African Counterterrorism Cooperation: Assessing Regional and Subregional Initiatives

  • Published

African Counterterrorism Cooperation: Assessing Regional and Subregional Initiatives edited by Andre Le Sage. Potomac Books, 2007, 240 pp.

This book is a collection of papers on US and African counterterrorism (CT) initiatives presented at a series of conferences hosted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in Washington, DC. Several contributors are from Africa originally, and all possess academic and government credentials spanning both Africa and the United States. The editor, Andre Le Sage, is an assistant professor at the ACSS, one of five regional centers charted by the Department of Defense (DoD) to promote US security policy and interaction with partner nations around the world.

African Counterterrorism Cooperation joins the small but growing body of literature dealing with emerging US interests in Africa. Until the events of 9/11, Africa was viewed as holding little strategic importance for the United States. Recent initiatives, especially the creation of US Africa Command (AFRICOM) on 1 October 2007, show that this view is changing. Given the ACSS status as a DoD center, it is not surprising that the book focuses on the military aspects of CT efforts in Africa, though it does mention economic and cultural factors of terrorism as well.

The essays take the reader across the vast spaces of the African continent and its confusing array of legitimate and illegitimate organizations with relative ease. One of the book’s strongest points is its accessibility. A simple table of contents, biographies of the contributing authors, appendices of important African agreements on counterrorism, extensive endnotes, and a very good list of acronyms make it easy to approach in a single sitting or as a reference, making it a very useful introduction to CT in Africa.

The next strength is its logical structure. The editor begins with an overview of African terrorism trends and concludes with a survey of US involvement in African CT and several thought-provoking propositions for the future. Between these two chapters, other authors delve into the history of CT vis-à-vis the African Union (AU) as a whole and the regions represented by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). These chapters paint a picture of limited but important terrorist activities and CT responses in Africa. The book also emphasizes that CT efforts to date have been mostly intrastate affairs, with increased bilateral efforts since 9/11. It advocates for increased US participation as well as increased commitment from the AU and the regional organizations to combat terrorism.

A few minor weaknesses mar an otherwise excellent presentation. First, the foreword is somewhat confusing when it states the book contains papers “presented by scholars representing the five African regional economic communities” at ACSS-hosted conferences (p. ix). In fact, there are seven regional economic communities (REC) in Africa, and one paper deals with the AU, which is not an REC. Therefore, the reader actually gets the perspective from only four of the seven RECs. Another problem is one of copy editing; from page 39 to 40 it appears a sentence was not completed, leaving the reader dangling. A more significant weakness was the editor’s categorization of the terrorist threat in each region and country in Africa. He assigns threat levels (low, moderate, and significant) to each country without stating his criteria for those levels, making it difficult to engage his assessment critically. The final problem of note is the repetition through several of the chapters as well as the appendices of passages from AU agreements on counterterrorism. While these are important to the topic, their repeated citing throughout the book adds little value to the argument.

This short book will benefit anyone interested in learning about emerging US strategy and policy in Africa. It quickly introduces the reader to the major political players on the continent as well as the myriad acronyms that must be mastered to successfully study the topic. It also delivers content of particular interest to an American reader, such as al-Qaeda activities across the continent and US involvement there, including in Somalia and the larger Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa.

A note of caution is in order. Since this book is written under the auspices of the DoD, its point of view is predominately military. While this is not surprising, it risks oversimplifying both the problem of terrorism in Africa and potential remedies. It also projects a subtle undercurrent of impending doom—unless the United States, partner nations, and African regional organizations act quickly, the continent could fall to terrorism. Such an outcome is certainly possible, but it could lead readers to advocate rapid, heavy-handed American involvement despite the contributors’ intentions. Given the nervous reception AFRICOM has received on the continent, US policy in the region must be nuanced if it is to be effective. Along those lines, anyone interested in this topic should also read Robert Berschinski’s recent monograph on US security policy in Africa, Africom’s Dilemma: The “Global War on Terrorism,” “Capacity Building,” Humanitarianism, and the Future of U.S. Security Policy in Africa (Strategic Studies Institute, 2007). It provides a sobering assessment of the viability of US policy if it overreacts to fears of African terrorism.

Maj Paul Spaven, USAF

School of Advanced Air and Space Studies

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."