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This is a major setback, during a time of general instability in that region. Last year, the leader of Gabon, Ali Bongo, was removed in a sudden military coup on Aug. 30.

On July 26 of the government in Niger was overthrown. In August 2020, Mali experienced a military takeover. Coups have also taken place in recent years in Burkina Faso, Chad and Guinea.

France is most tied to these nations culturally and economically, but the entire international community has stakes in this worrisome trend.

Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group has been notably active in trying to establish lucrative contracts in Africa. The terrorist Islamic State is also actively seeking influence.

The United States is proactively involved in collaborative efforts to encourage elected governments and control terrorism. Selectively, direct U.S. action has been taken. In January 2023, U.S. and Somali troops carried out successful operations against terrorist groups, including those associated with al-Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attacks.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasizes the crucial importance of intelligence professionals in making the successful operations possible.

For decades, Somalia has been generally regarded as a “failed state,” with the government unable to provide even elementary services or security. In 1993, a United States military mission to Somalia ended in frustration after the killing of 18 U.S. Army Rangers. The book and film Blackhawk Down describe this. Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia are a continuing, vexing challenge.

Regarding U.S. military challenges, initiatives and operations in Africa confirm the importance of special operations. Officers who specialize in unconventional warfare now reach top command positions, in some contrast to the institutional emphasis on conventional forces during the Vietnam War era and before.

Historically, Americans have been absent-minded about Africa. Past presidents generally focused on other parts of the world, with notable exceptions. Senator John F. Kennedy was chairman of the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, extremely attentive to that task, and carried concern about Africa into the Oval Office.

President Jimmy Carter in office and afterwards steadfastly worked with Africa. The Carter Center has devoted sustained emphasis to public health and related problems of that continent. One especially important achievement is the virtual eradication of guinea worm, a devastating, agonizing disease. Carter effectively leveraged his center’s efforts into World Bank efforts targeting the disease.

Former President Bill Clinton achieved rock star status in Africa, a popular stop in his travels on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama devoted at least periodic attention to the continent while in office, reflecting the changing times.

President John F. Kennedy deserves credit for establishing the Peace Corps, a concept promoted by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN). The Peace Corps is remarkably durable, today involving selfless volunteers ranging widely in age.

Related, enormous growth in private investment, including philanthropy, provides unprecedented opportunities to raise living standards across Africa.

Terrorists generate continuing death, destruction and headlines but have yet to demonstrate appeal to the average person in Africa – or elsewhere on the globe.

However, Niger may signal changes.


Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of After the Cold War (NYU Press and Macmillan). Readers can write to him at