The time Africa came to DC (Well, some of it.)

Today marks Day 1 of the inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being held in Washington, DC from August 4-6, 2014. Yours truly will be observing the Summit’s events from afar, as my invitation appears to have gotten lost in the mail…

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, there were concerns that the event might not contribute to advancing the Obama Administration’s objectives in Africa, to which Amadou Sy offered counterarguments as to why the Summit was ‘far from bungled’ and Mwangi Kimenyi articulated five indicators of a successful Summit.

Most African heads of state or government and the Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have been invited to DC, but the Presidents of Liberia and Sierra Leone have cancelled their trips to deal with the Ebola outbreak in the Mano River region, which has killed over 700 people since March of this year. (Btw, check out Kim Yi Dionne’s very informative take on the limits of local and international responses to the disease.)

Countries that have not been invited are the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, which are not in good standing with the United States and the African Union for various reasons – transitional governments, sanctions, war crimes, etc.

Yet, some of the countries to be represented, such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, are currently restricting the space for political dissent and have attempted to adopt anti-homosexuality legislation, as Sarah Margon highlights in “Human Rights Shouldn’t be Sidelined at Africa Summit.” Furthermore, as Jeffrey Smith and Todd Moss write in “Obama Should Embrace Africa’s Democratic Standard-Bearers,” leaders who have been in power for over two decades are expected to be in attendance – including Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who celebrated 35 years in power on Aug 3, Cameroon’s Paul Biya (in power since 1982), and the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh (in power since 1994). Acknowledging the complexity of U.S. relations with such states, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield had previously stated “You cannot change people if you do not engage them. You have to engage them, and this [Summit] will be that opportunity.”

The Summit comes on the heels of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) (now renamed The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders), whose fellows had been in the U.S. since June studying at 20 top American universities. This year’s class consisted of approximately 500 young leaders, selected out of an applicant pool of 500,000.

Before this year’s program wrapped up, the fellows convened in DC, where I had the true pleasure of meeting some of them last Wednesday, when the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) hosted fellows from Eritrea, Sudan, and South Sudan for a candid two hour discussion. You’re probably aware that I tend to focus on death, destruction, and world domination for a living, so it was a pleasant change of pace to witness the exchange of human and social capital between Mandela Fellows and DAWN members. As we discussed our respective career paths, we covered the challenges of leadership, institutional access, conflicting identities both within and across the diaspora, and common aspirations. The evening ended with Mandela Fellows asking for DAWN – and the diaspora in general – to be available for collaboration, motivation, two-way mentorship and skills transfer.

In anticipation of the first U.S.-African Leaders Summit, DAWN partnered with FEMNET and Oxfam America to create a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Social Media Guide, with the purpose of amplifying the need for continued civil society engagement in shaping U.S.-Africa bilateral relations and providing general guidance on using the event as a social media platform for pushing for a wide range of policy recommendations. This way, those of us who haven’t been invited to the Summit (sniffle) can share ideas and visions for the future during the #USAfricaSummit with #TheAfricaWeWant.

As Talks Stall, South Sudan Conflict Grinds to Stalemate

(Originally published in World Politics Review on July 22, 2014)

Seven months after fighting broke out between the government of South Sudan and anti-government forces, the conflict is at a stalemate, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Unlike the early days of the conflict, when cities like Bor, Bentiu and Malakal changed hands multiple times, the status quo has largely held since the onset of the rainy season in May.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—the East African regional organization that spearheaded the peace process between Sudan and now-independent South Sudan in the 1990s—has taken the lead to bring the government, represented by the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and anti-government forces, such as the SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) and former political detainees, to the negotiating table. Despite several agreements signed by both sides, however, negotiations in neighboring Ethiopia have not led to a resolution of the conflict or a way out of the current crisis.

(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)

South Sudan Post-Independence: Things Fall Apart

(Originally published in War on the Rocks on July 17, 2014)

Three years into its independence, South Sudan faces multiple crises on political, security, and humanitarian fronts. After almost a decade of relative peace following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Sudan in 2005, a political dispute within South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), devolved into armed conflict in December 2013. The jubilance and optimism that accompanied the new country’s independence from Sudan in July 2011 were eroded; in their wake, prospects for a peace dividend have become bleak.

This was not the war that many had anticipated following the signing of the CPA and South Sudan’s subsequent independence. That war would have been a reprise of North–South conflict that characterized the first (1956–1972) and second (1983–2005) Sudanese civil wars. Rather, the conflict that emerged in South Sudan could be understood as a continuation of unresolved South–South tensions that were, arguably, never adequately addressed by the CPA. Contrary to its name, the CPA was an elite bargain between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the strongest element of the southern resistance, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).

(Read the rest of the article on the War on the Rocks website)

Fostering Democracy, Good Governance, and Human Rights in Africa Through Security Sector Assistance

Yesterday, I presented on a National Endowment for Democracy panel on “Fostering Democracy, Good Governance, and Human Rights in Africa Through Security Sector Assistance.” Video of the event can be found here and links to the papers we presented are below:

During the panel, we touched on the Presidential Policy Directive 23 on Security Sector Assistance, released by the Obama Administration last spring. Although the ends of PPD-23 are stated in the factsheet, little is known about its ways and means. Perhaps the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit (August 4-6, 2014) might offer additional details on the implementation of PPD-23 as it relates to Africa.

The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership: Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism in the Sahel & Maghreb

A few months ago, I published the study I had been working on during my IPA Assignment at the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University – The Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership: Building Partner Capacity to Counter Terrorism and Violent Extremism. The study discusses the origins of TSCTP, which is rather unique by U.S. government standards, for its regional and interagency focus . It dissects the “anatomy” of the program (including which U.S. government agencies are involved, what their roles are, and who their partner nation counterparts are), and derives six functional areas of TSCTP engagement in order to better understand the program’s lines of effort across the various agencies. These are: Military Capacity-Building, Law Enforcement Anti-Terrorism Capacity-Building, Justice Sector Counterterrorism Capacity-Building, Public Diplomacy and Information Operations, Community Engagement, and Vocational Training. The study then discusses some of the planning and implementation challenges associated with a program of this nature, derived from the over 70 interviews I conducted across the interagency and in nine of the ten TSCTP countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal) last year.

 The study contains a lot of information on TSCTP, but as it’s rather dense, I also published a handful of shorter articles that either summarize or draw out some of the more salient points of the larger study:

Happy reading!

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