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Analyst: Counterterrorism Likely Focus of US-Africa Summit

  • James Butty

FILE - President Barack Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete stand for the national anthem during an official dinner at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013.

FILE - President Barack Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete stand for the national anthem during an official dinner at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013.

Africa analyst Bronwyn Bruton said she does not expect to hear a lot about human rights issues during the forthcoming US/Africa leaders’ summit in Washington.

Bruton, deputy director of the Africa Center at the U.S.-based Atlantic Council, said she is concerned that the summit might disappoint many of the African leaders if each of them does not get a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama to talk specifically about what the United States can do for each country.

She said Obama’s foreign policy speech to graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point suggested he was proposing the “Africanization of US security policy.”

“When I heard his speech, what occurred to me is that he’s almost talking about the Africanization of security policy, because the kinds of strategies he’s talking about sound a whole lot like the strategies the Obama administration has been using in Africa for the last couple of years,” she said.

Bruton said those policies include working with African governments to deal with the terrorist threat and working closely with UN troop-contributing countries to make sure they are equipped to provide peacekeepers to countries in crisis and, at the same time, preparing to deploy US Special Forces, if necessary.

Obama focused the bulk of his speech on counterterrorism. Bruton said that puts Africa at the forefront of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, especially with the emergence of al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

“There are a number of people who see Africa as the final frontier for al-Qaida. Al-Shabab is definitely a very real concern to US policymakers because it has launched a number of major terrorist attacks, and the threat that it poses in Kenya, for example, is considered so severe that the US has had to restrict the size of its embassy,” she said.

Bruton said the other terrorist threats, for example al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram in Nigeria, are largely ‘theoretical’ when it comes to a direct threat to the US mainland.

“The administration is worrying about Boko Haram, but I think that it worries mostly about Boko Haram as a local threat to stability in Nigeria, not so much at this point as an al-Qaida affiliate,” Bruton said.

As Obama prepares to host about 50 African leaders in Washington this August, some have suggested the issue of human rights abuses in some African countries forms part of the discussion.

Bruton said she doesn’t expect to hear a lot about human rights abuses in Africa during the summit because human rights have not been the focus of the Obama Administration.
She also said she’s concerned that the summit might disappoint many of the African leaders if each of them does not get a face-to-face meeting with Obama.

"I don’t expect to hear a lot about human rights during the upcoming African leaders’ summit. I’m also concerned that this summit might disappoint expectations, if they don’t get to real face-to-face conversations about what the United States can do in each individual country in Africa, because the economies of each African nation obviously are very distinct. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all policy,” Bruton said.
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