AfricaSource Strategic Insight on the New Africa

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, delivered a stern message to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in their meeting in Juba on October 24: the United States is “disappointed” in Kiir’s leadership and he must not take US assistance for granted. In a stark reminder of the perilous situation in the six-year-old nation, Haley was later forced to hastily evacuate South Sudan after a group of anti-Kiir protesters turned violent.

Haley’s tough rhetoric raises the question: what, if anything, can the United States do to prevent the world’s youngest nation—one that it helped foster—from unraveling under the pressures of a protracted war, corrupt leaders, acute famine, and the displacement of its people?

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This weekend’s truck bombing in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, was the worst assault on civilians in that country’s long, sad history. But such attacks are a weekly event in Somalia and have been for the past decade. This attack was dramatically worse than most, but surely it won’t be the last. And it highlights a truth that Washington cannot afford to ignore any longer: its “strategy” in Somalia just is not working.

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Over the past three years, as thousands of refugees drowned off Europe’s coasts, Germany’s open-door policy towards asylum seekers propelled the country to a position of global humanitarian leadership, and turned its chancellor, Angela Merkel, into a global icon for human rights advocates. As of 2016, the nation of 82.5 million absorbed 890,000 refugees, and a majority of the German population has warmly supported the influx of foreigners. However, the Berlin Christmas attack by a rejected asylum seeker, and the 1,200 sexual assaults reported in numerous German cities over New Year in 2016 (allegedly perpetrated by immigrants of North African descent), has sparked widespread outrage fueling debate to reduce the number of refugees granted asylum. Facing a competitive reelection race in September, Merkel has responded to public pressure on the migration question without surrendering Germany’s moral and thought leadership on the issue.

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Ten years after the guns of the three-decade-long Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency went silent, northern Uganda’s local leaders are concerned that the deadly war raging across the South Sudanese border could disturb the fragile region.

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Across Africa, trafficking is on the rise. Boko Haram’s kidnapping and sale of some of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls into slavery, Guinea-Bissau regressing into a “narco state,” and rebels loyal to the Mozambican National Resistance using poaching to sustain their fledgling movement are several examples in recent memory. These crimes are not isolated incidents. Rather, they all concern conflict, security, and governance and unite under a single banner: human, drug, and wildlife trafficking that is thriving off—and promoting—instability in Africa.

A new Atlantic Council report draws attention to illicit trafficking’s lofty profits. They make up part of the $50 billion—just slightly over Tanzania’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016—that African governments lose in illicit financial flows per year. Trafficking far outpaces the earning potential of local security forces and law enforcement, sowing the seeds of corruption and undermining efforts to eliminate bribery and illicit trading. The same report notes that both terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates are accruing substantial profit from trafficking and using those profits to spoil peace efforts and perpetuate insecurity in their respective regions.

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The global HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak varied in length, number of lives lost, and geographic areas affected. However, both posed national security risks to the United States, and both therefore prompted large-scale US government responses: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Operation United Assistance in Liberia, respectively. Today, the United States is confronting these kinds of public health crises as well as a score of terrorist threats, and it is possible that the two problems could merge as terrorists seek to use bioterrorism to achieve their goals. US national security has traditionally focused on security’s “hard” elements—terrorism, state collapse, and crime. But public health threats—whether introduced deliberately through bioterrorism or emerging from natural causes as the 2014 Ebola outbreak did—also pose a significant threat to the homeland and thus deserve to be prioritized by the United States.

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Explicitly invoking the US aid initiative that rebuilt Western Europe’s devastated infrastructure and weakened economies after World War II as a bulwark against Communist expansionism, the German government unveiled its ambitious framework for a “Marshall Plan with Africa” (Eckpunkte für einen Marshallplan mit Afrika) on January 18 with the twin objectives of increasing trade and development on the continent and hopefully reducing mass migration flows north across the Mediterranean.

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French President François Hollande went to Bamako, Mali, last week for the twenty-seventh Africa-France Summit, his last scheduled visit to Africa before he leaves office in May, having been forced to give up any hope of a second term by the most abysmal approval ratings of any head of state in this history of the Fifth Republic. Running for the presidency five years ago, Hollande included in his election manifesto, 60 Engagements pour la France, a promise to definitively break with “Françafrique,” the neocolonial pact between France and its former colonies, in favor of “a new relationship founded on equality, trust, and solidarity.” Given Africa’s rising geopolitical heft and burgeoning economic dynamism, the legacy the French leader actually leaves in the region—which has been a bright spot amid Hollande’s widespread unpopularity—is of significant import not only for Africans, but also for France, its European neighbors, and, indeed, the wider transatlantic community.

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The continued failure of commodity prices to recover significantly and the global slowdown of economic growth, especially in China and other emerging markets, made 2016 a tumultuous year for many African economies, indeed, “the worst year for average economic growth” in the region in over twenty years, according to a report from Ernst & Young. Compounding these trends, varying dynamics within the continent’s biggest economies meant that Nigeria slipped into recession while South Africa barely lurched forward with anemic 0.2 percent growth in the third quarter. Looking ahead, those countries which have diversified their economies, focused on energy infrastructure, and promoted industrialization will be best poised to overcome the current challenges and succeed in 2017.

As Aubrey Hruby and I documented in a report last year, those countries that rely heavily on the export of one or two resources to drive their economic growth have suffered as a result of the emerging market downturn and its knock-on effects, both in terms of demand for their commodities and in availability of financing for their major infrastructure and other development projects.

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Joseph Kabila, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is unlikely to abide by the terms of an agreement that aims to end his fifteen-year rule and ensure the DRC’s first-ever democratic transition of power, said J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

“Miracles can happen and I guess, in the Christmas spirit, one wants to acknowledge the possibility, but I would not wager” that Kabila will keep his end of the bargain, said Pham, who also serves as vice president for research and regional initiatives at the Atlantic Council.

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