The CIA in Africa and Somalia: A Strategic Analysis


The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with,

but whether it is the same problem you had last year.

John Foster Dulles

Contextual Background

In the last decade, the United States Central Intelligence Agency has greatly expanded its core political and military operations in a number of African countries.

Today, the CIA has permanent missions in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Rwanda and Mali. The CIA’s missions are all focused on multiple objectives from combating Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists to capacity building for African military and security forces. Similarly, the Pentagon’s sudden decision to create African Command or AFRICOM is another clear indication that the CIA has made a strategic, long-term organizational imperative to focus its attention on Africa.

Clearly, the CIA growing involvement is not simply just about “regime continuation” and “targeted hits” against America’s enemies, but rather is actively involved in expanding its influence over Africa’s political infrastructure and economic policies. For example, it is no coincidence that a number of African regimes such as Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, and Hassan Sheikh of Somalia are now actively managed by the CIA. The dictatorial regimes or “assets” are totally dependent on the agenda of the CIA in terms of their continued existence as well as the re-structuring of their economies in the face of domestic and geo-political uncertainties.

Yet, an important question that needs to be asked is: Who is the CIA really worried about and why the deep involvement? Without a doubt the growing presence of China and its military-industrial complex in Africa coupled with the global resurgence of an aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin, India’s interest in creating a “Greater Indian Ocean Economic Zone” have all been cited as underlying causes. Both Russia and China are building up their economic and political influence in Africa to offer an alternative to American hegemony. While there may not be a new Cold War between the West and China, it is also no secret that the Chinese will eventually create an exclusive “African Sphere of Influence” that will greatly limit Western interests. Already Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan have voluntary come under the Chinese umbrella. Interestingly, both the Mugabe and Al-Bashir regimes have avoided direct Western military intervention thanks to Chinese protection.

On the other hand, Western intelligence experts have dismissed Chinese and Russian threats as being prime motivators for the CIA’s growing involvement. These experts like Thomas Friedman and Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times have argued the real reasons for the CIA’s penetration of these weak and ill-governed African countries seems to be neutralizing Al-Qaeda inspired threats, securing potential hydrocarbon and other natural resources for Western firms, eliminating transnational criminal networks, and foster Western-oriented, market-based democracy. The CIA agenda in Islamic majority African countries like Egypt, Somalia, Mali, Libya and Tunisia does seem to be “diluting” the appeal of political Islam and securing natural resources. As well, the CIA has been successful in making sure that China and Russia have not blocked Western intervention which effectively toppled the regimes of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.


In my view, the worrying trend of the CIA’s growing presence in Africa, especially the case of Southern Somalia relates to new model of nation-building. Nation-building and economic development policies in Africa used to be lead exclusively by the US State Department, International Institutions based in Washington such as the World Bank and IMF and the United Nations in New York. Instead, as Somalia shows it is quite clear that the CIA and the Pentagon no longer trust these international institutions or diplomatic players to ensure that African countries will remain pro-West, profitable and not join the Russian, Chinese, and even Indian spheres of influence. Therefore, the CIA has dismissed the United Nations as ineffective and has built a parallel state building model where it controls the structure, personalities, and policies of emerging or weak African governments.

In fact, in the case of Somalia at the moment the CIA has completely taken over all of the country’s operations from political establishment to security policy. The CIA has even silenced the unstable Kenyan and unstable Ethiopian regimes from getting involved its current re-structuring of Somalia. The Kenyans are now utterly hapless in Kismayo since the CIA who first sent them has apparently now opposed the creation of any “buffer zone”.

However, the CIA is also constrained in Africa due to endemic corruption and weak institutions. In Somalia, it now faces the same peril that confounded the KGB in assisting the dictatorship of Siyad Barre. The KGB could not convince the clannish dictator Barre to reform or even re-structure the Somali national institution other than safeguarding a clannish dictatorship. While the CIA is better equipped and financed than the KGB to control the Hassan Sheikh faction, the CIA does not enjoy much flexibility to ensure its nation building policies will be implemented. The KGB failed to control Dictator Siyad Barre, who had the propensity to run to the CIA for help and vice versa in times of crisis. Hassan Sheikh does not have anyone to run to from the CIA!


As it stands, the CIA maintains comprehensive control over all surrogate regimes in Africa. Since the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union there is no possible rival power active in Africa that would risk offering alternative protection from CIA control to African countries. Chinese economic involvement is a growing influence but it does not have the flexibility or desire to confront American power everywhere. China is having a hard time protecting Omar Al-Bashir and Robert Mugabe, it would not allow itself to be over-stretched fighting American hegemony from South Africa to the Sahara Desert.

Moreover, the current state of affairs in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda serve as case studies of the CIA’s new focus on re-structuring African regimes in the long-term. The effective use of Hassan Sheikh’s government in Somalia in 2012 will be an interesting case study on whether the CIA is really an effective nation-builder.

That being said, the current re-orientation of the CIA in Africa greatly harkens back to the famous words of John Foster Dulles, former US Secretary of State in the 1950s. Foster Dulles, one of the key architects of the CIA’s strategic policy in the Cold War stated that: “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”. In his case, dictators and countries that were a problem for the CIA in one year such as Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, and Egypt were actively neutralized the following year.

Today. will the CIA have the same problem in Somalia that it had since 1960? In my view, the CIA has shown that it has a lot of work to do to safeguard its assets and risk management in the 21st century. Today, Somalia is the beginning of dealing with its long-term problems in Africa