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The New US Strategies: What They Mean for The Horn of Africa

The New US Strategies: What
They Mean for The Horn of Africa
Mohamed Husein Gaas
Stig Jarle Hansen
Raad Peace Research Institute(RAPRI), Mogadishu
Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU)

The Biden Administration recently released three important strategies: the Strategy
toward sub-Saharan Africa (STSA), the National Security Strategy (NSS), and the
National Defense Strategy (NDS).This policy brief explores these strategies, what
they mean, and their potential impact in the Horn of Africa. We argue that these
strategy papers aside from the STSA, both the NSS and NDS largely ignore Africa.
The shift in focus of these new US strategies is rather dramatic, and it is away
from Africa, the US-Africa summit notwithstanding. Yet they indicate that we
should expect the United States to engage more in mitigating climate change in
the Horn of Africa, and that its strategies are to a certain degree aligned with
Kenyan foreign policy goals in the region. Further, the strategy papers indicate a
continued and more robust US engagement with Somalia and to a lesser extent
with Uganda, and an ad-hoc cooperation with Ethiopia and the Sudan.
Furthermore, these strategy papers suggest also that the US will have a
problematic relationship with Eritrea in the next few years.
The United States has been plagued by
internal tension, rivalries with China
and the Ukrainian war, but nevertheless
remains the globe’s most important ac-
tor, strongest both in military and in
economic terms, as well as with a con-
siderable cultural influence globally.
Over 2022 the Biden administration has
attempted to systematize its strategic
approach to deal with the most im-
portant issues facing United States in
the next few years. Therefore, it has
produced three important strategy pa-
pers. In August 2022 the United States
released its Strategy toward sub-Sa-
haran Africa (STSA), articulating the
administration’s vision for a 21st Cen-
tury U.S.-African Partnership. Secondly,
on October 12, 2022, the Biden admin-
istration released its National Secu-
rity Strategy (NSS), representing the
Executive’s strategic vision to Con-
gress, foreign constituencies and do-
mestic audiences, and a tool to create
internal consensus within the Executive.
Last, the United States Department of
Defense published the National De-
fense Strategy (NDS). The NDS
translated and refined the previously
mentioned National Security Strategy
(NSS) into broad military guidance for
military planning, military strategy, force
posturing, force constructs, and force
 These three strategies set the
focus for American foreign policy in the
future. Importantly, the major points of
the three strategy papers are bipartisan,
as is the view that China is the primary
strategic rival of the United States,
while Russia is a smaller, but more la-
tent rival, as well as the downward pri-
oritization of the war on terror. The vi-
sion points outlined by these papers will
likely remain stable over time. There
are, however, apparent differences be-
tween the political parties in the United
States, over for example climate change
efforts, and they should be noted. Yet,
we should also be careful of not over-
estimating the internal problems and
stability of the United States. As the
United States remains the largest econ-
omy in the world, as well as the most
powerful military power, the above are
strategies of global importance. We
also see an increasing tendency on be-
half of the Executive branch in the
United States to employ presidential
decrees, strengthening the importance
of the strategies of the executive.
Priorities of the United States
The NSS and NDS set general goals of
American foreign policies, also targeting
the Horn of Africa. The NSS clearly
stipulates that global free-trade, and the
openness of trade routes and freedom
of navigation, is of paramount im-
portance to United States, and that pri-
ority number one for the US is the se-
curity of the homeland as well as
continued economic growth. The NSS
also places great stress on multilateral-
ism and promotion of democracy and
human rights as a differentiating
strength of the US and its allies (against
China). However,both strategies con-
firm the drastic turn in the 2018 Na-
tional Defense Strategy (NDS) — the
first one under the Trump’s administra-
tion. The National Security Strategy re-
leased in late 2017 by the White House,
as well as the DoD’s 2018 NDS, singled
out China, together with Russia, as the
main threat to United States. Gone are
the days where Al Qaeda, the Islamic
state and its local affiliates in Horn of
Africa, the Harakat Al Shabab, and the
Islamic State in central Africa were the
highest priority of the United States.
The United States focuses on both its
geopolitical threats (rivalries with
China and Russia, and to a much less ex-
tent Iran and North Korea), and trans-
national threats (terrorism, crime,
and climate change/ energy transi-
tion), but the geopolitical threat re-
ceives the most focus. Priorities of the
new strategies are clear: China receives
more attention than Russia, the chal-
lenge from organizations like Al Qaeda
and Islamic State receives an equal
amount of attention as the challenge
coming from climate change. The aim of
United States is “Out-Competing China
and Constraining Russia”. The United
States stresses the possibility of coop-
eration with China on threats and chal-
lenges facing them both. The USA also
continues to support the “one China”
policy, and is thus against Taiwanese in-
dependence, but at the same time it also
clearly states that it will hold China re-
sponsible for “genocide and crimes
against humanity in Xinjiang, human
rights violations in Tibet, and the dis-
mantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy and
freedoms”. The strategy also claims that
China is hostile to transparency and
openness, and as a challenger to the in-
ternational rule-based order, while Rus-
sia is seen as deploying parastatals and
private military companies, often fo-
menting instability for strategic and fi-
nancial benefit, and using its economic
benefits to influence African stances on
Ukraine. In that in the new strategy pa-
pers China receives more attention
than Russia, the challenge from organi-
zations like Al Qaeda and Islamic State
receives. There is also a clear geo-
graphic priority, with the Indo Pacific
then Europe as the strongest priorities,
and Africa as a whole is left lower on
the priority list.
 It is worth emphasizing that
the three recent strategy papers there
exists gap between the NSS/Defense
documents and the STSA and the objec-
tives laid out for the US Africa summit.
Aside from the section dedicated to re-
gional priorities (where the US strategy
towards SSA document is essentially
summarized), the NSS and NDS hardly
mentions Africa. The entire Africa con-
tinent gets a two-sentence treatment as
compared to the Artic region gets 3 (p.
16). In the Missile Defense review sec-
tion, it discusses strategic alliances in
other regions of the world but not Af-
rica (p. 10-11 Missile Defense Review);
it notes the threat of NSA “in the Mid-
dle East and Africa” (p3 Missile Defense
review) in a single sentence. This is in
contrast to the 2002 NSS after 9/11,
when the document securitized weak
states and global poverty by arguing that
“The events of September 11, 2001,
taught us that weak states, like Afghani-
stan, can pose as great a danger to our
national interests as strong states. Pov-
erty does not make poor people into
terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty,
weak institutions, and corruption can
make weak states vulnerable to terror-
ist networks and drug cartels within
their border”. The 2002 apparently put
great emphasis in the wider war on ter-
ror and strengthening fragile states in
Africa. The recent US strategies shift in
focus is dramatic, and it is away from
Africa, the US-Africa summit notwith-
Beyond strategic competition
with China: an increased em-
phasis on bilateralism and
The 2022 strategies emphasize
partnerships with other countries more
than the Trump administration did. In
order to counter Chinese influence, but
also threats from Russia, transnational
crime, and climate change, the role of
partnerships, also in Africa, is stressed
in these strategy papers. However,
partners should support what the US
defines as a ‘rule based’ international
order. While the STSA strategy paper
points to this conclusion. The other
two strategies, namely the NDS and
NSS don’t. Thus based on STSA, docu-
ment, it seems that Africa is seen as a
battleground to fight weaponized cor-
ruption, information manipulation op-
erations, political interference, and at-
tacks on the rule of law, including in
elections, as well as to combat criminal
organizations (TCOs) involved in activ-
ities such as the trafficking of drugs and
other illicit goods, money laundering,
theft, human smuggling and trafficking,
cybercrime, fraud, corruption, and ille-
gal fishing and mining. Transnational
crime is thus still given priority amongst
the challenges facing the United States,
but these points also have to be seen in
relation to Russian hybrid strategies, as
for example the use of Russian troll fac-
tories in support of former president
Omar Al Bashir in Sudan.1 The United
States also explicitly stresses that it will
invest in Africa’s largest states, such as
Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. The
absence of Ethiopia in this listing and in-
clusion of Kenya are notable, indicating
a growing importance of Kenya relative
to other states in the region or tensions
with Ethiopia over human rights abuses
in Tigray region so reflecting preference
for partners sharing commitments to
Human Rights and democracy.
Although the documents talk of
American values, they also indicate
pragmatism, and a will to cooperate
with partners without democratic gov-
ernance systems. The STSA highlights
those open societies and democracy,
creating security dividends, as well as
advancing pandemic recovery and eco-
nomic opportunity, conservation and
climate adaptation, and energy transi-
tion are the most important goals of the
United States in Africa. Somalia is men-
tioned as a terrorist sanctuary, together
with Yemen and Syria, and that groups
in these countries still have the inten-
tion to carry out or inspire others to
attack the United States, although these
groups’ capabilities have been con-
strained by alliances between the re-
spective countries and United States
and other likeminded partners, but this
threat gets far less attention in the NSS
and Defense strategy than does China,
Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
The main strategy to facilitate
African military resilience is both direct
support and also to engage the U.S. de-
fense private sector via Prosper Africa
to support sustainable technology and
energy solutions for African militaries.
We see a change from a “U.S.-led, part-
ner-enabled” strategy to one that is
“partner-led, U.S.-enabled”, with a
larger role for local partners, in line
with the Biden administration’s in-
creased emphasis on bilateralism and
multilateralism compared with the
Trump administration. It should be
mentioned here the recent call by Pres-
ident Biden to have the AU join the G-
20. In order to achieve partner-led co-
operation, the new US strategies focus
on strengthening partners’ law enforce-
ment and judicial systems, improving
threat information sharing, enhancing
border security, and countering terror-
ist financing – in many ways traditional
state-focused capacity and institution
building strategies. Some of the points
might however also include civil society
organizations, for terrorist prevention
and extremist disengagement program-
ming, and preventing online and offline
terrorist recruitment and mobilization
to violence. With regards to terrorism,
we see a dedication to address the root
causes of radicalization, including the
lack of effective governance, stabiliza-
tion, economic conflicts, and local con-
flicts. Development, capacity building
and intelligence sharing thus remain im-
portant for the US when countering the
threat of terrorism, but is, all in all,
down prioritized in favor of a focus on
However, there is a tension in
the three strategies, as they focus on
partnerships and indicate some pragma-
tism with regards to the potential part-
ners. Yet, support for partners is men-
tioned in relation to sharing American
values and an interest in a ‘rule based
global system’, also with regards to Rus-
sia and China. In this sense it seems that
the US is ready for partnerships but ex-
pects something in return.
 The STSA also studies the con-
vergence of armed conflict and terror-
ism; climate change; food insecurity; and
COVID-19 pandemic-induced health
and economic problems, and highlights
climate change and energy transition as
major challenges. The strategy high-
lights investigative journalism, combat-
ing digital authoritarianism, and enshrin-
ing laws, reforms, and practices that
promote shared democratic norms, and
will seek to improve fiscal transparency,
expose corruption, and support re-
forms, and support judiciaries. As per
these strategies it also claims that they
will work to integrate African states in
2 Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-
the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific fo-
rums, as well as deepen coastal state
cooperation in the Atlantic.
Biden’s strategy papers elevate
cooperation in the quest to isolate both
China and Russia, and clearly stipulate a
focus on the green transition, and re-
tained foci on containing (not eradicat-
ing) terrorism and global crime, as well
as maritime governance. Those fields
are of drastically lower priority than in
the pre-2018 period, however, save
perhaps climate change. The strate-
gies also highlight two countries in the
Horn of Africa: Kenya as vital hub for
regional diplomacy, aid, and business”
and Somalia as an area where threats
against the USA might emerge and
where there is a need for a more robust
and continually enhanced partnership in
the future. specially, in the light of the
fact that Somalia, remans the state with
the longest coast in Africa, and once
stable it is likely to receive substantial
engagement and partnership including
policy and business cooperation with
the US.
Current trends in the Horn
of Africa: What the new US
strategies mean for the re-
We have a Horn of Africa that currently
is influenced by the Ukrainian war cre-
ating higher grain prices. Its traditionally
largest military power, Ethiopia, which
had the best growth rates until 2020has
been seriously weakened by a large-
scale civil war, but nevertheless is grad-
ually managing to rebuild its army de-
spite the catastrophic continuation of
the conflict in the country. We also
have relatively stable Kenya, which again
Saharan Africa, October 2022 (;
managed to avoid the much-feared elec-
tion violence in 2022 and is showing a
stronger interest in global governance
through its military deployment to
Congo and role in the African Peace
and Security Council and the UN Secu-
rity Council. We have Eritrea, with a
relatively unclear role within the Ethio-
pian civil war, with its soldiers still in
Ethiopia, and a Somalia that is recover-
ing and transitioning into a more peace-
ful, maturing democracy as it has man-
aged for the last three election cycles a
peaceful transfer of power. Further, we
see because of these traits, its strong
and large diaspora in the West and
across the globe, and the ongoing offen-
sive and uprising against Al Shabaab, So-
malia is positioned to become an eco-
nomic hub in the East and Horn and to
reassert itself in the coming few years.
We see a re-assertive Sudan, a relatively
stable Uganda, and South Sudan facing
local discord. The strategies imply that
Kenya for now has an advantage in its
relations with United States, compared
to the other countries in the Horn of
Africa, in part since it has committed it-
self to military deployments in Somalia
and Congo, as well as peace negotiation
in Ethiopia, and made a vocal protest in
the United Nations against the Russian
invasion in Ukraine. It has a democratic
system that allows meaningful competi-
tion during elections, has the most sta-
ble and independent court system in the
Horn. Kenyan foreign debt is limited,
and Kenya’s cooperation with Russia,
both in the military sphere and eco-
nomic sphere has been limited; further,
less Kenyan debt is held by China, com-
pared to other countries. At the same
time, Kenya has the best growth rate in
the Horn, and the largest GNP per cap-
ita and in total.2 In this sense, the new
Ethiopia was scheduled to overtake Kenya,
ategies seem to enable a closer co-
operation between Kenya and the US,
although Kenya will possibly be a reluc-
tant partner, as it traditionally has been
rather passive in foreign relations, a
strategy that served Kenya well in the
past, and kept it out of a costly war.
Somalia is recovering and has
many positive developments at play.
The US is deploying drones and special
forces to Somalia in its current offen-
sive. Somalia will be a major point of in-
terest for the United States, both due
to Al Shabaab but also due to Somalia’s
maritime economic zone, now properly
declared, which means that Somalia is
crucial also to keep international ship-
ping lines open, and to protect the mar-
itime environment from large scale ille-
gal fishing and illegal pollution, also
mentioned as points of interest for the
United States. However, it should be
understood that some of the most im-
portant actors in the illegal fishing in-
dustry are situated in the north, and in
some cases hails from United States al-
lies, such as Taiwan and Spain. Somalia
has the longest coast in Africa and huge
potential to develop its blue economy
and has already begun to revive the
maritime and naval capacity of its coast
guard. These issues, put together with
the oil deposits and other investment
ventures, and its strategic location in
the context of an ever-increasing geo-
political competition between the US
and the West on one hand and China
and Russia on the other, may facilitate
more bilateral Somalia-US partnership
in the near future.
but the civil war hindered this see also
D%3D&timestamp=1625157747786 and
On the other end of the scale is
Eritrea, one of the few countries that
voted in support of the Russian efforts
in Ukraine in the UN General Assem-
bly, and which is possibly the least dem-
ocratic country in the Horn of Africa.
Eritrea has, together with Sudan, been a
popular target of Russian overtures to
establish naval bases. The strategies in-
crease the impression, corroborated
with American actions with regards to
Russian attempts to establish naval ba-
ses in Sudan and Djibouti, that the
United States will leverage its partner-
ships based on the will of the partners
to support its strategic competition
with China and Russia. Ethiopia is per-
haps a more confusing case. Prime Min-
ister Abiy Ahmed has played an ad-
vanced diplomatic game with Russia,
China, and the United States, signing a
military cooperation agreement with
Russia in the summer of 2021, drawing
actively on Emirati and Turkish support.
At the same time the research commu-
nity in the United States has been di-
vided on its advice to the US State De-
partment, contributing to a relatively
confused policy from the United States,
although the US distanced itself from
the atrocities committed by govern-
ment forces in Tigray. Ethiopia also has
the second largest foreign debt to
China in Africa.3 There have been wide-
spread allegations of human rights vio-
lations and crimes against humanity in
Tigray by Ethiopian forces during the
Ethiopian civil war, transgressions that
will not be externally investigated ac-
cording to the resent peace
agreement.4 Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed
also seemingly follows the Russian elec-
tion model where supposedly free elec-
tions always result in the governing
party winning. Yet Abiy has shown con-
siderable independence from both
China and Russia, has attempted to
work to lower the foreign debt to
China, and has grown closer to Turkey
and the Emirates militarily rather than
depending on Russian military aid.
He will remain a rather ambig-
uous partner for the United States: not
a preferred partner, but a partner that
might have some value in dealing with
ad-hoc challenges. Uganda and Djibouti
are not fully democratic. However, they
have clear strategic value to United
States. The base facility in Djibouti is
highly valuable for United States, while
Uganda remains important for the
struggle against the Islamic State in
Congo and the Harakat Al Shabaab in
The nature of the Chinese foot-
print on the ground in the Horn, namely
being financial in nature, and seldom us-
ing Chinese power to pressure the
Horn countries in any way relevant to
the global balance of power, will limit
US direct action. Yet, Chinese invest-
ment in critical infrastructure close to
US bases, will probably trigger US dip-
lomatic action. Establishment of bases,
both Russian and Chinese, would prob-
ably trigger Americans to deploy both
financial and other pressure to block
these attempts.
 The US will still focus on cur-
tailing Al Shabaab and the Islamic State
in central Africa, supplying both Somalia
and Uganda as well as Congo with stra-
tegic intelligence.
The strategies also warn against the im-
pact of climate change and seek coop-
eration in order to mitigate its conse-
quences already felt in the Horn
especially in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan,
South Sudan, Djibouti, and some parts
of Kenya. The general mitigation of
these climate effects means that the
United States will have to engage with
most of the countries in the region. At
the same time, these countries are ask-
ing for the creation of a climate fund,
and the Biden administration pledge to
support the Adaptation Fund for up to
$100 million. Further, announcing over
$150 million in new support to acceler-
ate the President’s Emergency Plan for
Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE)
efforts across Africa, which is an indica-
tion that strategies have already mani-
fested themselves in action.
The new set of strategies confirms
many of the changes that the strategies
of the Trump administration made in
the American focus. The main focus for
American foreign policy is no longer on
Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, but ra-
ther a strategic rivalry with China and
an effort to contain Russia. Yet, there
are several notable changes, with the
role of partnerships stressed more, and
the United States acknowledging the
importance of local partnerships. It is
highlighted that the US is willing to co-
operate with all states, even China,
where there are common interests.
However, perhaps contradictorily, the
strategy papers also stress the im-
portance of human rights and democ-
racy. We also see an increased focus on
mitigating climate change in the strategy
paper, and indications that this will be a
larger part of US foreign policy in the
Horn of Africa, and across the globe for
the next two years of the Biden admin-
istration, a fact that the Horn of Africa
countries can take advantage of, as cli-
mate change challenges livelihoods in
Somalia, Ethiopia, parts of Kenya, and
the Sudan that are severely hit. We also
see a reduced, but ongoing focus on
limiting the capacity of Al Shabab and
the Islamic State in Central Africa to at-
tack the United States. The new three
US strategies show a potential for en-
hanced Kenyan and American coopera-
tion, as the two countries seem to have
many common interests, and to a lesser
extent with an emerging Somalia. We
will also see a continued engagement
with Djibouti and Uganda, due to the
role these countries have in combating
Al Shabaab and the Islamic State, and
American strategic positioning in Dji-
bouti. The strategies also stipulate a
continuous, highly conflictual relation-
ship with Eritrea, over both human
rights and the latter’s support for Rus-
sia. For the Sudan and Ethiopia, the U.S.
relationship will be of a more ad-hoc
and pragmatic nature.
The Raad Peace Research Insti-
tute Mogadishu (RAPRI) is a non-profit
research institute established in 2021,
whose main purpose is to conduct re-
search on the Horn / East Africa. The
institute is independent, regional, and
explores issues related to these re-
gions’ peace, conflicts, security, govern-
ance, and development.

[Courtesy to RAAD].

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