— Africa’s story is increasingly one of economic dynamism that is driven, in part, by political reform and improvements in governance. But, there are also very real security, humanitarian, and developmental challenges that remain to be confronted. The United States has a stake in helping to tackle these challenges, not least because it is in its own national interest to do so.
To complicate matters, some African countries are still grappling with the conception of “statehood,” since, in many cases, the state was an imposition of European colonialism. In this latest Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, Atlantic Council Vice President and Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham argues that the United States needs to modernize its relations with a changing Africa to best engage a new range of actors and circumstances.
The change of US administration in January offers a unique opportunity to recalibrate US strategy toward a rapidly transforming continent.
Taking into account Africa’s differing geopolitical realities, as well as US objectives on the continent, this paper argues that a measured US strategy for Africa is based on the following principles:
Earned engagement: The United States should shift away from trying to pick the “right” winners in political disputes internal to African countries, and toward engaging those who prove themselves to be good bets by their effectiveness and, consequently, the legitimacy they are accorded by their own people.
More realistic expectations: For much of the history of US engagement in Africa, the United States has operated with overly optimistic notions of what African partners are capable of and willing to do. That must change.
Effective partners and partnerships: It is imperative that the United States develop “special” relationships with key African partners (particularly those who have demonstrated mastery of their territory and capacity for true governance through “earned engagement”).
Flexible structures: US diplomatic and foreign aid structures are inefficient and ill-adapted to meet today’s realities, and should be reformed as much as possible to reflect political, security, and economic realities on the continent.