Text Browser Navigation Bar: Main Site Navigation and Search | Current Page Navigation | Current Page Content

U.S. Army War College >> Strategic Studies Institute >> Publications >> Political Warfare in Sub-Saharan Africa: U.S. Capabilities and Chinese Operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa >> Summary

Login to "My SSI" Contact About SSI Cart: 0 items

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

Authored by Dr. Donovan C. Chau. | March 2007

Share | |   Print   Email


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 relation- ship-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


In October 2005, U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion THREE began rebuilding and constructing water wells in Ethiopia. ?Being in a place like this where water is so hard to come by and knowing we?re giving people water who?ve never had water before . . . this is a really rewarding mission to be on,? said Steel Worker Third Class Jared M. Perry.1 That same month, U.S. troops on patrol nearby discovered two cheetah cubs tied up with ropes around their necks at a restaurant, where the cubs were forced to fight each other for the amusement of patrons and village children. The soldiers alerted the Ethiopian government, the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, and a U.S.-based cheetah rescue organization, eventually flying the two cubs to the National Palace in Addis Ababa. ?This is the first kind of rescue of animals, let alone cheetahs, that we have done,? said Army Sgt. Leah Cobble.2 The following month, a U.S. Army Civil Affairs team held a 3-day clinic to treat the sick from six villages surrounding Gode, Ethiopia. ?We treated everything from minor injuries such as cuts to severe long-term injuries,? said Army Staff Sgt. John Dominguez, a civil affairs medic.3

Meanwhile, about the same time west across the African continent, it was reported that the People?s Republic of China (the PRC or Beijing) would help Nigeria drill 598 boreholes in Nigeria?s capital, Abuja, as well as 18 states?all as a free aid project. The free water supply project was ?aimed at providing clean drinkable water to ordinary Nigerians living in out-of-the-way areas,? said PRC Ambassador to Nigeria Wang Yongqiu.4 Nigerian Minister of Water Resources Alhaji Muktar Shagari later remarked, the project ?is a typical example of bilateral cooperation? between Nigeria and the PRC, and appealed to other countries to ?learn from China.?5 Also in October 2005, it was reported that Beijing donated $3 million worth of military equipment to Nigeria. The equipment included ?two special vehicles, emergency runway systems, bullet proof helmets and vests, communication gadgets, computers, uniforms and diving devices.?6 Ambassador to Nigeria Wang later mentioned that 21 Chinese ?experts? would arrive in Nigeria in November to train Nigerian soldiers on how to use the equipment.7

What do these actions by the United States and PRC governments mean, and why are they relevant today? These events in two strategically-located countries in East and West Africa are examples of governmental efforts to conduct an instrument of grand strategy called political warfare.8 Both the United States and the PRC were using nonviolent means in a coordinated (or semi-coordinated) manner to directly affect the targeted population. They were using political warfare to achieve their national objectives. But what is political warfare, and why is this instrument of grand strategy being used by two of the world?s dominant powers on the African continent today?


1. Jason Piatek, ?Seabees Bring Water to Africa,? Combined Joint Task Force?Horn of Africa News, October 13, 2005, www.hoa.centcom. mil/news.asp ?storyid= 20051013-001, accessed March 31, 2006.

2. Anthony Mitchell, ?American Troops Fly Rescued Cheetah Cubs to Safety in Ethiopian Capital,? Associated Press, November 29, 2005. The story also was reported by ABC News, abcnews. go.com/International/wireStory?id= 1355267,2005.accessed November 29,

3. Jason Piatek, ?CJTF-HOA Fights Terrorism with Medical Treatment,? Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa News, November 18, 2005, www.hoa.centcom.mil/news.asp?storyid=20051203- 001, accessed March 31, 2006.

4. ?China, Nigeria Sign Water Supply Project Agreement,? Xinhua General News Service, October 14, 2005.

5. Ibid.

6. ?China Donates 3 Million Dollars of Military,? Saudi Press Agency, October 27, 2005.

7. Ibid.

8. In this monograph, grand strategy is defined as the calculated and coordinated use of all the resources of a state or nonstate actor to preserve and enhance long-term interests. This definition is derived from B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach, London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1967; Edward Mead Earle, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943; and Paul Kennedy, ?Grand Strategy in War and Peace: Toward a Broader Definition,? Paul Kennedy, ed., Grand Strategies in War and Peace, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.