December 2011

  • ACSS French Representative Discusses Peacekeeping Operations in Ivory Coast During Conference

    devathaire-wWashington—Colonel Patrick de Vathaire, Senior French Representative at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, spoke at the National Defense University on Dec. 1, 2011, about how his country successfully ran small peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast after political turmoil threw the country into chaos.

    His remarks were part of a panel discussion on light-footprint stabilization operations during the Center for Complex Operations’ Seventh International Lessons Learned Conference. Panelists focused on three case studies that had a small, light footprint and yielded significant strategic gains. They looked at U.S. efforts in Colombia and the Philippines and French action in Ivory Coast. The main message to come out of the discussion: Bigger is not always better.

    “As far as Africa is concerned, we do not need a lot of forces to stabilize a country,” de Vathaire told an audience of more than 100. “Many times with large forces you destabilize the country further and rebuilding that stability is costly.”

    The French military has more than a century of experience in the Ivory Coast. It became involved in the country’s most recent crises, which began with a coup in 1999, the country splitting into two in 2002, and a violent election season in 2010. French forces were deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping mission beginning in 2004. Their numbers never exceeded 5,000.

    Conference organizers sought de Vathaire’s insights because of his knowledge and intimate experience in Africa. He took part in operations in Ivory Coast three times, two of them on the ground in the West African country as head of operations for a special-forces unit and as acting commander of the battalion stationed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s capital.

    De Vathaire said Ivory Coast is a good example of complicated situations that can confront the international community whenever it gets involved in Africa—a weak national military presence, a bevy of civilian victims, a large UN mission, and obstructionist officials who made the situation worse. But the international response—military forces supporting political, economic, and diplomatic actions—ultimately led to stability and resolution of years of internal conflict and post-election chaos.

    U.S.-French cooperation and coordination on African issues is extensive. De Vathaire said he had always seen deep involvement between the two militaries and their operations. During the 2010-2011 crisis, when former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo refused to relinquish office though he had lost the election, U.S. officers embedded with the French military in Abidjan and in Paris to coordinate operations. The two also worked hand-in-hand with the African Union and the EU.

    “The International Community succeeded at establishing democracy in the Ivory Coast,” de Vathaire said. “While this took some time, the Ivoirian people now control their own destiny.”


  • ACSS Welcomes New Communications and Community Outreach Chief

    BradMinnickThe Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) is happy to announce that Mr. Brad Minnick is its new Director for Communications and Community Affairs. He will spearhead the center’s efforts to engage thousands of alumni around the world and expand the global audience that looks to ACSS as a leader on African security issues. Brad comes to ACSS from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he was the project director for its Public Diplomacy initiative. He is an internationally recognized management and communications advisor and principal at HKS Global, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm. Before that, he was Director of the Office of International Visitors at the U.S. Department of State and CEO of the American Council of Young Political Leaders, an international exchange organization. He brings a tremendous amount of public relations experience, working with government officials, NGO leaders, political activists, and businesspeople around the globe in management and communications strategy and tactics. Over the years, Brad has traveled to ten African countries on business and as part of trade missions. He has been part of numerous exchanges with African leaders and he sees a bright economic and political future for the continent. He says ACSS is contributing to that future by producing quality work that dissects current problems and engages Africans in finding solutions. “Improving mutual understanding makes for a better world,” he says. “We have 20 languages spoken here at the Africa Center and a combined 500 years of experience on African-U.S. issues to contribute to the conversation. I’m excited to use that to engage more alumni and a broader audience.” Brad holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from American University in Washington, D.C. The Africa Center is the premier agency of the United States charged with advancing U.S. security interests in Africa through the development of a self-sustaining, networked and empowered community of current and future African security sector leaders.  It engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programs that build strategic capacity and foster long-term, collaborative relationships. ACSS advances U.S. foreign and security policies by strengthening the strategic capacity of African states to identify and resolve security challenges in ways that promote civil-military cooperation, respect democratic values, and safeguard human rights.
  • New Class of Defense Attachés Receive Briefing at ACSS

    New-Class-of-Defense-Attachés-Receive_Briefing _ACSS

    Click here for photos from this event.

    Washington, DC—Five new U.S. military attachés assigned to African countries visited the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) on Dec. 2, 2011. They will soon be deployed to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, and Nigeria.

    ACSS staff and faculty briefed them on the Center’s mission, annual program plan and the well-established working relationships the center has cultivated with attachés already assigned to Africa.  Attachés and Security Cooperation Officers are critical to the Center’s  success in   developing programming and assisting the center in coordinating participant participation and running our Africa based programs.

    During the briefing, the ACSS deputy Director, Michael Garrison, welcomed the new attachés to the Center and expressed the center’s gratitude for the service to our nation and the support they will eventfully provide to the Africa Center.  ACSS staff representing the departments of academic affairs, research, community affairs, and operations also informed the incoming attachés of past and existing ACSS alumni programs in their respective countries as well as possible opportunities to engage with ACSS alumni.

    The Africa Center wishes these new attachés great success in their upcoming assignments and looks forward to working closely with them.

  • Ask the Expert: ACSS Counterterrorism Professor Benjamin Nickels Assesses Threats to Africa: Part one of a two part interview

    nickels2Dr. Benjamin P. Nickels, Assistant Professor of Transnational Threats and Counterterrorism at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), has been studying terrorism and effective ways to counter it for years.  He has produced case studies on countermeasures against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the rise of al-Shabaab in Somalia, and other groups that could present a transnational threat. In this interview, the ACSS scholar breaks down the complex world of violence committed by non-state actors and other transnational threats facing Africa, and examines possible linkages between terrorist groups operating on the continent.

    Q: What are your thoughts on the state of terrorism and radical extremism in Africa?

    DR. NICKELS: Terrorism and radicalization in today’s Africa is limited, but it is of concern and merits attention. How big the problem is depends on definitions and priorities.

    In terms of definitions, Africa has many violent non-state actors—which ones we call ‘terrorist’ depends on what we mean by the word. There’s also the question of which activities we’re referring to as ‘terrorism’—attacks, logistics, financing? There are reports that Hezbollah gets financial support from some elements within the Lebanese Diaspora in Africa. This activity might fall inside or outside our topic of terrorism in Africa, depending on definitions.

    In terms of priorities, at least from a US perspective, there are threats against African populations and allies, which conflict with American interests broadly, and then there are threats emanating from Africa that could target US interests directly.

    A list of the latter could include, among others, the remnants of al-Qaeda (AQ) in East Africa, the Islamist group al-Shabaab in Somalia, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is active in the Maghreb and the Sahel. It might also include the Islamist movement Boko Haram in Nigeria and even al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)—again, depending on definitions.

    Q: What are the factors that pave the way for radicalism and terrorism in Africa?

    DR. NICKELS: What causes terrorism is a matter of great debate. I think by now we’ve reached consensus that there’s no single cause or trajectory leading to radicalization and terrorism.  That said, we do know that some factors correlate—or at least align—with radicalization and terrorism, and many of them exist in Africa.

    Africa has many large-scale, macro-level factors that can potentially act as drivers to violent extremism.  These include state fragility, poverty, lack of government legitimacy, the so-called ‘youth bulge,’ and so on. (By the ‘youth bulge,’ I mean the disproportionate population of young people in many African countries, some of whom could potentially participate in terrorism and other forms of violence).  All of these factors can be thought of as vulnerabilities or as ‘push’ factors—they might push people or societies toward violent extremism.

    Another set of factors, the threats, might be called ‘pull’ factors.  These are things like active recruitment by terrorist organizations, the spread of radical ideologies, and so on—factors that pull people or societies toward violent extremism.  These factors are also at work in parts of Africa.

    From what we can tell, terrorism apparently gains strength from some combination of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors, although we don’t have an exact science on how it happens.

    Each terrorist has his or her story to tell, as it were.

    Q: Are there any areas on the continent that are immunized against rising extremism or is it viral by nature and a symptom of the factors you mentioned?

    DR. NICKELS: East Africa and North Africa have much greater experience with the types of groups I mentioned before, Central and Southern Africa much less—West Africa is somewhere in between.  To my mind, regional differences have to do with different combinations of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors, so I don’t think that a medical type of vocabulary—‘symptom,’ ‘viral,’ ‘immunized,’ and so on—is all that useful for describing the location of radicalization and terrorism in Africa. I don’t see terrorism as some kind of disease spreading across the continent or anything like that.

    Q: What are the prevailing concerns people have about the regional and international effects from the Libyan civil war on terrorism and radicalization? Are those concerns justified?

    DR. NICKELS: The main concern circulating about the fall of the Qaddafi government in Libya has been the proliferation of weapons—the possibility of portable surface-to-air missiles going into Niger and Mali and ending up in the hands of AQIM.  There is reason for concern, but there’s also reason to rethink that scenario.  In recent years, AQIM has become an increasingly criminal organization, and considering the ransom payments from kidnappings, they’ve had enough money to buy weapons on the black market for a while, if they want to.  So the supply side is important, but there is a demand issue here that should be looked into as well.

    The larger challenge in Libya is the same one that’s emerging in all countries experiencing the Arab Spring.  By and large the Arab Spring represents a repudiation of AQ ideology and tactics, but new regimes, the novelty of political openness, and the uncertainty of nations trying to find their way in the world may provide openings for terrorists to operate.

    Q: In your research and communications within the security field, have you seen terrorist groups in Africa linking up or attempting to work together?

    DR. NICKELS: Linkage is something I’m very interested in, and that I’m studying and writing about at the moment. It’s certainly on the minds of a lot of people, including senior US government officials. We hear about AQAP links to al-Shabaab, AQIM links to Boko Haram, various groups’ connections to AQ core, and so on.

    For my part, I’ve noticed three steps in current discussions about linkage: first, an evocation of possible linkage; second, an acknowledgement of a lack of evidence concerning linkage; and third, the development of a ‘what if’ nightmare scenario about linkage. I see several problems with this preoccupation.

    First, like ‘terrorism,’ the term ‘linkage’ is vague. Are we talking about pledging loyalty? Providing money? Giving logistical support?  And so on.  Second, there is an assumption that linkage is the problem. On the one hand, we tend to assume that linkage always means greater strength for terrorists, when links can actually weaken terrorist groups by creating internal divisions, disconnecting them from local grievances and support, and so on.  On the other hand, we tend to think terrorists are only strong if they are linked.  But Nigeria has a pretty serious problem on its hands with Boko Haram, whether outside groups are involved or not. Third, and related, there’s a sense that if we could only establish linkage, we would know what to do.  I don’t think it’s unimportant whether an African terrorist organization is associated with other groups or not, but knowing about linkage in itself won’t provide any answers, in part because linkage doesn’t mean these threats can then be treated in the same way across the continent.  So I guess my biggest concern is that the preoccupation with linkage may be coming to stand in for, or to take the place of, strategic thinking about terrorism in Africa.  What is really needed is an understanding of a few clearly identified terrorist threats facing Africa and a set of tailored responses to them.

    View Additional Ask the Expert Interviews:

  • ACSS Joins Government of Senegal for Regional Security Conference in Dakar

    senegal_acss_colloquiumClick here for photos from this event.

    Senegal’s Chief of Defense, Abdoulaye Fall, and the Government of Senegal invited the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) to be part of a November 2011 conference in Dakar that addressed cross-border threats in West Africa.

    More than 80 high-ranking civilian and military officials, including army chiefs of staff and ambassadors to Senegal from member nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), heard presentations and discussed regional security. They talked about problems shared by countries of the region, including drug trafficking, cross-border organized crime, the flow of small arms, and terrorism.

    Dr. Benjamin Nickels, Assistant Professor of Transnational Threats and Counterterrorism at ACSS, gave a talk on Islamist terrorism in West Africa.

    “For the moment,” he told the audience, “this type of terrorism has limited influence in the region. But the level of Islamist terrorism could increase over time.”

    Nickels brought up a number of factors common throughout West Africa that render societies weak in the fight against terrorism once it begins, and that make the region vulnerable to extremist violence—grinding poverty, a lack of government capacity to render services and counter extremist influence, and state fragility, among others. Five of the 15 ECOWAS member countries—Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Nigeria—are in the bottom tier of Foreign Policy’s 2011 Failed States Index.

    senegal_acss_colloquium_2Nickels described three worrying developments in the region. He wondered about the effects of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s deepening connections to criminality. He spoke about the challenges North Africa now faces after the Arab Spring and what they mean to the Sahel, particularly in relation to the return of demobilized mercenaries and the increasing flow of arms over West African borders. He also raised the alarm about the unknown locations and quantities of chemical and conventional weapons being trafficked out of the Maghreb into West Africa.

    The three-day conference was the second time the government held the International Colloquium of the Senegalese Armed Forces during the country’s national holiday celebrating the military.

    Because the government held the colloquium in conjunction with the holiday, Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade invited attendees to take part in graduation ceremonies for the nation’s elite military academies.

    The foreign visitors were honored to be part of the official ceremonies, Nickels said, and meeting Wade after observing the graduation became a highlight of the trip.

  • ACSS Alumni Chapter Holds Conference in Senegal

    senegal_acss_colloquium_31rClick here for photos from this event.

    Military officers, high-ranking civilian government officials and members of the diplomatic corps gathered on November 19, 2011, in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss promoting a culture of peace and development in West Africa. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ Senegal chapter, led by 2008 ACSS Visionary Award recipient General Lamine Cissé, sponsored the event. The Chief of Staff to Senegal’s Defense Minister M. Birane Niang led the conference, which was the first held by the country’s chapter since its July 2011 re-launch.

    Academic and military experts considered how best to promote a culture of peace and development in the region and attempted to define the roles of civil society and security forces towards that objective. During his opening remarks, Cissé thanked ACSS for its constant support of the Senegalese chapter. He reminded the audience that ACSS was founded in Dakar in 1999, giving Senegal a special place in the organization’s history.

    ACSS chapters throughout Africa provide a forum for community members to develop independent programs that support common defense and security interests, maintain communication with the center and in-country U.S. Embassy colleagues, and provide networking opportunities between military and civilian colleagues.

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