April 24, 2013

Drivers of Instability and Conflict in Africa

Last week, I participated in the CCAPS Shifting Conflict Patterns in Africa: Drivers of Instability and Strategies for Cooperation conference, during which policymakers, practitioners, military personnel and scholars discussed the various demographic, political and environmental drivers of instability in Africa. Participants at the conference identified strategies for improved collaboration with African nations so as to mitigate the risk of instability and conflict.

The conference highlighted how climate-related extreme weather events and environmental degradation may exacerbate underlying social and political tensions, inequalities and demographic conditions that are already putting pressure on resources and governments, many of which are fragile and lack state capacity. In particular, climate change will accelerate cross-border migration and urbanization, which could fuel regional tensions and destabilize local governments if they do not have the resources and infrastructure to support the influx of people. 

Participants at the CCAPS conference discussed the demographic drivers of instability as well, the most alarming of which include the youth bulge, high unemployment rates among young men and increasing urbanization in cities that are unable to provide adequate services. Idle young men with few economic prospects provide a pool of potential recruits for traffickers of illicit materials and terrorist groups.

Many of the emerging threats Africa faces are transnational in nature. Human trafficking, the sale of arms and drugs and growing terrorist violence are not confined to borders. They are well positioned to leverage the ‘tyranny of ungoverned spaces’ –or areas where the state is absent, unable, or unwilling to perform its necessary functions – that exists throughout Africa. 

The growing transnational threats in Africa suggest that U.S. government decision-makers, in collaboration with other countries, think tanks, international financial institutions and international NGOS, should identify, support, and strengthen efforts to build a regional security architecture.

Here are some of my own thoughts on how the U.S. government can help build and strengthen the regional security architecture in Africa:

a.        Strengthen regional management of water-energy/natural resource systems

African nations have agreed to move forward on 15 cross-border energy projects totaling more than $40 billion by 2020, several of which are hydropower projects. While considerable attention has been directed to improving water security and national and regional management of water basins, much less natural resource management training and technical assistance has targeted the energy-water-security nexus. 

b.      Encourage countries in Africa to develop and implement regional and national disaster preparedness and response plans

Analysts have commented that the impacts of Hurricane Sandy last year could have been much worse without the successful development and implementation of PlaNYC, “a comprehensive program addressing every aspect of the city’s physical environment, from land use to energy, from water quality to transportation—and the first official recognition that adapting to climate change must be a key part of city policy.” Donors, international financial institutions and U.S. government agencies should strengthen efforts to provide technical assistance to African nations to help them design and implement national and regional comprehensive planning programs that take the impacts of climate change into account.

c.     Support efforts to build up the border infrastructure, particularly road networks and information and communications technology (ICT)

As we saw with Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, when disasters hit, governments must quickly transport large segments of the population out of harm’s way.  This is problematic in many parts of Africa where roads remain largely unpaved. Recognizing the importance of building up road and transportation networks, West African countries, with the support of international financial institutions, have launched the West Africa  Transport and Transit Facilitation Project for Africa

The project seeks to improve key road sections, design and implement a corridor-specific physical road safety action plan and strengthen the capacity of customs and transport authorities to better manage the movement of traffic across borders.  The improved physical system and capacity will support efforts to respond to climate induced extreme events and other transnational issues.  As the World Bank notes, “Coordinated management and investment allow countries to reap the best from multi-country infrastructure systems.” Stronger infrastructure systems can be used to support disaster response as well as enhance border security.

d.    Support expansion of National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP)

The National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP), funded by the Department of Defense and managed by the National Guard, provides unique capacity-building capabilities. The SPP supports collaborations between state National Guards with nations around the world to “exchange ideas, promote democracy, and enhance understanding, trust and stability.” Specific projects include law enforcement training, legal training, education and, more recently, disaster planning and response. In 2011, North Dakota hosted Ghanian leaders, including members of the Ghana Armed Forces, to exchange information about flood protection and disaster management.

Currently, only eight countries in Africa participate in SPP. Among these are: Botswana (North Carolina), Ghana (North Dakota), Liberia (Michigan), Morocco (Utah), Nigeria (California), Senegal (Vermont), South Africa (New York), and Tunisia (Wyoming). In contrast, almost every country in South America participates in SPP.  U.S. policymakers should explore the expansion of SPP in Africa and facilitate greater engagement and collaboration around the issue of disaster response and management.  In short, African nations will be better positioned to address emerging transnational threats by shoring up regional infrastructure systems and building regional response planning and capabilities. 

Photo: North Dakota National Guard Joint Task Force-East leaders and Ghanaian dignitaries tour flood protection measures on April 14, 2011 in Fargo, N.D. Courtesy: Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp and the Department of Defense.  

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