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To qualify for more aid, poor African states must swarm with terrorists

Thursday August 7 2008

US Navy Special  anti-terror Warfare Combat

US Navy Special anti-terror Warfare Combat craft crewmen in training. REUTERS 


As Africa marks 10 years since the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es Salaam on August 7, 1998, security concerns relating to counter-terrorism define the context of foreign aid, nearly eclipsing previous priorities of good governance and human rights.

This is damaging for both global poverty reduction and worldwide security as aid to poor countries becomes inextricably tied to the military imperatives of the war on terrorism.

Donor countries need to rethink the trend of tying aid to the counter-terrorism and instead focus on poverty alleviation programs as an integral process of draining the swamps of terrorism.
Historically, humanitarian assistance has been impartial and should remain so. Western powers should opt for the easier and cost-friendly route of assisting African countries to beef up existing legal and surveillance capacity to detect, deter and destroy terrorist networks before they launch attacks.

This incorporation of security concerns in development thinking is not new and dates back at least to the Cold War era. Although the security-development nexus can be construed positively, the linkage has taken new forms and dynamics. It is the perceived or actual role of a recipient state in the war on terror that progressively determines the type and the size of aid disbursed.

As a strategy in the “long war,” America and the West have altered their approach to foreign aid to Africa, subordinating it to the new security criteria. So too have some multilateral aid/donor organisations, along with bilateral donors that in the past have been associated with a less politically-determined programme of development cooperation.

At present, America’s economic and development assistance remains very important to many African countries. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, President George Bush has “dramatically increased US aid to Africa,” from $1.4 billion (Sh92 billion) annually in 2001 to more than $4 billion (Sh270 billion) in 2007. In raw terms, the aid has reached Cold War levels in the mid-1980s only that this time it is geared to anti-terrorism. Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda are among the world’s top 10 recipients of aid from the US. Moreover, its humanitarian and development aid is projected to reach almost $9 billion (Sh550 billion) by 2010.


Under the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI), Pentagon has provided over $500 million (Sh310 billion) to increase border security and counter-terrorism capacity to Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania. The Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program (ACOTA) has provided small arms and training for peacekeeping operations to Benin, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

The Gulf of Guinea now features nearly continuous US naval patrols all the way to Angola, up from almost no activity in 2004.

The Defense Department has also gained access to air bases and ports in Africa and “bare-bone” facilities maintained by local security forces in various African countries.

The green buck thus renders many African countries vulnerable to manipulations by the world’s only super power, which is able to either reward or chastise them with respect to its interests.

The US is not the only country dealing with these new strategic priorities. In its National Security Strategy published in March 2008, Britain calls for long term support to failing states, stabilising areas recovering from conflict, and tackling violent extremism. This includes establishing approximately £600 million (Sh78 billion) of cross-government funding for conflict prevention, resolution and stabilisation around the world over the next three years.

The package includes an immediate commitment to fund 750 Burundian troops as part of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, and more help to train, equip and deploy troops for the joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation in Darfur. The strategy also confirms the shift in Foreign Office focus from Europe to key regions, for example the Middle East, with embassies which used to do mainly consular work now handling political engagement and security support.

From Asia, Japan has also adopted a more security-oriented approach to aid posed by the official Development Assistance Charter as “consolidation of peace concept.” The Charter says that “since [9/11] there has been a greater international awareness of the possibility of poverty [zones] becoming hotbeds of terrorism, and the role of ODA is being re-considered.”

Nevertheless, Tokyo has not established direct linkage between poverty and terrorism in terms of projects orientation. Hence, it is clear that the review process has targeted peace and security issues instead of core poverty reduction programs.

The terrain of development assistance has become more complex with European Union member states tying aid to counter-terrorism. For instance, Denmark’s development policy has undergone substantial change since the declaration of the war on terror. The early stages of this change began in 2004 when a policy shift occurred in the underlying principles of Danish development assistance and the government adopted its Principles Governing Danish Development Assistance for the Fight against the New Terrorism. Combating and preventing terrorism became a new priority for the disbursement of Danish development aid as opposed to the traditional priorities of education, health and water supply and sanitation. As a result the amount of aid allocated to countries has now become dependant on their relevance in the anti terrorism crusade, and security became its second most important criteria for deciding aid allocations for the period 2004 to 2008.

Indeed, Denmark allocated approximately $30 million (Sh200 billion) over the period 2004-2006 for multilateral efforts and for a series of special bilateral initiatives in terror priority countries like Yemen, Iran, Indonesia, Kenya and Niger. The charity Christian Aid laments in its report, The politics of poverty, that almost $49 million (Sh3 billion) Danish aid and reconstruction package to Iraq has been allocated at the expense of the Africa budget.

Continentally, counter-terrorism is now elevated to a key condition for receiving foreign aid by Africa’s poor countries as security considerations overtake the moral drive to lift the poor out of poverty.

The Cotonou Agreement between the EU and Africa, Caribbean and Pacific states was amended to require cooperation on counter-terrorism as part of the conditionality for receiving EU development aid.

This trend is tragic for poor countries that depend on foreign assistance and Africa is paying dearly as external assistance programmes are re-designed, budgets reallocated and donor priorities changed to suit the war on terror. Similarly, in efforts to address the needs of ‘global security,’ core poverty reduction programs have been the main casualty.

As Judy Howell, co-author of the report Aid, Civil Society and the State in Kenya since 9/11, aptly remarks: “Generally, indications are that there is a refocusing of development aid to communities that are perceived as a security risk, including the Somali population inhabiting a large swath of eastern Kenya and the Swahili Muslims living along the coast, who have historical linkages with Yemen and Oman.”

Also, the divide between aid and geo-politics has become increasingly blurry with US policy on Africa getting increasingly militarised and its economic agenda and energy concerns following close behind. Notably, Africa has gained strategic importance for the American war on terror partly because of its oil reserves and partly because of its large Muslim population and proximity to, and historical linkages with the Middle East.

According to the State Department and USAID “Strategic Plan” (2004-2009), development assistance “must be fully aligned with US foreign policy”. This policy rewards friends and allies of the US while other states have to cope with less and less financial support. Thus, a sober conflict analysis quickly shifts to the background when short-term “national interests” dominate the decision-making process.

However, the emergence of China as a new strategic player in Africa has given a new impetus to America’s aid policy and allocations. As a direct competitor to the West for Africa’s resources with little conditions of democracy and good governance attached to its aid packages, Beijing has not only redefined its relationship with Africa, but also, more importantly with strategic countries rich in oil, timber and energy resources.

China’s entry into Africa is characterised by a dependence on an aid-for-oil strategy. As a result, it is receiving increasing supplies of oil from African countries, while at the same time offering them trade deals combined with aid.

However, unlike the US, China is not building a military power base in Africa. Rather, it is stepping up its ability to pursue a more confident and independent security policy in the continent by resorting to collective action of cooperative security policy with African states which is bearing quick fruits.

The People’s Republic has no military bases in Africa like the United States or France. Likewise, it does not train African soldiers to deal with hostility perceived by Beijing as a threat to its national interests. In Sudan, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Gabon, Beijing has dispatched teams to assist in the maintenance of equipment, rather than providing training for specific warfare activities. In Zambia and Algeria, the collaboration is limited to medical aid.

In line with its security concerns, America increased the number of its troops in Africa from 220 to nearly 1,000, between 2000 and 2006. This is alongside the establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM), now resisted by African regional powers like South Africa.

While AFRICOM signifies Africa’s emerging strategic importance in the superpower’s economic and security calculus in order to contain terrorism and secure global oil wealth, this military structure is viewed as a vehicle to counter the Chinese juggernaut in Africa.

China has not shied away from giving military aid to states that America and its allies have shunned in the past. The Nethercutt Provision in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill tied US foreign assistance to host countries’ support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by pushing them to sign the Bilateral Immunity Agreement (BIA). These agreements require ICC member countries to exempt all US nationals and non-national contractors from accountability before The Hague-based court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

In 2002/2003 Kenya lost an estimated $8 million (Sh536 million) in military financing and training aid after refusing to sign the BIA. This shortage in funding for Kenya’s military was quickly addressed by China. Ultimately, Washington reversed its position in the summer of 2006 to permit the resumption of security and military training aid to Kenya despite it not signing the BIA.

Development aid is increasingly being viewed by international actors as a means of addressing looming threats emanating from the global South towards the North. The assumption is that what the right wing sees as a “clash of civilisations” between the West and Muslims mainly in the developing world must be won through economic rehabilitation. But there is no evidence that aid for counter-terrorism is reversing underdevelopment in Africa significantly.

The focus of the aid-for-counter-terrorism strategy is not necessarily on underdevelopment per se, but on “radicalised” regions and social formations that can be exploited by terrorists. In Kenya, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has an initiative on pastoralist livelihoods and peace-building in the Mandera Triangle, a development term referring to the region inhabited by Somali pastoralists where the Kenyan, Ethiopian and Somali borders intersect.

The US is also scaling back significantly on its conflict reduction and peace-building initiatives in the ‘Karamoja Cluster’ covering the ‘non-Islamic’ pastoralist-inhabited triangle bordering Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.

Donor agencies have developed new programming for NGOs, and created new funding pools, to support initiatives on development-security linkages. This is geared towards addressing, explicitly, the presumed causes of terrorism and radicalisation including underdevelopment, poverty and high levels of youth unemployment.

These engagements have been tailor made mostly for the Muslim community. The nature and objectives of aid-givers, however, seems to be an issue for many leaders and activists within ‘suspect’ communities, who, understandably question new attention and resources from western donors.

The US Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based in Djibouti has routinely carried out activities in communities in Kenya’s Coast and North Eastern Provinces such as building schools and operating mobile veterinary clinics. It is also developing liaison positions and coordination mechanisms with civilian agencies and departments such as USAID to institutionalise its efforts on development, which depend on input from American diplomatic corps in each of the countries where CJTF operates.


Patrick Mutahi and Peter Kagwanja work with Africa Policy Institute, a pan-african think tank based in Nairobi/Pretoria.

*Africa Insight is an initiative of the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Network Project.