A Measured U.S. Strategy for the New Africa

We don’t like what comes out of the Atlantic Council on Eritrea and Somalia under the name Bronwyn Bruton, but J. Peter Pham more often than not hits the mark. Rumors of Dr. Pham being named Undersecretary of State for Africa is good news to the policy community in Washington, D.C. Here are his thoughts on U.S. strategy towards Africa. A full copy of the report can be read here. Strathink will be providing an analysis of what this might mean for countries in East Africa.

A Measured U.S. Strategy for the New Africa

December 2016

By J. Peter Pham

Executive SummaryAfrica’s story is increasingly one of rising geopolitical importance and burgeoning economic dynamism—the latter driven, in part, by political reform and improvements in governance. The continent is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and vast natural resources. Fifty years after a majority of them achieved their independence, many African countries have become full-fledged democracies, with regular peaceful transfers of power between governing parties and their opposition. But, there are also very real security, humanitarian, and developmental challenges that remain to be confronted, and which the United States has a stake in helping to tackle, not least because it is in its own national interest to do so.

To complicate matters, some African countries are still grappling with the conception of “statehood,” since, in many cases, the state was an imposition of European colonial powers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taking into account Africa’s differing geopolitical realities, as well as US objectives on the continent, this paper argues that a measured US strategy for Africa is based on the following principles:

• Earned engagement: The United States should shift away from trying to pick the “right” winners in political disputes internal to African countries, and toward engaging those who prove themselves to be good bets by their effectiveness and, consequently, the legitimacy they are accorded by their own people. This approach puts the onus squarely on Africans themselves to create governance structures that are appropriate to their circumstances and whose legitimacy they accept, without prejudice from the United States or other outside actors. Accordingly, the United States should refrain from conferring de jure recognition on states absent such effective sovereignty.

• More realistic expectations: For much of the history of US engagement in Africa, the United States has operated with overly optimistic notions of what African partners are capable of and willing to do. That must change. Recent global and domestic fiscal crises, combined with the bitter partisan divide, have created a political climate―within both the United States and partners like the European Union―in which major increases in foreign aid are unlikely to be politically viable. Moreover, as elsewhere, albeit with perhaps even more pronounced effect, governments themselves are becoming less influential inside Africa with respect to what they can do and more limited in their relative capacity, leaving ample scope for the private sector. Creative ways will havet o be found to encourage business to be more engaged with efforts to develop and modernize Africa’s physical and legal infrastructure—helping to consolidate important security gains in the process.

• Effective partners and partnerships: It is imperative that the United States develop “special” relationships with key African partners (particularly those who have demonstrated mastery of their territory and capacity for true governance through “earned engagement”), as well as better coordinate strategy and operations on the continent with historical treaty allies like France and the United Kingdom. Given the current, almost universal, constraints on public finances, the private sector must also be engaged.

• Flexible structures: US diplomatic and foreign aid structures are inefficient and illadapted to meet today’s realities, and should be reformed as much as possible to reflect political, security, and economic realities on the continent. Today’s US engagement with Africa has evolved significantly from those of past times, and future objectives must include achieving economic prosperity and development, security, and good governance for Africa’s fifty-four nations. Not only because US citizens and businesses hope to join with their African counterparts in grasping the continent’s burgeoning opportunities, but because these objectives are, indeed, in the United States’ strategic interests.

The United States needs to integrate the four principles espoused in this paper—earned engagement, more realistic expectations, effective partners and partnerships, and flexible structures—to manage the challenges, and overcome the threats to security, which would otherwise block the path to an incredibly promising future

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