U.S. Security Assistance to Africa Gets a New Governance Focus

by Colby Goodman · September 2nd, 2014.

After years of some U.S. security experts pushing for the United States to provide more governance-related U.S. security assistance to African security forces, the White House recently boosted such governance assistance efforts. Introduced quietly at the end of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the White House’s new Security Governance Initiative (SGI) aims to improve governance-related security assistance to six Africa countries initially, but only time will tell if the program can be both viable and sustainable.

The military coup in Mali in March 2012 appears to be one of the catalysts for the new initiative. Following the coup by a U.S. trained Malian captain, U.S. defense experts and Defense Department officials are saying they should have spent additional time on strategic civil-military institution building or military ethics in Mali. Instead, the United States had focused much of its security assistance to Mali and other countries in the sub-region on operational or tactical assistance to combat Islamic militants.

In Niger, for instance, the U.S. government provided an estimated $12 million in operational-related assistance versus an estimated $339,000 in institution building-related assistance to its security forces in fiscal year 2012. And, the institution building assistance to Niger included very little aid to improve oversight and accountability mechanisms and promote human rights and the rule of law. U.S. security assistance under Section 1206 and Foreign Military Financing is generally focused on building the operational capacity of foreign security forces.

The President’s SGI seeks to help address this gap in good governance-related U.S. security assistance by spending $65 million on six countries (Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia) for the initial year. The administration may expand the initiative to other countries in the future. While this dollar amount is still relatively low compared to U.S. operational-focused security assistance in West and North Africa, it is a step in the right direction.

According to the White House, SGI will focus on “civilian and military security institutions and the ministerial functions that provide state oversight of the security sector.” In some countries, it will focus on strengthening the law enforcement sector to better respond “to critical incidents in urban areas”. In other countries, SGI will include assistance to defense, interior and justice ministries and institutions. 

What remains unclear is if SGI funds will support other key aspects of security sector governance in the six selected African countries. Malians, for instance, say having Parliaments provide real oversight of defense spending is important. Other security sector governance experts argue strengthening civil society to work on security sector issues and addressing corruption are also critical. If the United States does not plan to address these areas, it could coordinate with other donors to help ensure these areas are covered.

Recognizing that security sector governance reform is a long-term commitment, the White House has stated the SGI is a multi-year effort where funding will be increased according to the needs. As the initiative moves forward, however, it may face difficulties in Congress, which has often favored short-term operational-focused security assistance. But, with more U.S. defense experts and Defense Department officials promoting the initiative, this may be a new opportunity to assistance African countries with building more legitimate and accountable security forces.


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