Op-eds

Handmaiden to Africa's Generals: Op-ed by WPF's Alex de Waal in NYT

The New York Times

Alex de Waal
Security is a core concern of the American government’s Africa policy. This was made clear in May when President Obama proposed a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to supplement programs the Pentagon already has in 35 countries. And it was made clear again at the recent U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, when Mr. Obama announced $110 million a year for an African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership, a program to train and equip six African armies for peacekeeping operations.

Because Mr. Obama is committed to scaling back the deployment of United States troops to combat terrorism, America’s security strategy in Africa translates largely into training and equipping African armies. Although this approach rightly gives African governments the lead in tackling their own security problems, it is misguided nonetheless. It is, in effect, providing foreign tutelage to the militarization of Africa’s politics, which undermines peace and democracy throughout the continent. America’s diplomacy is becoming a handmaiden to Africa’s generals.

Consider two countries riven by different kinds of conflict and ask yourself what they have in common. On the one hand, there is South Sudan. By African standards, it is not a poor country. It has vast oil resources, and as soon it became independent from Sudan, three years ago, government spending per capita was about $350, four times the average for East African states. It also received the most generous international aid package of any country in East Africa — the equivalent of another $100 per capita. But the government spent about half of its budget on its huge army. And many of its 745 generals proceeded to make fortunes thanks to payroll fraud and procurement scams.

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