Princeton Lyman Interview (2006): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

A Strategic U.S. Approach to Africa: Conversation with Princeton N. Lyman, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; by Harry Kreisler; February 16, 2006

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In all of these issues, getting it right (going back to the strategic question) relates to the problem of terrorism, which we're so focused on in the Middle East. If things don't go well in these various areas we've been discussing, and the development and the solutions are not broad-based and look at all of the issues, then it's a potential breeding ground for terrorism.

We've already had it. We've already had two American embassies blown up in 1998, way ahead of 9/11. We know there are cells down the east coast of Africa, we now have a 1300-person combined joint task force in Djibouti, trying to stem the flow of people and weapons. We know that there are a number of sub-Saharan Africans in the insurgency in Iraq who will be coming back to Africa trained, etc. We know that terrorists target the Muslim populations and other divisive areas of West Africa. But you can't just have a military response.

The people that have taken this most seriously have been our European Commands and our Central Command. They're saying Africa is an important area, and they've responded. But you don't get the diplomatic oversight, you don't get the political guidance, you don't get the cultural and economic approaches that we need, and if we don't do that, these frustrations open up opportunities. It could happen in northern Nigeria, it could happen in the Sahelian countries, it could happen in other countries where there are real issues at stake.

You point out that we have no diplomatic presence in Khartoum or in northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is the home to Africa's largest Muslim population, 60 million people, and we have no diplomatic presence on the Mbasa coast where terrorist cells exist.

Right. And this is part of this draw-down of American diplomatic and intelligence capabilities during the nineties, after the Cold War. I get asked a lot, "Are you saying that al Qaeda is operative in northern Nigeria?" And I say, "No, I'm not saying that, but I do say we don't know what's going on in northern Nigeria because we have very little outreach, very little contact."

It's not just terror, it's the political issues in Nigeria. Partly it's political from the Iraq war but also the dynamics internally in which the United States is very much a target of antagonism in northern Nigeria. We need that outreach to deal with that and have a presence, have people in the embassy who speak the language, which we don't. I have talked to friends in the State Department in the Sahelian countries which border the Sahara, where there's also concern about anti-American and terrorist activity, and they don't have the staff to go up into those areas. So, we're flying blind in a lot of ways. You get a military response, you get the European Command coming in, but that can't be the only response we have.

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