August 6, 2014
Pham on Security Challenges in Africa
Other experts add that U.S. efforts to train militaries in Africa over the past decades have been met with mixed results.
It worked in Gabon, where U.S. Marines and other troops trained local forces in countering illegal poaching, which funds terrorist groups, but unintentionally led to a coup in Mali in 2012, said J. Peter Pham, Africa Center director at the Atlantic Council.
“We trained what we thought was a counterterrorism unit, but we ended up training a regime protection unit,” Pham said.
U.S. officials say they recognize that much work is needed to bolster governance in order to address root causes of terrorism, and have devoted a large portion of the summit toward that end.
Officials hope that focusing on economic development will address some of the root causes of Islamic extremism.
“Poverty doesn’t make people violent, but it can drive young men who have nothing to do to look for things to do,” Pham said, noting that many terrorist groups have money to attract new members.
“We’re looking at how do we get at the broader issue of countering violent extremism in Africa so that these groups, like Boko Haram, like al-Shabaab, like al Qaeda, are not able to prey on young people with disinformation and intimidation,” said Rhodes.
Pham added that the media focus “almost obsessively on the sensationalist aspect” of African security, but the real story is Africa’s economic growth and China’s growing relationship with Africa.