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Attacks in Mali, Libya, Algeria show why Africa still needs US support

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The attacks by Islamist insurgents on US outposts in Benghazi, Libya, last September and at a gas plant in Algeria this month expose several reasons for persistent security weakness across Africa.

First, the multinational forces of the regions and of the larger African Union require financial and personnel contributions from the member states. Both are missing in sufficient supply. The majority of sub-Saharan countries are still among the world’s poorest. Many simply cannot afford to honor their pledges of dollars and soldiers to regional peace efforts.

West African leaders have been talking about sending a regional force to Mali since a coup d’etat last March. They are still looking for funding, and on Jan. 29 will gather again to woo international donors.

Second, weak governance undermines security. One of the stated motives behind the Mali coup last year was the military’s frustration with the government’s tepid response to advancing extremism in the country’s arid north. The putsch, obviously, failed to fix that problem.

Third, political disagreements among neighboring states weaken regional cooperation. In southern Africa, where the former liberation movements now in government have been reluctant to criticize each other, the region has failed to rein in Zimbabwe’s autocrat Robert Mugabe. Farther north, a simmering dispute between Morocco and Algeria over the former’s territorial claim to the Western Sahara – which Algeria rejects – has prevented tighter counter-terrorism cooperation between the two most influential powers in the region.

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