The U.S.-Africa Summit: Revisiting the Dogma of U.S. Security Strategy in Africa Spécial

By Amadou Tidiane Cissé

On the eve of the Africa-US Summit, Timbuktu Institute publishes this article by Lt. Colonel Amadou Tidiane CISSE. This senior Senegalese customs official is since 2019 Head of the Office of Security and Coordination of the Fight against Fraud at the Directorate General of Customs of Senegal. He has held positions as Auditor and Head of Sections at the Port of Dakar as well as Inspector Editor at the Directorate of Studies and Legislation. He is a graduate of the National School of Administration of Senegal and holds a Master's degree in Sociology and a Master's degree in Oil and Gas. He is the author of "Terrorism beyond borders. New Challenges for Customs cooperation on Security in the Sahel” (2021) foreword by Dr. Bakary Sambe. and another essay entitled "Off-shore States and Petro-terrorism: Geopolitical Implications of Oil and Gas discoveries and Security Challenges in the Gulf of Guinea” (2022).

In one week's time, the U.S.-Africa Summit opens in Washington. The White House statement announcing the Summit referred to it as an opportunity for the United States of America and Africa to revitalise their partnerships: ‘The Summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa, and will underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities.

The 2014 Obama-era summit was the first on the U.S. diplomatic agenda, and it focused on the theme: ‘Investing in the Next Generation’. By inviting African heads of state to Washington nearly a decade later, President Biden intends to create a new dynamic in U.S. relations with the continent, this time with a stronger focus on trade and investment. It must be said that until more or less recently, American involvement on the African continent was limited to post-conflict humanitarian or health emergencies, notably including President G. W. Bush's initiative to mobilise 48 billion dollars to respond to the AIDS pandemic in Africa.

President Trump did not visit Africa once during his entire presidency. Africa was never a strategic priority for him. In fact, he made no secret of his lack of interest in the continent. His wife, Melania Trump, confined herself to visiting a few USAID projects in Ghana, Malawi, and Egypt in 2018, which were geared towards the promotion of children's health and well-being, before ending her visit to Africa in a Kenyan nature sanctuary, where she bottle-fed baby elephants.

However, the passing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) by the U.S. Congress in 2000 already reflected a desire to develop trade with Africa by allowing more than 6,000 products to enter the U.S. market duty-free. Following the 2014 summit, Congress modernised the trade promotion programme, for which 40 African states are eligible, and extended it until 2025.

To boost economic growth in Africa, a bilateral development fund, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, has been set up, mobilising $8.8 billion in funding since 2004 for 25 African countries. The $500 million Prosper Africa initiative, which was launched in 2020, aims to support African companies seeking to penetrate the U.S. market, which boasts a population of 300 million and a purchasing power of $23 trillion. Prosper Africa provides African countries with a one-stop shop that delivers a range of trade and investment services. The U.S. Power Africa initiative aims to promote investment in Africa's power sector by injecting more than 30,000 megawatts of clean energy and providing electricity to more than 60 million African households and businesses.

These major economic initiatives (AGOA, MCA, Prosper Africa) undertaken by the U.S. administration in support of the African continent mark an important turning point in U.S.-Africa cooperation. President Biden is also counting on the continental free trade area to stimulate stronger economic growth in Africa.

In 2021, U.S. imports from Africa were estimated at $37 billion (vs. $23.7 billion in 2020). African trade goods exported to the U.S. totalled $26.7 billion that same year (vs. $21.9 billion in 2020). Although trade between the two continents has grown significantly over the past decade, it remains low overall compared to China's estimated $114 billion in exports to Africa in 2020 (a peak of $155 billion was recorded in 2015).

The future of the U.S.-Africa partnership is bright, especially with the numerous oil and gas discoveries on the continent and the need to diversify the United States' hydrocarbon supply sources and reduce U.S. allies' energy dependence on Russian gas, due to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict.

On the occasion of the recent publication of the United States’ National Security Strategy in October 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke in the following terms: ‘The [...] National Security Strategy lays out a vision for a free, open, secure, and prosperous world and a comprehensive plan to realize it. This is not just our vision, but one shared by many other countries that seek to live in a world that respects the foundational principles of self-determination, territorial integrity, and political independence; where countries are free to determine their own foreign policy choices; information is allowed to flow freely; universal human rights are upheld; and the global economy operates on a level playing field – providing opportunity for all. ’

The new National Security Strategy articulates the main thrust of U.S. cooperation in Africa, particularly in the area of security. It also addresses the imperative of overcoming the divide between U.S. domestic and foreign policy, because the two are so seamlessly intertwined in reality. That is why the Biden administration is working to build an ever more modern and powerful military to protect vital U.S. interests and prevent the outbreak of conflicts around the world that could impact them. For example, the Strategy supports the efforts of African countries and regions facing political conflicts, attacks by terrorist groups and humanitarian crises, such as Cameroon, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somalia, and the Sahel.

Until now, as Maya Kandel rightly pointed out, the dogma of U.S. strategy in Africa was based on the 'light footprint' concept, i.e., the absence of direct engagement by American troops, leadership from the sidelines, and intervention through intermediary partners.

Biden's announcement signals the end of an American foreign policy that has long relied on its historical ally, France, which has traditionally held greater influence in sub-Saharan Africa.

Faced with the current stability challenges, the U.S. administration is promoting security cooperation with a view to countering the terrorist threat that undermines the stability of African states and addressing the structural causes of terrorism. This new American approach is a boon for Africa, which is plagued by multifaceted crises including rebellions, transnational and local organised crime, and terrorism.

The Central African Republic has been embroiled in conflict since the Seleka armed opposition seized its capital, Bangui. Despite the presence of MINUSCA, it is still struggling to overcome the ravages of violence. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been torn between the forces of the national unity government and those of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls the east of the country. Sudan and South Sudan are fighting for control of oil-rich border areas. In North Kivu province, the March 23 Movement (M23) of 2012 has taken up arms anew against the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), which accuses neighbouring Rwanda of supporting it. In the far north of Ethiopia, the loyalist army faces off against the rebels of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). Somalia was plagued for decades by tribal violence before succumbing in 2004 to an insurgency led by the Union of Islamic Courts. Al-Shabab jihadist fighters attack Mozambique and threaten the stability of this hydrocarbon-rich country. Boko Haram's terrorist activities in Nigeria's Borno State have spread to the surrounding countries of Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, putting the Lake Chad Basin region in the eye of the jihadist storm. Armed groups affiliated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have transformed the face of the Sahel to the point where Mali and Niger are now among the countries with the highest terrorism indexes in the world, according to data collected by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism at the University of Maryland. In its 2021 ranking, Burkina Faso stood fourth in the world behind Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.

In light of the foregoing, it is self-evident that security imperatives must be addressed if the United States is to build a mutually beneficial economic partnership with Africa. To achieve this, the U.S. will rely on two key levers: AFRICOM and the African Standby Force (ASF).

The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the most recent of the operational military command centres set up by the U.S. Department of Defense around the world. The limited geostrategic interests of the United States on the continent doubtless justified placing Africa under the aegis of the United States European Command based in Stuttgart, Germany. This was because African countries have maintained cooperative ties with the former French colonial power, leaving other foreign powers very little scope for military presence. Alain Fogue Tedom has written about the negative view that the United States takes of the former colonial powers' political and economic monopoly over Africa. More specifically, he feels that the geostrategic dimension of Washington's challenge to France's tutelage is unambiguous, especially since free political and economic competition in Africa and elsewhere in the world have been established since the end of the Cold War.

The stance taken by the United States was made even clearer when the historic alliance between France and the United States did not stop President Biden from scuttling a contract for the supply of twelve conventionally powered submarines worth €56 billion, signed between France and Australia in 2016, and negotiating a new deal with Australia for the delivery of nuclear-powered submarines developed using cutting-edge American and British technology.

The United States should take an even bolder and more consistent approach to its new African security strategy by locating AFRICOM in an African country like Senegal. A U.S. command post located closer to the theatres of operation would have the benefit of enhancing the sense of security of both Africans and Americans based in Africa, as well as warding off the threat of terrorism. The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership provides a framework for security cooperation with the Maghreb and Sahel countries in the areas of border surveillance, countering the financing of terrorism, and strengthening the operational capacity of African armed forces.

American expertise in international mediation recently triumphed with the historic agreement between Lebanon and Israel on their maritime border dispute, resulting in the sharing of the Qana and Karish gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. The pacification of the maritime borders shared by the two officially warring countries illustrates American expertise in resolving conflicts such as those in Africa. This diplomatic success coincides with the cessation of hostilities agreement reached in Pretoria between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan rebels, thanks to the mediation of the AU representative for the Horn of Africa.

These successes in the midst of a bleak global geopolitical landscape demonstrate that the United States and the AU can bring their weight to bear to end deadly conflicts, find compromises between warring states and set them on the path to lasting peace.

The African Standby Force (ASF) must be part of the new security strategy being developed on the other side of the Atlantic, entering into an operational phase twenty years after its launch and establishing a more appropriate and immediately operational military intervention framework to deal with the many security crises on the African continent, particularly in countries experiencing asymmetric conflicts.

In 2010, Shakira performed the official World Cup anthem 'This Time for Africa' with the Cameroonian band Golden Sounds and the South African band Freshly Ground, highlighting the power of football to unite diverse peoples around a shared interest.

President Obama understood that the new dynamics in Africa were bringing about changes that would shift the major geopolitical balances. Five years after Shakira, he spoke as follows from the rostrum of the African Union: 'I believe Africa’s rise is also important to the entire world. We will not be able to meet the challenges of our time—from ensuring a strong global economy to facing down violent extremism to combating climate change to ending hunger and extreme poverty—without the voices and contributions of one billion Africans. '

The Washington summit will have fulfilled its purpose if the United States comes out of it with a bold resolve to back up the new economic partnership it wants to promote over the next decade—which is shaping up to be a decisive one—with a security strategy that places the African continent and the asymmetrical conflicts that are shaking Libya, the Sahel, and the Lake Chad Basin and threatening the countries of the Gulf of Guinea and southern Africa, squarely in the forefront of its major strategic priorities.

May Allah bless the Africa-USA Summit!

*Amadou Tidiane Cissé

Senior Customs Inspector