How Africa Can Finally Provide Its Own Security

| October 5, 2011

Sub-Saharan states have made real progress in building their own security. Here’s how they can do even better and how can help

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African Union Mission in Somalia soldiers take up new positions in northern Mogadishu / Reuters

Given the tumultuous decade since 9/11, it’s easy to overlook one of
the world’s unsung success stories: the spread of peace, prosperity, and
good governance across much of sub-Saharan Africa. This hopeful trend
is challenging the still-common Western view that Africa is doomed to be
the perpetual ward of the international community. Fifty years after
decolonization, Africans are shrugging off a sad legacy of violent
conflict, stagnant growth, and venal political leadership.


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One force behind this transformation is the African Union
(AU), which succeeded the dysfunctional Organization of African Unity
(OAU) in May 2001.  A decade after its founding, however, the AU suffers
from serious shortcomings in its ability to implement its grandiose
ambitions. The goal of U.S. policy, as George Washington University
professor Paul D. Williams argues
in a new Council on Foreign Relations report, must be to help the AU
close this “capabilities-expectations gap.” In short, Washington must
persuade African leaders to commit themselves politically and
financially to a more robust AU system of conflict management, including
effective mechanisms for early warning, political mediation, coercive
sanctions, and peacekeeping. Rather than charity, this would be an
investment in the stability of a continent increasingly important for
U.S. counterterrorism efforts, energy security, and trade and investment
opportunities–not to mention ensuring peace within a post-Qaddafi and
-Mubarak Africa.

In its short history, the AU has played a significant role in
Africa’s improving security, economic, and political environment. The
OAU was famously welded to the principles of absolute sovereignty and non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states. The AU Constitutive Act
turns this on its head. It declared a policy of “non-indifference”
concerning the internal affairs of African governments, condemns
“unconstitutional changes of government,” and legitimates coercive
intervention in African states in situations of mass atrocities. Since
2003, the African Union has condemned every coup and, indeed, regularly
peppers its official statements with expressions of support for
democracy.

Under the rubric of African solutions to African problems, the AU has also created an African Peace and Security Council
(PSC), deployed member state troops in AU-led peacekeeping missions,
and begun developing subregional military capabilities within the AU’s
eight recognized regional economic communities (RECs). AU troops are
currently leading the UN mandated African Union Mission in Somalia
(AMISOM), with a 9,000 person force, recently authorized to rise to 12,000 troops.

Regardless of the AU’s progress, I find the following areas merit U.S. concern:

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