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Understanding Government Responses to International Intervention

PI: Jessica Piombo, Naval Postgraduate

Year selected for award: 2017

All Intervention is Local: Understanding Government Responses to International Intervention

Principal Investigator: Jessica Piombo, Naval Postgraduate School

Co-Investigators: Pierre Englebert, Pomona College

Years of Award: 2018 – 2021

Managing Service Agency: Army Research Office

Project Description:

African responses to security threats such as terrorist activities vary from robust counter-insurgency, as is the case of Ethiopia, to relative absenteeism, as in Mali. What are such variations a function of? In this research project, we highlight the extent to which variations in patronage, Instrumentalization of disorder, the propensity and nature of a country’s extraversion, and the historical legitimacy of the state affect country perceptions of security threats and the strength of government response to them (or a government’s “will to live”). We explain why these variations condition the nature and effectiveness of international, and particularly US, security-sector assistance to these countries. We focus on “terror” as the main threat and compare two countries from the Horn of Africa—Ethiopia and Kenya—with illustrations from two countries from the Sahel—Burkina Faso and Mali.

This question speaks to a broader dynamic, in which foreign assistance programs, especially in fragile and insecure states, tend to be designed and implemented by outside actors as technocratic responses to situations of political disorder, state weakness, and civil unrest. The interventions, often built on international best practices, rarely unfold in the ways initially conceived by their designers, however, because in reality, these are highly political processes. This is especially true in the realm of public, national, and international security. We propose to investigate how the ways that local actors and institutional environments engage with these projects during implementation significantly changes their nature, by proposing two related questions. First, how do local political dynamics explain variations in the degree and type of engagement of African regimes with outside actors, particularly in conflict-affected countries where international and local agents share sovereignty? Second, how do these variations condition the course of the intervention and the actions of the interveners?

When we ground the analysis of the dynamics of interventions in fragile states in basic concepts and theories of African politics, how does this shift our understanding of process? What seeming puzzles, inconsistencies, and unexpected dynamics become more understandable – perhaps things that could have been anticipated? This research links fundamental political concepts such as neopatrimonialism, instrumentalization, extraversion, state historicity, and hybrid governance, to crucial policy issues of relevance to the DoD, such as intervention design, local capacity building and overall complex peace-keeping operations that involve a significant degree of state reform and reconstruction (security sector reform, public sector reform, democratization, etc.). Interventions are conceived technocratically, but they are fundamentally political undertakings. By “bringing the politics back in,” we believe that our research can make new strides in our understanding of how African governments respond to and interact with external interventions, particularly those in conflict affected and fragile states, delivering insights that can be applied to the design and implementation of future interventions.

We divide the research into two phases. First, we look at patterns and trends in how African states respond to diverse threats, and ask what conditions this response. Some states seem to have a strong response to threats, exhibiting a distinct “will to live.” Others, in contrast, tolerate ongoing challenges seemingly without a coherent response. Why is this? In our analysis we focus on a set of four domestic politics dynamics: patterns of neopatrimonialism and corruption, the instrumentalization of disorder, extraversion strategies, and the nature and embeddedness of the state. Second, we investigate how the domestic response then shapes the security relationship with the United States, i.e., the degree and nature of the collaboration with the US, and the outcomes of security assistance programs. The four countries we have selected belong to two broad theaters of SSA for the US: the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) for Burkina Faso and Mali, and Operation Enduring Freedom-Horn of AFRICA (OEF-HA) for Ethiopia and Kenya. This is important, because countries that launch a stronger response are the ones that are more likely to effectively engage in security assistance programs, but ironically, they are not always the ones that the United States and other international actors target in their programs.

Select Publications:

Piombo, Jessica and Pierre Englebert. 2019. The Will to Live? State Responses to Existential Threats and US Security Sector Assistance in Africa. Paper prepared for the European Consortium of African Studies (ECAS) conference, Edinburgh.