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The African battle space is not the Middle East [Commentary]

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Ivor Ichikowitz founder and chairman of Paramount Group, an African-based global defense and aerospace company.

When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, speculation as to what this meant for African security was rife. The uncertainty persists among policymakers and analysts alike. But the indicators are already there, if anyone cares to look.

President Trump announced to the U.N. General Assembly that he had “changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.” In making such a statement, the new playbook for American counterterrorism became open to rule changes. An October firefight in Niger between militants affiliated with the Islamic State group and forces from the U.S. and Niger showed that American Green Berets were already on the ground in Africa, fighting an underreported war against terrorists. The collapse of ISIS in the Middle East and the end of large-scale military operations in Iraq and — in the Near East — Afghanistan has resulted in a trickle of military refocus to Africa. Reports of ISIS-linked individuals spreading throughout Africa, searching for ties and funding, combined with the recent reports of a Niger firefight between Green Berets and violent extremists are proof enough that Africa is not only the next battle space for the United States, but that it has already begun.

The Islamic State group’s second home

The threat of radical militant groups in Africa has grown considerably in recent years. The persistence of Boko Haram, AQIM and ISIS-linked groups ranges virtually the entire continent. With the exception of southern Africa, there is no single region unaffected by significant terrorist threats, both active and emerging. Many African police services have struggled to combat regular sources of crime, let alone radical extremism. Even in South Africa, a secure hegemony — arguably — the police minister requested military assistance to combat gangs in Cape Town. What hope then of regular security forces countering violent terrorism?

American counterterrorism policy under U.S. President Barack Obama tended to possess an expeditionary attitude about it. Limited raids supplemented by widespread use of drone strikes certainly contributed to the body count but did little to curtail the expansion of terrorism groups. Although killing enemy terrorists may seem like a productive use of American military force and taxpayer dollars, many African extremism hubs not only remain active locally but actively seek international terrorism links through financing, training and the creation of global networks that threaten U.S. borders. In the fight against terrorism, drone warfare provided the period at the end of a sentence that should be filled in by highly skilled, highly motivated troops on the ground.

In this insecure landscape, American counterterrorism strategy could leverage a Trump administration eager to get stuck into counterterrorism to expand its operations in Africa. This could mean offering preemptive counterterrorism services to willing partner nations. Put in a nutshell, the United States has a chance to stop violent extremism in Africa from metastasizing into a larger, international threat.

This is not to say American forces ought to run roughshod over existing African regional mechanisms dealing with the rise of violent extremism. Rather, there could and perhaps should be a move toward carving out a niche for American military power alongside its regional partners. This already exists in West and Central Africa.

African regional organizations conduct their own intelligence and counterterrorism operations much the same as the United States. The average U.S. Africa Command communications officer would likely even point to several examples of cross-organizational cooperation. But with the gloves off, as it were, this should move beyond a convenient public relations bullet point and manifest into a truly homogeneous military relationship. Much like how the British managed to work alongside American forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom independently but for a common strategic good, this formalized relationship is a valuable example to emulate with African counterparts, from presidents down to the ordinary rifleman.

African problems are not Middle Eastern problems

Critics of American military power in Africa often caution of the shadow war being conducted on the continent. Hyperbole-laden allusions to secret assassination missions and remote operations that Americans do not know about is an unfair assessment of American operations in Africa. Often, American criticism of African operations stem from an inherent understanding of just what the African battle space is. This would explain to a large degree the constant comparison of African violent extremism to Middle Eastern counterparts. This is a poor analysis of the strategic situation, and it manifests in a harsh examination of American forces involved therein.

AFRICOM conducts scores of training exercises with African counterparts at all levels. From senior staff officers to the average rifleman, AFRICOM has utilized American troops in training and equipping local African forces for a tough fight. Although special forces operations in Africa are largely kept a secret, it would be fair to presume that American elite troops have been busy in East Africa and, as the Niger ambush illustrated, further afield. More to the contradiction of those comparing AFRICOM’s operations to a shadow war, the American presence in Africa, covert and public, are executed with the permission of their host nations. Unlike the Middle East, where military forces were embroiled in unilateral, coalition-based counterinsurgencies spanning entire countries, African operations are small, surgical operations, either combat or humanitarian in nature, but almost exclusively short-lived. The Middle Eastern counterinsurgency approach of clear, hold, build has given way in Africa to a bilateral series of missions, training, partnerships and, in certain cases, funding all aimed at clearing the roots of violent extremism in the continent before ISIS can truly grab hold.

Africa’s burden to bear

Where does this leave African organizations? Far from being powerless, African peace-enforcement operations have highlighted a remarkable ability by local forces to affect permanent victories against belligerent forces. The successes of the African Union Mission in Somalia, or AMISOM, in isolating and starving al-Shabab in Somalia, for example, is aided in turn by the startlingly swift defeat of M23 rebels at the hands of a multinational African Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013. Media criticism of American shadow wars heavily implies a worsening of the conflict in which U.S. forces are involved. Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Washington Post wrote:

[T]he risks are clear. The United States will be drawn ever more deeply into local and regional conflicts. The reaction will fuel terrorist recruitment. The money flowing in would likely feed corruption, as it has in the Middle East. Strengthened military and security forces can overwhelm vulnerable civilian governments.

Yet, AMISOM; the Force Intervention Brigade’s war against M23; and indeed even the Green Berets cooperating with Nigerien forces — casualties included — have shown precisely the opposite to be true. Where America partners with African forces or operates with their blessings, results are tangible. Critics applying a Middle Eastern blueprint upon Africa as an excuse for misunderstanding the continent’s own unique conflict matrix is lazy. And likewise, predicting doom for American operations therein is equally flawed.

US-African solutions to global problems

The challenges facing American and African war fighters can be boiled down to three essential requirements:

  • The mastery of Africa’s vast and varied physical and human geography.
  • The equipping and funding of local forces to meet their foes.
  • The training to execute the tasks required of them.

In all three aspects, American forces are already invo

ved in Africa, aiding willing nations both in terms of training and mentorship, and they are on the ground, patrolling side-by-side to provide a security blanket in historically insecure regions.

AMISCOM and the Force Intervention Brigade have already shown just how much progress can be made against violent extremists groups with minimal funding and external support. Thus, African organizations and their American counterparts would be well-suited to forge new partnerships in countering the next wave of ISIS-influenced violent groups. The withdrawal of American funds from African peacekeeping operations has been flagged as a crisis by organizations and think tanks directly affected by the decrease, but this could actually provide a valuable opportunity for revolutionary thinking in the creation of new, more effective security partnerships. American military involvement in Africa should not be explained as a shadow war-type of bogeyman, but rather as an ongoing, committed counterterrorism partner that can prove to be the key to unlocking a true barrier to the spread of ISIS-inspired terrorist groups.

Ivor Ichikowitz is the founder and chairman of Paramount Group, an African-based global defense and aerospace company.

Ethiopia

Civil strife in Ethiopia has the potential to destabilise the whole region

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Ethiopia is experiencing ethnic and political tensions that could have far-reaching implications for its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, and beyond.

Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

The Horn of Africa is among the most congested, eventful, and most volatile geopolitical intersections on earth. It is where the West meets the East in a highly competitive game of strategic positioning for economic or hegemonic advantage.

China and Turkey who, more or less, employ similar soft-power strategies have tangible investments in various countries in the region, including Ethiopia. However, the widespread discontent with Ethiopia’s repressive impulses and its ethnic favoritism that led to a particular ethnic minority (Tigray) to exclusively operate the state apparatus has inspired Arab Spring-like mass protests. These protests have caused serious rancor within the ruling party. It is only a matter of time before this haemorrhaging government might collapse.

So, who is likely to gain or lose from this imminent shockwave in the region’s balance of power?

The Nile Tsunami

Ethiopia — a country previously considered as a stable regional hegemon, a robust emerging market, and a reliable counter-terrorism partner — is on the verge of meltdown, if not long-term civil strife.

Today, the Ethiopian government is caught between two serious challenges of domestic and foreign nature: the Oromo/Amhara mass protests tacitly supported by the West, and the water rights conflict with Egypt, Sudan and Somalia.

Ethiopia is claiming the lion’s share on the Nile that runs through it and other rivers that flow from its highlands for the Grand Renaissance Dam – thus presenting existential threats to the connected nations.

For the third time in three years, the Shabelle River has dried up, putting millions of Somalis at risk of starvation.

But the current government is not ready for a substantive change of guard. The longer the mass protests continue and the minority-led government continues to offer artificial or symbolic gestures of prisoner releases — while declaring a second ‘state of emergency’ in two years— the faster Ethiopia will become destabilised and the faster foreign investments will fizzle away.

Worse — though seemingly unthinkable — the ‘favorite nation’ status granted to Ethiopia after becoming the US’ main partner in the global ‘War on Terroris’ is slowly corroding.

Despite this week’s visit from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the US State Department is gradually turning its back on Ethiopia for a number of reasons; chief among them, is its double-dealings on the South Sudan issue.

Despite the facade of US/China collaboration to end the South Sudan civil war, the geopolitical rivalry between these two giants has been pressuring Ethiopia to pledge exclusive allegiance to one over the other.

With China’s huge investments on Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan’s oil fields – making a choice won’t be too difficult.

The Kenya Factor

Several years ago I wrote an article arguing that the two most stable nations in the Horn (Kenya and Ethiopia) will become more unstable as Somalia becomes more stable.

Today, the Ethiopian government is facing the most serious threat since it took power by the barrel of the gun, and Kenya has a highly polarised population and two presidents ‘elected’ along clan lines.

Kenya — the nerve center of the international humanitarian industry — could just be one major incident away from inter-clan combustion.

The Somalia Factor

The Ethiopian government has launched a clandestine campaign of strategic disinformation intended to fracture or breakup opposition coalitions and recruit or lure potential comrades.

Ethiopian intelligence officers and members of the diplomatic corps together with some ethnic-Somali Ethiopians have been recruiting naive Somali government officials, intellectuals and activists with a Machiavellian disinformation campaign.

Meanwhile, IGAD — Ethiopia’s regional camouflage — calls for an open-borders agreement between member states. Despite broad-based public perception that for a fragile state like Somalia, such an agreement would be tantamount to annexation, some Somali politicians are eagerly carrying its banner.

These kinds of desperate campaigns and the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn only underscore the fact that the government’s days are numbered.

The Sudan Factor

Sudan is caught in a loyalty triangle (Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkey) with competing powers. Sudan needs Egypt to address threats faced by the two nations regarding the diminishing access to the Nile by reasserting rights granted through the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.

It needs Ethiopia to protect China’s economic partnership and to shield President Omar al Bashir from Western harassment through IGAD.

It also needs Turkey for development and for a long-term strategic partnership. Sudan has become the second country in Africa to grant Turkey a military base, with Somalia being the first.

The Eritrea Factor

When neocons dominated US foreign policy and the global ‘War on Terror’ was the order of all orders, Eritrea was slapped with sanctions. It was accused of being the primary funder and weapons supplier to al Shabab.

Today, though neither the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia or Eritrea nor any expert free from Ethiopian influence holds such a view, yet the sanctions have not been lifted.

The Ethiopian lobby and certain influential elements within US foreign policy-making circles continue to label Eritrea as a Marxist rogue state that undermines regional institutions such as IGAD and international ones like the UN Security Council; a closed society that espouses a deep rooted hatred towards the West.

Against that backdrop, the UAE has been investing heavily in Eritrea since 2015 or the beginning of the Yemen war that has created one of the the worst humanitarian disasters. The Emirati military (and its Academi/Blackwater shadow) now operates from a military base in Assab. Whether that’s a Trojan Horse or not, is a different discussion altogether.

Ins And Outs

The current wave of discontent against the Ethiopian government is likely to continue. But, considering how the Tigray has a total control on all levers of power, a transition of power will not be an easy process.

Ethiopia is also rumoured to have created an ethnically Somali counterinsurgency force in the Liyu Police. This ruthless force has already been used against the Oromos as they were used against Somalis of various regions that share a border with Ethiopia.

The extrajudicial killings and human rights violations are well documented. Despite all this, the Oromo and Amhara are set to reach their objectives albeit with bruised and bloody faces.

Will their coalition remain or, due to their historical distrust, will each eventually invoke its constitutional right to secede?

Whatever the outcome, any scenario of civil war or chaos in Ethiopia could put the entire Horn in danger and create a potential humanitarian catastrophe, especially in Somalia.

Meanwhile South Sudan is a lightyear away from sustainable political reconciliation especially since the foreign elements fueling the fire are not likely to stop any time soon. Djibouti remains the host of the most intriguing geopolitical circus. So, that leaves Eritrea as an island of stability in the region.

In the foreseeable future, Turkey could divest her investment out of Ethiopia into Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. China will diversify her portfolio to include Eritrea. And the US — with no new policy — will continue droning her way through geopolitical schizophrenia.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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Opinion

Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks

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Brendon J. Cannon is an Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities & Social Science at Khalifa University of Science & Technology (Abu Dhabi, UAE).

THE CONVERSATION –Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?

Some have pointed to a shared history and a common Sunni Muslim heritage. This is questionable, at best, and alone cannot explain Turkey’s engagement with Somalia – let alone the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Others have noted Turkey’s economic clout and its status as a mid-sized country interested in trade rather than extracting resources.

Genuine humanitarian concerns have also, at least initially, driven Turkey’s engagement as well as the prospect of economic gain. Scholar Federico Donelli notes its approach to Somalia

“has made Turkey a regional actor different from the traditional western powers, as well as from the emerging non-western ones.”

Turkey’s approach in Somalia has been largely welcomed inside and outside the African nation. However, a cautionary note is required. Allegations of corruption and bribery have surfaced. Turkey’s recent opening of a military training base in Mogadishu to train the Somali National Army has also raised eyebrows across the wider Horn of Africa region.

Keys to success
Ankara has an understandable and deep seated desire for international recognition as an emerging power and G20 member state. Its status in Somalia is part humanitarian and part financial, but is at its heart about influence and prestige.

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.

For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around four critical factors.

The first is approach. Most interventions in Somalia have been multilateral affairs by international and regional actors, such as the UN. Turkey’s approach, in contrast, has been largely unilateral and highly coordinated by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. In this way, the efforts of business, government and humanitarian staff either do not overlap or do so effectively.

Second is novelty. Turkey’s Ottoman past and Muslim identity have been raised as major variables driving Turkey’s engagement with Somalia. But these assertions ignore or minimise one of its key strengths as a rising power: its distinct lack of a colonial past that devastated so much of the continent.

This approach is not only novel; it also represents Turkey’s first meaningful engagement with the continent. This contrasts sharply with that of the US, France, Russia and China, among others, which have a colonial or Cold War baggage.

The third factor is risk. Somalia has been the scene of thousands of capacity building and self-help experiments funded by a plethora of international organisations and states. Yet it is precisely where these efforts have failed that Turkey has found its niche.

This required a big appetite for risk. Naturally, as the risks rise the potential for significant rewards does too. The economic rationale for risk among Turkish businesses is particularly high, given experiences in difficult environments such as Iraq and Libya. This has contributed to sensible, if risky actions in Somalia.

Fourth is soft power. Turkey has deployed an array of soft power approaches. These include diplomatic support for Somalia and direct flights on the Turkish national airline from Mogadishu to Istanbul. These pragmatic approaches have also led Turkish businesses to reap major financial rewards and lucrative contracts.

Turkey’s interest has shifted from being primarily humanitarian to one that also takes into account the political and security aspects of the country. Doing so, as stated in the Becoming Global Actor: The Turkish Agenda for the Global South has made the country

“a hybrid non-traditional actor because it combines the traditional political-stability perspective of western powers with the economic-trade perspective of emerging ones.”

It also has broken with the traditional development model for Somalia that has characterised the past three decades.

Hybrid approach
Turkey’s hybrid approach may yet lead to mission creep and draw the country into Somalia’s infamous clan politics. Its increasing role could also put it on a collision course with other states, regionally and internationally.

However, its actions have arguably improved the situation in Somalia over the past six years. This is because Ankara has actually attempted to assuage rather than solve Somalia’s long-standing problems outright. Investment is largely driven by profits and assistance is targeted, coordinated and based on needs.

These interventions rarely come with the types of strings attached that characterise other efforts seeking to restructure Somalia. This has been welcomed by many Somalis for whom requirements for political reform or the creation of accountability mechanisms ring hollow.

Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University

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Opinion

Islamic Hijab Is More Than Sexuality

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NIMCO ALI

Mohamed Ibrahim
Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist

In reference to the article published on the Evening Standard on 24 January 2016 and written by Nimco Ali who claimed that the Hijab sexualises little girls, I take the view this article is misleading and intended to cause further confusion on a subject, which the writer does not fully have knowledge of.

I respect and support the FGM campaign and the pursuit of equal rights for women and girls everywhere. However, it seems Nimco Ali is now moving the goal post to Hijab wearing young girls. This, I believe, is a distorted view that serves no purpose other than to confuse the public discourse. Hijab, Kippah and the Turban are personnel choice for parents intended to serve a religious purpose for modesty, social protection and religious entity. This is a religious freedom of choice for parents as they are the parental guardians for our children. It is my view the writer is right to start a discussion on the issue. However, the writer fails to understand the Hijab serves many other purposes other than modesty. It is a form of religious identity for our Muslim girls intended to encourage them about their values. It is my view the writer is attacking a value she has missed out on at young age and I would encourage her to seek further knowledge on the subject before throwing extreme form of liberalism on our faces.

I would like to encourage the mainstream media to seek people of knowledge on the subject matter other than channelling their own comforting views through people who clearly do not know what they are talking about. It is becoming a common trend in the media to have Muslims being represented by people who are themselves in need of rehabilitation, distorting the facts and confusing the wider public for personnel interests or beliefs. It is a comforting view for right-wing audience, but serves no purpose for community cohesion,mutual understanding and knowledge.

These writers or activists can express their own opinions. However, when their glass is half full, they can hardly contribute to progress on a subject matter they have no knowledge of. It is also ironic to have a freedom fighter for women/girls seeking to limit the religious freedoms of our parents and children. The writer’s views have no logic of reasoning, coherence and knowledge of this subject matter.

Mohamed Ibrahim

Chairman of London Somali Youth Forum, a London based, UK, Social Activist
Email: Mohamedlsyf@gmail.com
@Mi_shiine (Twitter) 

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