In April 2022, the US has taken a major step forward in the spirit of partnership with Africa and the Third World to implement the "US ten-year Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability." Pilot countries selected under the strategy include Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and a group of West African coastal countries including Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo. The strategy is based on the Global Fragility Act of 2019, which emphasizes preventing conflict and promoting stability to break the cycle of costly fragility in some parts of the world.
Point 1. It is the best US foreign policy strategy of the past two decades
I can’t hide my admiration for “The U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.” Yes, although there are some concerns, this is the best U.S. foreign policy strategy of the past two decades. It has been proven that a united America helps more in international peace and security while a divided America is dangerous to itself and the rest of the world. A divided America would instead of having positive US intervention in global problems, export its left-right extreme disputes to the world, more particularly to the donation receivers and fragile states and regions where people are easy to be polarized by the two sides in American politics.
America does its best in solving global problems when it acts in its foreign policy through bipartisanship, by forcing the disputes to “stop at the water's edge.” The new strategy came out after a thorough bipartisan congressional debate sponsored by USIP, based on the learned lessons from the last two decades after 9/11..
While invading and bombing countries in some parts of the world could dismantle active terrorist groups and get the revenge for American people against Qaida and others, this does not address the causes that create the conducive environment for terrorism and violent extremism. It is sad that the bombs that kill active terrorists also kill innocent people in African countries that are out of the counterterrorism focus. This creates violent extremism, making victims to join the terror club as full members. This creates the image of USA helping in recruiting new terrorists who are more dangerous than the previous ones. The new strategy took all these Lessons and more others and put US foreign policy on the right track again.
Point 2. Prevention first. Stabilization and counter-terrorism will continue, but not at the expense of prevention
Congressman Peter Meijer (R-MI) observes that, “Keeping things together is better than collecting them once they have been broken.” Allowing fragile states to collapse breeds the environment of terrorism and this will never be the right recipe for protecting the USA. Therefore, preventing fragile states from collapsing is a vital part of the US and international security.
Presenting facts and figures on the cost of violent conflicts and counterterrorism, Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA) observes that, “As we looking at our all priorities and all other gains that we have made around economic development and around human rights, we know that so much of that can be turned back because of the conflicts and that the best thing is to make sure that we are working in a preventive way." According to Sara, “The cost of conflicts is huge, over the last 18 years we have lost 10,000 American lives and 50,000 wounded in counterterrorism operations at the expense of 5.9 trillion dollars to US taxpayers. The impact of conflicts on the global economy is 14 trillion dollars. and the cost of violent conflicts just in 2017 was over 800 billion dollars.” There is no need for further explanation for the necessity of a preventive strategy and not to continue only in counterterrorism operations.
Point 3. A new picture of America. Say goodbye to the old image of the US as a maker of "constructive chaos"
The USA now deserves to be seen in a new and positive image. A term like “constructive chaos” should be investigated. Was it really part of the US policy or not? Was the practice closer to this term? Did the atmosphere of wars and conflicts make it look like that? I don’t think that we need to portray the new strategy as an apology to the world. Such an explanation will not open a new chapter. It will consume time and effort in blame games that could put all the mistakes again on the USA. People in conflict-affected parts of the world should understand the new strategy and cooperate with the USA. Terrorism and violent extremism are enemies of all.
Point 4. The strategy emphasizes the importance of locally driven solutions. This is similar to "Homegrown Solutions" in Africa.
The strategy points out that “The United States will pursue a new approach that addresses the political drivers of fragility and supports locally driven solutions. The United States will engage selectively based on defined metrics, host country political will, respect for democracy and human rights, defined cost-sharing, and mechanisms that promote mutual accountability with national and local actors.”
This is marvelous, I can’t agree more with this strategy at this point specifically. What has been said is exactly what Africans are working for within the context of “homegrown solutions” and “African solutions for African problems.” The strategy can easily capitalize on existing efforts and initiatives hence create a platform for Africa and the third world to exchange local solutions. One of the most important African strategies that should be discussed in the same context is "Conflict Prevention and Early Warning."
Point 5. On the role of the private sector in prevention, please read the article on the issue I focused on for nearly a decade, then consolidated under the term "Morning Economy", to be connected with AfCFTA and RECs.
I quote from the strategy and present the approach of "border and producers’ markets" that I dedicate myself to in Africa:
“A robust private sector and attractive investment climate help to: create jobs and economic opportunity, detracting from the need to turn to armed groups and illicit avenues or other malign actors for income; increase government resources and revenue available for service delivery, including through tax receipts; and improve stability and transparency by diffusing economic power and empowering individuals when conducted in a conflict-sensitive fashion. Additionally, broad-based private sector growth creates a virtuous circle by signaling stability to other firms and encouraging new investment.”
I want here to draw attention to the topic that was advocated for almost ten years and then crystallized in the term “Morning Economy” and how it is the right approach to address economic development, stability and turn conflict areas into productive ones. In developing countries, granting full economic freedom to producers in their morning markets will put the entire economy on the right track and will eliminate illegal activities inside countries and along the tense borders.
My article on "the Morning Economy" was widely published in African websites. I hope the strategy’s taskforce and the concerned actors of the strategy have a look at my article. Also, I wrote a detailed article on how the US could partner with the African private sector and promote for free economy and human rights “News Analysis: A New Paradigm for US-African Relations – African Regional Capitalism,” published originally in American Media Institute.
Question 1. How does the United States respond to negative impacts on selected countries from neighboring or regional countries that are not part of "Phase 1" implementation of the strategy?
The US administration has chosen Haiti, Libya, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, and five countries in the Coastal West Africa region (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Togo) to implement the ten-year U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability. Terrorism and violent extremism are motivated by "Push Factors" within the country, community, and the local environment, and "Pull Factors" such as regional and international terror networks and extremist groups that might be out of the country and possibly very active in neighboring countries. The selected countries share the same tribes and ethnic groups with the neighboring countries which are not part of the first phase of the strategy. The most influential religious and tribal leaders in some cases could be in another country but they are still able to shake the political equation in one of the selected countries. Counterterrorism measures are still valid and able to deal with pull factors. This applies to the cases of terrorist groups but not all cases. The problem is that the USA will deal through prevention in an area and then after a few kilometers will shift to counterterrorism measures and possibly drop bombs while giving the same ethnic extension of the same tribe tons of USAID relief. How can the USA address this contradiction?
Question 2. How will the US respond to China and Russia's strategies that contradict this strategy? They always succeed in finding their own shortcuts to reach the Third World governments before the US.
Part of the new strategy is the tool of "unilateral or international" sanctions. Other countries could veto the sanctions in international organizations and use US's economic absence - because of sanctions - to fill the vacuum and keep the US away. Also, while the US wants to enhance the private sector, countries like China prefer to encourage the government to completely take over the economic decisions in order to facilitate confidential clauses in their agreements and to limit the local private sector from competing Chinese companies. How will the USA deal with the active third parties and its local lobbies and groups? Conflicting big powers’ strategies could rapidly lead to fragility. The USA is not alone. In some parts of the continent, Russia and China can intervene more strongly than the USA. How can the USA make Africans choose the best choice without using sanctions against them because this will open doors for Russia and China?
Question 3. In some parts of the Third World, especially in Africa, local communities do not use modern ways of interacting to raise funds, apply for a job or gain support from the Western countries? They want the support but they think doing so is waste of time because Westerners choose their partners from their favorite westernized activists! How can the US develop new and investigative methods to map the real actors and reach them instead of opening opportunities at embassies and agencies, waiting for people to come and apply for grants?
Only a small part of African civil society knows how to access the US donation system. Others think that big countries like the USA have their own allies that will never change. Others think that the official calls of opportunities - through embassies and agencies - are just for filling the gap of bureaucratic procedures. Some think the USA's partners of the social liberties agenda - which is not that popular in local African communities - will remain the only channel to the USA and not the local and conservative leaders. How can the USA recruit the real local actors who are strongly needed for the success of the strategy? In other words, how can the US develop new and investigative methods to map the real actors and reach them instead of opening the applications system at embassies and agencies for NGOs that will be filled by activists who are good for urban communities which are already out of the center of extremism's circle? How can the USA balance between westernized activists and local-oriented leaders or even anti-westernization? How can the USA avoid making the new strategy a process of re-packaging the old programs, funds, and even old partners?
Question 4. Things change quickly locally. How do US officials and state actors empower people on the frontlines of implementation to act with no bureaucratic obstacles?
Some African countries pulled out from the path of democratization to military rule in months. Natural disasters just like lack of water can explode and some actors who are supporting the strategy of combating violent extremism can turn into fighters within days. Yesterday's fighters can turn into victims. Having that in reality, how can bureaucratic complicated steps make it possible for US agencies to adapt the programs and policies fast? Why didn’t the strategy task force discuss a wider mandate for people who are on the frontline of implementation? It is a bipartisan strategy, which is a good thing but is it necessary to be updated only by legislators within bipartisan work or there is room for keeping the head titles and changing the subtitles? In contrast, China and Russia can make their shifts on the ground and respond to the changes faster because they can do that without waiting for multi-party debate and multi-level approval like the USA.
Question 5. How does the US prevention strategy prevent itself from the threats will face inside the US? From whom and why?
The US administration, the related agencies, and the preventive strategy’s supporters are not alone in the US political arena. Even if pressure groups are calm now and the atmosphere of bipartisanship is dominating, the media could explode it: “Americans are targeted in countries that benefit from the prevention strategy more than countries that are out of the strategy.” They might pick one incident of terrorism in one of the selected nine countries of the strategy and launch a campaign. Other big players in the world are not happy with American successful bipartisan efforts. They might use their cyber power to influence the US to divert the wheel away from the strategy.
The strategy may be criticized in some quarters for failure to include the word “gender” in its text and failing to tackle matters on sexual orientations. It is still possible the strategy faces more criticism and "the external third party" might use these internal American disputes to push the strategy to the water edge and beyond.
By Mekki Elmograbi
The author is a press writer on African affairs and former diplomat in Washington DC.