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Threats to Civilian Security in Africa


People inspect a damaged mosque following a suicide bomb explosion led by two women in Maiduguri, Nigeria, March 16, 2016.

Africa’s ability to make what could be enormous contributions to the global community is facing challenges that still impede Africa’s success and slow its progress.

President Barack Obama has said that Africa is on the move, pointing to the strides made on the continent in the areas of health and economic growth. But, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall recently noted, Africa’s ability to make what could be enormous contributions to the global community is facing challenges that still impede Africa’s success and slow its progress.

The first is the threat of violent extremism. In both the east and the west of Africa, violent groups like al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram are devastating peoples’ lives, eroding economies, and undermining governance.

“This is an issue of great concern to the United States and to our partners in Africa and a real focus of our partnership with African nations,” said Under Secretary Sewall.

A second area of challenge is the unequal treatment of women and girls. In far too many places, Under Secretary Sewell observed, that treatment includes violence, including female genital mutilation and cutting, which is a severe threat to health; sexual violence by intimate friends or family, or by security forces operating in the name of the states; or early, forced child marriage, which prevents girls from getting an education and contributing to their countries’ economic future.

The third key area is the problem of impunity within African nations. “The United States,” Under Secretary Sewall emphasized, “wants to work with African nations to try to address those justice deficits which are so important” – important, not only for economic progress, but for social and political progress as well.

In a discussion with international reporters, Under Secretary Sewall noted, among other issues, President Obama’s support for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa; the work the United States has done to spotlight the importance of good conduct by national contingents of military and police forces involved in those missions, and to insist on the end to impunity for crimes those forces may commit; the investment the United States has made in tracking and disrupting terrorist financing; and the emphasis the United States believes is required to highlight the need for African women and girls to be allowed to fulfill their futures.

President Obama has said that Africa’s progress depends on good governance, respect for human rights, security and peace. The United States remains Africa’s close partner and friend in pursuing each of these goals.

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