Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2010

Africa's Irregular Security Threats: Challenges for U.S. Engagement

Andre Le Sage

May 2010

Institute for National Strategic Studies


The United States has a growing strategic interest in Africa at a time when the security landscape there is dominated by a wide range of irregular, nonstate threats. Militia factions and armed gangs are ubiquitous in the continent’s civil wars, fighting both for and against African governments. Other security challenges include terrorism, drug trafficking, maritime threats such as piracy in the Indian Ocean, and oil bunkering in the Gulf of Guinea. Organized criminal activities, particularly kidnapping, human smuggling and trafficking in persons, weapons smuggling, and environmental and financial crimes, are increasingly brazen and destructive. These are not isolated phenomena. Rather, they create a vicious circle: Africa’s irregular threat dynamics sustain black markets directly linked to state corruption, divert attention from democratization efforts, generate or fuel civil wars, drive state collapse, and create safe havens that allow terrorists and more criminals to operate.