Farewell to Arms? Seen Nowhere on the Horizon

Saudi special security forces show their

Saudi special security forces show their skills during a military parade at a base near Mount Arafat, southeast of the holy city of Mecca, on November 22, 2009  (Image credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

by Elbay Alibayov | Reflections on the week past

We are all defence and military this week. An arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth up to US$110 billion, followed by the Pentagon’s US$639 billion budget proposal for FY2018 (“dead on arrival” because apparently it was not big enough). And to complete it all, the NATO summit in Brussels.

All three security levels (country, regional, and global) are covered. An array of topics claimed to be targeted (from national defence interests to global threats like terrorism, to job creation) or flagged by independent observers as issues of concern (like civilian casualties and human rights). And this way or another, it is all about military spending; or, to be precise, about military spending (militarization) under the pretext of ensuring state and human security (eventually at the expense of other government expenditure). This is not a topic to be taken lightly—in the world of “limited resources and unlimited needs” we have to make (supposedly, rational) choices. Do we?

How much justified is, for example, US$1.69 trillion (which happens to constitute no less than 2.2 percent of global GDP) in military spending in 2016 alone? And this is at the time when according to Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the same year the total number of deaths from violent conflicts across the world equalled to 103,330; of them 87,018 lives were lost in state-based violence; 9,034 in non-state violence, and 6,278 in one-sided violence. Add to this tens of millions of forcibly displaced people (both internally and refugees), those who are exposed to starvation and infectious deceases due to violence—and you quite get an idea of the scale of the problem. But to make sense of it, we first have to reflect on some basic questions.

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How should we think about relationship between militarization and security, stability? How important is it to maintain high military spending (which includes items from procurement of arms and equipment to wages, training and social benefits to research and development)? How justified is it to cut public funding from non-defence areas in order to build up further militarization? And finally, does organized violence (whether state-based and non-state-based armed conflicts or one-sided violence) persist because governments don’t spend enough on security or the use of armed force is driven by other (social, economic, political, ideological, psychological) factors and cannot be contained by ever increasing military budgets? Or is it the arms production and trade (both formal and trafficking) that itself contributes to fuelling many conflicts?

There is no single or simple way to answer those questions. Especially considering that universal rules (like the one by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature that there has been an extraordinary but little-recognized, millennia-long, worldwide reduction in all forms of violence) are difficult to establish, and they may not necessarily work in all regions and at all times (especially nowadays, when the pace of developments and changes, and thus volatility are uber-high).

There are also different forms of conflict and therefore the relation between each form and external factors (like military spending) may vary greatly. Moreover, the forms are also changing. Take for example state-based armed conflicts—that is, armed contests over power and/or territory where one of sides is the government. The established classification recognizes four forms of state-based conflict (called wars if they cause more than one thousand battle-deaths a year): inter-state conflicts (between states); extra-state conflicts (between a state and an armed group outside the state’s own territory); intra-state conflicts (between a government and a non-state group); and internationalized intra-state conflicts (when the government, or an armed group opposing it, receives military support from one or more foreign states). Well, how are we going to categorize the wars in Iraq and Syria? For the majority of states involved, both wars fall under more than one sub-category, and each sub-category in turn is subject to a different set of driving forces, contexts and circumstances.

Another challenge (as ever) is causality. We first look at the correspondence, and if there is any, then at the casual direction in relations between (extensive) military spending and security. What I am interested in here is, whether it is true that more military spending by governments leads to sustained improvements in both state and human security (where human security is not only saving lives from war, genocide, displacement, epidemics and famine, but means freedom from violence and from the fear of violence, with direct and indirect implications on fundamental freedoms and basic human rights). To answer this question one has to undertake a full-blown research based on empirical evidence, and perhaps employing a sophisticated computation and modelling (to cover a broad range of variables over extended periods of time). However, it is possible to make sense of developments without this heavy armoury, simply viewing them in right context.

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Take for example, the controversial arms deal between the US and Saudi Arabia signed this week. Let’s look first at the trend. In the last decade, the region’s governments have significantly increased their military spending, and weapons purchase in particular. In 2012-2016 their share among global importers of major weapons equalled to 29 percent, compared to (no small otherwise) 17 percent in 2007-2011. Out of top five arms importers in 2012-2016, three were from the Middle East and North Africa: Saudi Arabia with 8.2 percent, United Arab Emirates with 4.6 percent, and Algeria with 3.7 percent of global imports, respectively.

Note that this happens at the time when oil prices have dropped drastically and the global trend is leaning towards reliance on renewables and clean energy. The Gulf states being heavily dependent on commodity exports, find themselves in a dare financial situation. Never mind, they say. But the facts tell a different story: “Saudi Arabia faces an imminent economic crisis. … Riyadh cannot sustainably rely on oil as its principle source of national income. Over the last 18 months, the Kingdom has used 17% of its Public Investment Fund (PIF) to cover the government’s operating costs. If this trend persists, Riyadh will completely deplete the PIF by 2024.”

The true burden of military spending on the economy becomes apparent when we see it as a share of a country’s GDP: in 2016, in the Middle East it was at staggering 6.0 percent (compared to 2.0 percent in Africa, 1.6 percent in Europe, 1.3 percent in Americas, 1.8 percent in Asia). As mentioned above, this money is not spent out of some surplus magically appearing in the government coffers; it is spent at the expense/instead of something else. And this “something else” happens to be human, social and economic development. As pointed out by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its 2016 yearbook, a comparison of trends in spending on the military, health and education since 1995 shows that whereas the majority of countries have increased health and education spending while reducing military spending, the trend in the Middle East has gone in the opposite direction. There is no better indication of where the governments’ priorities are.

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Of course, there is also a game in play. Bluff is always present in politics, whether at local or global level. Saudi Arabia is in acute need of cash. The regime knows that they cannot afford large military spending. Actually, they have decreased the military expenditure last year, and as a result are not in the top third position of spenders, giving up this “honourable place” in the rankings to Russians. But they are also aware that others know that too, and are watching them closely. So the deal so ambitious is (at least in part) to throw dust in someone’s (say, arch-rival Iran—which happens to be on ascending line thanks to Nuclear Deal-incited release of sanctions—or would-be partners in emerging Muslim countries of East Asia) eyes. The deal is not binding and can stay stalled for years (until each letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) it is comprised of is signed and paid for thus making it to the contract), but will send a signal to anyone around that Saudis are in no short supply of money, resolve, ambition and support to this matter.

Whether the others buy this bluff is another story, but the point is made—and with such a skillful showman as Mr Trump in game, it is performed quite theatrically to impress everyone, at home and abroad. (As a side note, such a show with inflated package price serves the US administration’s goals too—to demonstrate to the voters at home their power and influence, to claim more jobs and benefits to economy etc; Vice Adm. Joseph Rixey, director of the DSCA was quick to announce: “When completed, it will be the largest single arms deal in American history.”  What an accomplishment!)

Still, this does not change the overall intent of the affair. And just to be clear on that point: the rulers of Saudi Arabia will make sure to purchase big part of the arms package, especially considering that first, it is a political commitment before the strategic partner (who is so kind to take sides in the ages-long Sunni-Shi’a power contest); second, the delivery under contracts may take long years thus allowing some flexibility with regards to payments; and also, Saudi rulers want to build the military production capabilities at home by 2030, so part of contracts would work to this end.

That is all good, but the question is who will pay for this. Well, I have an answer: I assume this would be the young generation of Saudi Arabia (who are already frustrated by worsening life standards, unemployment and various barriers in social life) and of other countries in the region (who are either equally robbed by their governments of public investment in their future or are unlucky to be born in the neighbouring countries which serve as playground to use those weapons purchased). Whether they like it or not.

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Where is it all heading? Marc Lynch has nailed it in his recent article that, emboldened by such deals (and the Washington’s backing) the region’s regimes will find it easier “to sustain their crackdown on civil society and political dissent” when faced with difficulties and popular resistance to meet the militarization commitments, “but such repression will exacerbate the governance failures and political grievances which lay the ground for another round of instability. By almost every indicator—economic, political, security or social—the Arab regimes upon which Trump is doubling down are more unstable now than they appeared to be in the years leading up to the 2011 uprisings.”

So in response to the question posed in the opening part of this piece, it would be fair to say that militarization (through extensive military spending, among others) makes the Middle East governments more vulnerable and the entire region increasingly unstable—it encourages violent conflicts and contributes to their escalation instead of containing them. It is counterproductive, whether in immediate or long term. And I am sure we will arrive at similar conclusion when analyzing other regions. Think of Africa (military spending across the continent has increased by almost half in the past ten years). Think of South Asia (with the top importer of major weapons, India and no less ambitious Pakistan). Think… how much good could have been done instead.

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Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 2)

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Johannesburg’s business centers surrounded by slums (Image credit: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

The leadership deficit, resource curse, and inequality

Last month, the 6th Tana Forum (Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa) held in Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar brought together former and current heads of state, government officials, diplomats, academics and civil society representatives to discuss the natural resource governance. As ever, the topic of the continent’s resource curse was in the focus. What was new, however, is that this time around the African leaders seemed to acknowledge (with initial hesitation though) that it is them who must bear the greatest responsibility for, as former Nigerian President and incumbent chairman of Tana Forum, Olusegun Obasanjo put it, “the way and manner natural resources are exploited and how revenues from them are harnessed and expended [that] have allowed social and political divisions to fester.” Thus, the old narrative pointing finger at usual suspects—foreign investors and multinational extractive companies—being primary and sole culprits started finally changing.

Just ten days later, the issue of serious leadership deficit was echoed at yet another high-profile event, the World Economic Forum held in Durban. Here, the South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in his address to participants put the blame of persistent inequality across the globe, and particularly in Africa, on political elites and governments: “As leaders, we have not addressed adequately how we are going to close the gap between rich and poor in the world and achieve meaningful, inclusive growth.”  He went further by calling the African leaders and the international community to combat economic crimes, such as money-laundering and profit-shifting.

These are all broad topics and they have their country-specific root causes and present-day circumstances, but the point about local political leadership seems correct. When there is no political unity among key local players, when they are corrupt and together with their supporting clans try to coerce and dominate anyone else in the land, then their countries fall easy prey to various external actors, who take advantage of them. So the problem of “curse” should start with local leadership—if they abide by the land’s laws and serve their people with integrity, the chances are tiny for economic crimes and corruption to take a massive scale and become a systemic societal decease.

The list of economic crimes the African countries are actively engaged in is long and their scale is at times striking. In this piece I will share my initial findings and thoughts pertaining to one of them—that is illicit capital flight from and to sub-Saharan area of the continent. I was particularly interested in finding any relations between the illicit financial flows (IFF) and economic inequality, as one prime source (whether cause or exacerbating factor) of conflict and instability. No big theories, no conclusive statements—just an attempt to make sense of available evidence. The piece therefore, following Schopenhauer’s method, “by no means attempts to say whence or for what purpose the world exists, but merely what the world is.”

The recent emphasis in global and regional discourse, on the consistent lack of leadership in Africa is not incidental. If not for violent power struggles of political elites and corrupted practices in public institutions (and their local and foreign business accomplices) the continent’s countries would have been more socially stable, the well-being of their citizens higher, and their economies less vulnerable to external shocks. The real curse of Africa is its political institutions, not resources.

Illicit financial flows: trends, size and composition

A series of reports published by Global Financial Integrity (GFI) , the Washington DC-based research and advisory organization provide estimates of the illicit flow of money in and out of the developing world. For example, GFI’s estimates show that “since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade misinvoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe.

Individual sub-Saharan countries do not appear among top ten in the lists of either illicit inflow or outflow transfers in 1980-2012. Overall, compared to other regions sub-Saharan Africa has not been in the leading role in this business either; in absolute numbers much more has been taken from Asia, for example. In 2014 alone the outflows from sub-Saharan economies are estimated at between US$36 billion and US$69 billion and inflows between US$44 billion and US$81 billion. Therefore, overall IFF volume for sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at between US$80 billion and US$150 billion (midpoint US$115 billion). This makes the portion of sub-Saharan Africa in the global two-way illicit flows for that year very modest – a bit more than 6.5 percent.

However, this may be misleading. First, the global estimated capital flights (and those for Asia, in particular) are very much inflated because of China; thus each region’s contribution, when excluding China, would be much higher. Second, much more relevant is not the comparison with other regions but within the sub-Saharan part of the continent. And even here, by the size of economy and its growth rate and other indicators the economies of sub-Saharan Africa diverge greatly.

Vast majority of sub-Saharan economies are small. These countries are also poor; many are very poor in fact (as of March 2016, out of 39 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries across the globe, 32 were in Africa; all but Sudan were in sub-Saharan part). And therefore those numbers translated into percentage of total trade or compared to GDP per capita tell a different story—those sums are direct losses, the money the Sub-Saharan poor are robbed of, and they are felt with much severe pain than significantly larger IFF sums in more prosperous parts of the world. The amount of one hundred and fifteen billion US dollars in one year is no small amount of money anywhere on this planet; for sub-Saharan Africa, the region home to almost half of the world’s extremely poor—this is an enormous amount of money. Just try to imagine the “opportunity cost”—what else this money could have been spent on. It hurts.

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And finally, trend is important. And here we have a mixed picture. On the one hand, the region has evidenced the highest rate of average annual IFF (outflows and inflows combined) for years 2005-2014: it is estimated (in midpoint terms) at approx 20 percent of total trade (average for all developing countries being 19 percent). On the other hand, and this is the only good news here, sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates a higher descending trend over the same decade: its rate has dropped from 22.8 percent in 2005 to 16.6 percent in 2014, while the rate for all developing countries has decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.8 percent, respectively.

Another difference of interest: in the course the decade 2005-2014, in all regions but sub-Saharan Africa the illicit capital inflows were approximately twice as large as outflows. In sub-Saharan Africa they were almost equal. The outflows/inflows had the following composition: 9.5 v 10.4 in percentage points (9:10) in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 5.9 v 13.2 percentage points (1:2.2) for all developing countries. And even here the region is not homogeneous: for example, Mozambique and Cameroon both averaged at around IFF 7-7.5 percent of total trade in the course of 2005-2014; while the former had outflows/inflows composition as 2.5 percent and 5.0 percent, and the latter the reverse– 5.5 percent and 1.5 percent of the respective country’s total trade.

It is difficult to say with precision in the absence of additional data, but the difference seems in the purpose the developing countries are being used for either inflows or outflows of illicit capital. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa appear to be primarily siphoning the money out of their economies while being less attractive for money laundering and external investment (or reinvestment) in grey economy than other regions.

Irrespective of comparative absolute amounts, the illicit capital flights have probably been more painful to sub-Saharan Africa’s populations, in first hand poor, than in other regions of the world. Transferred through formal (recorded) channels, this money could have contributed to tax revenues and directed to strengthening social safety networks, pro-poor programmes and job creation, to benefit their citizens.

Assets in tax heavens vs. Official Development Assistance

One of the most shocking findings pertaining to (financial) relationship between developed and developing countries revealed in the recent reports is that for long time, “developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital.” For example, in 2011 (most recent year of available data) holdings of total developing country wealth in offshore financial centers were valued at US$4.4 trillion. In the GFI assessment, “there is perhaps no greater driver of inequality within developing countries than the combination of illicit financial flows and offshore tax havens. These mechanisms and facilitating entities benefit the rich—we call them the ‘1 percent’ for convenience—and harm the middle class and poor.

The sub-Saharan African countries could have been much less dependent on external financial assistance while the quality of life of people living in those countries could have been tangibly higher. This is an issue of choice for political leadership, nothing else.

As the report shows, residents of developing countries held US$1.8 trillion in tax heavens in 2005 which increased to US$4.4 trillion in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share in that was rather modest, but the region’s assets held in offshore financial centers kept growing at the record rate of over 20 percent annually (almost four time the world average), in the course of 2005-2011. This (at least in part) explains the difference between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world in terms of outflow/inflow ratio of capital flights mentioned above.

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There is even more surprising finding. Already in 2011 the total amount (foreign direct investment and private investment) of sub-Saharan Africa’s assets held in tax heavens was five times the official development assistance (ODA) from all sources (official development assistance, as well as other official and private funds) disbursed to the region the same year (US$52.6 billion : US$263.04 billion = 1:5). Actually, the total amount of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in four years of 2012-2015 (according to OECD DAC data) equaled to US$252.26 billion which is less than the amount of assets from the region held in tax heavens the year before, in 2011. And the offshore investments kept growing since.

The very fact that a country is receiving quite significant amounts of international assistance in the form of technical advice and development programmes, loans, grants etc from public and private sources, and at the same time its corrupted politicians and their “business partners” (part of so called one percent) are pumping out amounts of money its five-fold (!) that has been illegally earned in the same country at the same time, to offshore accounts—is outrageous.

Diversity as it is

Of course, not all sub-Saharan countries are infected with this decease. So it would be correct (as in any other respect) to distinguish between those countries where illicit capital flight is massive and persistent and those where it is relatively small and/or random (similarly, say to the difference between “systemic” corruption and individual, sporadic instances of corrupt practice). There are countries like Mauritania and Angola (average 1 and 5 percent per annum over the decade of 2005-2014, respectively), and there are the region’s mid-performers like Nigeria (with estimated average 20 percent) and front-runners like Benin (average 114 percent of total trade). And then there is Liberia, the world champion and the current record holder—with estimated annual illicit capital flights at staggering 1,000 percent (i.e. ten-fold) of the country’s total trade over the decade, 2005-2014. To compare, the next to it in the global rankings are Aruba and Panama, with the rate twice less than that of Liberia.

Therefore, it makes sense to categorize the countries in terms of the economy’s size, income, growth rate, resource intensity, economic and social inequality, regime type and other indicators and compare them against the categories based on the IFF range—to find out how, if at all, they correspond to each other. That is what I entertained, and found this exercise quite insightful. The untidy thoughts on some of those comparisons will be presented in the next piece. Herein is the first set, by the economy’s size.

And one last note before we move forward. Individual characteristics and circumstances matter, of course. One of few countries falling under Very Low/Low category of IFF (0<3<5 percent of total trade) is Somalia, for example. It would be very naive to consider this low IFF range registered as representative of healthy economy and responsible leadership. What we know of Somalia for prolonged period of time has been quite the opposite. That is why the findings on country groups by certain criteria presented below and in the forthcoming piece are merely first impressions; those findings shall be looked at closely on a case-by-case basis to take into account the country-specific features, in order to arrive at plausible explanations.

Illicit financial flows vs. size of economy

To start with analysis, we first have to categorize the sub-Saharan African countries by the IFF ranges. In so doing, I refrained from building the (whatever imprecise and conditional) scale based on the global rankings. As explained above, the sub-Saharan region has its own characteristics, quite different from the rest of the world, and therefore what is considered as “low” here may be ranked as “medium” or “high” in other regions or on the global rankings.

I kept it simple. The countries of the region (47 altogether) divided into the following categories by the medium point value of their average annual IFF, as percentage of the respective country’s total trade in the same period (2005-2014): Very Low (0-3 percent); Low (3-5 percent); Medium (5-8 percent); High (8-10 percent); and Very High (above 10 percent). Given the conditionality of such a ranking, I also introduced borderlines, like Low/Medium, High/Very High, etc. to add more flexibility to the categorization.

Here is the full list by IFF categories, 2005-14:

–Three countries in Very Low category: Eritrea, Mauritania, Somalia;

–None in Low category;

–One country in Low/Medium category: Angola;

–Three countries in Medium category: Cameroon, Lesotho, Mozambique;

–None in Medium/High;

–One country in High category: South Africa;

–Twenty-one countries in High/Very High category: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania; and

–Twenty-nine countries in Very High category: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia , Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The vast majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa belong to the categories with high and very high illicit capital flight rates (above 8 percent of a country’s total recorded trade, and in many cases far beyond this benchmark, growing up to tens and hundreds of percent) by both the continental and global standards. No one appears to be immune to this corrupt and incredibly damaging practice.

I will use this categorization throughout the exercise. As it is clear from the list, 85 percent of sub-Saharan African countries belong to the categories demonstrating High and Very High rates of illicit capital flight, during the period studied.

Table below gives an idea of the diversity, depth and scale in terms of the correspondence between the IFF and the economy size (please note that there are no criteria behind selection, it is just a random collection for illustrative purpose). I used the World Bank data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2014 (as the last year in the period observed) as an indicator/measure of economy size.

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It appears that there is no clear correspondence between the size of an economy and its IFF range. It especially concerns the High and Very High categories, where all economies, big and small, are represented.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, all but Somalia are exersizing, to varying degree, the illicit financial transactions. There is no obvious correspondence between the size of economy and the range of illicit capital flight. Economies of all size, from tiny to large, are represented in the categories characterized by especially high rates of illicit capital flight. This means that the size of economy is not a determining factor in illicit financial flows from and to Sub-Saharan Africa.

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I hope you are enjoying the ride. In the piece forthcoming I will share my untidy thoughts on the relations (or not) between the illicit financial flows in sub-Saharan African countries and such characteristics as the economy’s resource intensity and income level, poverty rates and shared prosperity, as well as the political regime type. Stay tuned!

For those who missed the first part in a series, here is the link.

Assessment of Worldwide Threats: ISIL, al-Qaeda, Taleban

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) presented its written “Worldwide Threat Assessment” to the Senate last week. The analysis confirms that the Islamic State is capable of sustaining insurgencies in both Iraq and Syria, Afghan security continues to “deteriorate,” and al Qaeda remains a threat in several parts of the globe.

via The US Intelligence Community’s newest assessment of the jihadist threat — FDD’s Long War Journal

Untidy Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Africa’s Growth and Threats (part 1)

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Port of Cape Town                                                                                                Image credit: SkyPixels / published under Creative Commons 4.0 International license

by Elbay Alibayov | Political risk series

Africa, diverse and dynamic

Diversity across the African continent is truly impressive. And it is not only broadly varied (and gorgeous) geography and richness of natural resources or incredibly colourful indigenous culture, artefacts and tradition. Or almost full spectrum of political systems—from democracies to presidencies for life to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships to fragile states and those where chaos is the ruling regime in town. These are things more or less known and studied (and rather well appreciated). What is (or rather has been for long time) underrated about Africa, and especially its Sub-Saharan part, is its immense human potential and the capacity to innovate.

It is also a continent very dynamic—numerous events of various scale and importance are taking place across the continent every day; much more than in any other continent. One has to admit though, that this dynamism is mostly reflected in the media through “negative reporting”—violent clashes, terrorist attacks, casualties of natural and human-made disasters, corruption scandals, you name it (sub-Saharan Africa is true to its diversity in this sort of things, too). Obviously this is a distorted reality as presented by the media in their ever-lasting search for sensations. The rest (that is, more cheerful events and developments) can be picked up from the government, think tank and development organisation reports (one warning here being that many of those, including international assistance, projects appear to be prone to exaggerating the success of their joint efforts).

To feed my brain with daily news on Africa while doing a political risk research on Sahel and broadly into sub-Saharan part, I used my old tested method—subscribed to daily media reviews compiled by specialized organisations. These compilations are very informative—it is not only about quick references and short summaries; even titles, when categorized by key words, may give the first (and frequently correct) idea of what is happening on the continent today. Yes, you are right—our subconscious mind immediately grasps the hidden code and gives us an impression of the “mood” prevalent at the continent these days. Try one such compilation of headlines I put together from the daily list of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (see it at the end as an appendix, and feel free to entertain even the simplest methods of content analysis, through words and combinations). In the meantime, I will proceed with (rather random, mosaic-like) reflections triggered by the events of the week past and share some “untidy thoughts” (Myśli nieuczesane, to borrow from Stanisław Jerzy Lec) or rough ideas popping up along the road.

Famine vs. resources

According to information released by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net) earlier this year, there are about 70 million people who may be in need of urgent food assistance in 2017. Of them, 20 million live in four countries that have a “credible risk” of facing famine–South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.  In all but Somalia the mass starvation is human-made—it owes to internal violent conflicts (whether between warring political actors as in South Sudan, or the government and militant extremists Boko Haram in Nigeria, or with participation of both local and external forces in Yemen). Three out of four countries are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Of these, two are (mineral) resource rich. What is even more alarming is that they are not alone—most of Sahel and countries to the south of it are, to varying degree, “acutely food-insecure.”

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Even resource rich countries in sub-Saharan Africa are not immune to extreme situations, such as food insecurity among large parts of population. That is because the cause often-time is not natural but human-made

Resources vs. conflict

This is an old question: whether natural (primarily mineral) resources act as the catalyst of intrastate violent conflict or, to the contrary, enable governments to deliver basic services, uphold the rule of law and thus sooth tensions, avoid violence (or at least prevent from further escalating). For long time, Africa has been viewed as the prime location for natural resource driven conflict. However, the recent research covering the period from 1946 to 2008 proves that the “empirical relationship between natural resources and conflict in Africa is not very well understood. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find no evidence of natural resources triggering conflict in Africa after controlling for grid-specific fixed factors and time varying common shocks. Resource discovery appears to have improved local income measured by nightlights which could be reducing the conflict likelihood.”  

Oilfield and Minefield Discovery Location and Armed Conflict

Conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is not natural resource driven. In some cases it is other way around—resources help governments playing tensions down (at least in short term)

Extractive institutions vs. state failure

On a broader spectrum of correlation between economic incentives and civic conflict, political economy school of thought has claimed for decades that “greed and grievances” were the main driving forces of conflicts. However the analysis of conflicts worldwide does not necessarily support this emphasis on the economic drivers—much more powerful forces, such as poor governance and corruption and resulting inequality, political polarization, social exclusion, and ethno-sectarian divides frequently are the root causes of violent conflicts. Today, we can add the disruptive technological change to this list of usual suspects. They all are also increasingly recognized as the major contributors to violent extremism.

This puts institutions at the centre of the phenomenon dubbed by the economists Acemoglu and Robinson as “failed nations”. They hold that nations fail because their political and economic institutions encourage and support extraction to benefit few, instead of creating incentives for people to save, invest, and innovate. This results in “economic stagnation and civil wars, mass displacements, famines, and epidemics, making many of these countries poorer today than they were in the 1960s.”  Let’s see how this proposition proves itself in sub-Saharan Africa.

The nature of political and economic institutions (extractive vs. inclusive) matter to the nation’s economic and social performance more than resource abundance

Inclusion vs. competitiveness

The remedy against the state failure is seen in inclusive growth—one which builds upon the equitable contribution from all sectors of society and benefits all of them, thus fairly distributing the wealth and stimulating innovation and domestic investment in sustainable growth. Not surprisingly then, Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership was the main topic on the agenda of the World Economic Forum on Africa held last week (3-5 May) in Durban, South Africa. The meeting brought together more than thousand regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to explore the avenues for creating opportunities for all economic participants in Africa.

A lot of interesting discussions, propositions, lessons shared from successful innovations across the continent. They can be followed on the WEF’s website; so I instead want to draw your attention to the subject of my interest. A few days before the meeting in Durban, Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 was published thus offering detailed competitiveness profiles for 35 African countries along with the summary of the drivers of productivity and competitiveness within the continent. According to the report, out of ten most competitive African economies seven are in sub-Saharan Africa. The best performing country, Mauritius, holds the 45th place in the global competitiveness ranks (Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17 comprising 138 economies) while Cote d’Ivoire (at the bottom of the top-ten list) is in the 99th place.

WEF AFRICA-2017-PIC

This means that the rest of Africa is ranked in lowest quarter of the global list. No good for a continent as resource and talent rich and as demographically mobile (having one of the highest and rapidly growing rates of youth in its population–Africa’s working-age population is expected to soar by 450 million people, or close to 70 percent, by 2035).

There is another relevant ranking released recently. According to WEF data (Inclusive Development Index 2017), the list of most inclusive sub-Saharan economies looks as the following: 1 – Tanzania; 2 – Ghana; 3 –Cameroon; 4 – Senegal; 5 – Mali; 6 – Zimbabwe; 7 – Chad; 8 – Namibia; 9 – Uganda; 10 – Kenya. Two things immediately caught my eye. First is that only Namibia and Kenya are present in both lists of best performers, meaning that competitiveness and inclusiveness do not necessarily match (at least in Sub-Saharan economies).

Competitiveness and Inclusiveness of sub-Saharan economies do not necessarily go hand in hand. This may mean that they are driven by different set of contributing factors and faced with diverging constraining forces

Second is that population of some of these successfully growing countries are considered to be at acute risk of starvation. Millions of people in each case (as presented in the first map above): in Kenya which is both competitive and inclusive, but also in Uganda and Chad. Also, half of the world’s extreme poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. The number of poor in the region fell only by 4 million with 389 million people living on less than US$1.90 a day in 2013, more than all the other regions combined (according to the latest available data by the World Bank).

Even in countries with competitive economies and those enjoying an inclusive growth the population (at least part of it) may live in extreme poverty and/or under threat of starvation—whether due to natural and/or human-made disasters

Thank you for flying with us. This was the end of part one. Stay with us. Part two comes soon. Meanwhile, as promised…

Appendix: Africa Media Reviews for the week of 1-5 May, 2017

Headlines only (unedited):

Monday 1 May, 2017: French Forces Kill or Capture 20 Militant Fighters Near Mali-Burkina Faso Border– Mali Extends State of Emergency in Bid to Quell Islamist Attacks– Pope’s Timely Egypt Visit Comforts Grief-Stricken Christians– South Sudan Armed Opposition Rejects Declaring Unilateral Ceasefire– Kiir Reaches Out to Opposition to Revive National Dialogue–Can Funding Uncertainty Improve Peacekeeping in Africa?– DR Congo: UN Peacekeepers Face Fresh Sexual Abuse Claims–Libya Seizes Oil Tankers after Shootout at Sea–Sudan’s al-Bashir Calls on Opposition to Join New Govt–The ANC is Mandela’s Legacy. Now His Granddaughter Has Renounced South Africa’s Ruling Party–UAE’s Battle-Hardened Military Expands into Africa, Mideast–UN Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push–Tanzania’s President Magufuli Sacks 10,000 over Fake Certificates–UN Airlifts Aid Into Angola for DRC Asylum Seekers–Tunisia Forces Kill Fighters Planning Ramadan Attack–My Life Is in Danger, Says Burundi Opposition Leader–Yoweri Museveni: A Five Times-Elected Dictator?–China’s Appetite Leaves Nets Empty.

Tuesday 2 May, 2017: South Africa’s Zuma Quits May Day Rally after Boos from the Crowd– Advance Team of UN Peacekeepers Arrive in South Sudan– Humanitarian Crisis Deepens in CAR Amid Resurging Violence– Nigerian Civil Society Leaders Urge Buhari to Take Medical Leave– Polisario Says Ready for Western Sahara Talks with Rabat–Morocco Wins Battle over Guerguarat without Firing a Single Bullet– Congo Inks $5.6 Million Lobbying Deal Amid Election Strife–Egypt Denies Plans to Build Military Base in Eritrea–Zimbabwe: Alliance to Defeat Mugabe Comes Under Fire–Germany Pledges 70 Million Euros to Aid Somalia Fight Hunger–U.S Africom Commander Meets Somali President in Mogadishu– Ethiopia Is Facing a Killer Drought. But It’s Going Almost Unnoticed– Illicit Capital Flows in Developing World as High as $3.5 Trillion in 2014-Study– Egypt Violence: Three Police Killed in Cairo Attack– How I Smuggle People from Nigeria to Europe (Video)– Kenya Set to Make History with First Female Governors– Why EU Is Sending Poll Observer Mission to Kenya But Not Rwanda– Former Tanzanian President Mkapa Talks Magufuli, Burundi and Slavery– Sudan Threatens to Apply Similar Deportation Measures Against Egyptians– Ghana Crackdown on Illegal Gold Mining Inflames Tensions with Beijing– Echoes of Colonial Conflict in Algeria Reverberate in French Politics.

Wednesday 3 May, 2017: Eight Malian Soldiers Killed in Military Convoy Ambush–Britain Sending 400 Troops to Join UN’s S Sudan Force–Scores Killed in Central African Republic Ethnic Clashes–Rifts Deepen in South Africa’s Ruling Alliance–Pravin Gordhan: From Freedom Fighter to Finance Minister to ‘Accidental Hero’–Bid to Topple Zuma Leaves South African Opposition in Catch 22–SANDF Troops Gearing Up for DRC Rotation–As Oil Prices Dip, African Countries Spend Less on Military–UAE Says ‘Significant Breakthrough’ Reached in Libya Talks–Libya Has Become a Hub for Online Arms trading, Report Says–Piracy Attacks Off West Africa Nearly Doubled in 2016–Ethiopia’s Bloggers Face Detention, Restrictions–Journalists ‘Suffocating’ in Magufuli’s Tanzania–150 Journalists Banned from Algeria–A Desperate Plea for Help as Four African Nations Near a Famine Crisis–Protests to End Slavery in Mauritania–ISIS Militant Reportedly Burned Alive in Act of Revenge by Members of Bedouin Tribe in Egypt’s Sinai–Is Egypt Using Passports to Punish Its Opponents?– Zambia: Africa’s Silence Encourages Lungu’s Bad Behaviour–Mission Accomplished – UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire–Burundi Refugees Still Streaming into Rwanda.

Thursday 4 May, 2017: Somali President Visits Ethiopia … At Last–Somali, African Union Forces Recapture Central District–Somali Minister Shot Dead in Car After Being Mistaken for Militant: Police–At Least Six Journalists Arrested in Uganda on Press Freedom Day–South Sudan ‘Suspends’ Al Jazeera English: Report–Crisis-hit South Sudan Hikes Fees to Register Aid Agencies–Libya’s Rivals Eye ‘Strategy’ for ‘Unified Army’–Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War (Video)– Nigeria’s Ailing President Buhari Misses Third Cabinet Meeting–Boko Haram Leader Shekau ‘Injured in Air Strike’–Africa’s Inequality Stifles Growth, Says Report–Algeria Parliament Poll looms, But Voters Busy Watching France–Media Freedom in Africa ‘Not Great’–Rocket Attack on UN Camp in Mali Kills 1, Wounds 9–Can African Leaders Stop Money Laundering?– What to Know About Zambia: Hichilema’s Treason Trial Sheds Light on Political Tensions–Health Overtakes Democracy as US Spending in East Africa Drops–US Congress Rejects Trump’s Cuts in Aid to Africa–Tanzania Extradites to US Suspected Drug Kingpin–Morocco Phosphate Ship Held in South Africa Port over Western Sahara Claim–Eight Chinese Vessels Detained off West Africa for Illegal Fishing.

Friday 5 May, 2017: Mozambique Rebel Movement Renamo Extends Truce Indefinitely–Aid Groups in Central African Republic Retreat amid Threats–South Sudan: ‘They Are Killing Civilians House to House’: Crowded UN Camp Filled with Horror Stories–South Sudan President Wants Home-Grown Solutions–Sudanese Party to End Almost 20 Years in Opposition–Votes Counted in Algeria Parliamentary Elections–Algerians Vote in Parliamentary Poll Marked by Apathy–For Uganda and Ethiopia, It’s $200m Less in US Aid–Surviving Against All Odds – And Court Judgments: How Jacob Zuma Does It–Zuma Told by South African Court to Explain Cabinet Changes–He’s a Real Contender to Lead Congo, if Only He Could Get In–Millions of Nigerians Face Hunger in Wasteland Recaptured from Fighters–Boko Haram: Nigeria Winning the Battle But Losing the War?–No Amnesty For Crimes Under Former Gambian President : Govt–Migrants Who Survive Sahara Face New Torture in Libyan Oasis Town–Boris Johnson Meets Rivals for Power in Libya–Société Générale to Pay $1.1 Billion to Settle Dispute With Libya Fund–How African Governments Use Advertising as a Weapon Against Media Freedom–Complacency Warned Amid Piracy Hijackings off Somali Coast–Kenya Election Plans Include Dispute Resolution–Ex-Guinea Minister Convicted of Laundering Bribes.

Source: compiled from ACSS daily newsletters, 1-5 May 2017

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America’s War-Fighting Footprint in Africa

Sustainment Training Djibouti

                                               US Marine exercise in Djibouti, January 2017                                           Image credit: US Marine corps

Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent

by Nick Turse

General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy.  “I would just say, they are on the ground.  They are trying to influence the action,” commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa.  “We watch what they do with great concern.”

And Russians aren’t the only foreigners on Waldhauser’s mind.  He’s also wary of a Chinese “military base” being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti.  “They’ve never had an overseas base, and we’ve never had a base of… a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be,” he said.  “There are some very significant… operational security concerns.”

At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, “U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa.”  Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved.  “The Washington Post story that said ‘flying from a secret base in Tunisia.’  It’s not a secret base and it’s not our base… We have no intention of establishing a base there.”

Waldhauser’s insistence that the U.S. had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only “base” in Africa. “We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier,” reads the command’s 2017 posture statement.  Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory — “expeditionary” in military parlance.

While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge — and hard to miss — complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden.  And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military’s footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.

Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture.  A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent.  In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries.  These include low-profile locations — from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield — that have never previously been mentioned in published reports.  Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including “15 enduring locations.”  The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade’s worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.


A map of U.S. military bases — forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations — across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse/TomDispatch).

A Constellation of Bases

AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent.  Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.

Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs).  “In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs” state the documents.  By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa.  An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22.  Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.

These outposts — of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so — form the backbone of U.S. military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.  The plans also indicate that the U.S. military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, “increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions” of the continent.

AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command’s inventory of posts.  The document explains that the U.S. military “closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations.”  Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46 — a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.

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US marines boarding MV-22

Location, Location, Location

AFRICOM’s sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups.  The command’s major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 U.S. and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of “violent extremist organizations” across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort — to the tune of $156 million last year alone in support of regional proxies there — with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight), and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term U.S. effort).

The U.S. military’s multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration’s expanding wars in the Middle East.  African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington’s ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration.  They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in U.S. airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.

In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command’s “strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure.” The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America’s network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional.  “USAFRICOM’s posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent,” say the 2015 plans.  “A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries… is necessary to support the command’s operations and engagements.”

According to the files, AFRICOM’s two forward operating sites are Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom’s Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa.  Described as “enduring locations” with a sustained troop presence and “U.S.-owned real property,” they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there.

Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America’s African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years, the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. “Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities,” reads AFRICOM’s 2017 posture statement.  “This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.”  Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports “U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region.”

In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then-AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command’s rapid reaction forces.  Last June, outgoing U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, “We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now.”

CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft.  It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed U.S. nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence.

Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a “proposed CSL,” but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.

AFRICOM’s 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya.  While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa “may also function as a major logistics hub,” according to the documents.

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More than 40 African Chiefs of Defence or their representatives participated in the first ever CHoD conference hosted by U.S. Africa Command, April 19-20, 2017, in Stuttgart, GE. Countering VEOs and peace support operations were the central topics for discussion. (Photos by Brenda Law and Staff Sgt. Grady Jones, U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs/Released)

Contingency Plans 

The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as “semi-permanent,” 13 as “temporary,” and four as “initial.”  These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created.  Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country’s borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.

Officially classified as “non-enduring” locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for U.S. operations on the continent.  Today, according to AFRICOM’s Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide “access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa.”

AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they “strive to increase access in crucial areas.” The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time.  One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen.  At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time.

Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM’s 2015 plan.  Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as U.S. drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location.  It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East.  By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, “responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals” in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

AFRICOM’s inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the U.S. Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.

A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the “proposed” CSLs in the AFRICOM documents.  The U.S. is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept.  N’Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another “proposed CSL,” has actually been used by the U.S. military for years.  Troops and a drone were dispatched there in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and “base camp facilities” were constructed there, too.

The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso.  These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 U.S. personnel killed in the disastrous “Black Hawk Down” mission of 1993.   Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the U.S. conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there.  This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, “better fight” al-Shabaab.

Many other sites previously identified as U.S. outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM’s 2015 plans, such as bases in Djema, Sam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by the Washington Post.  Also missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the U.S. has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM’s Waldhauser, for quite some time.”

Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced.  Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM’s refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.

Base Desires

“Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same,” laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement. “We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency.”

Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent.  The command’s physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret.  Today, thanks to AFRICOM’s own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM’s admission that it currently maintains “15 enduring locations,” the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.

“Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent,” said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference.  These “various places” have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued U.S. troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa.  For these and many more barely noticed U.S. military missions, America’s sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by U.S. and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.

Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent.  As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight.  While the command provided figures on the total number of U.S. military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites.  While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there’s little doubt as to the trajectory of America’s African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations — a 28% jump — in just over two years.

America’s “enduring” African bases “give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building,” according to AFRICOM’s Chuck Prichard.  They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia.  With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises — from catastrophic famines to spreading wars — on the horizon, there’s every reason to believe the U.S. military’s footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan, was a finalist for the 2016 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award.  His website is NickTurse.com.

This article was first published at TomDispatch

It’s Much Bigger Than Afghanistan: U.S. Strategy for a Transformed Region

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by Barnett Rubin | War on the Rocks

“It is time to recognize that the United States might be able to maintain an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan or stabilize the country, but not both. A permanent military presence will always motivate one or more neighbors to pressure the United States to leave by supporting insurgents — and forestalling stabilization. Currently, Pakistan, Iran and Russia — which together control access to all usable routes to landlocked Afghanistan — are trying to exert such pressure. Precipitous withdrawal without a settlement, of course, could lead to even more violence.”

Read more

Changing the Global Order: Give as Much as You Take

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Reflections on the week past

by Elbay Alibayov

There is reading and reading. There are things you have learnt to read and watch, and subsequently process with impartiality. This concerns (all) the media and (most of) “independent” think-tank publications, on a broad range of contemporary power contestation events and processes—from elections & referenda to international conferences and negotiations, rhetoric of politicians big and small, wars and covert actions, and so forth.

Majority of these pieces are being produced with intention to appeal to our emotion in a certain way, and therefore one would do well keeping them under control. You do not enjoy much reading or watching this intentionally tailored stuff, but definitely find pleasure in analysis. And then there are pieces you enjoy reading and re-reading, numerous times. Always with excitement. And always with intellectual benefit.

For me, this week was of The Gift by Marcel Mauss. It happened by accident: I read an interesting post by Dan Ariely where he described a gift he had asked his friends for his fifty-year birthday. In my comment, I enquired (with the reference to and quoting Mauss’ masterpiece) whether he was ready to reciprocate, and to do so with even higher value (“We must give back more than we have received”) of the gift he has so humbly suggested (a favourite book with explanation why the giver loves it so much—what I called the key to their soul). Naturally, it served as a trigger… the next thing I did was retrieving the soft copy of The Gift from my archive and diving into its so familiar and still mysteriously so precious content…

Three episodes, the same philosophy

Life is going on however, and the geopolitical game’s current phase was unfolding with three episodes linked to each other, to indicate an abrupt shift in the strategies and tactics the major players opt to employ.

In one episode, which started with the use of chemical weapons in Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, the moves and counter-moves by key players (Americans and Russians in this case) haven’t resulted in any tangible alteration of the previous balance on the ground: the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution (vetoed by Russia); initial enquiry by Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has established that sarin or similar gas was used, but further investigation is under question mark (Russians demanding “an objective investigation” by a body representative of all sides concerned); meanwhile, chemical weapons were used by ISIL in the vicinity of Mosul, Iraq, against the Iraqi military (with American and Australian advisers in presence); and it seems that the American airstrike only emboldened the stands of Assad and his allies.

In another episode, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US Military’s arsenal ever used in combat, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB, aka Mother of All Bombs) was thrown on the ISIL-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) base in Nangarhar, Afghanistan. According to initial reports, 94 militants had been killed in the strike. No civil casualties were reported, while the Pentagon has not released any information on the physical and environmental damage caused.

The bombing has evoked mixed reactions. The Government of Afghanistan demanded even more MOABs. The opposition (for example, the former president Hamid Karzai) strongly condemned it. Some speculated that the seemingly bold move was in response to the Russians’ and Pakistanis’ attempts to negotiate with the Taleban, and thus to broker an Afghanistan deal in own favour.

Russians, in their turn, responded with reports about their Father of All Bombs, which they claimed to be four times as destructive. While the global players were engaged in power showcasing, the Taleban proceeded with attacks: At least 140 soldiers were killed and many others wounded in Mazar-e Sharif—the deadliest attack ever on an Afghan military base.

weiqi

The third episode is unfolding around the U.S.-North Korea stand-off. This confrontation thus far is about muscle flexing and trash talking. Examples of muscle flexing include North Koreans launching, albeit unsuccessfully, yet another missile test; while Americans, in addition to demonstrating their resolve in the previous bombing episodes described above, started the inspection of their nuclear arsenal and ordered an “armada” of the USS Carl Vinson strike group to the Sea of Japan as a warning.

In turn, the trash-talk on both sides is exemplified by numerous verbal attacks and warnings of a devastating “pre-emptive attack”, including Vice President Mike Pence’s bombastic rhetoric all through his Asia-Pacific tour, reiterating that “the era of strategic patience” was over and that Kim Jong-un would do well not testing the President Trump’s resolve; North Korea responding with accusations of America’s warmongering and warning that they were “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.” and so forth—but in all instances it has been much beyond the “usual” limits, rather recklessly pushing the boundaries.

And to be sure, this go playground is not solely about America vs. North Korea. A lot of pressure the U.S. puts on China (one would wonder, why the bombing of the Syrian airbase had to be conducted exactly at the time of Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.S., and announced over a “beautiful piece of chocolate cake”). China feels uneasy and struggles to keep the balance, because it is going to bear most of consequences of the war between the two. Obviously, Japan and South Korea are in game; and even Russia is concerned and has reportedly moved some of its defence systems to the Korean border.

Towards new principle

Three episodes of geopolitical game of go are developing simultaneously in three discrete hot spots (Middle East/Syria, Central Asia/Afghanistan, South East Asia/North Korea) and with involvement of different sets of global and regional players (U.S., Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, to name a few) in each case. What is common though is the resolve of all the players to engage in zero-sum game where winner takes all. (And not only in these three episodes—in foreign engagements we seem to be guided by only one principle, that is “give as least as necessary and take as much as possible”.) This raises the stakes while increasingly making clear to anyone that with such an attitude we as humanity risk ending this game with losers all around.

Good books are always relevant. They are always contemporary. They are always insightful. Every time you read them you find something new, which leaves you wondering how it come you have not found it out in your previous readings of the great thing. Take for example one of concluding notes of The Gift: “Thus, from one extreme of human evolution to the other, there are no two kinds of wisdom. Therefore let us adopt as the principle of our life what has always been a principle of action and will always be so: to emerge from self, to give, freely and obligatorily. We run no risk of disappointment.”

Mauss then proceeds to illustrate his thought with a Maori proverb: “Give as much as you take, all shall be very well.” Sounds as perfect principle for international relations and a new global order to me.

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Militarizing the Maritime New Silk Road (2) – In the Arabian Sea

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by  | The Red (Team) Analysis Society

“The Chinese New Silk Road is nothing else but the ‘planetary channel’ implemented by China to guarantee and defend commodity in an age of growing natural resources depletion.”

This article looks at the way the current militarization of maritime segments of the Chinese New Silk Road is implemented in the Arabian Sea, and related consequences on geopolitics, including for businesses. It is the second part of a series, the first one focusing on militarization in the South China Sea (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Militarizing the Chinese New Silk Road (Part 1)”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, March 13, 2017).

Here, the cases of Pakistan, Iran and Djibouti will allow us to understand how the Chinese political, military and business authorities are entangling the economic, political and military needs and interests of China in the integrated grand strategy of the New Silk Road. …

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Doubling Down on America’s Misadventure in Yemen

by Perry Cammack and Richard Sokolsky | War on the Rocks

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                                                 Rally of the Houthi supporters in Sanaa, Yemen                                                    Image credit: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

“U.S. policy toward Yemen has failed catastrophically. …  Allured by the prospect of scoring a huge win against Iran and global jihadists and showing there was a new sheriff in town, the Trump administration … is driving U.S. policy into a deeper ditch. By catering to the Saudis in Yemen, the United States has empowered AQAP, strengthened Iranian influence in Yemen, undermined Saudi security, brought Yemen closer to the brink of collapse, and visited more death, destruction, and displacement on the Yemeni population.”

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Militarizing the Chinese New Silk Road (part 1)

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by  | The Red (Team) Analysis Society

“The South China Sea, rife with tensions, knows a new level of Chinese militarization, while the Middle Kingdom is implementing the land and maritime New Silk Road initiative, grounded in the absolute necessity for China to access energy, as well as mineral resources.”

This article focuses on the militarization of some maritime segments of the Chinese New Silk Road and what it means for the economic and social development of the “Middle Kingdom”…

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