Why Africa matters to US national security

On May 25, 2017, on the occasion of the fifty-fourth celebration of Africa Day, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center launched its newest report, “Why Africa Matters to US National Security.” The author, former Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council Grant Harris, argues that a re-assessment of Africa’s strategic importance to US national security is overdue.

Atlantic Council Vice President and Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham welcomed attendees, and Africa Center Director for Programs and Studies and Deputy Director Bronwyn Bruton set the stage for Harris’s remarks, which she noted were especially timely given that a new administration has settled into Washington.

In his remarks, Harris noted that Africa affects US national security in three different ways. The first is transnational threats—the traditional lens of hard security—and the importance of preventing terror groups like Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb from metastasizing in ungoverned or poorly governed parts of the continent. The second is economic prosperity:  Africa has the potential to become a key destination for American goods and services, but without policies that support economic prosperity, youth unemployment and mass migration will grow and derail both economic and social progress, and will surely undermine US counterterror efforts. Third, Harris noted the importance of African cooperation in maintaining US global leadership, because as a voting bloc, the African nations have the power to promote or impede US initiatives and priorities at the United Nations and in other multilateral fora.

Karen Attiah, Global Opinions Editor at the Washington Post, moderated a discussion with Harris following his remarks. Harris and Attiah also took questions from the audience, which consisted of representatives from the US and other government as well as the private sector.

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This report is part of a partnership between the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center and the OCP Policy Center and is made possible by generous support from the OCP Foundation.