Rising Islamist violence in focus at Obama-hosted Africa summit

Rising Islamist violence in focus at Obama-hosted Africa summit
A sign is seen promoting the US-Africa Summit is seen July 31, 2014 outside the US Department of State (L) where President Obama will host African Leaders August 4-6,2014 in Washington, DC.

LAGOS - Rising violence from brutal Islamist groups in Africa will be a key issue at an Africa summit US President Barack Obama is hosting in Washington this week.

But while insecurity created by Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon, for instance, or by the Shebab in Somalia and parts of Kenya and Uganda, is plainly worrying, the United States is wary about greatly increasing direct military support to beleaguered governments.

Instead, experts say, Washington prefers to support multinational African forces like those of the African Union (AU), which, despite problems, are seen as more transparent than many national armies.

Obama has said the summit - a first-of-its-kind meeting which opens on Monday - will provide a forum to "talk to Africa about security issues".

The goal is to work with "strong partners" that have "pretty effective security forces," saving the US military money and helping keep Americans "safe over the long term," he said.

But such strong partners are not always available, and analysts say that if the United States hopes to have an impact in the continent's hot spots it will have to work with some of Africa's most troubled militaries.

Just hardware and money, please 

American officials have for years said they are willing to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram, whose uprising has killed more than 10,000 people since 2009.

But the group's kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April grabbed the world's attention - including that of US First Lady Michelle Obama - and spurred America in May to offer military and intelligence support.

Nigeria accepted the offer, but evidence suggests that Abuja was not particularly interested in operational help or training, said John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, who is now with Council on Foreign Relations.

"Please drop off some hardware. Please write a cheque," was a likely Nigerian response to US defence and FBI experts who landed in Nigeria, a country with a decades-long history of corruption, Campbell told AFP.

Aside from marginal training and surveillance assistance, the ex-ambassador said he had seen "almost nothing" emerge from the new cooperation.

For Campbell, the question facing US policymakers is: does Nigeria's military, which has a grim human rights record, "want help from outsiders or not?"

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