Africa Week in Review November 15, 2013

 Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around Africa over the last week:

  • Reuters reports that AFRICOM General Rodriguez stated that AFRICOM might face cuts totaling “over a tenth – or some $40 million – from their 2014 budget.” General Rodriguez indicated that the cuts would affect the United States’ ability to conduct trainings in Africa. “We’ve had to reduce the size of some of these exercises and change the nature of some … to involve fewer troops,” said Rodriguez. He responded to multiple questions regarding U.S. military activity on the continent, including last months Special Operations raid in Somalia.  With regards to Somalia, General Rodriguez also confirmed that the U.S. would continue “occasional direct action.”
  • On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department designated the Nigerian Islamist insurgency Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. As such it will be illegal to “provide material support” to Boko Haram, and U.S. regulatory agencies will work to block any support to the group. The Nigerian government has campaigned at length for such a declaration.
  • Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco released a statement indicating that:

By cutting these terrorist organizations off from U.S. financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria’s fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north.

  • In the same statement, Ms. Monaco emphasized that the U.S. encourages Nigeria to pursue a counterterrorism approach that couples law enforcement with economic opportunity:

We encourage Nigeria to pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that uses law enforcement tools effectively, creates economic opportunity, and ensures that human rights are protected and respected.

  • The designation came after lengthy deliberations within the U.S. government.  The New York Times quotes the State Department’s former top counterterrorism official Daniel Benjamin on U.S. skepticism of the Nigerian approach to fighting Boko Haram:

The Nigerians have not helped themselves in this problem by often using extreme and brutal tactics. The U.S. has been engaging with the Nigerians to improve their counterterrorism practices.

  •  Council of Foreign Relations Nigeria expert John Campbell did a round up of arguments for and against such a designation.
  • The same day, the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Joint Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “The Continuing Threat of Boko Haram.” Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield from the Bureau of African Affairs testified (PDF).
  • Below are notable quotes from Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield’s testimony:
  • “Chairman Smith and Chairman Poe, instability in Nigeria is of direct concern to the United States.”

  • “Through the Trans-Sahara Counter terrorism Partnership, we build military, law enforcement, and civilian capacity and resilience across the Sahel and Maghreb regions to counter terrorism.”

  • “Still, we are concerned by reports that some Nigerian security forces have committed gross human rights violations in response to Boko Haram. We have raised this concern with the Government of Nigeria at the highest levels.”

Quick Hits from across the region:

  • The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution lauding Kenya’s decision to keep their troops in Somalia after Somali Islamist group al-Shabab conducted the Westgate Mall terror attack.
  • U.S. maritime forces, together with European partners, participated in the Exercise Cutlass Express 2013 with 10 East African naval forces off the coast of East Africa. The exercise, which began November 11, is scheduled to last a week and aims to improve regional maritime capacity and information sharing.
  • The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo refused to sign the final peace accords with the defeated M23 rebels on Monday. The sudden policy reversal is due to the government’s last minute demands to change the terms, and refer to the agreement as a declaration, which has less legal weight than an accord. M23 leader Bertrand Bisimwa criticized the government, stating that the accords would have been a political solution to a military conflict.
  • Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita replaced Army Chief of Staff General Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele because of links to last year’s coup leader Amadou Sanogo.
  • Ethiopia announced it would join the African Union mission in Somalia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said that the terrorist threat, which al-Shabab poses, is a regional concern and a threat to Ethiopia.
  • Liberian Drug Enforcement Agency arrested the head of the presidential motorcade on charges of drug trafficking.
  • A U.S. federal judge sentenced two Somali pirates to multiple life sentences for murder, piracy and their involvement in the 2011 hijacking of a U.S. yacht.
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