Humanitarian or Security Priorities for U.S. East Africa Policy?

How can the U.S. government deal with security and humanitarian challenges in East African countries? The NSDA’s Public Forum resolution on

Public Forum Debate – 2017 Nationals PF Topic Area: Africa
Resolved: In East Africa, the United States federal government should prioritize its counterterrorism efforts over its humanitarian assistance.

The National Interest in “Kenya’s Counterterrorism Approach is Floundering,” (August 4, 2016), reports the U.S. government is spending significant amounts on counterterrorism in East Africa:

Kenya is one of the largest recipients of U.S. security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. Through both State and Defense Department accounts, the Kenyan government has received over $141 million in security assistance funds since 2010­—an amount that rose to $100 million in 2015 alone. Most of this financing is directed towards counterterrorism support,…

NCPA’s David Grantham, in “The Military, Nation-Building and Counterterrorism in Africa,” (Issue Briefs, National Security, April 18, 2016) is critical of complex and expanding U.S. operations in Africa:

This expensive, Department of State-led program, which is now integrated into the military’s U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), boasts lackluster oversight and a penchant for nation-building –‒ using multiple agencies to rebuild a given country’s political, economic and social infrastructure. In fact, its shape and language resembles failed, Cold War anticommunism programs in Latin America that ended up complicating rather than solving American security problems. (Full Issue Brief pdf here.)

This Issue Brief reviews the long history of U.S. government spending in Africa:Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 5.53.33 PM

Under the Alliance for Progress, the U.S. government provided billions of dollars in economic aid, military equipment and civil assistance over the course of 10 years in the hope the funds would grow democratic institutions and undermine the appeal of communism. …

Despite past failures, prevailing wisdom once again says U.S. national security policies must target the ideology behind the threat in developing nations through taxpayer-funded development and modernization programs.

Interesting Africa Facts lists a lot of countries as East African. Wikipedia, however, lists some different countries: “Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.” South Sudan isn’t on the list from Interesting Africa Facts, nor on the list from Africa Ranking. Africa Ranking lists and gives brief overviews with maps and key facts on the geography and economies of “The 9 East African Countries.”

A connection to the current China policy topic is reported in “China’s Geostrategic Search for Oil,” (pdf) (The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2012, p. 84), with Sudan as a source for 15 percent of China’s oil imports:

Figures for 2010 reveal that 23 percent of China’s offshore equity oil production was in Kazakhstan, 15 percent in both Sudan and Venezuela, 14 percent in Angola, five percent in Syria, …

HuffPost story, “Why China Is So Invested In South Sudan’s Future,” (WorldPost, June 23, 2016) reports:

Nowhere else in Africa do China’s financial, diplomatic and geopolitical interests confront as much risk as they do in South Sudan. Beijing has invested billions of dollars in the country’s oil sector, deployed about 1,000 troops to serve as U.N. peacekeepers and committed considerable diplomatic capital to help resolve the ongoing civil/ethnic war.

Sudan Tribune reports “China controls 75% of oil investment in Sudan: minister,” (August 3, 2016). Note that this article is about China investment in Sudan, which is separate from earlier investment in South Sudan oil fields:

Sudan lost 75% of its oil reserves after the southern part of the country became an independent nation in July 2011, denying the north billions of dollars in revenues. Oil revenue constituted more than half of the Sudan’s revenue and 90% of its exports.

Not all online sources list Sudan and South Sudan as part of East Africa, but this CNBC article: “South Sudan joins East African Community club,” supports South Sudan’s inclusion:

The young, troubled country of South Sudan was admitted to the East African Community (EAC) as its sixth member (the others being Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda).

Being admitted to the regional body means that South Sudan will enjoy all the economic benefits the club currently has to offer (freer movement of labour and capital and, in principle, free trade) and will join the members as they move to increase economic integration (through a monetary union) and eventually establish a single political federation.

South Sudan applied for membership to the EAC as soon as it gained independence in 2011. However, its application was declined because of the country’s institutional weakness.

East African Economic and Rule of Law Issues

This U.S. Chamber of Commerce publication, “Building the Future: A Look at the Economic Potential of East Africa,” survey’s economic expansion in recent years. From beginning of Executive Summary:

East Africa has been the fastest-growing region on the continent over the past decade, but trade between the United States and the region’s main economies remains limited. In 2014, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi all had higher growth rates than the United States. Despite this growth, U.S. trade with the region has been marginal and represents only 5% of total East African trade. East Africa’s main trading partners are China, India, and the European Union (EU). 

Regional integration has played a key role in boosting intra-East African trade and increasing the region’s access to global markets. The East African Community (EAC), a regional economic community that was originally founded in 1967 and revived in 2000, is the leading regional organization on the continent. Since 2000, the EAC has gradually reduced tariffs, trade barriers, and bottlenecks in the region, helping members increase their trade performance.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, in a short video “Markets Without Borders,” argues that the legal exclusion of most Africans from formal rule of law institutions restricts their options for engaging in world markets. DeSoto arScreen Shot 2017-05-02 at 3.53.57 PMgues that one-third of the world’s population lacks access to the rule of law, and elites of the world tend not to be bothered by that. The video looks at the informals of Tanzania as well as Peru.

DeSoto argues, at 1:30 (one minute, thirty seconds) into the Markets Without Borders that without access to legal institutions, the poor in Africa and other countries are “left out as orphans” and “will end up bringing civilization down:”

Globalization is a civilisation in the making. Civilization has always been designed by elites. And the tendency of elites has always been to feel that if it just covers themselves and maybe the top ten to twenty percent, it’s alright.

If globalization doesn’t create the space required for those who are excluded to come in. Does not give them the instruments, the tools with which  to prosper, they will be left out as orphans. And these orphans will end up bringing civilization down.

“The President’s Last Trip to Africa: Focus on Promoting Economic Freedom and the Rule of Law,” pdf (Heritage Issue Brief, July 24, 2015). This BBC News story, “How severe is the terror threat in East Africa?” also reports at the time of President Obama’s last trip to Africa”:

Long a territorially focused group with quasi-governmental ambitions to impose Sharia law at home, al-Shabab is now becoming a more mobile, networked regional presence.

This has brought it a number of benefits. Al-Shabab’s growing reach along the African coast is providing valuable new sources of funding and recruits.

This is a logical adaptation: enhanced global counter-terror finance efforts have strangled funding from the Somali diaspora, amongst other international sources.

In terms of recruitment, as foreign fighters have been drawn to Syria, the group has been overshadowed on the global stage.

Yet al-Shabab has stepped up its Swahili-language propaganda – which plays on deep-seated social, economic and political grievances in East African states.

U.S. Attacks Reveal Al-Shabab’s Strength, Not Weakness,” (Foreign Policy, March 9, 2016) reports:

At a time when the United States has grown increasingly alarmed at the spread of Islamic extremism in Africa — from Boko Haram in Nigeria to al Qaeda in the Sahel region to the Islamic State in Libya — the resilience of al-Shabab has highlighted the limits of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism on the continent. American drone strikes, coupled with financial and material assistance to a 22,000-strong African Union peace enforcement mission (AMISOM), have succeeded in driving al-Shabab from most urban areas. But those policies have not prevented the group from continuing to strike civilian, government, and AU targets as it seeks to expel AMISOM and establish an Islamic state in Somalia.

So these reports look at terrorism concerns in East Africa. What about recent humanitarian concerns? “East Africa Summit to Focus on Refugees, Food Concerns,” (Voice of America, March 21, 2017) reports:

Kenya plans to shut the Dadaab refugee camp by the end of May. Dadaab is home to more than 300,000 refugees, most of them Somalis. Tens of thousands have already returned to Somalia.

Humanitarian agencies are currently struggling to save lives in Somalia, where more than 6 million people need assistance because of drought and insurgent attacks. The aid agencies warn if nothing is done, the crisis in Somalia may become worse than the 2011 famine.

The United Nations estimates more than 17 million people need humanitarian assistance in East Africa.

Last May, CNN also reported: “Kenya to close refugee camps, displacing more than 600,000,” (May 6, 2016). East African refugee camps represent and economic burden as well as terrorism and humanitarian challenges:

“Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, has decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end,” Kibicho said, pointing to threats, such as the terror group Al-Shabaab.

Kenya announced the closure of refugee camps last year for the same reasons but backed down in the face of international pressure

At the time, government officials were not clear where they expected the refugees to go, other than somewhere into Somalia and out of Kenya. Kibicho’s statement didn’t address the question of where the refugees would go.

An alternative approach to refugees is found in another East African country, Uganda, as explained in: “Refugee economies – the Ugandan model,” (IREN, June 30, 2014):

Uganda has a relatively liberal policy towards its 387,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom have fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Uganda does not have refugee camps as such, but most live in designated refugee settlements where there are allocated plots of land to farm. They can, however, get permission to live outside these settlements if they think they can support themselves, and Kampala in particular has a sizeable refugee population.

Betts told IRIN: “Uganda is a relatively positive case in that it allows the right to work and a significant degree of freedom of movement. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s definitely towards the positive end of the spectrum. The reason we chose it is that it shows what’s possible when refugees are given basic economic freedoms.”

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 4.43.52 PMThe Uganda model is discussed in this post: “Refugee Economics: Success of Self-Reliance Refugee Policy,” (Economic Thinking, July 21, 2014):

The Oxford study, titled Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions begins:

Recent displacement from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Somalia has increased the number of refugees in the world to 15.4 million. Significantly, some 10.2 million of these people are in protracted refugee situations. In other words, they have been in limbo for at least 5 years, with an average length of stay in exile of nearly 20 years. Rather than transitioning from emergency relief to long-term reintegration, displaced populations too often get trapped within the system.

Uganda’s “Self-Reliance” policy for refugees offers a promising model for other countries struggling with incoming refugees:

‘Self-reliance’ policy allows refugees freedom of movement, as well as the right to work or run a business. The economic lives of refugees in Uganda, how they interact with the private sector and how they use technology challenged five myths about refugees. 

Here is page with short outline and link to video discussing misunderstandings of Refugee Economics.  The full Refugee Economics study is online here (pdf).

Video from YouTube is here:


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