Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, submitted the remarks below for the record at today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, "LRA, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, AQIM and Other Sources of Instability in Africa."
The statement follows:
Thank you, Madam Chairman, for holding this hearing, and welcome, Ambassadors Yamamoto and Benjamin. This is a very important opportunity to discuss not only some of the conflicts and destabilizing forces in Africa, but also the factors that drive and perpetuate these conflicts and the larger context in which they play out.
As we explore the threats posed by violent and extremist groups, and the destruction they have already wrought, it is critical to remember that the way we define the problem will to a large extent determine the way we choose to address it. For instance, if we view the problem as merely the existence of these armed forces, then we are led to a very narrow, military-oriented solution.
However, if we understand the problem as being a broader one -- one that involves poor governance, rampant corruption, extreme poverty and inequality, and competition over resources -- then we will obviously need to take a much broader approach.
Groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and al Qaeda in the Maghreb do not arise in a vacuum. They emerge and thrive in environments where there are few legal, peaceful and reliable methods for ordinary citizens to participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
When there are ethnic, religious or tribal groups who are excluded from the decision-making process, when local communities fail to reap the benefits of the rich natural resources below their feet, conflict is sure to follow. As noted by former Defense Secretary Gates, failed states – countries with abysmally poor government and dismal economic development – can turn into terrorist sanctuaries, with catastrophic consequences for the US.
One of the questions I hope we can examine today is the extent to which these extremist movements are home-grown, driven by local disputes and grievances, and the extent to which they are instigated and supported by international terrorist networks.
In either event, any solution will require helping African countries and communities to address the threats to their own human security. One of them is disease, such as HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, which not only take an enormous toll on human health, but also on economic productivity and institutional capacity. They have wiped out millions of parents, children, farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and in doing so have upended entire societies and cultures.
Another recurring source of instability is food insecurity. As we have seen in the Horn of Africa and now in the Sahel, food insecurity can cause massive movements of people, which facilitates the spread of disease, pulls apart the social fabric in societies and puts pressure on already scarce resources, fomenting conflict. The protracted influx of Somalis into Kenya and Ethiopia is but one example of this dynamic.
Climate change is not only disruptive —forcing populations to move and land-use patterns to change– but exacerbates the already overwhelming problems of disease, food insecurity, and lack of access to clean water. The annual conflict between pastoralists and nomads over grazing rights perfectly illustrates this challenge.
Competition for control of mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, combined with poor governance, is another volatile mix that has led to high levels of sexual gender-based violence, widespread killing, and forced labor.
Inter- and intra-state conflicts continue to be some of the most powerful drivers of instability. The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, not to mention conflicts within South Sudan are further aggravating the other drivers I have already mentioned.
Many terrorist threats trace their origins to failures in development and governance. Many prominent Nigeria analysts have emphasized the fact that the grievances of Boko Haram in Nigeria are domestic, and that they recruit by capitalizing on the frustrations of a northern population that has been neglected by the government in the South.
In Mali, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has taken advantage of the breakdown in governance and an already-existing Tuareg rebellion to infiltrate the north of the country. Even al-Shabab in Somalia has been able to thrive as the only viable form of government in a State that has completely broken down.
Similarly, weak civilian control over the military and fragile democratic institutions has enabled coups, crackdowns and repression. The recent events in Mali remind us that empowering a nation’s military to respond to terrorist threats and armed rebellions can also pose significant risks to domestic stability.
Dealing with such a wide range of threats requires a robust foreign assistance budget. As I have said repeatedly, it is infinitely cheaper to address these problems with economic and technical assistance now, rather than to wait until fragile states collapse or conflicts erupt in wide scale violence, and we have to call upon US forces.
We cannot continue cutting these critical programs and hope for better outcomes in the years to come. Improving health, education, governance, and professionalization of security forces will mitigate the entire spectrum of threats to stability, but it requires significant and sustained assistance. We must treat the disease, not the symptoms.
While it would be easy to focus our attention only on the threats and problems that face Africa, I hope we can also take this opportunity to review the progress that has been made and the successes that have been achieved in addressing the sources of instability. For instance, in 1989, there were only three democracies in Africa and today there are 19.
Just last month we saw a regional organization of states in West Africa act decisively to reverse the coup in Mali—something that may not have happened only a decade ago. Seven of the ten fastest growing economies over the last decade were in Africa. And in country after country, there are programs showing great promise in reducing corruption, strengthening civil society, building democratic institutions and expanding economic inclusion.
I hope the witnesses will also address what IS working and what we, here in Congress, can do to support effective solutions.
Thank you again, Madam Chairman, for holding this important hearing. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished panel.