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Tag Archives | US-Africa Relations

Somalia: U.S. Dual Track Policy

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Abandoned Al-Shabaab ‘technicals’ in Mogadishu's stadium. Image via Enough Project

Abandoned Al-Shabaab ‘technicals’ in Mogadishu’s stadium. Image via Enough Project

Let’s be sure we understand what the United States means by the dual track policy towards Somalia and Somaliland. In October 2010, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson announced the dual track approach. Track one involved continuing support for the Djibouti Peace Process, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), its National Security Forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Track two recognized that there were large pockets of stability in Somalia that merited greater engagement. These areas included Somaliland, Puntland and regional and local anti-al-Shabaab groups throughout south/central Somalia. Track two included additional support for Somali civil society groups and clan leaders.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Don Yamamoto testified before Congress in mid-2011 that track one remained critical to political and security progress in Mogadishu and ultimately the rest of Somalia. He said the United States would continue to support the TFG’s political progress in the coming year. He added that the United States expected the TFG would bring into the political process Puntland, Galmudug, Ahlu Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ) and other Somali stakeholders.

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Somalia: Under the Tutelage of Ghost-Lords

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UK Foreign Office

Source: UK Foreign Office

At this dreadful moment in its history—when the obituary of a nation on life support is being written—political correctness is a luxury that Somalia cannot afford. Yes, Somalia is a failed state. But, failure is not a permanent condition, unless people choose to make it so by retiring their dignity and spirit of resilience.

Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia went through various levels of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I would refer to as the Ghost-lords. All except the latter were domestic phenomena, and as counter-intuitive as it may seem, the Ghost-lords is the most elusive and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state. Yet it remains the highest international authority that oversees every aspect of the political process in Somalia.

The Ghost-lords are a loose association of paradoxical powers of the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the International Community. They come with all kinds of stripes, creeds, dogmas, and political and economic opportunism; they work together and work against each other; they provide solutions and problems, enticements and threats, good governance and corruption.

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“SSC” is the Last Hope to Bridge Somalia Back Together

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World Food Programme in Kobe refugee camp in the Dolo Ado area of Ethiopia. Photo by Petterik Wiggers via Hollandse Hoogte

World Food Programme in Kobe refugee camp in the Dolo Ado area of Ethiopia. Photo by Petterik Wiggers via Hollandse Hoogte

Like many nations in Africa, Somalia has endured the legacy of the foreign expedition of greed throughout the continent. After the Berlin Conference 1884, Western European powers sought to divide Somaliland—one of the most homogeneous regions of Africa—into British Somaliland, French Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, Ethiopian Somaliland (the Ogaden), and the Northern Frontier District (NFD) of British Kenya. Thus, sowing the seed for the current ongoing inter and intra-regional unrest of Somalia.

Fast forward to 1991: a mix of northern and southern clan-based militias armed, financed, and supported by Ethiopia toppled Somalia’s central government and, in due course, brought the strategic collaboration between these militia groups to an end as each went to secure its area of influence (read clan-based). This formula would work for some and not the others.

Stabilization has proven a difficult undertaking in a number of the southern regions while in the north-west and north-east regions (Somaliland and Puntland) clan militia groups and their clan elders were able to bring relative stability to those regions. This, some argue, was possible mainly because of the clear single clan dominance in both of those regions.  Though, both northwest and northeast regions of Somalia enjoyed relative peace that gained them much praise, they both fell short of playing a pivotal role in instilling hope in the hearts and minds of the majority of people in the rest of Somalia. Neither Somaliland nor Puntland has indicated any interest in mediating between their warring brethren in the South.

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The U.S. Reassesses the China-Africa Relationship

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Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today in the Liberian capital, Monrovia.  Eric Kanalstein/UN

Chinese Contingent of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) during a medal ceremony held today in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Eric Kanalstein/UN

China, India, Brazil and Russia and even smaller non-western countries such as Turkey, Iran and Indonesia steadily have been replacing western influence in Africa throughout the first decade of the 21st century. China has contributed more to this process than any other single non-western nation and perhaps more than all of the others combined.

China surpassed the United States in 2009 as the largest bilateral trading partner with the combined fifty-three countries in Africa. Although accurate statistics are elusive, Chinese investment in Africa during 2009 may also have been larger than that of any other single nation. Chinese leadership in trade and investment with Africa almost certainly extended through 2010 and will likely continue into the foreseeable future. The United States was slow to react to the non-western challenge to western influence in Africa, especially that which came from China. The United States did not even perceive the situation as a challenge during the waning years of the Clinton administration and through the first four years of the Bush administration.

When the United States finally understood the magnitude of growing Chinese influence in Africa during the second half of the Bush administration, it did not accord it a high priority in U.S.-Africa policy, which has traditionally had the lowest policy priority of major world regions. The West generally had decreased its attention to Africa following the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. The 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States focused Washington on the Global War on Terror, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This created an ideal environment for China, which has now experienced three decades of annual GDP growth of about 9 percent, to assert its economic and, in some cases, political influence in Africa.

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United States and China in Africa: Advancing the Diplomatic Agenda

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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers her opening statement at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 5, 2012

It is important to look at U.S.-China interaction in Africa from the optic of statements by senior U.S. officials. These statements began in 2005 and generally reflect a desire to engage with China in Africa in a positive way. There have been, however, occasional expressions of concern, criticism, and caution. At the same time, the official statements rarely reflect the strident expressions of concern about China’s activities in Africa that are often heard in the American media. Let’s look at the statements chronologically.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Michael Ranneberger, told the House Africa Subcommittee in July 2005: “China’s growing presence in Africa is a reality, but it can increase the potential for collaboration between the United States and China as part of a broader, constructive bilateral relationship. China should have many of the same interests in Africa as the United States, based, among other elements, on our shared reliance on a global oil market, shared desire to diversify sources from the Middle East and shared concern over volatile oil prices.”

In remarks before the National Committee on U.S. China Relations in September 2005, Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, addressed China’s role in the wider global community. Although not referring specifically to Africa, he stated that “it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: we need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system.” The concept of China as a responsible stakeholder in the international system became the watchword throughout the Bush administration.

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U.S. Helps Uganda, Does What’s Right

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U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

The tentacles of the United States of America’s military extend to all corners of the world. On 14 October, United States President Barack Obama informed Congress that he dispatched about 100 US military advisers — mostly special operations forces — to Uganda to assist in the fight against a local militant group.  The questions being asked are what America wants in return and whether Africa needs the assistance in the first place, and why militarize Africa when it is this very action that is perceived to be holding democracy on the continent back? Many perceive this as a new development, but it is not. America has provided nearly US$33 million dollars in support to regional efforts to battle the LRA Army since 2008.

The help cannot be labeled successful or unsuccessful at the present moment, as it just too soon to tell. But now perhaps we will see whether the additional Special Forces ‘advisers’ who carry weapons for self-defense purposes will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Many around the world, and even most Africans hope this will be the case.

Although Uganda doesn’t want foreign militaries fighting their battles for them, it and the world’s newest nation-state South Sudan, for now, are welcoming the American assistance. This is despite the African outcry in 2007 over America’s military in Africa and its Africa Military Command, AFRICOM.  The South Africans were scared that the Americans were going to invade South Africa to gain access to strategic minerals following the Iraq War, while others saw AFRICOM as an arm to thwart the growing Chinese influence in Africa. Whatever the concerns, what many people don’t know is that two years prior, in 2005, South Africa became the 13th African nation to participate in America’s Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance program (ACOTA).

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U.S. to Pursue Joseph Kony

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Lord’s Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony

Lord’s Resistance Army’s Joseph Kony

Late last week, President Obama announced that he was ordering 100 armed advisors to be sent to central Africa to bolster efforts on the ground to combat Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating in Uganda and neighboring countries. For years, the LRA has systematically used rape as a weapon, burned villages to the ground, killed countless unarmed civilians and taken as prisoner, young girls, to act as sex slaves for Kony and his followers. Additionally, the LRA has forced many of its young prisoners to take up arms against their countrymen.

Originating in Uganda over two decades ago, the LRA under the leadership of Joseph Kony, a cultlike personality, has spread its activities into neighboring South Sudan, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and eastern Central African Republic (CAR). What differentiates the group from other rebel groups throughout modern history is that it operates without clear political objectives and is notable for its fondness for committing rape, abducting children and enlisting them as child soldiers and the indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians.

While this development would be a muscular increase of America’s role in the region, and while the American advisors will be armed, the development was hailed by a number of human rights groups and activists who are intimately familiar with the real world developments on the ground. Among those arguing for a more robust engagement on the ground to help the Ugandans and others combat the LRA is Human Rights Watch.

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U.S. Policy towards the Horn of Africa

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U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters during inflight refueling over Djibouti on Jan.19, 2008

U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopters during inflight refueling over Djibouti on Jan.19, 2008

The problems of the Horn of Africa are frequently interlinked and often cross international borders. The root causes of the conflicts include economic inequality, political marginalization, poor governance, ethnic tension, competition for scarce resources such as water and good land, periodic drought and poverty.

Contributory factors are porous borders, widespread availability of arms, corruption, a poor record by governments on human rights issues and interference in the region by organizations and countries outside the Horn. When you add the fact that the Horn is located on a religious fault line, you have a recipe for frequent conflict. It has arguably been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. The Horn has constantly posed a serious challenge for U.S. policy.

The Cold War, the Horn and U.S. Policy

Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. The United States concentrated its economic and military support on Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who was a reliable ally of the United States. The U.S. military maintained a critical communications station known as Kagnew outside Asmara, which at the time was part of Ethiopia. In the late 1960s, Ethiopia was the location of the United States’ largest economic and military assistance program and largest embassy in Sub-Saharan Africa. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States strongly backed the Haile Selassie government.

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A Proposed U.S. Regional Strategy Towards the Horn of Africa

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Marine Corps Sgt. Joseph Bergeron training Ugandan soldiers. The Obama administration sent a small team of Marines into Uganda to train Ugandan forces to fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia and the hunt for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army

Marine Corps Sgt. Joseph Bergeron training Ugandan soldiers. The Obama administration sent a small team of Marines into Uganda to train Ugandan forces to fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia and the hunt for Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army

Paul Williams’ paper has accurately and thoroughly pulled together the webs of conflict in the Horn of Africa. It is not a pretty picture. I would even suggest that the Horn of Africa has been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. Other regions have had more death and conflict over briefer periods of time. I don’t know of any region that has had the number and variety of conflicts comparable to those in the Horn. The problem for the United States is what it can do to help mitigate conflict in the region.

The Historical Backdrop

Historically, the vast majority of U.S. efforts to resolve or mitigate conflict in the Horn have involved intervention in or attention to individual, discrete disputes, in pursuit of U.S. policy goals prevailing at the time. Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia served as the center piece in the region for U.S. economic and military support. Ethiopia was a reliable ally of the United States. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States backed the Haile Selassie government. Even after the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam junta seized power in 1974, the United States tried briefly to maintain close economic and military relations with Ethiopia. When it became evident that Ethiopia had slipped into the Soviet camp, the United States switched its support to Somalia, then led by dictator Siad Barre.

Although the United States was not providing military assistance to Somalia when it invaded Ethiopia in 1977, it began military support not long thereafter. It was not until the late 1980s as the Cold War was coming to an end that the United States concluded Siad Barre was no longer a satisfactory ally.

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