Africa Security Program

The Africa Security Program (ASP) is a concerted effort to study both the strategic role of Africa in global affairs and the sources, dynamics, and consequences of security challenges on the African continent. Sponsored by International Security Studies (ISS) at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, and in collaboration with centers of excellence across the university, the ASP is a forum for scholarly engagement, multi-disciplinary research, and teaching on Africa’s security challenges, their international significance, and Africa’s increasing influence in global affairs.

Through workshops, seminars, conferences, and a wide range of intellectual activities, the ASP brings together faculty, students, practitioners, and other stakeholders in an effort to build a critical body of knowledge about African security issues and to offer novel, creative mechanisms to address them. The ASP is directed by Benedito Machava, Assistant Professor of History, along with the active participation of ISS-affiliated faculty and practitioners, including Ambassador Harry Thomas and Ambassador Bisa Williams, both Senior Fellows at the Yale Jackson School.

Addressing the variety and significance of African security challenges and their regional and global implications requires the development of new collaborations, the formulation of new questions, and the promotion of in-depth reflection across academic disciplines. The ASP’s initial areas of research emphasis include:

The role of Africa in global affairs

How do African states influence international politics, develop and deploy their own agency, and navigate competition and conflict among powerful nations and blocs, such as Russia, China, Europe, and the United States? What are the critical strategic considerations facing African leaders, and how do they determine their short- and long-term interests in global affairs?

The significance of Africa in global affairs has increased considerably in the past few decades. The continent’s natural resources have driven the most advanced technological innovations in Silicon Valley and fueled China’s exponential growth. In 2015 China replaced Europe as the main investor in Africa, a move that has been accompanied by the establishment of more than 50 Confucius Institutes across the continent. While Africa is yet to receive its fair share of the economic bounty its natural resources have made possible, it is poised to play an increasingly important role in world affairs, particularly in the post-pandemic recovery period.

According to the World Bank, Africa has the world’s largest free trade area and a 1.2-billion-person market. While the global population is aging, the median age in Africa is 18 and is projected to rise only slightly to under 25 in the foreseeable future. This makes the continent the only place in the world with a demographic dividend, able to replace its working age population and continue to expand its consumer base. The demographic dividend and the current supply chain crisis are likely to encourage the relocation of Western manufacturing companies to Africa.

These economic opportunities will come with serious security global challenges, however, especially for Africa. One sign of Africa’s increasing importance in global politics and economics is that cyber tech and intelligence firms are now targeting African elections for manipulation and distortion, for instance. Resource exploitation in Africa has long been associated with political corruption, social instability, environmental degradation, and violent conflict. The combined effects of socio-political instability, a rapidly growing youth population, and climate and environmental crises have made Africa the most unstable region of the world and, together with the Middle East, a main source of both legal and illegal immigration to Europe.

With its 54 countries, all with seats in the United Nations, Africa will play a greater role as the world moves towards new forms of political and military polarization. Most of the countries that abstained from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 are in Africa, despite the fact that the war will create significant food insecurity on the continent for years to come. Given Russia’s historical engagement with Africa’s decolonial struggles and China’s increasing economic hegemony on the continent, it is likely that significant battles over new spheres of influence will take place in Africa.

Violent Islamist extremism and how to confront it in the African context

What is the source and appeal of violent Islamist extremism among certain populations on the African continent? What are the key lessons learned from the American-led “war on terrorism” in the Middle East, and what strategies are most effective for combating terrorism across Africa?

Africa is also taking over from the Middle East as the new frontier on terrorism. Since the rise of Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria in 2009, several Islamist terrorist groups have emerged in West Africa and East Africa, and are now spreading towards Southern Africa. While some groups have remained local, others have been absorbed into international terrorist cartels with links to the Islamic State. Poverty, economic exclusion, and political instability have contributed to the expansion of terrorist insurgencies is such places as the Sahel, Somalia, and now the Swahili coast from Kenya to northern Mozambique.

Recent studies have shown that while religious radicalization is an important factor, terrorism has emerged in ungoverned environments where the breakdown of formal state authority has led to social marginalization and political disenfranchisement. Terrorism and other security threats, including drug and human trafficking, are not the causes of ungoverned spaces, but their byproducts. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram in the Sahel, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa, and Al-Shabaab in East Africa have taken advantage of ungoverned spaces to propagate their ideology. Africa’s ungoverned and ungovernable spaces are even more likely to provide safe havens to terrorist syndicates in the years ahead.

Climate change as an existential security risk on the African continent

Which African countries and regions are most vulnerable to climate change disruptions? How might climate change further exacerbate political instability, conflict, and humanitarian crisis?

The continent contributes less than three percent of the global emissions responsible for the climate crisis. Yet, it is by far the region most negatively affected by global warming. Extreme climate fluctuations have reduced agricultural output by 34 percent since 1961, pushing millions of people to the brink of starvation. The United Nations estimates that by 2030, 118 million people will be exposed to severe droughts, floods, extreme heat, and hunger. The effects of the crisis will be felt the world over.