Ambassador Gabriel: In Africa, Solidarity Will Lead to Stability

Edward M. Gabriel (Ambassador to Morocco, 1997-2001)

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In early August, the heads of state of nearly fifty African countries gathered in Washington, DC for the first-ever US-Africa Leaders Summit. Over the course of several days, attendees participated in a myriad of forums, roundtable discussions, meetings, and other events to address issues of mutual concern, like economic development and investment, security and counterterrorism, women’s rights, and youth engagement. Individual business deals were signed and joint statements were issued. From a big-picture perspective, the Summit can be boiled down to two goals: promoting development and securing stability on the continent.

As any development or security expert will tell you, the two are intertwined, and you cannot have one without the other. The real question then becomes HOW to achieve these goals. If the Summit provided an answer, it was that of continental integration—in other words, solidarity. And for good reason.

Only through cooperation and solidarity will African countries be able to confront their most pressing challenges. This is the case whether coordinating border policies for public health emergencies like Ebola or countering the spread of terrorist groups as it is in the case of combating human trafficking and illicit finance. President Obama emphasized this throughout his remarks during the Summit, referring to “collective efforts against corruption,” deepened “security cooperation to meet common threats,” and a common pledge to step up efforts to pursue reforms that attract investment, “reduce barriers that stifle trade—especially between African countries—and to promote regional integration.” This is the only way for Africa to achieve growth that engenders stability and security.

The reality is that regional rivalries have been and continue to undermine cooperation on security efforts and leave space for extremist groups to operate. This is true across the continent, but it has recently become an especially serious concern in North Africa, which is particularly susceptible to violent extremist groups like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. For another, the lack of intra-regional economic integration is a serious obstacle to successful and sustained economic growth.

One example of a festering issue that stands in the way of regional integration in North Africa is the Western Sahara, which has been a cause of tension between Morocco and Algeria for almost 40 years. The costs of the current situation are well-known. Intra-Maghreb trade is one of the lowest in the world. According to Oxfam France and the World Bank, among others, the five countries of the Maghreb lose up to 3% of GDP per year due to the absence of regional integration – roughly $10 billion dollars annually. And effective strategies to counter terrorism suffer from the absence of full regional cooperation.

The US clearly has a key role to play in addressing such issues in order to foster regional solidarity. In this instance, the US must make its policy on the Western Sahara public – that of support for a solution based autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty to be negotiated by the parties. It also must do more so support the Moroccan autonomy plan, which it deems, “serious, realistic, and credible,” so that the conflict and be resolved and neighboring countries can finally rebuild ties and work together to promote security and peace.

The US must also cooperate closely with African security forces— as it already does with Morocco – through joint military training exercises, for example, as well as police training.

And the US must not lose sight of the fact that there is no security without development—human, economic, and otherwise—and should help its allies in their efforts to target the root causes of instability both domestically and regionally. A perfect example of such efforts is Morocco’s truly innovative imam training program, launched late last year to train imams from Nigeria, Tunisia, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, and the Maldives to spread the teaching of moderate, tolerant Islam that rejects extremism.

There are also opportunities for the US to support its allies through triangular aid programs – through which the US provides funds and technical assistance to traditional aid recipients through a third party country with expertise and regional status. Such programs can help ensure that such development assistance is best targeted to reduce poverty and promote development.

Morocco is already deeply engaged in South-South cooperation, particularly in West Africa, and has signed technical assistance and cooperation agreements for agriculture, water, energy, industry, and job training in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Gabon, among others.

The US must provide financial, logistical, and moral support to efforts like these and those supporting human, social, and entrepreneurial development. To achieve stability and sustained growth, the US should embrace uniquely Africa-relevant, African-grown programs that increase cooperation among African countries, and promote triangular aid from the US to those countries working together to reduce regional strife and promote economic opportunity and security for their people.

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