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Political Warfare in Sub-Saharan Africa: U.S. Capabilities and Chinese Operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa

Political Warfare in Sub-Saharan Africa: U.S. Capabilities and Chinese Operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa - Cover

Authored by Dr. Donovan C. Chau.

March 2007

82 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Domestic and international terrorism aside, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), are vying for influence over African governments and people. Not unlike the Cold War, the primary means of exerting influence in Africa is through the use of nonviolent instruments of grand strategy. The author considers one nonviolent instrument of grand strategy in particular, political warfare. He suggests that the PRC has used political warfare as its leading grand strategic instrument in Africa and offers a concise, detailed overview of U.S. capabilities to conduct political warfare in Africa in four of its nation-states.


Today, as in the past, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) exerts influence on the African continent. Unlike the United States, which also attempts to sway African nations and people, the PRC uses an instrument of grand strategy called political warfare as its primary means of influence. What is political warfare, and how is it being employed in Africa today? How do U.S. capabilities compare to PRC operations and capabilities in Africa? The monograph answers these and other questions to inform the current national security debate among U.S. policy and decisionmakers. For while the struggle against international terrorism will continue indefinitely, the U.S. Government must not overlook other grand strategic challenges currently taking place around the world.

The monograph explains political warfare in its historic context and offers a current definition. Simply, political warfare is a nonviolent instrument of grand strategy, involves coordinated activities, and results in tangible effects on intended targets. In operational terms, political warfare includes economic aid and development assistance, as well as training, equipping, and arming military and security forces. Exchange visits and public pronouncements are secondary political warfare operations, supporting and facilitating primary operations. Political warfare offers distinct advantages to other instruments of grand strategy, making it a desirable means of exerting influence. Vis-à-vis other instruments—particularly military power—political warfare is economical. Though results may not appear immediately, using political warfare has grand strategic benefits, from information-gathering to relationship-building. Moreover, political warfare may potentially garner prestige and a positive reputation around the world.

The U.S. Government possesses numerous political warfare capabilities, though they may not be viewed as such. From the U.S. Army and other armed services to the State Department and the Agency for International Development, U.S. capabilities exist but are not being used to their full potential or in a coordinated manner. Meanwhile, another country is intentionally targeting U.S. policy in Africa through the use of political warfare. Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa are considered regional “anchor” states according to U.S. national security policy. Since 2000, the PRC has expanded political warfare operations in these four countries.

The monograph examines PRC political warfare operations in each country.

• The first case highlights how the PRC used political warfare to gain access to and develop opportunities in Ethiopia. Using donations to the Ethiopian government and people as well as to the African Union (and its predecessor), Beijing attained government contracts, signed agreements, and cultivated bilateral relations.

• The PRC used political warfare to move relations with Kenya to a higher level. PRC operations expanded China’s reach into the information, education, and infrastructure development areas of Kenya.

• PRC operations were diverse and directed at influencing the people and government of Nigeria, particularly state governments. PRC political warfare operations affected all aspects of Nigerian society, furthering PRC interests in the country.

• Gaining South Africa’s allegiance had the benefit of weakening Taiwan’s global diplomatic status, which was part and parcel of the primary objective of Chinese grand strategy. PRC operations in South Africa were used to attain cooperation in technical and scientific fields.

Comparing PRC operations and U.S. capabilities, the monograph underscores the lack of political warfare in America’s current grand strategy. Educating and deploying the U.S. military to conduct political warfare in Africa is an immediate, short-term solution. In the long term, however, a civilian U.S. Government agency must lead the political warfare charge abroad. This will require political leadership as well as prudent policy. Most importantly, national security policy and decisionmakers must come to the realization that how operations are conducted is as important as what operations are performed

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