WASHINGTON — The U.S. should find ways to further hone its support of structural institutions for government and civil society in Africa as the way to enhance and solidify development of democratic and economic foundations in African nations, a panel of analysts said Monday.
Included in the recipe for a better and likely more successful U.S. support role on the continent is what some may see as a surprise ingredient: well-designed increases in U.S. military support to several nations, the analysts said at Brookings Institution.
“African countries will not shy away from U.S. military support,” said Landry Signe, who is a fellow with the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings.
In fact, Michael O’Hanlon, senior foreign policy fellow at Brookings, said “I’m worried we may underdo it (military support). We don’t compete as well as we can. We need to up our game.”
O’Hanlon suggested the U.S. send advisory teams to receptive African nations, similar to those now in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also said one goal should be to help African militaries reach capabilities where they can replace U.N. peacekeeping missions on the continent.
The panel was on “The state of African security: Six critical countries.” The focus was on Ethiopia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, which combined have the bulk of economic strength, population and, as O’Hanlon said, “a fair amount of hopefulness.
“These six (nations) get us over the threshold,” he told TMN in an interview after the discussion. “It’s striking that six represent over half the population.”
Last November, the Pentagon said it expected to reduce the number of U.S. forces operating in Africa by about 10%, in what the Pentagon is calling a transfer of resources to better match up against China and Russia.
The cuts were to be in areas of on-ground support of anti-terrorism operations in western Africa, including Mali and Niger — two theaters that have faced internal complications. Intelligence sharing will continue, the Pentagon said then.
“The department thoroughly evaluated counter-terrorism resources and forces to optimize our efforts and realign according to the NDS (National Defense Strategy),” it said then.
Pentagon officials declined to say if those cuts have begun.
The Pentagon’s public number of U.S. forces in Africa is about 7,200. That does not include forces engaged in covert operations or those from the CIA or other agencies.
Drone operations are likely to continue at the current rate or increase, Pentagon officials told TMN then. The U.S. intends to continue using its main facility in Djibouti and focus on support in efforts in Somalia and Libya, Pentagon officials said then.
“The department and U.S. Africa Command remain committed to ensuring the end result remains a mission-focused, adaptable and agile force with placement and access on the continent dedicated to assisting our African and international partners,” the Pentagon statement said.
The analysts said there has been progress in strengthening some democratic institutions in Africa. For example, of the 49 individuals who were heads of state in Africa in 2015, 22 have been replaced peacefully by others — a historic rate of change, said Jon Temin, director of Africa programs at Freedom House.
“The U.S. should focus on institutions and not individuals,” Temin said. “That’s the kind of change the U.S. should be supporting.”
Temin also said the U.S. “needs to call things as we see them” and not sugarcoat reactions when there is a coup or a tainted election.
“We twist ourselves and it comes back to bite us,” Temin said. “These things get us into trouble time and again.”
Temin told TMN that “if some of the most influential African nations work together toward united goals they can have significant impact on the continent and probably beyond the continent as well.
“Look at the new free-trade agreement that almost every African country has signed onto,” he said. “That can be very meaningful on the global stage. There can be more examples like that where African nations beyond the biggest are working toward common goals can achieve a lot.”