What might have made sense during the Cold War when confronting the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact during Turkey’s years of secular authoritarianism make less sense under Turkish Islamism now that even Greece has democratized, the Russians dissolved direct control of the various European and Central Asian republics previously colonized and the Warsaw Pact disbanded in accordance with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Of the Islamist governments in the region, it is Saudi Arabia with whom we seem to be mutually committed rather than Turkey. Likewise, in the context of NATO if there is one Western government more committed to the Saudis than we are, it is the UK (London), the other party to our “special relationship”. Selling arms to the Saudis is a “national emergency” for the Trump Administration, and keeping the Saudis off the list of countries using child soldiers just now and earlier certifying that the Saudis were serious about trying to miss civilians in their Yemen bombings join our commitment to “knowing” as little as possible about the Khashoggi murder in demonstrating some extraordinary bond. Just as British “national security” trumped law enforcement by the UK on the BAE bribery in the al-Yamamah deals.
Our relationship with the Saudis predates the formation of NATO and a time of recognition of reality vis-a-vis Turkey may be the time to more formally recognize what the Saudi alliance has now come to be.
By recognizing the Armenian genocide while formally including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in mutual defense obligations, we can show that we disapprove historically of the purging of Christian and other minority religious populations while making clear that our own security as we see it in an immediate sense is our first and foremost priority and that we do not object to exclusivist and repressive Islamist governments that are willing to cooperate militarily and on national security. (And this could be another opportunity for President Trump to cooperate with Kim Kardashian on a policy initiative, as in some criminal justice reforms.)
Amidst the continuing turmoil and instability that touches many parts of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) maintain a fierce rivalry vying for regional and Islamic dominance. Both countries factor prominently into U.S. regional goals and interests as Iran (since its Islamic Revolution in 1979) serves as the preeminent regional threat and adversary to the U.S. while the KSA, in many ways, serves as the centerpiece of U.S. efforts to counter and degrade Iranian influence in the region. As the region’s premiere Islamic rivals, internal social, economic, and political movements within the KSA and the IRI inherently shape and inform U.S. actions and efforts aimed at undermining hostile (IRI) objectives while supporting friendly (KSA) initiatives. U.S. President Trump, for instance, was quick to voice support in early 2018 for protesters in Iran railing against (among other things) perceived regime inaction and contribution to the stagnant Iranian economy. Alternatively, Trump preserved U.S. support to the KSA even after allegations of KSA government involvement in the killing of a prominent and outspoken journalist. Such dynamics underscore how the inner-workings of regional rivals create venues and opportunities for the advancement of U.S. interests confronting regional threats by applying pressure and defining alliances using different elements of national power.
In 2016, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, known as “MBS,” unveiled an ambitious and grandiose plan for economic, cultural, and social change in the Kingdom. In response to a worldwide decline in oil prices that drastically shrunk Saudi cash reserves and simultaneously highlighted the precarious state of the Kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, MBS released “Vision2030”- a sweeping program of reform that aimed to create a vibrant society, build a thriving economy, and establish a culture of ambition within the Kingdom. Motivating these ideas was a desire to increase the privatization of the economy and make Saudi society attractive to foreign investment to diversify the economy and decrease its dependence on oil. Whether explicitly or implicitly, the mechanisms of change that drive the execution of MBS’ Vision2030 rest on the extent to which Western values (namely free-market principles and social liberalism) can be inculcated into a historically conservative and closed society. Given the magnitude of Vision2030’s scope, targeting all of Saudi society, the ideology involved in its execution (incorporating Western values), and the KSA’s geopolitical status as a key U.S. ally against Iranian foreign policy objectives, the implementation and execution of Vision2030 cannot fail but to have far-reaching impacts on both Middle Eastern regional stability in general and U.S. efforts confronting Iran in particular.
In terms of aid, the Trump Administration deserves credit for stepping up some overdue help and attention to minority religious communities beleaguered in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the rise of al-Queda in Iraq/ISIS. At the same time, they have turned a harder, colder shoulder to accepting immigrants while embracing the exponents of Wahabist ideological expansionism who have done so much harm to pluralism and tolerance even in areas where it once thrived.
1. The basic rationale would be a version of the thinking in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2001-03: sanctions do not work forever, we have been in a low grade conflict mode for years against an intransigent regime that is not going to change its mind about willingness to use terror, a desire to threaten regional interests and aspirations for extended regional influence and a refusal to loosen domestic repression to allow any opportunity for “organic normalization”. Ultimately proliferation happens and the regime will get nuclear weapons in addition to the other WMDs it has had/is developing. At the same time, the repression assures a domestic mass constituency for liberalization.
2. In my perch in the defense industry in 2003 (working on Navy shipbuilding on the Gulf Coast) I was unpersuaded personally that the Bush Administration had made its case for the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me that we did not know enough about the situation to know what would happen next after we invaded, especially in the context of the Sunni/Shiite and other divisions within the country. It seemed too risky, too much of a “Hail Mary” so to speak, given what was argued by the Administration’s public diplomacy such as the Colin Powell speech at the UN and domestic speeches in the US, Congressional debates and such about the alleged threat.
3. At that time I was a lifelong Republican, and was by reputation somewhat connected in the Party, although I was not active in partisan politics while I was a lawyer in the shipyard (starting in 2000) because it seemed unrealistic to participate as a citizen “free agent” while being a lawyer with the dominant local industry as opposed to my previous work as a student and lawyer in private practice. I had voted for George W. Bush as the Republican nominee in 2000 although he was not a top choice for the nomination because I thought he was thin on experience and got the top of the field through preemptive fundraising clout rather than comparative merit. Ironically I had been reassured about Bush’s limited experience by Cheney’s performance in the campaign, even though I was unenthused about having essentially an all-Dallas ticket and Cheney’s role in asserting himself as running mate. I did not have an understanding of how contradictory Cheney’s own views were from the messages Bush presented in the campaign. All this is to say that I was not going to automatically support a war because Bush was proposing it–the most salient reason in Washington–but I should have been highly susceptible to being persuaded and they did not succeed in persuading me.
4. I will also note that there were countervailing influences over a period of time. Several years before the start of Fox News I got married and became active again in church having drifted during school years and then we had our first child. Even during the Bill Clinton/Ken Starr years I probably spent more time in church than with cable television, a major fork in the road and ultimately countercultural. The al Qaeda USS Cole bombing hit shortly after I started in shipbuilding and the Cole was brought to our yard for the repair/reconstruction so I was very aware of al Qaeda before being in Washington on business on 9-11. Then I went home and carried on. Yes, things had “changed” but the basic issues, challenges and choices remained.
5. As an orthodox non-fundamentalist Protestant who was not a daily consumer of Fox News, I did not feel a call to cast aside my formative moral orientation of restraint for peace and embrace some new doctrine of “pre-emptive war”.
6. Nonetheless, in the run up to Iraq I continued to read and study and learn but did not actually do anything to act on my lack of persuasion that we should invade.
7. While I was not in a position of influence, ultimately I have concluded that we went to war because hundreds or thousands of people in or around Washington who did know or should have known better went along with it anyway. And in doing so we made collectively as a country a most consequential foreign policy mistake and a moral misjudgment.
8. So now today I want to warn that going to war with Iran as a preemptive policy choice rather than a bona fide necessity would gravely set back our recovery from the 2003 miscalculation in Iraq and jeopardize the hopes of Iraqis for a better future. It would potentially arrogate to ourselves a role and responsibility in Iran that we simply are not prepared for, morally or otherwise. It would potentially kill who knows how many people not given a choice in the matter. And it would sap hope of standing up to outside counter-democratic forces (Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Egypt, Russia and China) in the immediate Sudan crisis which presents an important positive longterm opportunity for us to be who we say we want to be. It would have related impact in Somalia and throughout the Horn of Africa and to an unpredictable extent well beyond on the Continent. We already lack adequate diplomatic bandwidth to do as much as what we could with our “Prosper Africa” policy and are notionally planning military drawdowns even though AFRICOM has seen substantial degradation in overall security versus Islamist terrorist groups during its ten year existence. AFRICOM has yet to become the “different type of combatant command” that it was planned to be in substantial part because of the inevitable institutional inertia associated with a “permanent war” footing in the Middle East and South Asia. Likewise war with Iran could increase Iranian-supported terrorist activity in East and West Africa. And we all know that Donald Trump does not have the experience or moral gravitas to take these decisions.
Michael Ranneberger, whose controversial tenure as United States ambassador to Kenya is well remembered, is the managing partner at Gainful Solutions.
Comparing his posture back then, his flip from the high priest of justice and human rights, to the devil’s advocate cannot escape attention.
Former assistant secretary for African affairs Jendayi Frazer, is another US top gun diplomat who is well known for her consultancy services across East and Central Africa since leaving US government service.
At issue here is whether American diplomacy, as represented by Frazer and Ranneberger, subscribes to any universal values at all. It is obvious that the duo are exploiting the networks made during their career, to make hay today.
In an ideal world, the stakes in South Sudan are so high, that they should be adequate incentive for anybody to think beyond the short-term gains an individual could make out of the situation.
Ultimately, however, external interference cannot be discussed without examining the role of the African politician who has been a willing accomplice by shunting aside the national interest in favour of self-preservation. [this is EA revised text]
[(East African) EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been corrected to remove the association earlier made between big infrastructure projects in Uganda and Ms Jendayi Frazer. Ms Frazer has not been involved in any infrastructure deals in Uganda and her name was inadvertently mentioned in that segment of the leader. We regret the error.]
Editorial criticism of Ranneberger and Frazer of this type is not the East African’s usual approach, as reflected in the defection of many of their Nation Media Group opinion columnists to The Elephant’s East African Review, as well as to The Standard, in the wake of the handling of coverage of the Uhuruto re-election fiasco in 2017-18and Jubilee crackdowns on the media. Some years ago the East African passed up a friend’s offer to put together my experience and investigation from this blog on how Ranneberger and to some extent Frazer played the 2007 Kenyan election while they were in the State Department from my “War for History” series.
So kudos to theEast African now for calling this issue out editorially, even if the news departments have not been covering these developments in the past. Maybe that can change.
One of my questions in looking at the current Kenyan presidential race has been how Dr. Frazer will play it, especially given that there is no way to know now who will be in power then in Washington. Assuming that the current “handshake” holds and that Frazer’s first relationship is with the Kenyattas, would she affirmatively step up for Raila in the face of a serious challenge from Ruto in a competitive “two-horse” presidential race? Or would she approach this differently? (She was firm in her position that what was done in the Rift Valley in the wake of the 2007 election fraud was “ethnic cleansing” even though “Main State” would not adopt her terminology, so it would arguably seem pretty awkward for her to support Ruto, wholly aside from the current corruption situation with Ruto). She was vital to the Uhuruto ticket in the 2013 race and to its perception and reception in Washington in the Obama years thereafter to my way of thinking. Getting called out publicly in the East African and not just having dealings with Uhuru and Kagame is a wild card.
When The Starhad me write some columns in the spring of 2013, they headlined the one dated March 23 challenging Dr. Frazer’s support of the Uhuruto defense in the Supreme Court of the IEBC’s questionable numbers to avoid a runoff after “failure” of the Results Transmission System in the election petition by civil society and the opposition as “Jendayi Frazer lacks moral authority“. Read the whole piece if you are interested in Kenyan elections or U.S. democracy assistance, but I concluded:
The thing that is most striking to me about this now, in light of the current litigation about the manual vote tally by the IEBC in this election, is that Jendayi Frazer was the head of the Africa Bureau at the State Department during 2007-08 when the previous Exit Poll was withheld and the misleading “press guidance” put out [by the Africa Bureau as I had just learned from FOIA]. Today, as a private citizen, Dr. Frazer is aggressively arguing in the Kenyan press and in the press back in Washington to once again uphold the disputed work of the Kenyan election officials against the concerns raised by the opposition. I cannot justify how this was handled when she was in charge in 2007 and 2008.
When I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Frazer the first time later I did apologize to the extent of noting that the phrasing of the headline itself was not something that I myself would personally have written, although I stand by the content of what I did write. When I published “The Debacle of 2007: How Kenyan Politics Was Frozen and an Election Stolen with U.S. Connivance” (again, the headline is not mine) in The Elephant in June 2017, I focused primarily on my direct dealings with Ranneberger. Frazer’s exact role as his superior and the intentions of any formal policy beyond the law as such have never been made fully clear. Ranneberger’s cables as provided under FOIA from before and immediately after the election leave gaps and questions as to what was reported to Washington before Frazer and later Rice were dispatched to Nairobi starting several days after the vote during the post-election violence (although it would be unfair to Ranneberger to make assumptions from that circumstance alone, and various facts were misrepresented in Washington after the vote regardless.)
More broadly, I have agreed with some of Dr. Frazer’s many policy approaches and disagreed with some. What I would think about her personal integrity regarding the 2007 election would depend on whether she was acting per instructions of policy or making it herself. In 2013, I did not appreciate her public role and have not qualified my reaction based on anything I seen since.
At the same time, Frazer seems to have been a primary architect of some policy approaches in Africa that were quite positive and that left the U.S. in better stead in the G.W. Bush years in Africa than elsewhere, in spite of conspicuous controversy regarding Somalia. Arguably with PEPFAR and other initiatives there was some actual “compassionate conservatism” undertaken in SubSaharan Africa even as the anti-compassionate forces reflecting the Vice President’s approach changed the direction of the Bush Administration foreign policy elsewhere in the wake of 9-11. Post-Bush Administration she is relatively ubiquitous in elite U.S. institutions associated with Africa, especially as an African-American as well as her various “Afrocapitalism” engagements. So in that regard she earned respect and a willingness on my part not to assume the worst even if there are some things that look bad.
Ultimately, in spite of the fact that she tends to be quite assertive in her positions, I find her to be a bit of an enigma really. Regardless, anyone as involved in as many things in as many places as she is is going to be wrong some of the time. As a diplomat that involvement may not always be optional absent resigning, but it is a choice for a private citizen.
33 member nations:Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, The Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States and Yemen.
China and India do send ships independently to cooperate in the CTF-151 mission. But given the volume of Chinese and Indian trade and shipping at this point, are they bearing their fair share of the cost?
Piracy has been radically reduced in recent years off Somalia and in the bab-el-Mandeb, Gulf of Aden region patrolled by CTF-151.
For the United States to solve the “free rider” problem for trade competitors, especially the PRC, the best approach it seems to me is to increase our own trade and investment in East Africa, as well as globally where we have facilitated the rise of the PRC as a trading power through free global maritime security, direct and indirect foreign investment, lax cybersecurity and intellectual property protections, etc.
While it has been our policy since my childhood to facilitate the rise of China, although under slightly varying rationales at different times over the years, President Trump has sometimes, along with a few of his advisors, expressed a desire to change this policy and our formal National Security Policy calls for recognition of “great power competition” as the superseding longterm priority to the ongoing war with al-Queda and progeny or similar groups.
National Security Advisor Bolton announced a “New Africa Policy” suggesting some rethinking back in December, but it seems to have been largely overcome by events since then. Bolton’s “back to the 80’s” focus on Cuba and Nicaragua to add to the standoff involving Venezuela, along with primary redirection of focus to the permanent “shadow war” with Iran, takes bandwidth, already constrained, away from African issues. Meanwhile rapidly unfolding events in Sudan, Algeria, Libya and Egypt at a time of increased uncertainty in much of Central Africa with limited clear U.S. engagement suggest that we are very much in flux about whether we are serious about recalibrating our overall reticence to compete in Africa.
Powerful forces of bureaucratic inertia and domestic American politics suggest that we are likely to continue deficit spending to help secure Chinese trade with Africa without get much further toward making it pay for itself at least through the 2020 election.
The attack on Garissa University killing 147 Kenyans, primarily Christian students, was four years ago this week. It is sad to recognize the degree to which this type of threat may have grown in some important respects rather than reduced since that time.
In a nutshell, the current chapter of war in Somalia has been underway since December 2006 with the Ethiopian invasion to restore the Transitional Federal Government which had been forced out of Mogadishu and was under threat of complete collapse in the face of fighters supporting the Islamic Courts Unions. There is a fair bit of fog on the details of the U.S. role. Secretary Condoleezza Rice wrote in one of her memoirs, No Higher Honor, that Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, already having expressed concern about spillover effects in Ethiopia from an extremist takeover in Somalia, called her on December 29 to let her know that his military was going in and, “Frankly, I did not try to dissuade him”. While there seems to be no surfaced evidence that we initiated the idea and some Americans involved in dealing with the Ethiopians could have been more discouraging at some prior point–clarity will await the historians–we nonetheless got directly involved without any public debate or disclosure to the American public. By the “go date” –just prior to December 29–we ended up providing air support and special forces hunting terrorists, at least, as well as coordinating with Kenya in the south as reported.
Rice’s memoir indicates she had no high regard or expectation regarding the TFG. She also writes that the Ethiopians were supposedly intending to be quickly in and out. Given these two factors, it is hard to understand exactly what was hoped for or expected (one has to be at least reminded of Libya or Afghanistan or Iraq where we were supposedly intervening militarily to prevent bad behavior without having a clear plan for the aftermath).
There has been some argument from commentators that we opposed the Islamic Courts Union because it was “Islamist”. The United States has close and supportive relations with a variety of Islamist governments, most conspicuously of course the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself which has had such a big ideological footprint in re-shaping education and worship among Muslims in Kenya, Somalia and throughout East Africa (and globally) so it does not make any sense to think that the U.S. supported a military ouster of the ICU just because they were Islamist rather than either tolerant or secular.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia had become a military ally of perceived importance and the invasion made sense for Meles Zenawi as head of a EPRDF regime that had its own reasons be concerned about a consolidating Islamist government regime next door, in an environment in which it had cracked down on political expression following a strong opposition showing and protests from the May 2005 election. For the U.S. I suspect that the motivator, in addition to supporting Meles, was the notion of the ICU as providing a “safe haven” for al Qaeda figures, including especially suspects in the Kenya and Tanzanian Embassy bombings, rather than issues more specific to the civil war or otherwise of internal governance. Al-Shabab has a long history with al Qaeda connected foreign fighters in leadership, and al Qaeda’s involvement in Somalia predated the ICUs by many years, although al-Shabaab it did not publicly and formally declare allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and become an open affiliate until 2012.
In 2002 the United States Central Command had established its base in Djibouti for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. In December 2006 the new “Africa Command”–AFRICOM–had been announced but did not become operational and take over the Somalia war in its Area of Responsibility until late 2008, or almost two years into the war. AFRICOM has continued to be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany for ten years now and relies on the CJTF-HOA as its only formal “base” on the continent, although in layman’s terms it has many small “base-like facilities” with various “MILSPEAK” labels across the north and central parts of the continent. Journalist Nick Turse in particular has identified facilities for American readers who do not have the opportunity to see these locations for themselves by seeking records and public sources, while sparring with the AFRICOM public affairs function who seem to have orders to make sure only skeptics will report most of what AFRICOM does. Several of these facilities, such as Camp Simba at Manda Bay near the Somali border in Kenya, are particularly relevant to the warfighting in Somalia. See “Africa is a Command: from Bush to Obama to Trump“.
Following the Ethiopian action, in early 2007 the African Union AMISOM “peacekeeping” force was established to continue to defend the restored TFG and it’s internationally sponsored “transition”, with the EU funding the AU to pay for troops from Burundi, Uganda and other providers. In October 2011 Kenya entered the war with a land invasion from the south and roughly nine months later in June 2012 formally enrolled their Kenya Defense Forces fighters in the AMISOM mission for reimbursement. In September of 2012 Kenya AMISIM conducted a successful amphibious landing and joint attack with the Somali National Army and local militia, taking over the lucrative port at Kismayo, a regional charcoal and sugar smuggling venue that was controlled by al Shabaab and had been their key urban center since they were replaced from Mogadishu in 2011. Kismayo is capital of the Jubaland region that Kenya has long seen as a potential buffer beyond its own underdeveloped and ethnic Somali frontier. At present, Jubaland’s nascent regional government, led by former local warlord, is negotiating the possibility of resuming cooperation with the nascent Somali Federal Government, successor to the TFG, and is to hold a presidential election in August. Kenyan forces over the years have suffered significant, but officially obscured, losses in major attacks on two of their positions, but have generally avoided any sustained pace of conflict in supporting the regional Jubaland administration. Smuggling reportedly continues to be lucrative and shared by the KDF with al-Shabaab and non-al-Shabaab Jubaland Somalis. Kenyans at home have suffered high profile terrorist attacks from al-Shabaab and its supporters from both countries and the Kenyan “frontier region” seems to be more contested than at any time in the last 40 years, although political devolution seems to provide some examples of integration-supportive development progress. See “Now to that next step: evaluating the Kenya Defense Forces role in Somalia and Kenya’s security needs“.
Over the years since 2007 the war has ebbed and flowed on a seemingly sustainable, semi-permanent footing. Both the recognized government and al-Shabaab have territory and funding and some resilient will even if leadership seem frequently fluid. AMISOM expert and George Washington University Professor Paul Williams has suggested that AMISOM could reasonably hope to pass off to a Somali defense in as little as ten more years, which would mean we are slightly more than half-way through a 22-year mission.
For some reason, there seem to be disruptive elements in recent months aside from the continued high number of suicide bombings and the major January terror attack in Nairobi’s Westlands. First, there seems to be the strange notion that AMISOM should draw down troop numbers now because someone years ago guessed that something more like ten years rather than twenty would be adequate. This strikes me as quite irresponsible. Inertia is not a substitute for a strategy and tactics that adjust to interim successes and failures.
Second, the big increase in air strikes. The strikes are not explained other than announcements after each in which al-Shabaab fighters are said to have been killed and that the strikes were in support of operations of the Somali National Army and/or AMISOM or protecting our troops supporting same. Reportedly we only have around 500 “warfighters” of our own deployed so it is the volume of air strikes rather than personnel that represent a significant change and raise the question why?
Sometimes, the question of the deployment of 500 American warfighters can achieve major political resonance with the United States–such as the recent back and forth within the Administrations about residual deployment numbers for eastern Syria. Others, as in the case of Somalia seem nearly invisible.
Reading through the AFRICOM public communications, one gets the impression that the Command has a concern to re-assure our African “partners” (“partner” in this context means any government in the Area of Responsibility that is not off limits for reason of some egregious human rights situation or other policy matter that will agree to let us help them with training and capacity building in return for access and cooperation) that we are not going to abandon them to their “violent extremists” as we are calling the various Islamist guerrilla forces that use terrorism among their insurgency toolkits.
In the case of AFRICOM, the official “MILSPEAK” term for a ten percent drawdown in American forces in Africa associated with the new National Defense Strategy is “Optimization”. (One could suggest that this is the defense assistance analog to USAID’s “Self Reliance” focus coinciding with the Trump Administrations budget proposals to dramatically cut assistance budgets while increasing overall defense spending.) Of course we are all in favor of being optimal, and self-reliant, just like we all want to be best, but these kind of words mean different things to different people, especially when used as public diplomacy labels to win support for changes in policy.
Could increasing air strikes seem to someone in the process in Washington a way to “show commitment” to fighting al-Shabaab even as our global posture shifts? Could they indicate concerns of more al-Queda related transnational terrorists coming in with the territorial defeat of ISIS in Syria or otherwise? Or if AMISOM is going to be allowed to draw down is there a desire to substitute air strikes or expedite the pace of fighting to keep al-Shabaab from waiting out AMISOM before the Somalia National Army is capable? These are all just hypotheticals for me as an American not employed or contracted by my government to be personally involved beyond paying the taxes and preparing my children for the debt load.
Part of the challenge with Somalia is that we are not ready, at least yet, to acknowledge being “at war” even though there is not any serious factual debate about the fact that we are and have been. The fact that we are fighting is not officially secret, but neither are we open about it. We are not seeking public support in either the United States or in East Africa for what we are doing since we are willing to talk about it only in a way that is patently condescending rather than inviting engagement.
I am hoping that somewhere in my Government someone has come up with a new strategy for this war and that it went up the military and ultimately civilian chain-of-command before we started this escalated air campaign. The other possibility is pure self-perpetuating institutional “mission creep” which would be disturbing and irresponsible:
The escalation of airstrikes, as well as the introduction of manned gunships, has transformed the Defense Department’s Africa Command, based in Germany, into a war-fighting element akin to Central Command, which directs the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Africa Command, which was created only in 2007, has stressed that its role on the continent is to focus on training and equipping allied troops on the continent, but the rise in strikes points to a change in both posture and mission. Current and former American officialspreviously told The Timesthat there wasn’t one clear reason for the increase, but they noted that the drawdown of American military operations elsewhere in the world has given Africa Command more drones and gunships to use in Somalia. The loosening of regulations under the Trump administration on using force in the country has also contributed to the rise.
There has been an explosion of great work in English relating to Africa in the podcast genre recently, and as an amateur I am way behind in sampling the free learning available just from time constraints. Today I want to flag the relatively new “On Africa” podcast hosted by Travis Adkins which has been a great teacher for me.
Start with Episode One, on October 4 of last year with Amb. Johnnie Carson, who has lived the history of the relationship between the U.S. and Zimbabwe, on “Zimbabwe after Mugabe.” November 6 on Cameroon as an “Electoral Dictatorship in Crisis” with Dr. Chris Fomunyoh of NDI was especially helpful for me since I focus on East Africa and do not have much background on the unique challenges there. Dr. Fomunyoh is a native of Anglophone Cameroon but attended university in Francophone Cameroon and has been a high level fixture for many years at NDI where he is Director for West and Central Africa.
Episodes of December 19, 26 and 31 on Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page were especially good. Amb. Page has a personal background with the negotiations leading to the 2005 provisional government, served as NDI Regional Director and was appointed by President Obama as the first U.S. Ambassador following South Sudanese independence–so again, a sweep of recent history on into current events from an “insider” perspective.
Most recently for me, the February 13 episode with Zach Vertin, former diplomat now at the Brookings Institution Doha gives a 39 minute dive into the current “Red Sea Rivalries” shaking up international relations in the Horn of Africa region. Partin has a new book out on the birth of South Sudan which sounds fascinating and I have on my list.
Most of the best Africa podcasts I have been able to take time for in recent years have been more of an academic nature–what Adkins is doing at “On Africa” with accessible overviews of high level politics and diplomacy with people directly involved is a welcome addition for someone like me who wants to deepen and broaden their knowledge as an interested citizen with limited time due to other responsibilities.
When General Thomas Waldhauser, the outgoing AFRICOM Commander, went before the Senate Armed Services Committee (“SASC”) for public testimony on the AFRICOM Annual Posture Statement relating to the legislative budget process–a performative function for the Senators and the Senate and the Military–someone seems to have failed to scrub the presentation with an appreciation for how it would look to use an “infographic” to publicly describe to the world–especially to interested citizens in the 53 “partner” states of the AFRICOM Area of Operations (“AOR”)–one of the “U.S. strategic interests in Africa” as to “decrease potential for Africa to become a failed continent”.
Some of us who are “olds” (surely this term is a bit insensitive 🧐) and have spent at least some of our formative years before the pervasiveness of global public communications seem to forget that we Americans live in a global fishbowl of our own making.
General Waldhauser will have spent his career with military electronic communications but will have climbed some ranks before civilian application reached the point that “public” in Washington was automatically realtime “public” nearly everywhere.
Security issues, especially terrorism and civil unrest, have cross-border components that may be magnified by the large number of independent countries in the geographic areas involved, but this sort of loose, broad brush talk that might be useful for selling a budget in a competitive bureaucratic marketplace is embarrassing and counterproductive from the standpoint of official communications and “public diplomacy” because it makes AFRICOM look out of touch and patronizing.
In this way, AFRICOM seems to have accidentally put itself at cross purposes in communications with what is supposed to be the “New Africa Strategy” as announced by the National Security Advisor that is intended to reflect a shift of emphasis to American trade and investment with and in African countries. Since the end of the Cold War we have focused on securing the global “lanes of trade”, especially the world’s only “blue water Navy”, facilitating trade between China as well as India, Japan, the EU and others and African countries, without much real policy focus on our own economic participation beyond aid and philanthropy.
Now that China is so much richer, seems to be re-doubling domestic repression and investing heavily in quickly building out both traditional and “new technology” military tools, while leaning on our longstanding allies in Southeast Asia and showing other geopolitical ambitions, we wish to increase our own economic participation in Africa’s growth for the kind of normal geopolitical reasons that we had de-emphasized in recent years.
In competing against the United States, as well as against Japan, Europe and the UK and other more developed democratic powers in Africa, the PRC naturally wants to sell the idea that the Chinese Communist Party offers some sort of South-South mutual respect to African borrowers and customers in spite of its huge actual size and command structure and the way it treats its own ethnic minorities. Whereas the United States Government has the task not only of assuring African markets of our respect and compatibility, but also of encouraging and persuading, rather than directing, U.S. domiciled companies and investors to go take on risk and invest in African countries.
So clumsy negative hyperbole is not the thing we are looking for here. I have a distaste for some of the slick overproduced happy talk “success stories” that get funded within the rubric of “development assistance” and we need straight honesty from our military leaders about the status of wars we are fighting, but we should avoid being carelessly negative when expressing our aspirations.
I do think on this one that the buck really ought to stop with General Waldhauser — he himself in his many-hatted role should have personally known better and not stepped in that hole. Much of the articulated reason to have AFRICOM–as opposed to not having AFRICOM–was that it was to be a “different type of Command” which integrated personnel from the State Department and USAID directly into its structure to be better at things like diplomacy than the Commands dating to the Cold War, presumably based on lessons learned.
This is in the nature of a “thought experiment” rather than an actual suggestion at this point, but here goes rough sketch of the basic points:
1) We all recognize–whether we are willing to publicly admit it–that Somalia is in a “permanent” war state although progress has been made from the lowest ebbs over the years. Somalia is like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in the sense that it is a place in which perpetual fighting appears indefinitely sustainable pending some major change.
2) The current phase of the civil war in Somalia started in December 2006 with a full scale invasion by Ethiopia, with US support, at the invitation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), to displace the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) with a re-instated TFG. In early 2007 this gave way to the multilateral AMISOM “peace-keeping” military force of surplus Subsaharan African national troops seconded by their governments. Funding came from the EU and UN, passed through the African Union.
3) As we approach the 12th anniversary of the Ethiopian invasion with the Somali Federal Government (SFG) having significant influence but not consolidated military or civilian control of the country, we all know that there is no immediate prospect of a complete military defeat of Al Shabaab, the al Queda affiliate that coalesced in the breakdown of the ICU in the fighting in 2006-07. Al Shabaab at present no longer controls any major cities, following the Kenyan-led assault on Kismayo in 2012, but has sustaining financial support and territory, and seems to have wider influence in Kenyan territory in particular than in the past. Likewise the latest International Crisis Group report indicates increased influence in Tanzania.
4) Somalia has not had a clearly established national government since 1991– presumably before most of the foot soldiers on any of the sides were born.
5) Ugandan and Burundian troops have been provided to AMISOM by Museveni and Nkrurunziza, the “elected dictators” of Uganda and Burundi, respectively. Under this arrangement the United States provides training and support, and a patina of international legitimacy, to forces under the command of Musveni and Nkurunziza and they in turn loan out on a fully reimbursed basis some of those forces to the EU and UN through the AU.
6) Conceptually, the advantage to the United States from this arrangement, as I once heard it put a few years ago from a military perspective, is “better them than us.” The advantage to Museveni and Nkurunziza is leverage vis-a-vis the United States, the EU, the UK, the UN and the AU. For the AU the arrangement provides at no cost superficial prestige and legitimacy.
7) The disadvantage for the United States is that it also gives Museveni and Nkurunziza superficial prestige and legitimacy in spite of their repudiation of democratic values. It also gives a hint of reverse leverage in the relationship. Rwandan strongman Kagame has explicitly tried to exploit his dispensation of surplus troops to the UN mission in Darfur to ulterior advantage, for an example of the implications. This creates complications and risks in our relationships in East and Central Africa, whatever the perceived savings in regard to the Horn and Somalia.
8) Museveni and Nkurunziza do not have the mitigating factors on their side that buy indulgence for Kagame, whether legitimately or not. Kagame assuages our feelings of guilt or exposure to embarrassment for not taking action to try to stop the genocide in 1994 during the Rwandan civil war, by operating a micro-model of repressive developmentalism in tiny Rwanda. Those equities are simply not in play for Museveni or Nkurunziza who have chosen to become aggressively repressive anyway. Thus U.S. military partnership and EU funding Uganda and Burundi arguably become nakedly hypocritical and opportunistic.
9) Over the years of the fighting in Somalia the United States has significantly drawn down its forces in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have now significantly increased our overall defense budget. It would seem that direct deployment of United States military personnel for the type of “peacekeeping” fighting engaged in by Ugandan and Burundian forces would be relatively easier now than in the earlier years if this iteration of the war in Somalia.
10) Meanwhile, questions have continued to grow about the sustainability of Museveni’s repressive government as he has continued to accelerate past the off ramps for peaceful transition. Thus, the quandary for the United States in using his forces in support of notionally democratic nation building outside the country while the idea of democratic nation building recedes within Uganda itself.