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Africa Command Chief Looks to Help Nations Find African Solutions

A seated Marine Corps general speaks into a desk mic.
Senate Testimony
Marine Corps Gen. Michael E. Langley, U.S. Africa Command commander, provides testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee posture hearing in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 230316-D-KY598-1249F

Africa is a tremendously diverse continent with many cultures, languages, threats and opportunities that U.S. planners need to consider, said Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley, the commander of U.S. Africa Command during an interview. 

The nations of the continent do have one big commonality: They prefer to solve African problems with African solutions, the general said. 

Langley, who took command last year, has been visiting the nations of the continent and assessing how the United States can help nations achieve their own solutions.  

Men sit around a coffee table and speak.
Africa Meeting
Marine Corps Gen. Michael Langley, commander, U.S. Africa Command, meets with Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in Somalia on Aug. 29, 2022. The visit came as part of a four-day trip to Djibouti, Somalia and Manda Bay, Kenya, in late August 2022, to meet with host nation leaders, senior interagency officials and deployed troops to better understand the political and military situation in East Africa. They also discussed shared concerns and priorities and saw ongoing operations firsthand.
Photo By: Photo courtesy of AFRICOM
VIRIN: 220829-A-DO492-0002

"There are a number of drivers of instability from country to country, especially in developing democracies," he said. "I do have to start with climate change because it changes the ecosystem and the dynamics across a population or across society. And climate change can stoke conflict." 

Extremist groups — some locally grown, some imported — are metastasizing in ungoverned areas of the continent, the general said. These groups "stoke violence and prey upon the population of ungoverned space."  

The general said the nations of West Africa are at a tipping point. These nations have the will to progress, but not the resources to build the capacity needed to counteract the challenges, "whether it be climate change or about extremist organizations." 

"They're making choices, and sometimes they're making wrong choices in, for example, choosing Wagner to come in and establish their security," he said. The Wagner Group provides mercenary forces that have committed atrocities in Syria and Ukraine. The group is active in countries in Africa using the same tactics that brought international condemnation upon them.  

The Wagner Group is in Africa purely for economic gain, Langley said. "They are not in line with international norms, values or the international system," he said. "And some of these countries are starting to see that because some of their actions are against humanity." 

The United Nations has already called out the group for atrocities, their malign and nefarious activities and egregious actions against the populace, he said. 

The presence of the group threatens democracy and progress of developing governments.  

Since its founding in 2007, Langley's command has fully embraced the 3D approach of diplomacy, development and defense. Africom and its State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development partners work seamlessly to "create conditions that would promote stability and security and overall prosperity," he said.  

In some areas and some countries, the development portion of the whole-of-government effort will be in the lead. In others, this belongs to the diplomats. The defense portion is fully in support of this effort. 

West Africa is the most populous area of the continent and is a target of extremist groups. These include Boko Haram, Islamic State offshoots and others. "There are a number of countries that are on the cusp of making some decisions, or how to be able to address the threats across West Africa," Langley said. "We are concerned about Mali, we're concerned a bit about Burkina Faso, as well." 

Three men in military uniform point weapons in opposite directions.
Battle Drills
Royal Moroccan Special Operations practice close-quarters battle drills during Exercise African Lion 2022 in Tifnit, Morocco, Africa, June 23, 2022.
Photo By: Army Spc. Christopher Hall
VIRIN: 220623-Z-PI638-0888A

Langley wants to see a partnership among the nations of the region as they face these challenges. Africom can help the countries build capability and capacity in the military realm, but progress is needed "so they can build a representative government that can address some of these issues holistically," he said. "That takes time. That takes continuous investment. We need to be committed for the long term." 

The command works in close consultation with USAID and the State Department to form the overall strategic plans of action, "to ensure that we can be able to coalesce our efforts that assist African countries in their venture towards civilian stabilization," Langley said.  

Part of the capabilities Langley can bring to bear is the Army's security force assistance brigades. "I wish we had more," he said. "And we wish we had more state partnership programs as well." 

The latter is a National Guard program that teams countries with State Guard organizations. There are 16 nations on the continent partnered with State Guard organizations. For example, South Africa is partnered with the New York National Guard, Ghana and Benin are paired with North Dakota and so on.  

"These countries want to fully institutionalize a civilian run military, but with the capability and capacity to address some of the challenges," Langley said. "What better example than our citizen soldiers and airmen who are often the first responders when wildfires or hurricanes hit." 

These programs can be examples and suggestions to these nations, but they will put their own marks on any solution, the general said. "We characterize this as … Africans, providing African solutions to the African problems." 

He noted that in a recent trip to the Gulf of Guinea states, "they say the same thing: ‘America, we don't want your boots on the ground. But we do need your assistance in certain areas to build capacity in our governance,'" he said. "The governance piece is probably the panacea for stabilization. These countries realize that they don't need the U.S. telling them what to do, they just need a little help in certain areas." 

"That brings up an opportunity for me to just articulate where I see our needs, … and how effective we can be to operate at the speed of relevance in our processes, to bring resources, capabilities and assistance to ensure that these countries have what they need to take the next step," Langley said.  

"I use the metaphor of choice: this is a modest investment, and insurance for security and stability," the general said. "It's an investment. I remember when I first came into the military, and I saw a financial advisor. He told me, ‘Hey, just make this investment consistently and you will see in a number of years that compound interest is a beautiful thing." 

Careful but consistent investing in the nations of Africa will pay off for Africans and Americans in the years ahead, he said.

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