Paper #31. Special Ops Command-Africa Strategy: Analysis & Recommendations (Part I of II)

  • Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.
  • Middle East & North Africa, Security, Strategy, Sub-Saharan Africa
  • No Comments

Security challenges on the African continent are diverse and acute. Threats are more than military, requiring all of the skill sets and partnerships that special operations forces possess.

Economically, many African states seek private sector investment, expanded trade, debt relief and development aid—without losing sovereignty. Politically, democratic reforms have displaced overt dictatorships, but ethnic-based patronage undermines economic growth and invites radicalism. Threats are economic (poverty, lack of opportunities), political (disenfranchisement, lack of universal human rights) and social (radicalization, lack of public services). Add to these threats, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) that thrive in such conditions. Globally networked, partnered and integrated Special Operations Forces (SOF) are well suited to adaptively counter and proactively reduce such threats. The high quality yet limited quantity of SOF can achieve strategic combined effects with inter-agency, regional and international partners.

Taking account of Africa’s complex information environment, this Paper takes on three tasks: 

            1. Clarify Strategy for Security 

            2. Characterize & Analyze the Information Environment

            3. Synthesize Combined Strategies for Courses of Action

First, we will clarify our strategic hierarchy of effort for achieving ”security”—defined as the absence of perceived threats to acquired values (pp. 484-485).

Second, we will apply holistic information environment problem-solving that can be tailored to complex problems: characterize the historical context (concludes Part I), and analyze current linkages, patterns and trends (begins Part II). 

Third, we will synthesize and recommend combinations of synergistic effects to achieve the security goals clarified in step one. 

The combined effects recommendations can be informed by sources not available in the Paper to develop strategically significant courses of action involving SOF and partners.  

1. Clarify Strategy for Security

If we are to win complex wars as well as all-domain battles, we need a Hierarchy of Effort. It’s all too easy to lose sight of priorities and perpetuate ineffective missions. In the case of United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM), there are six established lines of effort:

  • Strengthen partner networks
  • Enhance partner capabilities
  • Develop security in Somalia
  • Contain instability in Libya
  • Support partners in Sahel/Lake Chad 
  • Set the theater to support AFRICOM

As a sub-unified command of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) under operational control of AFRICOM, SOCAFRICA’s current focus seems two-fold: (a) building counter-Violent Extremist Organization (VEO) capability in partner nations; and (b) developing regional security structures. The dual effort consists of activities to create ”stability” and counter trans-regional threats by directly supporting four AFRICOM Theater Strategic Objectives. 

AFRICOM Theater Strategic Objectives

  • Defeating VEOs
  • Developing persistent access to partner nations through SOF (Special Operations Forces) engagement
  • Building partner nation and regional capacity promoting stability
  • Mitigating the underlying conditions that permit violent extremism

In order to have a coherent, prioritized and resourced national strategy, theater objectives need to be aligned up and down a Hierarchy of Effort:

FIGURE 1: Hierarchy of Effort in the Information Environment

So, to align AFRICOM strategy with the US National Security Strategy, it follows that we need to specify two things:

  • End-state conditions that theater objectives should create
  • National strategic priorities that the end-state helps bring about

With respect to end-state we should ask, what are the conditions that define the defeat of VEOs, SOF-enabled access to partners, increased partner nation and regional capacity, and mitigation of conditions that fuel violent extremism? 

In focusing on SOCAFRICA’s contribution to USAFRICOM, we can answer that question with the following end-state conditions as informed by statements from SOCAFRICA commander Maj Gen Dagvin Anderson.  

Of particular relevance to SOF’s distinctive capabilities is that each end-state (bolded) consists of physical (underlined) conditions and psychological (italicized) conditions. We can see that an end-state is not a static end-point; it’s an ongoing dynamic of contested conditions.

End-State Conditions

  • Defeat VEOs. Eliminate as fighting forces and undermine ideologies of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and affiliates (Jamaat Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin, Ansar al Islam, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, e.g.). Al Qaeda’s dual approach is: (a) creating bases from which to attack governance, infrastructure and the economy as a way to control the population; and (b) replacing education in schools with extremist ideology. This expansion includes threats from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger, and from Somalia into Kenya. 
  • Develop persistent access. Create relationships that preempt, undermine and block Islamic State, Al Qaeda and affiliates’ efforts to inflame local grievances into extremist movements.  Al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates’ access to local populations also include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa Republic, and Mozambique. 
  • Build capacity. Expand government services and increase legitimacy via security arrangements with credible partners.  These include forces from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Great Britain, France, Turkey, US, Task Force Takuba (France, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark, Spain Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands), the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF-Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Niger), and the Group of 5 in the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  
  • Mitigate food insecurity and natural disasters. Establish sustainable crop development, food distribution and collaborative agricultural planning. Africa withstands periodic drought, locust infestation, and agricultural crises. These are readily exploited as in ongoing Islamic State (IS) operations in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.    

An important context of these end-state conditions is political violence from extremist, state, militia, and foreign forces. Since 2011 Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia register as the most violent places according to this interactive Sub-Saharan security tracker (US Council on Foreign Relations). In the past year, political violence has intensified in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique:

FIGURE 2: Sub-Saharan Political Violence

Just as our objectives should support the establishment and maintenance of desired end-state conditions, the end-state should support strategic priorities. Next, compare the end-state conditions that we just derived to the US National Security Strategy (NSS).  

Here are the strategic priorities as identified in the US NSS: four goals and 15 strategic objectives. Consider how defeating VEOs, developing access, building capacity and mitigating underlying conditions in Africa can support NSS goals and objectives.

FIGURE 3: US National Security Strategy Matrix

For each AFRICOM theater objective, a case can be made in support of each NSS goal and objective. However, for the purpose of establishing priorities under resource constraints, the next section  selects the most relevant NSS objective that relates to African security and SOCAFRICA capabilities under each respective NSS goal.

Strategic Priorities

Given Africa’s human potential (42% of global youth in 2030) and natural endowments (60 percent of global uncultivated arable land), SOCAFRICA operations best contribute to the following US NSS Strategic Priorities (the supported NSS Goals are noted in parentheses):

  • Pursue threats to their source (protect the homeland)
  • Embrace energy dominance (promote American prosperity)
  • Compete in diplomatic statecraft (peace through integrated national power)
  • Encourage new partners (advance American influence)

The following Hierarchy of Effort depicts AFRICOM End-State conditions and NSS Strategic Priorities for SOCAFRICA Theater Objectives to support:

FIGURE 4: NSS Priorities, AFRICOM End-State, SOCAFRICA Objectives

By clarifying the Hierarchy of Effort, we can develop activities to achieve desired effects that also support the objectives, end-state, and strategic priorities. None of this synergy is automatic. Holistic design of activities and their effects requires advanced analysis of the information environment. 

For instance, if local rivalries are not understood, missions designed to achieve effects that support one objective (defeating VEOs) may undermine another objective (mitigating underlying conditions of violent extremism). Adversaries exploit ignorance of such connections. For instance If US health aid is perceived to be lowest where US air strikes are the highest, as this study claims, IS and Al Shabaab messaging of that can out-compete our precision targeting of combatants. 

Similarly, lack of local intelligence can also lead to activities that may be well conceived in terms of supporting all objectives (US SOF coordination with European and African Task Force Takuba) but undermine end-state conditions (relationships that prevent VEOs from exploiting local grievances). The information effects of special operations matter and must be resourced to be effective. 

For instance, foreign military operations in Africa have been criticized for making crises worse by neglecting state violence and local grievances.  At the same time, due to resource limitations and the very conditions that foment grievances—poverty and political-economic fragility—AFRICOM objectives in West Africa have been downgraded from “degrade” to “contain” (p. 45) violent extremist organizations.

The information impact of this change is that the AFRICOM objective in the west does not support strategic theater objective #1 (defeating VEOs). Rather than downgrading “defeat” at the strategic theater level, we can place AFRICOM’s downgraded objective in a broader diplomatic, informational, military, economic and social context to defeat VEOs. For instance, civil affairs may help defeat a terrorist network socially in a way that persists, while direct action contains VEO operations.  

Success in complex contexts requires persistence. In this environment, activities and effects are critical to flexibly executing a strategy that serves a Hierarchy of Effort. Africa’s context includes diverse threats, from the basic insecurity of life’s essentials to hostile ideologies, to armed groups (including children) and brutal tyrants. Having a Hierarchy of Effort to guide planning and execution is critical to staying focused on goals. Our next step is critical to judging how feasible our goals are, and what it takes to adjust strategy to achieve them. To do this, we need to characterize and analyze the information environment. 

2. Characterize & Analyze the Information Environment

Our approach in characterizing and analyzing the information environment (IE) includes providing historical context, and discovering relevant linkages, patterns and trends. Historical context and memory are profoundly important among Africa’s many ethnic, religious, linguistic and tribal groups. We begin characterizing the IE with ten selected country abstracts since African states’ independence from colonial powers. This is far less than the 54 or 56 states (two are not formally recognized) across Africa, but it is enough to illustrate trans-continental relationships.  

The approach enables us to discuss consequential linkages across five regions:—northern, western, central, eastern and southern Africa.

FIGURE 5: A Regional View of Africa

Besides these five regions, there are two others commonly referred to—the Sahel and the Diaspora. 

The Sahel is a geographic transition zone between arid west/north Africa (Sahara desert) and savannas (fed by river basins) to the south. The Sahel’s southern boundary extends eastward from Senegal on the Atlantic Ocean through southern Mauritania, central Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Niger, northern Nigeria, and southern Chad into Sudan on the Red Sea.

The Diaspora is a network of African people living outside the continent sometimes referred to by the African Union as a sixth region.

To see which colonial powers occupied which African states after the Congress of Berlin (1884) divided the continent, the following map shows colonized Africa in 1914:

FIGURE 6: European Colonialism in Africa

To appreciate the security challenges facing every African government, compare Map 1 on the left to an imaginary map of borders aligned with ethnic boundaries, on the right:

FIGURE 7: Regional and Ethnology-linguistic Boundaries

The challenge of this ethno-linguistic mosaic becomes clearer when we consider linkages among ethnic groups who are split apart by national borders. Post-independence first and second generation African rulers by and large established one-Party political systems based on ethnic loyalties. This effectively replaced colonial methods of divide-and-rule with ethno-nationalism that sought external independence, internal control and economic growth. Third or fourth generation rulers are more constrained by democratic processes, but face the same problem of building a state of many nations. 

The following country abstracts contain linkages among people, ideas, and conditions while beginning to provide some historical context.

The abstracts comprise two states per African region. This sample of the 54 sovereign states and two areas still in dispute (Somaliland and Western Sahara) includes former colonies of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal and Italy (occupier only). The ten states are:  Egypt and Sudan (northern); Ghana and Senegal (western); Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola (central); South Africa and Botswana (southern); and Ethiopia and Somalia (eastern). Each country abstract includes various figures to visualize relationships involving geography, demographics, timelines, clientilism, infrastructure, armed groups, economics, technology, territorial disputes, organizations and cultures.   


De facto independence from Great Britain (replaced Ottoman Empire rule), 1956. Egypt was a British protectorate 1914-1922, then a kingdom (King Farouk, Ottoman) occupied by British forces. In 1952 the Free Officers Movement led by Gamal Abdel Nasser forced Farouk to abdicate. Nasser declared himself Prime Minister (1954), hosted the African Association (1955), and won uncontested election as President (1956). As Nasser created ties with the Soviet bloc and recognized the Peoples Republic of China, the US and UK withdrew promises to finance the Aswan Dam. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, provoking an Israeli-British-French invasion that was forced to withdraw under UN, US, and USSR pressure. As Nasser’s prestige soared, he called for Arab unity and African liberation while crushing the Muslim Brotherhood at home. The temporary creation of the United Arab Republic with Syria, and the United Arab States with Yemen (both 1958-1961), indicated limits of pan-Arabism. Egypt’s intervention in Yemen (1962-1967) to support a coup against the monarchy was costly, and countered by Saudi support of the royalists. Egypt’s subsequent defeat to Israel (1967) lost the Sinai peninsula until restored by President Anwar Sadat’s peace treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1979). Sadat’s reversal of Nasser’s anti-West policies did not stop Egypt from becoming a hub of African activism via the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization, the African Society, and related conferences and research centers. Sadat’s assassination (1981) by Islamic extremists led to Vice President Hosni Mubarak assuming the presidency and declaring Emergency Rule. Egypt’s relations with African states included supporting independence (Namibia) and mediating conflict (Senegal and Mauritania). As China became Egypt’s top trading partner, Mubarak promoted the Forum for Africa China Cooperation. 

“Arab Spring” uprisings begun in Tunisia (2011) spread to Egypt. Mubarak’s brutal suppression of demonstrations led to losing support from wealthy Western democracies and an ambivalent Russia, prompting his resignation. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) suspended the Constitution and dismissed Parliament. Elections in 2012 brought Mohammed Morsi to power, Egypt’s first non-military head of state. Supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi issued decrees as Islamists wrote a new constitution. This triggered widespread protests and unrest. In 2013, Defense Minister el-Sisi led a coup followed by massacres of Morsi’s supporters. Booted out of the African Union (AU) until elected President of Egypt in 2014, Sisi held the one-year rotating position of AU chair 2019-2020.  Domestically, his rule suppresses civil and military opposition under a state of emergency invoked after repeated ISIS attacks.  Egyptian-US counter-terror cooperation is strong via several regional and global organizations. Cairo’s priorities focus on groups in the Sinai, Libya and Gaza (p. 7).

FIGURE 8: Bedouin Groups in the Sinai

Sisi’s counter-terror operations in the Sinai generate body counts, but antagonize already tense relations with Bedouin tribal groups whose cooperation is key to success against IS affiliates such as Wilayat Sinai. Addressing legitimate grievances to influence insurgents in the Allied Popular Resistance Movement, Jund al-Islam, and Tawhid wal-Jihad is a long-term commitment that does not appear to be part of the current regime’s strategy.


Independence from Great Britain and Egypt in 1955, ethnically split between Arab Muslims in the north and disadvantaged non-Arab non-Muslims in south. A coup in 1969 inspired by pan-Arabism brought Islamist Jaffar Nimiery to power. A joint communique (the Tripoli Charter [pp. 172-179]) with Egypt and Libya (Muhammar Khaddafy, September 1969 coup) secured apparent external support for his “revolution.” Continuously northern Sudanese domination over southerners led to two civil wars. The first began in 1955, which saw the growth of the Sudan People’s Liberation Front (SPLF) and Army with support from Israel, Ethiopia, Uganda, and the Congo. An agreement in 1972 formally ended the war, promising southern autonomy. The second war began when Nimiery instituted Sharia law in 1983, and was led by Lt Col John Garang (a Christian Dinka). While fighting against the SPLF/A, Nimiery supported Muslim Eritrean separatists (Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front and Tigre Peoples Liberation Front) against Marxist-Leninist Mengitsu Mariam in predominantly Christian Ethiopia. Nimiery also supported anti-Khaddafy groups in Libya and Chad after an alleged assassination attempt by Khaddafy. Nimiery was ousted by a coup in 1985 amidst popular uprisings and a failed economy. 

Sudan’s first democratic elections (1986) benefited traditional Islamic groups in the better funded and organized north. This brought Sadiq al Mahdi’s National Umma Party into power. With Sharia Law in the north and a civil war raging in the south, Prime Minister Sadiq was on the cusp of an agreement with anti-Sharia political parties when Brigadier Omar al Bashir’s coup displaced him (1989). That brought the Muslim-Brotherhood dominated National Islamic Front (NIF, Hasan al Turabi) into power.  

Bashir’s 20-year rule of ethnic and religion-based clientelism leveraged Islamist extremism to repress southerners. As the People’s Defense Militia massacred and enslaved opponents, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the entry of US forces brought jihadists to Sudan, including Osama bin Laden. Sudan’s Popular Arab and Islamic Conference (PAIC) in 1991 attracted activists and training camps that led to bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998). UN Security Council sanctions and pressure from neighboring states compelled Bashir to dissolve the PAIC and expel foreign fighters. Bashir continued to support rebel movements in Uganda such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (Joseph Kony) to attack logistics bases supporting Garang. In response the US provided aid (p. 9) to Uganda’s government (President Yoweri Museveni). In Darfur, local agriculturalists (Fur, Mazalit, Zaghawa) fought with Arab pastoralists as the latter moved in to occupy land. The Sudan Liberation Army and Justice & Equality Movement fought against Bashir’s national military forces and local militias. The African Union brokered a ceasefire (2004) and two peace agreements (2005, 2006) monitored by an AU/UN peacekeeping force. The longest civil war in Africa was officially over. The agreements led to the establishment of South Sudan in 2011, which reduced Sudan’s oil production by 75%. In 2019, after months of popular protests over inflation and unsustainable subsidies, a military coup supported by police removed Bashir:

FIGURE 9: Timeline of Bashir’s Removal from Power in Sudan

The current civil-military transitional government under Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok (an economist) consists of 11 members, five of whom are military leaders. Of those five, Abdel Farrah al Burhan runs the joint Transitional Sovereign Council (TMC) while Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” heads the Rapid Support Force (RSF). The RSF is the successor to Bashir’s paramilitary militias. Al Burhan has already struck an agreement with President Benjamin Netanyahu to recognize Israel, without consulting civilian leaders. Hemedti has an independent financial base (First Bank of Abu Dhabi and Algunade gold company) and is forming his own political party. Sudan seeks financial support from the IMF in return for anti-money laundering/combating financial terrorism and technology for patrolling its expansive borders. Counter terrorist efforts include rehabilitating foreign terrorist fighters and a broad social, economic and religious approach to preventing radicalization.


Independence from Great Britain inside the Commonwealth as the Gold Coast, 1957; Republic of Ghana in 1960. Kwame Nkrumah, Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention and motivated by pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, was elected Prime Minister. Nkrumah emphasized Marxist-Leninist African nationalism to replace a raw materials (cocoa, gold)-based export economy reliant on imports for manufactured products. The Avoidance of Discrimination Act (ADA, 1957) prohibited parties based on race, region or ethnicity. Opposition parties sided with regional feudal chiefs and cocoa farmers whose prices were suppressed by the government’s agricultural marketing boards. Nkrumah used the ADA and the Preventive Detention Act (1958) to imprison rivals, favoring the coastal Fante over the inland Asante people. Economic growth suffered from fixed prices, corruption among the civil service, high government debt, and depleted foreign exchange reserves. Nkrumah’s turn to the Soviet Union for aid promoted centralized state planning without financial discipline. His one-Party (Convention Peoples Party, CPP) state suppressed opposition groups such as the United Party, National Liberation Movement, and Asante ethnic group.  His coalition of elites pretended piety to a vague “Nkrumahism” ideology based on anti-imperialist socialism. The narrative was backed by funding from East Germany and China, and used to subvert nine other non-socialist African states. At the same time, Nkrumah sought and received US funding for the Volta hydroelectric dam. He also promoted, unsuccessfully, a continental union of all African states. Widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, corruption, and CPP control of the military triggered a coup while Nkrumah visited China in 1966.

Nkrumah’s ties with other socialist-leaning heads of state (Nasser-Egypt, Keita-Mali, Touré-Guinea, and Nyerere-Tanzania) generated multiple options for exile. He accepted Toure’s offer of sanctuary and co-presidency until his death (1972).

The ensuing National Liberation Council’s rule moderated Nkrumah’s aggressive pan-Africanism, supporting territorial integrity and non-interference. Elections in 1969 brought Prime Minister Koji Busia, who turned toward Western-financed private enterprise. His economic austerity measures were unpopular, triggering a coup by Colonel Ignatius Acheampong (1972). Acheampong’s National Revolutionary Council reduced government expenditures and enacted import restrictions  but the economy worsened. In 1979 a coup by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings executed Acheampong and his successor, Lieutenant General F.W.K. Akuffo. Elections that year brought Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party, overthrown two years later by Rawlings’ second coup. Rawling’s military rule relied on “revolutionary” organizations of intimidation such as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Commando units, the 31st December Women’s Organization, the June 4th Movement, People’s Militia, and Mobisquads. Lifting the ban on party politics months before announcing elections, Rawling’s won the Presidency in 1992 and 1996 as founder of the National Democratic Congress Party. 

Since then, Ghana’s political system pits the socialist National Democratic Congress against the liberal New Patriotic Party. The linkages that matter are who gets infrastructure projects, utility rate and cocoa price reductions, and government contracts. The two-term limit (four years each) has resulted in alternating victories every eight years as each party institutes patronage among donors, members and their families, and the civil service. Noah Nathan’s diagram captures the trap of clientelism:

FIGURE 10: Clientelism in Ghana


Independence from France in 1960 after the federation with Mali (formerly French Sudan) broke apart. As in all other French colonies except Guinea, Senegal voted “yes” to continuing ties with France as citizens, an ultimatum given by President Charles DeGaulle to ensure a French presence in Africa. Socialist Leopold Senghor, who had represented Senegal-Mauritania territories in the French National Assembly, and had held multiple positions in Senegal, France and the Council of Europe, was elected President. Senghor either assimilated rivals such as secessionists in Casamance, or had them jailed— sometimes “made to disappear.” Senghor arrested government ministers who opposed his policies and declared his Senegal Progressive Union (UPS) as the only party. The UPS approved a new constitution that created a powerful Presidency. Senghor retained French advisors and subsidies, and secured US aid for agricultural privatization (rice), bank reforms to meet IMF standards, and expanded access to primary education. 

Casamance separatists in the African Independence Party (PAI) and African Regroupment Party (PRA-S) opposed the UPS for perpetuating ties with capitalist- imperialist France and the West. Senghor’s combination of Party bans, deportations to military camps and patronage inducements eliminated most opposition. In 1968, however, students then trade unions protested rising prices, unemployment and foreign influence in industry. The unrest spread to South Africa, and the Congo, each with their own local contexts for protest. In 1976, Senghor designed constitutional revisions that permitted two opposition parties—the Senegal Democratic Party (PDS, Abdoulaye Wade) compelled to be right of UPS, and the communist PAI (Majhmout Diop, and fractious others) which was already left of UPS. The “limited pluralism” led to a fourth, conservative, party, the Senegal Republican Movement (MRS, Boubacar Gueye). 

Senghor resigned in 1981, causing Prime Minister Abdou Diouf to become Senegal’s first Muslim President. This resulted in more parties, and influence from relatively tolerant Muslim brotherhoods whose patronage system focused on peanut farmers. Elected in 1983, Diouf began Senegal’s liberal democracy as a competition among different Party patron-client linkages. The growth of a free media helped proliferate interest groups and political parties. Diouf finally lost an election in 2000 to Abdoulaye Wade, whose winning coalition required 40 political parties (The Economist 17 May 01). Wade faced “unlimited pluralism” by now. M23 (Movement of June 23d), an umbrella group of 200 organizations, organized protests that forced Wade to drop a scheme to lower the percentage needed for re-election from 50% to 25%. Wade’s disregard of the two-term limit that he wrote into the constitution and the grooming of his son as successor led to defeat in 2012.  Mackey Sall, founder of the Alliance for the Republic Party (former PDS members), was elected on a platform for responsible development and anti-corruption. Sall’s re-election in 2019 was aided by food price reductions and pension increases fueled by the highest GDP growth in Africa (6%). 

The Senegalese Army currently supports the peacekeeping mission in The Gambia as part an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiative. The mission was a result of Gambia’s 22-year presidential incumbent Yahya Jammeh to accept electoral defeat in 2016.  ECOWAS military intervention permitted President Adama Barrow begin his term of office in the first first democratic change of leadership since formal independence. The Senegambia bridge (drawn as a green bar) across the Gambia River links the northern and southern halves of The Gambia, and connects northern Senegal to southern Senegal’s secessionist Casamance Province:

FIGURE 11: Senegambia Bridge


Independence from Belgium, 1960. The DRC’s complicated electoral system, a misfit Belgian construct, brought incompatible leaders into power. Conservative President Kasavubu (OBAKO—a Bakongo ethnic Party) and revolutionary Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (MNC—a multi-ethnic Congolese Movement Party) were to lead a divided, enticingly mineral-rich country surrounded by predatory states. Soon Kasavubu and Lumumba faced a mutiny in the army, intervention by Belgian paratroopers, a UN Security Council Resolution to oust Belgian aggressors, and the announced secession of Katanga Province. Katanga’s president, Moishe Tshombe, was supported by Kasavubu and mining companies. Kasavubu favored UN peacekeepers. Lumumba wanted Soviet forces to crush Katangan independence. Into this fray Army Chief Sese Seko Mobutu (minority Ngbandi ethnic group) led a coup, bargained with Kasavubu, and sent Lumumba to Katanga where he was executed. Mobutu’s second coup (1965) expelled Kasavubu and by then-Prime Minister Tshombe.

Mobutu began his rule by publicly executing ministers and banning the 200-plus ethnic political parties. Approved were “Mobutuism” and the Popular Movement of the Revolution. Mobutu renamed the country Zaire (“vast river”) to promote national identity as he seized foreign and local assets to build a patronage network. His staunch anti-communist claims won support from the US, France and Belgium. Mobutu’s infrastructure projects were under-utilized, behind schedule and over cost, but the incurred debt bought loyalty among clients. Productivity and the price of copper, DRC’s main export, declined. 

The resultant economic collapse and Mobutu’s foreign policies invited external intervention. In 1978, international investors pressed Mobutu into accepting foreign oversight of tax collection, import duties and foreign exchange regulations. Corrupt practices continued. The previous year, rebels in the Front for the National Liberation of the Congo (FNLC, Nathaniel Mbumba, ex-police chief in Katanga) had invaded Katanga from Angola. They included Katangan exiles and were supported by Cuba, China and the Soviet Union. Mobutu had allowed the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA, Holden Roberto, Bakongo ethnic base) to operate out of Zaire against the neo-Marxist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA, President Agostino Neto). French intervention with recruits from Morocco, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Gabon protected resident Europeans, Mobutu and mining interests. In an apparent agreement with Neto, Mobutu expelled FNLA leader Roberto from Zaire and repatriated Zairian refugees in northern Angola. This induced some FNLA members to join UNITA or consider “reintegration” with MPLA.  Mobutu’s external support changed with the apparent end of the Cold War. After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the US and France began to tie aid to democratization. Belgium terminated all assistance. 

Mobutu’s increased vulnerability had consequences. In 1995, the ethnic Tutsi Rwanda People’s Front (RPF, Paul Kagame, Tutsi ethnic group base), which had defeated the genocidal ethnic Hutu regime, invaded eastern Zaire where Mobutu had permitted Rwandan refugees to escape. These included the perpetrators of genocide, who began to massacre local Tutsis in Zaire. The RPF organized the anti-Mobutu Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of  Congo-Zaire (AFDL, James Kabarebe, Tutsi commander). Laurent Kabila, a minerals trafficker in Zaire, funded the AFDL to extend his control against Mobutu and anti-MPLA forces operating in Zaire. The latter included the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA, Jonas Savimbi, Ovimbundu ethnic base) supported by the US. In 1997, forces from Rwanda, Uganda (President Yoweri Museveni, a Rwandan refugee), Burundi, and the AFDL defeated Mobutu who fled to Morocco. Kabila was left with a fractious AFDL riven by Rwandan-Ugandan and Congolese-Angolan interests. 

Kabila declared himself President of the renamed DRC and ordered Rwandans and Ugandans out. This appealed to Hutu and Bantu ethnic groups but alienated minority Tutsis.

Seeking revenge and mineral resources, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi (led by a Tutsi-led minority Army) attacked the DRC, erroneously assuming Angola and Zimbabwe would be neutral. Kabila obtained support from three members of the South African Development Community (SADC)—Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe—and from Chad and Sudan, who shared interests in existing borders. Angolan President dos Santos was content with the overthrow of Mobutu, having cultivated Kabila. President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (Shona ethnic group base) had lucrative defense and mineral deals in Zaire to protect. The first agreement to end the nine-country regional war was signed in 2002, a year after Kabila’s assassination. His son Joseph assumed the Presidency. The fighting persisted. A subsequent peace agreement in 2008  provided for more continued monitoring by UN, AU and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. 

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Force Intervention Brigade (est. 2013) operate against a variety of networks. These include criminals funded by minerals, arms, drugs and human trafficking and 140 armed groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), allied Congolese Nyatura groups, Uganda-supported Allied Democratic Forces, Nduma Defense of Congo-Renove, Yazembe and Makatumba Mai Mai groups, and Burundi-supported groups:

FIGURE 12: Armed Groups in eastern DRC

Complicating this picture is that armed groups and government forces are not separate. Government forces include actors who cooperate with and confront armed groups at the same time. They thrive via multi-layered political, military, economic and social networks. Complex linkages abound. In 2018, President Felix Tshisekedi (Union for Democracy and Social Progress Party) was elected in the DRC’s first ever peaceful transfer of power. Yet former President Joseph Kabila, senator for life, is widely regarded as controlling Tshisekedi’s agenda as his Common Front for Congo Alliance Party retains a political majority in the National Assembly.  Moreover, the breakup of Congo’s provinces from 11 to 26 and corresponding dominance of ethnicity-based governors risks alienating more of the population with exclusionary polices.  

MONUSCO today is stretched thin, from protecting human rights Nobel Prize Laureate Denis Mukwegi against death threats to securing citizens from “ADF” attacks, some of which are claimed by the Islamic State. The Islamic state is a networked organization that exploits domestic, regional and international agendas.


Fearing subversion from Angola, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Sese Mobutu Zaire appealed to the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations to supply arms to both UNITA and FNLA. South Africa (Prime Minister John Vorster, apartheid ruler) also supported the FNLA and UNITA with arms and training. From Namibia, South African forces began a series of attacks against South West African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) and MPLA forces. US support to rebel groups in Angola became overt around the same time (1985) with the repeal of the 1976 Clark Amendment that prohibited military assistance. South African operations were limited and successful in securing the 1988 Tripartite Agreement. South Africa and Cuba agreed to withdraw forces from Angola and assure Namibian independence. The agreement also established the UN Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM I), which amounted to 70 observers. Following the USSR’s collapse, external support for the MPLA, FNLA and UNITA evaporated. As a result, remaining oil revenues funded MPLA while diamond smuggling funded UNITA. Periodic negotiations produced the Bicesse Accords in 1991 (UNAVEM II)—whose violations led to US sanctions on UNITA in 1992–and the Lusaka Protocol in 1994 (UNAVEM III). The subsequent UN Observer Mission in Angola (1997-1999) was terminated due to continual conflict. US intelligence and partners assisted the MPLA government in finding Savimbi which led to his death (p. 371), UNITA’s surrender and a peace agreement (2002).  By then, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Neto’s successor since 1979, had privatized state assets to build his patronage system. While in the process of converting the UNITA and FNLA threat into a reintegration challenge, the government deployed 30,000 troops to Cabinda province. Operations have eviscerated the FLEC but brutalized the population such that radicalization and small-scale fighting continues today. 

FIGURE 13: Terrorist Financiers in Angola

In 2017 Joao Laurenco, MPLA loyalist tapped by dos Santos to be his successor, was elected President. Laurenco then tapped into widespread disgust with dos Santos wealth and corruption. The family’s vast patronage system included diamond concessions, land titles, import licenses, trade monopolies, easy credit, state-provided foreign medical care, foreign-financed scholarships, bonuses, and foreign consultancies. Inadequate implementation of anti-money laundering legislation creates business havens for international terrorists such as Kassim Tajideen and Hatem Barakat. Recently Laurenco had Jose dos Santos (son of Jose Eduardo) arrested for embezzling Angola’s sovereign wealth fund. He also removed Isabel dos Santos (daughter of Jose Eduardo) as head of Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol, and froze her assets. Laurenco’s agenda appears to be economic reform to diversify beyond off-shore deep-water oil to stimulate broader growth, and to wage a selective anti-corruption campaign to keep the MPLA in power. 


Independence from Great Britain, 1910/1931; independence from apartheid rule, 1994. The Union of South Africa (1910) was a result of British forces defeating Dutch-origin Boers (Dutch East Indian Company invasion of Table Bay, 1652) and indigenous kingdoms (Khoeson, Xhosa, Pedi, Zulu). The discovery of mineral wealth (gold in 1886) intensified European rivalry and institutionalized exploitation of Africans. By the time Great Britain recognized South Africa as an independent state (1931), whites had legislated their political, social and economic dominance. The South African Native National Congress (SANNC), forerunner to the African National Congress (ANC), was formed in 1912 to resist these laws. World War I expanded South African state prestige as its white-led forces fought in South West Africa (colony of Germany, henceforth occupied by South Africa), “German” East Africa, the Middle East, and the Western Front in Europe. The SANNC and Egyptian pro-independence Wafd party invoked President Woodrow Wilson’s call for self-determination, but were banned from the Versailles Peace Treaty.  After the war, South African whites increased control over labor, mining, land ownership, and agriculture. World War II induced growth in manufacturing which brought rural labor to cities, complicating white control. Increasingly educated and politically aware black South Africans criticized apartheid (“separateness”). The immediate postwar result was deepening institutionalized racism as the Nationalist Party (NP) won the whites-only general election (1948). 

The basis of the apartheid system was the Population Act and the Group Areas Act (1950). This legislation divided people into whites and non-whites, the latter placed into ethnic and tribal categories complete with where they were permitted to live (“homelands”).  Ensuing protests were blamed on Soviet-inspired communism. Resistance was brutally crushed, as in the massacres at Sharpeville (1960) and Soweto (1976), and the beating death of Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko (1977).  ANC leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned (1962-1990) for conspiracy to overthrow the state. The ANC first attracted black activists, “radical” whites, Indians, ex-communists, and dissidents exiled and domestic, then became a mainstream global movement.

In response to decades of international sanctions to induce reform, Prime Minister P.W. Botha set up township councils for a semblance of black governance, declared a state of emergency (1985), and increased military operations against SWAPO in Namibia (formerly South West Africa). The Tripartite Agreement (1988) led to an independent Namibia (1990) where SWAPO won the free elections.  Botha successor F.W. de Klerk repealed the Population and Group Areas Acts, ended the state of emergency, unbanned political parties, and political prisoners.  In South Africa’s first multi-racial election (1994), the ANC won 63% of the vote compared to the NP’s 20%. The National Assembly unanimously elected President Nelson Mandela, with two Vice Presidents —Thabo Mbeki (ANC) and F.W. de Klerk (NP). 

Mandela’s reconciliation administration sought to attract foreign capital without nationalization, implement conservative economic reforms, and counter an entitlement culture. A central issue was (and is) how to use the country’s finite mineral resources, which provide an immediate means for: (a) redistributing domestic wealth; and/or (b) diversifying the economy to compete internationally over the long-term.  Mandela’s successors have all have been ANC loyalists: Thabo Mbeki-1999; Jacob Zuma-2009; and Cyril Ramaphosa-2018. Mbeki and Zuma resigned early under accusations of corruption. President Ramaphosa inherited insolvent state-owned enterprises and a patronage system that perpetuates junk-rated national debt. Labor unions, corporations, and government bureaucracies fight over budget and tax entitlements, exacerbated by increased debt incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

FIGURE 14: South Africa Debt-to-GDP Ratio

South Africa is well-off compared to other African states, with the second largest GDP (Nigeria #1) and zero-reported terrorist incidents last year. Internet connectivity is the highest on the continent, particularly on a per capita basis:


The current recession, debt-to-GDP ratio, and connectivity make South Africa vulnerable to physical and cyber attacks on infrastructure and finance.


Independence from Great Britain (Bechuanaland protectorate since 1885) in 1966. The effect of colonialism on Botswana was minimally negative compared to elsewhere in Africa, as Bechuanaland governance was traditionally inclusive with one dominant ethnic group (Tswana) and various tribal chiefdoms. There was no British development effort. Instead, Great Britain was blocking German expansion in South West Africa (Namibia) from linking with that of the Boers in the Transvaal region. For Batswana leaders, British protectorate status also deterred annexation into the Union of South Africa, a threat that disappeared only with the end of apartheid rule. Note: Basutoland protectorate (1868-1968) became independent Lesotho; Swaziland protectorate (1903-1968) became independent Swaziland then eSwatini (“land of the Swazi,” 2018).

FIGURE 16: Protectorates and Union of South Africa, 1922

In the aftermath of the Sharpville massacre in South Africa (1960), activists formed the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP, nationalist-socialist). Seretse Khama, Bamangwato chieftain-designate, at least until he married Englishwoman Ruth Williams, formed the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP, nationalist-capitalist).  Multi-party talks led to agreement on a constitution that included universal suffrage, a National Assembly and a House of Chiefs. In 1965 Seretse Khama was elected Prime Minister, then President the following year. 

The BDP has won the Presidency ever since, boosted by the discovery of diamonds in 1967. The sudden national wealth has been accompanied by prudent economic and social policies. A government information campaign includes a Diamond Trading Company Botswana book targeting secondary school learners to value the diamond industry and social responsibility.    

President Seretse Khama won two re-elections until his death (1980). His Vice President, Ketumile Masire (journalist, BDP), assumed the Presidency and won three subsequent elections before retiring (1998). His Vice President, Festus Mogae (economist, BDP), won the election and served two terms (2008), now the maximum allowed. His Vice President, Ian Khama (Army officer, son of Seretse Khama, BDP), won the election and served two terms (2018). Khama broke with the BDP to support the Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC, pro-labor coalition Botswana National Front, socialist BPP, and progressive Botswana Movement for Democracy). His Vice President, Mokgweetsi Masisi (politician, BDP), won a close election (2019), garnering support from young professionals. His National Vision 2036 policy emphasizes economic diversification, sustainable growth, job creation and investment in human capital. 

Botswana’s dependence on diamonds had led to an upper-middle income rent-seeking economy that taxes and distributes wealth from a finite resource. A long-standing legal mandate places all rights of ownership in the state, and regular public meetings promote a traditional sense of accountability. Botswana’s land-locked physical isolation limits alternative employment, so developing skills and technology to compete in the global economy is critical. Challenges include developing specialized knowledge in anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing and managing the use of bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Armed conflict is most likely with respect to territorial issues. As a Southern African Development Community member committed to tariff-free trade and peace among its members, Botswana intervened with South Africa (1998) in Lesotho, an ethnically homogenous state similar to Botswana. The Lesotho Prime Minister had requested the intervention after four months of opposition parties contesting the election and fears of a military coup. Botswana defense force individuals have participated in UN peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Sudan. Water rights are periodic flashpoints, particularly in the Okavango River Basin. Botswana-Namibia conflict over the Chobe River and Lake Liambezi were legally resolved by the International Court of Justice (1999) in Botswana’s favor, but droughts draw Namibians into Botswana waters.

FIGURE 17: Chobe River in Zambezi River Basin
FIGURE 18: Lake Laimbezi in Zambezi River Basin

Relations with Namibia and South Africa over trans-boundary aquifers in Central Namibia, Western Botswana and northern South Africa are being resolved via the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

FIGURE 19: African Aquifiers


Ethiopia has been an independent Christian-dominated empire or state since the first millennium, staving off pastoralists, sultanates and colonizers until Benito Mussolini’s invasion in 1935. As Africa’s only founding member of the League of Nations (1920), Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie (“Power of the Trinity,” original name Ras Tafari, Amhara ethno-linguistic group) appealed for protection but received none until 1941. By then, Great Britain had responded to Italian expansion and led an African force that restored Selassie to the throne. Britain recognized Ethiopia’s independence but occupied Eritrea during the Second World War. In 1952, Eritrea was transferred to Ethiopia under a UN resolution that approved autonomy “federated with Ethiopia under the Ethiopian crown.” In 1953, a defense installation agreement granted the US use of an Italian then British communications facility in Asmara (Kagnew Station), overflight and naval port access. By threatening to turn to Moscow for support, Selassie compelled a mutual defense agreement with the US that provided $278 million over the next two decades presumably to counter Soviet support of Somalia. Economic aid comprised $350 million during the same period.

In 1962 Selassie, claiming divine rule, annexed Eritrea outright which triggered a 30-year armed struggle. His advocacy of Amhara culture across a Greater Ethiopia meant to counter liberation propaganda such as broadcasts from Egypt, but stoked resistance among Oromo, Tigre and other ethnic groups. Religious affiliation among ethnic groups in Eritrea (Tigrinya, Tigre, Kunama, Rashaida, Biden, Saho, Afar, Beni Amir, Nera) coincided with attitudes toward annexation. Christians favored federation while Muslims tended toward independence. Nearly every major ethnic group in Ethiopia has confronted central authority in its successively monarchical, Marxist, and federal forms.Ethiopia’s 83 languages and 200 dialects derive from four types of languages—Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilotic. The plurality of Ethiopians speak Amharic (34%) or Oromo (30%).  Semitic languages such as Amharic and Tigrean prevail in the north-central highlands. Cushitic languages such as Oromo, Afar and Somali predominate in the central, southern and eastern lowlands. Omotic languages such as Kefficho and Gamo are spoken in the southern highlands. Nilotic languages such as Nara and Koman are found along the Nile and border with Sudan.

FIGURE 20: Ethno-linguistic Map of Ethiopia

Besides these linguistic variations, which tend to coincide with ethnicity, there is an east-west Christianity – Islam identity difference that also coincides with ethnicity:

FIGURE 21: Religious, Tribal and Administrative Boundaries in Ethiopia

In Eritrea, Tigray and Afar ethno-religious differences can be seen in more detail. Saho and Afar linguistic groups are overwhelmingly Muslim but comprise only 7% of the population:

FIGURE 22: Ethno-demography of Eritrea

Somali irredentism is one result of these differences. In 1963, ethnic Somalis led by the Ogaden Liberation Front rebelled, incited by newly independent Somalia’s quest to recover lost territory. Selassie’s forces counterattacked Somali border posts and towns, forcing a ceasefire. Land and tax reform is another persistent issue throughout Ethiopia’s provinces as commercialization of agriculture led to evictions of small farmers. At the same time, state industrialization plans favored big business and foreign capital, restricting agitated locals to the retail sector. In the military, factionalism and local conditions led to mutinies in 1974 that found common cause among land and tax reformists, underpaid teachers, labor unionists, progressive students and drought and famine-striken peasants in Welo (S.N.N.P.R., Figure 21) and Tigray. A military Derg (committee) of self-proclaimed Marxists arrested  control, arresting dissidents and executing rivals. Mengitsu Mariam eliminated his rivals to become the Chairman of the Derg. Haile Selassie mysteriously died of suffocation. 

Mengistu proclaimed Marxism-Leninism as Ethiopia’s ideology and prosecuted a brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). Forced agricultural collectivization and resettlements broadened opposition to the government. Soon Mengitsu faced two other fronts—the right-wing Ethiopian Democratic Union (Mengasha Seyoum, pro-monarchy grandson-in-law of Selassie) and the left-wing Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Army (unemployed students and state intellectuals united in anti-military rule).

In 1977 Soviet-equipped Somali forces invaded Ogaden, and the avowedly Marxist Ethiopian government requested Soviet support. Russian tanks and 17,000 Cuban troops saved Mengitsu from defeat. Follow-on Russian assistance and the lack of a coherent American response bred disastrous Soviet style economic reforms. Politically, Mengitsu directed genocide against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party and Tigreans that included neighborhood-organized murders and famine-inducedrelocations. By post-USSR 1991, a broad Eritrean Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, Isaias Afwerki, Tigre ethnic group) included Eritrean, Amhara, Oromo, and Tigrean groups fighting for autonomy or independence. The ethnic based coalition defeated the factions-led Ethiopian army conscripts, acquiring abandoned equipment and eager deserters. Mengitsu fled in exile to Zimbabwe. 

TPLF leader Meles Zenawi was selected by the EPRDF as President of a provisional government which invited regional representatives to draft a constitution. The new constitution established a federal republic in which any region had the right to secede. Eritrea seceded in 1993. Zenawi was elected chairman of the TPLF, head of the EPRDF, and Prime Minister (1995). Tigreans dominated the government (pp. 185-186), annexed portions of neighboring regions, and received disproportionate international aid and budgetary outlays.

In 1998-2000, Ethiopia-Eritrea border incidents led to a costly civil war that left Ethiopian forces occupying the disputed town of Badme. The ceasefire established a boundary commission, which ruled that Badme belonged to Eritrea. Zenawi continued to reject the ruling. He died in office (2012), succeeded by his deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn (also Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wolayta ethnic group). Desalegn presided over a fractious EPRDF that continued Tigray-dominated economic expansion and tolerated human rights abuses against protestors. Double-digit GDP growth caused more Oromo-Tigray ethnic violence, not less. Desalegn resigned in frustration (2018) calling for “reforms that would lead to peace and sustainable democracy.” Abiy Ahmed Ali, Chair of the Oromo Democratic Party in the EPRDF, was elected Prime Minister Abiy. In a bold move, he agreed to accept the Ethiopia-Eritrean border commission’s ruling, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving that conflict. The Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship signed by Prime Minister Abiy and President Afwerki led to the UN Security Council lifting sanctions against Eritrea for supporting al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia. Domestically, Abiy is attempting to replace the EPDRF with a more inclusive Prosperity Party:

 “We reject the dangerous demagogues who argue that we cannot be our ethnicity—Oromo, Amhara, Somali, Tigrayan, Sidama—and be an Ethiopian at the same time. We reject the notion that we can’t practice our religion—Christian or Muslim,—and be an Ethiopian at the same time. We can love what we are without hating who we are not.”

The Economist 17 Sep 20

The TPLF views such idealism as a power play to weaken Tigray influence by replacing the EPRDF coalition of big populations (Amhara, Oromo, Tigray) with smaller regional parties. This dares Tigreans to secede. Abiy also declared capitalism as the way to national development.


Independence from Great Britain (British Somaliland) and Italy (Italian Somaliland) as Somali Republic, 1960. Somalia nationalists see this independence as partial, due to colonial powers’ seizure and transfer of territories referred to as “Greater Somalia”—present day Djibouti (French Somaliland, 1896), eastern Kenya (British colony of Kenya, 1920), Eritrea and the Ogaden in Ethiopia (British-occupied Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland, ceded to Ethiopia in 1948).

FIGURE 23: Greater Somalia

The Somali Youth League (Aden Abdullah Osman, Hawiye clan) in Italian Somaliland and the Somali National League in British Somaliland won the majorities in pre-independence legislative assemblies, preparing Somalis to consider parliamentary democracy. With one radio station, a 5% literacy rate and a spoken not written Somali language, the five largest clans (Darod, Hawiye, Isaaq, Dir, Rahanweyn [Dighil and Mirifle]) determined voting. Osman was elected provisional President and selected Abdirashid Ali Shermarke (father—Majeerteen sub-clan of Darod; mother—Hagar Gidir sub-clan of Hawiye) (10) as Prime Minister.

FIGURE 24: Somali Ethnic Groups

Shermarke immediately secured $44 million in credit from the USSR, given British and French failure to agree on supplying and training Somalis. US assistance was limited by relations with Ethiopia.). In 1963 Somalia invaded Ethiopian claimed territory and lost anyway, unable to sustain the logistics into Eritrea and the Ogaden. The same year the UK sided with Kenya against Somalia’s territorial. In 1964, the Ethiopian delegation to the inaugural meeting of the Organization of African Unity (hosted in Addis Ababa) out-persuaded President Osman, obtaining unanimous support for existing colonial legacy boundaries. In 1967 Shermarke defeated Osman for the Presidency, then accepted $63 million Soviet offer of military aid, a proposal that outbid the US-West Germany-Italy offer of $18 million.

Shermarke was assassinated by his bodyguard in 1969, which triggered a coup led by Army chief Siad Barre (Marehan sub-clan of Darod). Barre established a socialist Supreme Revolutionary Council and announced the Somali Democratic Republic. He nationalized major industries and increased ties with the Soviet Union to equip an ill-disciplined Somalia National Army (SNA) for the invasion of Ethiopia (1977). That campaign failed when Moscow switched sides, providing decisive airpower. Barre directed mass executions of military dissidents, prompting a coup attempt (1978) that Barre blamed on the Majarteen sub-clan of Darod. Majarteen members included Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, later to become President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG, 2004). Barre’s reprisals triggered the rise of more militias and movements throughout the 1980’s such as genocide against the Isaaq clan. To understand what happened in the 1990s to today, we need to appreciate the importance of clans. 

Somalia is said to be relatively homogeneous country in terms of language (95% Somali, three dialects), ethnicity (85% Somali) and religion (90% Sunni Muslim). This commonality evaporates when we consider the diversity of clans.

FIGURE 25: Somali Clan Families

Somali clans are exclusionary, reinforced by finite territory and resources. In the countryside, “pastoral democracy” presents visitors and transients four options—negotiate, use force, pay, or be absorbed/killed. In the cities, exclusionary access produces: “green lines” that prevent free transit; ethnic enclaves that reject others; cosmopolitan neighborhoods if protection is successfully negotiated with the dominant clan; and slums of internally displaced persons exploited as expendable labor (Ken Menkhaus and Ismahan Adawe, “Political Inclusivity in the Somali Urban Context,” War and Peace in Somalia: National Grievances, Local Conflict and Al-Shabaab, pp. 33-34). The following extract from Jan Abbink’s work on Somali clan genealogy is an essential reference point that needs to be kept up to date:

FIGURE 26: Somali Clan Genealogy

Siad Barre’s rule consisted of a clan-based, armed monopolies that coerced rents in controlled territory. Aggregates such as the United Somali Congress (USC, Hawiye clan) in central Somalia and the Somalia Patriotic Movement (SPM, clans in Ogaden) in the north were neither united nor patriotic beyond factional interests. Inter-clan militia wars raged over neighborhoods, ports, people and state territories, particularly after Barre fled into exile (1999).

Whereupon Somaliland (Dir-west, Isaaq,-central, Darod-east) declared independence (1991)—still not formally recognized by any country—and Puntland (largely Darod) declared autonomy within the union (1998) to escape the violence.

FIGURE 27: Administrative Boundaries and Islamists in Somalia

Widespread human rights abuses and famine (1992) brought a UN Security Council arms embargo and a 24-country Task Force (UNITAF) afflicted by disagreement over whether to disarm militias. Subsequent United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM I and II) expanded to deliver humanitarian assistance and disarm militias, but lacked command & control for unified peace enforcement. Inconsistencies reinforced clans’ perceptions of UN non-neutrality. This despite unanimous agreement at a national reconciliation conference on fair-share representation in a transitional national council, central administrative departments, and regional and district councils. 

Intra-USC conflict between Mohamed Farar Aidid (head of Somali National Alliance [SNA], Habr Gidir sub-clan of Hawiye) and Ali Mahdi (Group of 12, Abgal sub-clan of Hawiye) persisted. Ali Mahdi had been selected by the USC as interim President after an international conference in Djibouti (1991) that Aidid boycotted. Aidid militia attacks on Pakistani forces implementing disarmament led to UN Security Council condemnation, more UNOSOM and civilian casualties, and a failed US operation to capture Aidid (1993). The American casualties (18 dead, 75 wounded) prompted President Bill Clinton to withdraw US forces. UNOSOM continued refugee relief, reconciliation meetings, and police training but the inability to implement disarmament in the midst of expanding violence led to UNOSOM’s withdrawal (1995). Following a reconciliation agreement between Ali Mahdi and himself, Aidid declared himself President (1995). He was killed in Mogadishu in 1996, most likely by militia under Osman Hassan Ali Otto (Aidid’s former financial advisor, Habr Gidir sub-clan of Hawiye), aligned at the time with Ali Mahdi’s militia.

Over the next two decades, African governments and regional organizations increasing assumed more responsibility for security in Somalia, while Somalis sought alternatives to clan warfare. 

The USC-SNA Habr Gedir selected his son, Hussein Farrah Aidid, as successor. Hussein is a former US marine who had deployed to Somalia protecting humanitarian aid from his father’s militia. He ended up renouncing his presidential aspirations, cooperating with US counter-terrorism operations, and serving the Transitional Federal Government in several ministerial positions. In 1997, the OAU brokered an agreement among Somali clans to form a National Salvation Council and Executive Committee as the UN stood up a Political Office for Somalia. In Cairo, League of Arab States-hosted  negotiations led to a ceasefire and agreement to establish a transitional government. In 2000, negotiations in Djibouti led to transitional parliamentary elections that selected Abdiqassim Salad Hassan (Habr Gidir sub-clan of Hawiye) as President. Hassan went through three Prime Ministers, indicating the difficulty of maintaining a ruling coalition. This was particularly problematic when the Ethiopian government was mediating conflict in Somalia via the regional organization, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Somali government forces continued to fight Islamist armed groups, particularly militia under Musi Sudi Yalahow (Abgal sub-clan of Hawiye) in Mogadishu. In 2001, negotiations in Kenya agreed on a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) structure, followed by a ceasefire in 2002. 

In 2002, the African Union became more involved, designating Mohamed Ali Foum of Tanzania special envoy to Somalia. Negotiations hosted by IGAD (representatives from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia) achieved a ceasefire among five Somali factions and the transitional national government. The negotiations were hosted in Kenya, where Somali politicians forming the transitional government lived.

From 2004-2008, Prime Minister (2003) then President Abdullahi Yusuf (Somali Salvation Democratic Front co-founder, Puntland President, Majeerteen Harti sub-clan of Darod) acted against ICU militias. Following a ceasefire in 2006, a desperate Yusuf allied Somali government forces with long-standing rival Ethiopia, which added 10,000 troops. Somali and Ethiopian troops defeated Islamic Court Union militias (Abgal sub-clan of Hawiye). The ICU administered Sharia law justice among clans, which proliferated Islamic courts among radical Islamist organizations—notably the Islamic Union (Hassan Dahir Aweys, Habr Gidir sub-clan of Hawiye) and al-Shabaab (Ahmed Abdi Godane, Isaaq clan, pledged to al-Qaeda). When the Somali Parliament declared martial law in 2007, the AU established the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

AMISOM’s role, authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 2124, began as a replacement of Ethiopian forces that fought ICU. Since then Ethiopian and Kenyan forces have partially joined AMISOM but also conducted rivalrous campaigns (Kenya and Ethiopia invasions of Jubbaland, 2011). Subsequent uncoordinated withdrawals recreate space for al-Shabaab. AMISOM victories against al-Shabbab in southern Somalia and regional capitols have provided space, when sustained, for intra-Somali dialogue to build state institutions of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS, est. 2017). The lack of a more unified AMISOM command and control system, however, exacerbates Somali divisiveness. A country-specific, sector by sector operational approach ensnares AMISOM forces in inter-clan disputes such as in 2016 between Habr-Gedir and Bimaal in lower Shabellel (pp. 52, 56-57). Al-Shabaab can exploit AMISOM operations as foreign infidel interference (especially if Ethiopian troops are involved), just as Al-Shabaab can ride local grievances against federal interference.   

In 2009, Presidential elections held in Djibouti (due to lack of security in Somalia) were won by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (Abgal sub-clan of Hawiye), former leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Sharif appointed Omar Abdirashid Ali Shermarke (son of former President Shermarke, Majeerteen sub-clan of Darod) as Prime Minister. Considered an ICU moderate, Sharif had allied with al Qaeda leader Hassan Dahir Aweys in the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia to fight against Ethiopian troops supporting the TFG. In 2014, Shermarke became Somalia’s first ambassador to the US in 20 years, having parted with Sharif on the issue of how to gain approval of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) draft Constitution.  

AMISOM, UN and AFRICOM operations created such space for democratic competition. In 2017, the first FGS President was elected—Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo. Farmaajo had lived in the US for 25 years after applying for asylum as First Secretary in the Embassy of Somalia in Washington, DC (Siad Barre regime). The renewal of AMISOM’s mandate in 2019 acknowledged the significant yet fragile progress made in three critical areas: 

  • Developing SNA capabilities to replace AMISOM. An example is being able to occupy and hold areas wrested from Al Shabaab control.
  • FGS and Federal Member States (FMS) dialogue and reconciliation, particularly autonomous Puntland (President Said Abdullahi Mohamed Deni) and on-the-verge Jubaland (President Ahmed Mohamed Islam Madobe). Independent Somaliland does not regard itself as an FMS of Somalia.
  • Implementation of a National Security Architecture and election preparations for 2020/2021. Deni and Madobe accuse Farmaajo of electoral changes that would reduce the influence of clans. FGS heavy-handed financial and security pressure on federal member states seeks to install compliant members of parliaments and presidents. Overall, the Somalia Transition Plan’s timeline depends upon developing FGS-FMS political inclusivity, degrading Al Shabaab, and maintaining UN, EU and other partners’ support to AMISOM and the FGS.  


This dense-pack review of ten countries in Africa concludes Part I.

So far, we have: (a) clarified SOCAFRICA strategy with a Hierarchy of Effort; and (b) characterized the information environment with some historical context.

Part II adds more characterization and context, and starts the analysis beginning with linkages in Somalia.

Part II will conclude with a synthesis and recommendation of synergistic strategies to guide course of action development.

Author: Thomas A. Drohan, Ph.D., Brig Gen USAF ret.

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