“About two years ago to the day, I was asked to give a presentation to Army staff in the bunker on African security,” said U.S. Army Major Shannon Beebe (pdf!), now Army Intel’s top Africa analyst. “At that time, the chief of staff of the Army was General Peter Schoomaker. And I started off the presentation with two quotes.”
The first one was, Africa is a continent, not a country. And the second one is that there is a reason that Africa is shaped like a question mark. It’s because we don’t understand what drives and determines security on the African continent. General Schoomaker, to his credit, was intrigued and challenged myself, along with a couple other folks, to go out and to canvas the Africa community of interest and ask them how they do view their security.
So began what was easily the most fascinating Department of Defense “blogger’s roundtable” teleconference yet. Beebe explained that we as Americans don’t always appreciate what “security” means to Africans — and that mismatch could have enormous strategic implications as the U.S. military increasingly turns its attention to a previously neglected continent.
Foremost, security in African means “human security,” Beebe said. “Security is not going to be based as much on state-centric models, is not going to be based as much on state-versus-state type of engagement, but the insecurities and the conditions of human beings that create these insecurities across state borders.”
What are these conditions? Broadly speaking, they fall into the following categories: economic, health, personal security and community security. Creating security in Africa isn’t so much about propping up governments with treaties, arms and training. No, security means feeding the starving, helping the unemployed find work, protecting refugees and helping struggling villages gain access to basic services like health care, water and power. By devolving our strategy from the level of states to the level of individuals, we might begin, slowly, to encourage a stable and prosperous Africa, one that benefits the whole world.
This is it, folks: a sketch of what “soft power” really means on the ground, and a preview of how the U.S. must transform itself to address a broad range of 21st-century security threats. Read the transcript of Beebe’s talk, and check back tomorrow when I’ll highlight one particularly important change that must take place if we are to make genuine progress securing Africa.
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