An easy way to measure how the recent protests and near-regime changes in several African countries is to compare the under-reported outcomes with the much publicized results. It was a spectacular show of civil disobedience, of course, but it was also packed with unexpected pattern of behavior if not comic eccentricities: the US instantly presents itself the mid-wife of the changes, its advisers overcrowding the policy space pasted by new statements about terrorist threats and a call for anti-terrorist cooperation. Examples include Algeria, Ethiopia and Sudan. Is this a mere twist of coincidence?
Indeed Algeria is the latest addition. The developing situation in the country is worrisome. Though Algeria has been a bastion of independent foreign and security policy in the region and a beacon of stability it is now vulnerable to deadly and destabilizing riots. The new situation will have the potential to degrade its ability to deliver security. Civil strife in Algeria could also distract from its counter-terrorism efforts and open a broad geographic expanse to violent extremist organizations, allowing these groups to operate more freely and potentially travel unhindered in the Maghreb. This is the more so because like Algeria most of the targets of the recent protests have been regional counter-terrorism strongholds.
Make no mistake these particular group of countries have been exceptionally wary and suspicious of US involvement in domestic and regional affairs. Algeria’s history of resistance to foreign interference in its domestic politics is well known. Besides, all of them play a significant role at the AU and in regional security and counter-terrorism issues. Hence, their policy impact at the AU level will be affected.
If the US does have genuine security concerns it can do so through a clearly defined cooperation than by snatching the policy processes of these countries. Counter-terrorism works well when the countries of Africa’s regions are in the lead. For this to happen the US need to improve its understanding of the inner workings of African states and the regional conflict systems surrounding them. Besides, heavy US involvement only attracts terrorist threats. Wherever US security experts concentrate and gather, jihadists coalesce. Western media outlets and their embassies want us to believe that protests are leading to democratic changes. Really?
Unfortunately, not a single outcome from US involvement in uprisings and protest movements has helped African governments domestic and regional interests, and few lessons were learned from the instability in Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen that the United States can apply to Algeria. Respecting the sovereign and independent control of economic, political and security policies would ensure a favorable outcome for all concerned and avoid the inadvertent creation of a worse problem (as happened in Libya). In short, U.S. policy should be predicated on the primacy of African sovereignty and it should ensure that it acknowledges their right to self-determination.
But the more immediate threat is that, thanks to these interventions before and in the aftermath of the protests, most of the countries has a dangerous political and economic crisis on their hands. The United States should not try to directly steer the political trajectory of African governments in the name of democratic change, reform or newly found terrorist threats. It is only the privileging of sovereignty and stability above all else that could allow these countries to avert the looming crisis.
Regimes may be falling and citizens are struggling to make their voices heard. But don’t be fooled. So far the so-called protests are not leading to real change , stability or democracy. They are only leading to policy processes of ‘the previously confident’ African countries being rushed by Western governments. And unfortunately this remains the most recognizable change.