State of Conflict in Four African Trouble Spots

On December 16, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) and the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence (21CSI) at the Brookings Institution co-hosted a discussion on the state of conflict and the outlook for peaceful resolutions in Somalia, the Central African Republic, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with 21CSI and director of research for Foreign Policy at Brookings, set the stage for the discussion, noting the good news coming out of Africa before he and the other panelists discussed the four trouble spots:

Africa is showing many signs of promise and Mandela’s legacy not only in his own country but more generally is a positive one. There are a lot of things happening on the continent of Africa that are quite encouraging and I’m sure many of you know this well and have worked or studied places on the continent that are showing greater signs of movement towards democracy, towards economic reform, greater prosperity. The growth rates in Africa in recent years, continent wide, have been higher than in most decades in the past which is admittedly a pretty low bar but it’s still an encouraging trend.


Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with 21CSI, spoke about Somalia. “Somalia, she said, “has … been very much of a success story over the past two years,” largely due to the increased security. “Somalia has been in the past couple years in better security shape and economic shape than it has been in the past two decades.” This however, is due to external forces rather that internal ones: “The Somali national security forces continue to be very weak and very undertrained, plagued by clan division, poor discipline, logistics and other support problems.”

Felbab-Brown indicated that there were some positives in Somalia, yet “The country is still plagued by massive corruption … and worse yet is it is exceedingly clan based.” Ultimately, she said that “The verdict is still out on Somalia … it is not at all clear if this moment of great opportunity will be seized.”


Amadou Sy, a senior fellow with AGI and current member of the editorial board of the Global Credit Review, observed about the Central African Republic (CAR) that “From 1960 until now they have only had 10 years of civilian rule.”

He described the most recent crisis in CAR that began with a coup nine months ago. Initially, according to Sy, a positive trajectory toward elections in 2015 was established. However, “Very quickly the situation was uncontrollable and with that came the violations of human rights.” Sy was encouraged by the international response to the issue; however, he concluded that the solution and ultimate goal should not be external. He advocated for a rapid intervention force within Africa itself.

Sy said that peace in CAR would not be easily achieved: “Even if we have peace we will have to open a new page and it will be a long time for us to come to a normalized situation in this country because it’s about nation building.”


Ambassador John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, spoke extensively about many of the problems in Nigeria, including:

control by elites: “The country, essentially since independence, whether under the military or under civilians, has been run by elites.”

ethnic cleansing: there has been “a remarkable degree of ethnic cleansing … and the government, both federal and state, has been unable to really bring the violence under control.” 

corruption and theft: “The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had somehow or another failed to remit 49 billion dollars in revenue to the Central Bank.”

2015 election: “if [current President Goodluck Jonathan] wins in 2015 the alienation of the North will probably accelerate” and “if he fails to win then the Delta will almost certainly blow up.”

“It is rather difficult right now to be cheerful about the outlook for Nigeria,” Ambassador Campbell concluded.


O’Hanlon ended the panel discussion with a “perhaps somewhat out of the box or unusual” suggestion that “the United States consider participating in the U.S. peacekeeping mission in Congo with combat forces, or I should say with regular army units.”

He argued that the experience that the armed forces have gained in “mentoring, partnering with and training indigenous forces [in Afghanistan and Iraq] could be applied to the [Democratic Republic of] Congo.”

O’Hanlon acknowledged that this specific military technical recommendation action would have to be “woven into a broader construct.”

Get full event audio here.

Colleen Lineweaver contributed to this post.