The Eurasia Group has released its 2018 Top Risks Group which includes Africa. The following is an in-depth analysis for Africa.
THE “AFRICA RISING” NARRATIVE REMAINS APPEALING, but this year will face a new challenge. The continent’s core countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia, among others) have recently demonstrated robust investment climates, and they’ve been generally sealed off from the troubles of the “periphery” (Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, etc.). But in 2018, negative spillover from Africa’s unstable periphery will increasingly spoil the continent’s success stories.
The threat lies in security risks: militancy and terrorism. The dangers posed by Al Shabaab in East Africa and Al Qaeda in West Africa are not new, but they’re set to intensify. Despite losing territory in 2017, Al Shabaab is still carrying out successful one-off surprise attacks and will look to more international targets in 2018. The Islamic State is likely to increase activity in West Africa and expand into East Africa as it is pushed from traditional strongholds in the Middle East.
Countries targeted by militancy and terrorism are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, and external partners are less able to provide unified support.
Target countries are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, and external partners are less able to mount a united front of support. Local actors in “core” countries are already suffering from weakened political capacity. Kenya’s government will focus on economic recovery after a prolonged election cycle. Nigeria enters an election season with uncertainty over its current leader’s health. South Africa faces internal political strife. Angola is busy with a fresh leadership transition. Mozambique is still struggling with a years-long debt scandal.
Foreign partners who have helped stabilize weak governments in the past are distracted. In the east, a preoccupied Europe has reduced its salary support for troops of the UN-mandated African Union Mission to Somalia operating in the Al Shabaab hotspot. Across the Sahel, the G5 counterterrorism partnership of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania plans to launch a 5,000-strong force in March 2018. But differences among France, the US, and UN officials will slow the necessary funding, leaving the region at risk, despite an injection of financial support from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The growing fragility of Africa’s top performers has several implications. Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Ethiopia face increased security costs at a time when their governments need to reduce spending. A spike in attacks would also undermine foreign investment perceptions already shaken by the election-related violence in Kenya, a growing social protest movement in Ethiopia, and presidential succession uncertainties in Nigeria and Uganda.
Foreign investors may see their assets directly targeted. Tourist and energy installations will be especially at risk. This will put downward pressure on FDI into the continent, leaving development reliant on limited local capital. And the pressure of security-related refugee flows—on countries in the region and in Europe—will not abate, creating a headache for policymakers on both sides of the Mediterranean.
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Despite the historically low-priority status of sub-Saharan Africa to the U.S. military, the U.S. security focus on the region will continue to grow given the systemic weaknesses that militant groups exploit there.
The use of a light footprint strategy — including special operations forces, drones, and cooperation with local partners and allies such as France — will enable the United States to project force at minimal cost.
Although President Donald Trump’s administration opposes funding multinational efforts such as U.N. peacekeeping missions, the U.S. military will continue to emphasize local partnerships with nations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa has long been a low priority for the United States. Since taking office in January, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has confirmed that status, cutting foreign aid budgets that disproportionately affect Africa and turning its focus to other issues and areas. Yet events in recent weeks have magnified the region’s prominence in U.S. foreign policy. On Sept. 24, for example, the Trump administration added Chadian nationals to the list of people facing travel restrictions. Four U.S. service members died in Niger the following week during a mission with local troops. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently visited Ethiopia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And on Oct. 20, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis reportedly told senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the military would increase its counterterrorism activities in sub-Saharan Africa, loosen rules of engagement and give commanders in the field more decision-making power. Despite the Trump administration’s actions, the region now appears to be receiving more attention from U.S. policy-makers.
A Rising Security Priority
U.S. military investment in sub-Saharan Africa has been quietly growing for years. This October, in fact, marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), one of nine unified combatant commands. The continent has been a key testing ground for the U.S. military’s “small footprint” strategy, which emphasizes partnerships with local forces and cooperation with allies such as France. The strategy also stresses the role of special operations forces, drones and training facilities known as Cooperative Security Locations or “lily pads” in an effort to avoid the perception of an overbearing, neocolonial U.S. military presence. (Washington tried to establish a permanent headquarters on the continent when it first rolled out AFRICOM but moved its main offices to Germany after populations and governments in Africa pushed back against the idea.)
As the U.S. military’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa has grown, its priorities in the region have shifted. The United States initially focused on East Africa — and particularly on the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliated militant group al Shabaab. In Somalia, U.S. military trainers have provided extensive assistance to the Somali army and to the multinational African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM. But over the past several years, West Africa has started drawing more of the United States’ attention. The chaos that consumed Libya after the fall of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 spilled over into nearby Mali, along with militants and weapons. In 2013, an offensive from allied jihadist and Tuareg nationalist forces prompted France to intervene to bolster the Malian army and keep the West African country from collapse, with considerable logistical support from the U.S. military. The incident opened the Pentagon’s eyes to the glaring security risks in the Sahel, the ecological transition zone between the Sahara and the savannah that traditionally has fallen in France’s sphere of influence. Putting aside their Cold War rivalry in the region, Paris and Washington began working together more closely in sub-Saharan Africa.
Resistance From Washington
The Trump administration, however, may set a limit on the partnership. For months Washington has oscillated between wariness and hostility at the prospect of backing the Sahel joint force, a counterterrorism effort made up of battalions from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Though Trump has pledged $60 million to the project, he has also indicated his displeasure with funding multinational efforts. France, which has devoted considerable resources to help establish the force since President Emmanuel Macron came to power, is getting frustrated with the lack of financial and political support from the United States. During a trip to Washington in mid-October, the French defense minister reportedly asked the United States to increase its assistance for the Sahel joint force, stating that Paris was looking for a long-term strategy to ease its security burden in the region.
Trump’s distaste for funding programs such as U.N. peacekeeping missions, combined with the reports that the Pentagon wants to increase its activities in Africa, makes for an interesting contradiction. Nevertheless, the current administration is unlikely to break with its predecessors’ policies, which tried to minimize U.S. military action in favor of local solutions. Senior officials in the U.S. armed forces overwhelmingly agree on the need to keep investing in local partnerships, even as Trump pushes for more aggressive action against militant groups around the world. Considering that the Sahel — a region whose vast, isolated terrain falls largely under the governance of poor, weak states — will struggle indefinitely with instability, maintaining this strategy is essential. Increased activity in sub-Saharan Africa, moreover, comes with unavoidable risks for U.S. policymakers.
To strengthen forces in Niger, for example, U.S. service members will have to accompany their local counterparts on potentially dangerous missions, much as they have in Somalia. And the inherent environmental and logistical challenges that await them in the desolate lands of the Sahel will raise the odds of complications or casualties.
The rise of terrorism has driven home the reality that the United States can’t afford to disregard sub-Saharan Africa. Though the continent has long been low on Washington’s list of priorities, the recent proliferation of militant groups in the Sahel offers a stark reminder that the United States ignores the region at its own peril.
Source: Stratfor is the world’s leading geo-political intelligence platform based in Washington DC