PRISM  Volume 6, no 4

PRISM Vol. 6, No. 4

(May 2017)

  • The Struggle for Security in Africa

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An Interview with Princeton Lyman and Johnnie Carson

Reviewed by

In Africa you have a whole set of complex security and related issues. Not only the expansion of terrorism from East Africa across the Sahel and the dangers of health pandemics which pose threats to the international community, but if you combine those with the demographics and problems of poverty, development, and climate change, these will cause a tremendous migration push toward Europe and elsewhere. All of which impacts on the United States. That combination of things going on in Africa has a very direct and important, strategic importance for the United States.


In 2014, water workers survey a biomass site in Kenya as part of the USAID Power Africa initiative.

African Security Futures: Threats, Partnerships, and International Engagement for the New U.S. Administration

By Martin Kindl

Several months into the new Administration, attention throughout the corridors of Washington is understandably focused on the foreign policy priorities that will define the government’s early legacy, from Syria and Iraq to the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea. Amid the urgency of these pressing national security issues, challenges on the African continent are unlikely to enjoy the same emphasis—throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, no candidate articulated an Africa policy, and the presidential transition team did not emphasize the region among its priorities. Despite this initial lack of focus, however, Africa’s emerging geopolitical influence and increasingly transnational threats will demand significant attention. This article highlights three key aspects of the African security landscape that will become more dynamic and complex during the next four years and beyond and have far-reaching impacts on U.S. policy: the nature of near- and long-term security threats; the trajectory of African partners; and the diverse group of external actors poised to increase engagement. Throughout, I argue that a modestly-resourced but proactive and partnership-based approach would allow policymakers to temper the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that will be presented.

A Burundi soldier posts security at the Bangui Airport, Central African Republic (CAR) in late 2013. In coordination with the French military and African Union, the U.S. military provided airlift support to help enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent further spread of sectarian violence and restore security in CAR.

Continuity and Change in War and Conflict in Africa

By Paul D. Williams

Since the end of the Cold War, Africa has experienced a disproportionately large number of armed conflicts. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), there have been an estimated 630 state-based and nonstate armed conflicts on the continent between 1990 and 2015. Explanations for this glut of armed conflicts in Africa remain the subject of debates. Nevertheless, between the early 1990s and the late 2000s, Africa underwent a period of significant progress in reducing the number and intensity of armed conflicts. Since 2010, however, the continent has witnessed some disturbing upward conflict trends. Specifically, there have been significant reversals in the decline of state-based armed conflicts and deliberate campaigns of violence against civilians; religious and environmental factors have played increasingly significant roles in a wide range of armed conflicts; there has been a dramatic increase in the levels of popular protests across the continent; as well as an exponential rise in the use of improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide bombings. International efforts to respond to some of these developments by deploying more robust and militarized forms of peace operations and interventions have met with at best only limited success.

Soweto Housing in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Strategic Dilemmas: Rewiring Africa for a Teeming, Urban Future

By Greg Mills, Jeffrey Herbst, and Dickie Davis

Africa’s population is expanding at rates never seen before. Between now and 2050 it is predicted to double. Most of that growth—80 percent—will occur in urban areas. In the past decade alone, technology—especially mobile phones—has transformed the way Africans communicate and do business. Politics is also changing rapidly. Multiparty elections and popular support for democracy are the norm, even though the record across the continent is uneven and numerous countries have reversed course in recent years.

View of a transit camp near the Tunisian border with Libya, March 4, 2011.

The Security Governance Initiative

By Julie E. Chalfin and Linda Thomas-Greenfield

It is estimated that from 2009–14, U.S. assistance to militaries and police in sub-Saharan African exceeded $3 billion.1 Of this, the United States spent approximately $900 million on peacekeeping efforts alone. The U.S. Government also provided an estimated $90 million in foreign military financing and sold more than $135 million worth of arms.2 Despite these substantial expenditures and investments, the ability of African states to address their security challenges remains insufficient. Some African peacekeepers are falling short in peacekeeping performance; terrorism and other transnational threats impede human development in several parts of the continent; and African citizens often mistrust their police and military forces. When the fundamental responsibility of the state for the security and justice needs of its citizens is inadequately executed, the result is often increased insecurity and de-legitimization of the government.

Burundi soldiers in 2013 prepare to load onto a C–17 at Bujumbura Airport in Burundi. In coordination with the French military and the African Union, the U.S. military provided
airlift support to transport Burundi soldiers, food and supplies in the CAR

The Armies of the Great Lakes Countries

By Gérard Prunier

Precolonial Africa was a rather special part of the world because durable state structures were extremely rare. Local chiefdoms or large (but transient) multi-ethnic empires—yes. Tight nation-states—hardly. Except in a rather limited geographical area to the east of the continent, a cluster of sacred monarchic states grew, expanded, and fought each other around the shores of the Great Lakes in Africa. There are no written records, so we can only fathom the historical depth of these monarch states through oral traditions, and these date to the 10th century.

Brothers Came Back with Weapons: The Effects of Arms Proliferation from Libya

By Nicholas Marsh

In November 2011, Mokhtar Belmokhtar of the North Africa-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told the Mauritanian news agency ANI that “We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world…As for our acquisition of Libyan armaments that is an absolutely natural thing.”1 His statement summed up the fears expressed by many commentators—to include the author of this article—that large quantities of arms within Libya were left in unsecured stockpiles and would be proliferated to terrorists and insurgents around the world.2 Most vividly, in 2013 the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, noted “spy chiefs” claim that Libya “has become the Tesco [supermarket] of the world’s illegal arms trade.”3

Inside the Tomb of Sayyid Hassa in Kassala, Sudan on the border of Eritrea. Ahmed served four years of civil service in Kassala.

Islam in from the Cold: A Muslim Brother’s Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of the Islamic Movement in the Sudan

By Marie Besançon

Ahmed found himself in Khartoum’s notorious Kober prison with Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, éminence grise of political Islam, shortly after the 1989 coup d’état in the Republic of the Sudan.1 He and the coup leader al-Turabi, who infamously welcomed Osama bin Laden into the country in 1991, were close friends for years before he served as one of the leading members of the Sudanese Islamic Movement’s shura.2 Thus prison began the saga of the second Islamist rule in the Sudan with all of its twists and turns, and a watershed moment in Ahmed’s long journey as a Muslim Brother.3

Book Reviews

BR: This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime

Reviewed by Stephen Ellis

Nigerians are no strangers to international controversy. This book opens by recounting a comment by erstwhile U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell who described Nigerians as scammers who “tend not to be honest.” In May 2016 then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron described Nigerians as “fantastically corrupt” during an unguarded conversation with Queen Elizabeth. Regardless of how one interprets these comments, there is no denying that unlawful activity is ubiquitous across Nigerian society. Multiple decades of criminal activity have been debilitating and stultifying for the vast majority, but extraordinarily profitable for a few.

BR: Security in Africa: A Critical Approach to Western Indicators of Threat

Reviewed by Claire Metelits

Claire Metelits in Security in Africa: A Critical Approach to Western Indicators of Threat illustrates clearly and concisely that the most commonly used threat indicators provide a narrow, flawed view of threats in sub-Saharan Africa. Metelits’ work should not be as groundbreaking as it is: consider that on a recent survey conducted by AfroBarometer—a pan–African, non-partisan research network that conducts public attitude surveys in more than 35 countries in Africa—the police were perceived as the most corrupt institution throughout sub-Saharan Africa, where survey data from Gallup suggests that police are among the most trusted institutions in the United States—even when trust levels are at a 22–year low.1 However, Metelits’ book is one of the few venues that fully appreciates the ramifications of this disconnect between citizens and states throughout the region. Metelits demonstrates how western, and particularly American, state-centric security indicators are ill-suited to understanding power structures and governance on the continent. Security in Africa unpacks what it means for a country to be “stable” and “secure,” or “impoverished” and “ungoverned;” she also delves into the significance of who is given the authority to characterize regions as such.

BR: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World

Reviewed by Steven Radelet

In 1990, with the Cold War having just concluded, I delighted in reviewing analyses written during the previous decade, which confidently assumed that the bipolar world order was a permanent description of the global landscape. 2016 may represent another threshold year. The Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election require re-examination of critical assumptions that gained traction between the end of the Cold War and 2015 regarding the inevitability of economic and political progress in the developing world, including Africa.

Letters to the Editor

A Letters to the Editor A Critique of 'Special Operations Doctrine: is it Needed

Reviewed by Jerome Lynes

Regarding the PRISM Vol 6. No.3 article “Special Operations Doctrine: Is it Needed?” by Charles T. Cleveland, James B. Linder, and Ronald Dempsey, I am struck by the curious absence of reference to the long established and mature body of Joint Special Operations doctrine. The authors write as if there was no special operations doctrine until Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3–05 came along in 2012. They opine as to the various reasons for this, including accusing “...the general military doctrine community (of holding) a myopic view of U.S. Special Operations Capabilities.” In truth, their contention is not factually correct.

A Reply to Jerome Lynes’ Critique

Reviewed by Charles T. Cleveland, James B. Linder, and Ronald Dempsey

In reference to a recent critique of the article “Special Operations Doctrine: Is It Needed,” by Jerome M. Lynes (12/21/16), we acknowledge the existence of Joint Special Operations doctrine. Upon reflection, we could title the article “Special Operations Doctrine: It Is Needed!” The intent of this article was to capture, share, and address recent accomplishments in Army Special Operations Force (ARSOF) concepts, doctrine, organizational lessons learned, and new ideas.