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Transcript: Africa expert Judd Devermont talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell speaks with Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former senior analyst in the intelligence community. Devermont discusses areas of instability on the continent and the areas where the U.S. has an opportunity to pursue national interests. He reviews areas of progress and setbacks in governance and security, and explains why he believes there has been a 'democratization of leadership' in Africa. Devermont also reviews Chinese and Russian investments and operations on the continent, and explains why they each have significant long-term implications for U.S. security.

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INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - JUDD DEVERMONT

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS, JAMIE BENSON

MICHAEL MORELL:

Judd, welcome to the show. It's great to have you on Intelligence Matters.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Thank you for having me.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So maybe the place to start is a little bit about your career. And I'd be interested in a couple things. One is, your interest in Africa, where did that come from? And then, your interest in C.I.A. and where did that come from and how did you end up there?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

You mean why did someone who grew up in Southern California end up spending a career working in Africa?

MICHAEL MORELL:

(LAUGH) Exactly, exactly.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

I love history and in high school, all you can take is U.S. and European. And when I got to college, I just went all over the world: Latin America and Southeast Asia, East Asia. But I took a class on the Arab Revolt, actually, and this seminar class was so incredible, the way in which they talked about how Arab nationalism and agency mixed with geo politics.

And so, I kind of knew that's what I wanted, but I still didn't know what the region was. I didn't really want to go in the Middle East. And one day, I didn't go to class, I never miss class, but one day I decided with a friend, we walked around campus and we got in front of a study abroad kiosk.

And only two pamphlets jumped at me: Ghana and South Africa. And I don't know, Michael, it was this moment where I could see my entire future. I knew all of those things that I liked in that Arab Spring course or Arab Revolt course were going to be in Africa. I moved to South Africa, I did a year there and I never looked back.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And what was that year in South Africa like?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

It was incredible. I studied at the University of Cape Town. I traveled all over Southern Africa. I lived in the dorms and have great South African friends. And I just found on the continent, history, I had a professor who said, "History lies heavy" on the continent's present and future. And so, it was everything that I wanted and it's been incredibly fulfilling, 20 years now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, for those listeners who haven't been to Cape Town, I've been there twice, you are just absolutely surrounded by history.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, it's gorgeous.

MICHAEL MORELL:

It is amazing. And then the C.I.A., how did you end up at the C.I.A.?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

This is kind of a funny story. It actually has a lot to do with a Tom Clancy novel, but not because I related to Jack Ryan. I mean, yeah, he's an analyst, but the guy is on operation almost immediately, right?

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

I mean, he's never at his desk. And so, I wanted, as I said, a job, I love history, I wanted a job that had a lot to do with history. And in this one Jack Ryan novel, he's not even in the agency anymore, he's like the national security advisor. And he calls up the Department of State to talk to their senior desk officer for Japan.

And the way I remembered this passage, I tried to find it recently and I can't, the senior desk officer in Japan knows everything about history, politics, culture, economics. And I said, "I'm going to be a desk officer. That's my goal." Applied for the State Department as an intern, I got in. I was going to be in the Bureau of West African Affairs and just before I left for Washington, my father grabs the intern guide book that I had and says, "C.I.A. You should apply to C.I.A." I said, listen, Pops--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why did he say that?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

I think he loves the operation. He continues to tell me he could be a great operational officer. He's 77 years old. But he was really fascinated with the lifestyle and he encouraged me to apply. I said, "I'm going to be a desk officer, I don't need this." He said, "You should apply." So I did. I get to Washington. First day at the Department of State, it's like two hours of paperwork, they say, "Come back tomorrow for your first full day." It's September 11th, 2011.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Wow.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

That was my first day working for the U.S. Government.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Wow.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

And I know where you were and I know you were briefing the President and I was just an intern in West Africa, but I felt a sense of privilege that I was there. It was a great experience. And a couple of weeks later the C.I.A. calls and said, "We'd like to offer you a grad fellowship."

So now I'm at a place where C.I.A. seems really interesting, my fantasy desk officer job seems really interesting, I'm very lucky to sort of go to Cote d'Ivoire, work in our embassy for a longer internship and I meet an analyst from INR, State Department's Analytic Wing. She's retired now, but she was phenomenal.

I mean, she wasn't even the senior analyst for this country and she had everyone in the palm of her hands. And that was the moment that I said, "I know exactly where I want to go. It's going to  

be an analyst."

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. So in laymen's terms, can you tell folks what it's like to be an analyst at C.I.A.?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. You know, there wasn't a day that I didn't have a smile on my face walking in that door. I came in on the weekends and not because I had a task there, but because I had a paper that I really wanted to write, research. But every day you are immersed in all this information about the country or issue that you work.

You have these great colleagues that you are engaging with. Every morning, there's a 9:00 morning meeting and you sort of report up what's interesting, what's happened, what should we be writing about, what do senior policy makers need to know. And then, you spend your day writing those papers or going to briefings or spending time around a table and trying to figure out what's going to happen next and why does it matter.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you become the National Intelligence Officer for Africa, what does that mean? What does a National Intelligence Officer do?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

It's the best job I've ever had, Michael. It really has three functions. You are the U.S. Government's senior analyst on a country or an issue. You represent all the 17 intelligence agencies, in all policy meetings. C.I.A. might have a seat at the table, but I represented the DNI. And I would do the briefing that usually kicked off these policy meetings. So that was sort of one of the responsibilities.

The second is that I oversaw all of the strategic analysis that the intelligence community had, national intelligence estimates, et cetera. C.I.A. might have their view, DIA may have their view, but what was written under my auspices was a community view.

And sometimes the community may disagree and we would represent that, as well. And then the third part of the job which I really loved which is I felt responsible for helping to develop our analytic cadre. I would host conferences, I would bring people together, I used to have a product of the month that I would send out, so people could see analytic excellence.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That's great.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

It was a fantastic job. Three years, great.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you also served on the NSC staff on Africa.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Talk about that.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

I worked in the Obama Administration, I was the Director for Nigeria, Somalia, the Sahel and the African Union. These countries aren't next to each other, but my boss just said, "All of your

experiences, we're just going to put them into one account."

And my job was to coordinate U.S. policy. It was a pretty interesting time. We ended up recognizing the Government of Somalia for the first time since 1991. I contributed to the Obama strategy towards Africa. And my job was really to make sure that we were all marching in the same direction. I wrote all the papers for the deputy's committees and other senior meetings so that we could figure out where we're going to go.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how many countries are in sub Saharan Africa?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

49.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So how is it possible to keep up with what's going on in 49 countries?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

You know, when I was telling you the story about why I joined, what I wanted to be, it was to be an expert. And I think it's taken me to this point in my career to realize I may never be an expert on 49 countries. So you do a lot of triaging, you work with a lot of smart people. But I find each and every one of them fascinating.

And I've had the fortune of working first in West African issues and then I moved to East African and Central African, so I've sort of moved around enough, and then my academic work was on southern. But you have to go into these meetings and present to policy makers real insights into these countries that they may have worked and traveled to together. So it's a lifelong challenge.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And this is a big place, right?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The continent is huge.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, I have a map next to me right now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, yeah.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Because I have to reference it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And just the Congo itself is roughly the size of half the United States, right?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yes, right, yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

It's a massive continent.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Massive continent.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So this great job that you had in the intelligence community you left in 2018?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Well, I always think it's important to say it has nothing to do with politics. I spent 18 months as the National Intelligence Officer under President Obama and then 18 months under President Trump, and I actually really liked working and trying to support this administration. It forced me to challenge my assumptions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you were the National Intelligence Officer during the Trump [administration]?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yes, for 18 months.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Okay.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

And I had to meet them where they were, which they didn't have the kind of depth that President Obama and his team had on Africa and they had different views and I really enjoyed trying to find ways to communicate the continent's significance and why it matters.

But the NIO job was the pinnacle for me. That's the best job you can have in my career of service. I thought maybe in 30 years I would be able to get to that point, and I was about halfway through in my career and I didn't see a job in the community that would sort of push me forward. I wanted a new challenge.

And quite honestly, I wanted to do policy again. I really liked being at the NSC, and I wanted to think about what our policy should be. And you know, one of the things you can't do as an analyst is give policy prescriptive.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

So it just seemed like a time to leave at a high point at this incredible position to engage with new people and think about where we should go next.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And as CSIS, you are able to do both the analysis and policies, right?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. It's actually a lot like my old job. I read a lot, I write a lot, but then I have recommendations on what I think we should do. Plus, I get to do things, like I have a podcast, that's fun. I talk to journalists.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Podcasts are the best. (LAUGH)

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Podcasts are the best. You know, I travel a lot. I meet with African and European and other government officials and get to interact with them in a different way, speaking for myself, not for my government.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Intelligence Matters has now been around for a couple of years, we have never had anybody on talking about Africa. So I think the key question is: How does Africa matter to our national security? And how much does it matter?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

How do you answer that question?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

This is a difficult question because as we've just talked about, there are 49 countries in sub Saharan Africa, 54, if you include the North African countries. 55 if you're the African Union because you include Western Sahara. And as our interests evolved, the way we look at Africa changes. And if you would just allow me a quick tangent, because this is very nerdy, but if it's going to be successful, it's going to be successful on Intelligence Matters.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Well, you're talking to a nerd, so we're in good shape here.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yes. I teach a class at George Washington University on the History of U.S. Intelligence Analysis in Africa, and I found this piece, a National Intelligence Estimate from 1971 in East Africa, and there's a line in it, maybe you've seen this before, I've never seen it before, the analyst said, "The significance for the United States of developments in East Africa depends on what the U.S. says is important."

Right? It sounds circular, but it's true. And then, the analysts go further than that, right? They say if you're going to look at this in a narrow perspective, we don't have many interests, 1971 in East Africa. There's not a product that we get there, we don't have economic investment.

But if you step back, and I'm paraphrasing here, if you step back, these are countries that could be models, open societies. These leaders have influence, both in Africa and globally. And if they should go south, if there should be instability, it would affect our interests.

And I like to use that story because it tells me don't undersell and don't oversell. Look at all the angles and present all the arguments. So the way that I think about Africa right now is in three ways: First, the future is African, demographically. The continent will double in size. It will go from 1.2 billion people to 2.4 billion people by 2050. That means a quarter of the world's population will be Africa. Nigeria is going to be larger than the United States.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So fastest growth by any continent?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, fastest growth, youngest continent. Nigeria is going to be the third-largest country in the world, it's going to surpass us. And so, every global problem is going to have an African dimension to it. What is going to be the norms around Internet privacy? How are we going to deal with climate change?

There's going to be an African component to that and we need to be mindful of that. Two, and this has been something that I've learned in my career, Africa's problems and opportunities don't stop at the water's edge. What happens in Africa changes the way the world works. African migration crisis changed European politics. The Ebola crisis changes the way we think about global health security. You may remember the piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa, it changed actually how maritime commerce worked in the shipping industry.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

So I think that it's really important to be mindful of these events in these different countries because they do change the way people and systems work. And then finally, our allies and adversaries understand those first two points really well and I think they understand it probably better than we do.

We are seeing this dramatic increase in engagement by allies and adversaries. Between 2010 and 2015, 150 foreign embassies were built in sub Saharan Africa. Trade is up for most countries, 65 countries have increased their trade. And military bases all across Africa. Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa and Western Saharan, I'm sorry, Western Africa.

So I think that we have to recognize that if we are not there to shape what is happening on the continent, to referee, to make sure that we are not blocked out by opportunities, it is going to affect our national interests.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So talk a little bit about kind of the state of Africa today. You know, what's going on there? What are the challenges these countries face? And what are some of the positive things that are happening?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, said when talking about Nigeria, "The problem with Nigeria is leadership." And I think for many of these countries, leadership and governance and sort of the economic problems that flow from that are still probably the biggest challenges these countries face. There is instability.

MICHAEL MORELL:

It's true. It's true of a lot of countries.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

It's true of a lot of the countries, right? But you know, instability in the Sahel, challenges in Eastern Congo with Ebola, we have been talking for so many years about urbanization and greater connectivity and youth bulge and climate change. And I would argue right now, those things are really coming together.

Governance has been hard in Africa, but it's become really complex. And I think some governments are failing in the way they respond to that. And I think it's making conflicts more protracted, more deadly, and I think it is denying people the ability to live their lives. And these all, as we have said, have all these effects for us.

But there's some good news stories. And I always like the opportunity to talk about good news because the U.S. media on Africa, it's all negative. I mean, it's disproportionately negative. And

Africa is doing some things that are really interesting.

They're going in a different direction than the rest of the world in some cases. So while there's this global recession in democracy, there are people who have less confidence in it. Africans really strongly believe in democracy. 68% of Africans support democratic principles.

In some countries, it's like in the 80s. There's been 28 transfers of power since 2015, peaceful, more than half. That's historic. While the rest of the world has become protectionist and imposing tariffs, Africans have created a new continental trade arrangements.

It's the largest trading block since the W2O was founded. And finally, while the rest of the world or at least the United States are thinking about pulling out, the Africans are stepping up and they're working together to deal with trans-national threats. So I think those are really good stories.

And just the last thing that I think maybe your audience hasn't thought about that is really exciting to me is African soft power. Africa, Africans are changing our global entertainment and cultural trends in ways that I think are unprecedented. Our music, our films, our sports, Africans are shaping it at the lead.

And I'd love to see African governments take advantage of their soft power and I'd like to think of ways that our government could be more effective in navigating it.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So find this, you know, cutting against the trend on democracy and trade to be fascinating.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Why is that happening?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Well, let me start with trade first. For the Africans, their economies are too fractured, fragmented. No one's going to invest in the small little Gambia, which just covers the river within Senegal. Inter trade within Africa has been historically low.

And the Africans under the leadership of Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, realized that if they are going to increase inter-African trade, if they were going to become a better investment destination, they had to remove some of these barriers.

So I think that's what explains the integration, economic integration. On the democracy side, I think it's a number of trend lines that are coming together. First, as I said, still strong support for democracy, but I think there are new ways in which people can organize and mobilize that has changed politics in Africa. As it's become more urban, you've been able to communicate with each other in new ways through telephones and mobile phones.

We're seeing more protests on the streets. We're seeing more people push for change. And so, whether it's the uprising in Sudan that ended President Al Bashir's rule or it is the remarkable changes in Ethiopia or just increasingly cyclical transfers of power, I think a number of things are happening that really cut against the grain in both the global trends, as you've talked about, but even the way people think about sub Saharan Africa.

Because you can always pull out the autocracy or the democracy that is in recession or is regressing. But if you step back and look at the picture, it's actually very exciting. And what I tell people is, let's not look at this about democracy as up or down, let's look at the forces that have sort of created a status quo around governance are changing. And I expect a lot of volatility.

We'll come to you and have these really big surprises and we'll have these setbacks. But I think that people, the governed and the governing, are working on the new rules of the game. And so, it's a really interesting time right now.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Are there countries, and I'm thinking of South Africa, I'm thinking of Nigeria, I'm thinking of Kenya, are there countries that kind of lead the continent? Or is that not a right way of thinking about it?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

U.S. policy has always thought about sort of anchor states: Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. They have outsized military forces, they are loud and vocal globally and on the continent. I don't think that is as true as much anymore. Nigeria has been dealing with its own internal security problems.

Their President isn't the most dynamic. Ethiopia is in the middle of a transition; South Africa is way down by economic problems. And so, what I think you've seen is a democratization of leadership in Africa. Different countries step up at different times.

So there's not one single voice. You can't as you did under the Bush Administration or under the Obama Administration say, "Well, Nigeria is going to carry our water in West Africa." It just doesn't happen anymore. You've got to, I think, build these coalitions with the Senegals and the Ghanas in some regions and still rely on South Africa and Kenya for other things.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You, Judd, you mentioned earlier that other countries are paying attention to what's going on in Africa.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And seeing some of the opportunities that you talked about. So can you talk a little about what third party actors, namely China and Russia, are doing on the continent? And if there are others, to, that are interesting, please mention those.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. Let me start with China. I think it's really important to say that China poses some threats to the U.S. in what it's doing. But I've been really disappointed with our policy, because we haven't been precise about what we're trying to counter when it comes to China.

MICHAEL MORELL:

With China?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

With China. We seem to want to focus on blocking them at every turn in sub Saharan Africa. And I don't know, it's like mad libs right now. It's we are worried about activity, fill in the blank, in country, fill in the blank, because of China. And I don't even think we have articulated at least publicly what is the end state that we are looking for.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And it's that "because of China" that is the driver, right?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, it's the because of China. And I think that if we are going to be effective at managing what China is doing in sub Saharan Africa, we need to be specific about what the threats are. So I would say, first of all, it's Chinese investment in critical infrastructure. Ports. We just did a paper at CSIS, 46 ports the Chinese are invested in, operating or building in Africa.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And that's a risk because--?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

That's a risk because it can limit our mobility, our access to these countries, our ability for our military, our ability for our private sector to get involved.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the Chinese port could eventually become a Chinese military base?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Absolutely. That's what we saw in Djibouti.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

So I worry about ports. I worry about cyber and telecoms. The Chinese have built about 70% of Africa's 4G, it will be 100% of their 5G. Even satellites, Africa is starting to launch more and more satellites and the Chinese are behind it. So we should focus on that.

We should focus on the people-to-people investment that China is doing. They're actually focusing on winning hearts and minds. More African students study in China than they do in the United States. China has a program now where they're trying to provide satellite television to 10,000 villages.

I think that's decadal, the impacts of that. But the thing about China that gets the most oxygen in Washington is economics. And here is where I think we need to be a lot more nuanced. China is addressing the needs of Africans. This is a region that has the lowest railroad density in the world.

They need between $130 billion and $170 billion of infrastructure investments per year, according to the African Development Bank, and China is doing a lot of that stuff. So what we need to do with China in my view is we can't tell Africans not to take the money, because our private sector is not providing that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

China does $200 billion a year and we do $40 billion. But we can help them to make sure the deals are better, that they don't discriminate against the U.S. private sector, that they have the environmental regulations. So that's how I think about China.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Russia.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, Russia is an easier conversation that China, right? I don't need much nuance. There is very few upsides to what Russia is doing. Essentially, President Putin needs permissive environments for his companies to invest in after the sanctions were imposed on his government and he's looking to score points.

Africa is a place where he can work asymmetrically. They don't do much that helps African economies. They sell arms. They're the largest exporter of arms to Africa in the world. They are involved in oil and gas industries, in energy. But often, that comes with a side of corruption. What they're really doing is being fairly disruptive to politics.

If they have an opportunity to side with an autocrat to provide technical expertise to help Al Bashir stay in power, that's what they'll do. So they are looking to sell themselves as returning to the glory days of the Soviet Union in Africa.

And I think one of the things that we need to be careful about is not call them a great power. They're not. And I think when we call them a great power in Africa, we do Putin's bidding. They're a minnow. At least compared to us, the Chinese and Europe.

So I think that we need to do a better job at isolating and not elevating Russia. We need to close some of the loops that make it permissive for their companies to work in this area. And we need to be better about gauging Africans to inoculate them from these kinds of intrusions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Are there big European players?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, France is still very involved. And in fact, President Macron just recently had a summit where he talked about what his government is doing on the Sahel. The U.K., the week of this recording, just had its first U.K. Africa Investment Summit. Malta, I don't know why I'm sharing this, but Malta just came out with their own Africa strategy, just to give you a sense of the diversity here.

The other region that I should spend just a second talking about is the Gulf. The Gulf is very active in Africa and Turkey is very active in Africa. In some cases, that's not bad, they're doing some of the investments. DP Ports is investing in lots of places all over the continent.

But what they've done that has been really negative is they have exported their political riffs to the region and it's been problematic for Somalia and countries that don't want to choose between the UAE on one side and Qatar on the other side. Turkey has also been involved on the commerce commercial side. They are doing some security assistance. As I said, it's a crowded space.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So extremist, Jihadist extremism, seems to be to be a growing problem on the continent.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Is that right? And if so, why is it happening and how much of a threat is it to Europe, to us?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. We have to remember that Al-Qaeda's major attack was in Africa, right, against our embassies in Tanzania, in Kenya. But in the last couple decades, I think the problem has become more diverse, more geographically dispersed and more deadly.

There are Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in West and East Africa and Southern Africa. We are seeing unaligned extremist groups like Boko Haram. The number of attacks that they are doing are increasing and I think the lethality of them are increasing.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Primarily against local targets?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Primarily against local targets. So in Nigeria, for example, according to a Council on Foreign Relations Database, 35,000 have died from Boko Haram in ISIS West Africa attacks or in conflict between those groups and the Nigerian military. In the Sahel, there's been a fivefold increase in deaths since 2016, 4,000 people.

So it's primarily African targets. But I just testified in front of the House, and what I said is that it's probably a low probability that they are going to attack the U.S. directly, but I think it has some significant impacts for us. First of all, it endangers our citizens that live in Africa and our economic investments. There was an attack by Al-Shabaab earlier this year, where they hit a Kenya military base, where the U.S. trains Kenyans and an American service person died and two contractors.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

They tried to attack our base in Somalia, as well. And Americans have been caught up in the hotel attacks and the mall attacks. There is a group affiliated with ISIS right near a huge L&G find in Mozambique. So it does threaten our interests about the people who live in Africa, our facilities and our economic investments.

It also, as it continues to fester, entangles us in very expensive peace keeping and humanitarian operations. So I think we need to be proactive when we think about that there is the secondary effects. And the last one is the more that extremist deepens and we are seen as less responsive, I think we lose the trust of our partners.

I mean, Macron made a very clear pitch that he felt like the U.S. wasn't there helping. Our African partners have said the same. And Russia, particularly, has rushed in to kind of find an opportunity here. So it's not a direct threat to the homeland, but a huge amount of sort of impacts downstream.

MICHAEL MORELL:

What's behind the expansion of extremism on the continent?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah, I think partly it's a matter of governance and poor governance. And I think the affiliates, Al-Qaeda and ISIS have been sort of shopping for partners. I try to be very careful about talking about ISIS and AQ as if they're drivers because we don't want to lose the local elements. It's just as helpful for the local extremist group to work with Al-Qaeda and ISIS as it is vice versa.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So in a lot of cases, these groups existed already with local grievances and then they took on the name?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yes, yes, yeah. They take on the name and there is a back and forth between the network and the local group and the network doesn't always get what it wants. But I think that those relationships have improved recruitment, have improved some of the tactical and strategic efforts maybe even to help them, like, IEDs and other things.

So I think poor governance, the attraction of networking with these groups and then the most important part is government mistakes. There is a study by UNDP that looked at sort of extremists in Africa and 71% of militants, former militants, said they joined an extremist group because a family member or friend was abused, detained by the security forces.

So many of these African militaries make the wrong moves that push people further into the arms of the extremists. So those are a couple of the things that I would highlight is why we keep seeing this proliferation of these groups.

MICHAEL MORELL:

You talked earlier about the expansion of democracy. You talked earlier about poor governance, extremism now being a consequence of that poor governance. Is there a correlation or causation between a state being more democratic and the quality of its governance in Africa?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. Oh, sorry, I thought you were going to go in a different direction. I thought you were going to as whether or not correlation between democracy and extremist activity, which there is actually some good evidence. On the democracy and the governance, I don't have the numbers. But my experience says that it depends, right? I mean, if you are a democratic state and you are being responsive to your citizens, then in theory, the governance will improve over time.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right, right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

But in some cases, what happens is because the democracy, people are elected through (UNINTEL) networks, that you can actually use corruption to sort of focus on your own personal constituents, as opposed to the betterment of your total population. So you really have to go case by case to talk about, you know, where are all people benefiting versus people who are sort of in the circle of the President and the ruling party?

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Judd, I think this is a good place to switch to U.S. policy and maybe we'll finish up on this. U.S. policy toward the region. How would you characterize it? What's working? What's not? If

you could advise the President, what would you tell him?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Yeah. You know, I think that our policy makers on Africa are stuck with the challenge of being asked to do less with less. And it's taken them a while to I think figure out how they are going to push policy. And I want to give them some credit because it's taken a little while, but I've been happy with some of the results, but just to kind of go back a little bit.

Like in many other parts of the world, we didn't have policy makers on Africa for a long time in Washington or in the field. And so, there was this period where it was really this unhappy marriage between Obama policies they weren't sure they were going to dismantle and Trump policies that hadn't been constructed yet. And so, you've got a lot of contractions. And then you had Tweets and other sorts of, you know, travel bans that made things worse.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, right, right.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

And then President Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, unveils the strategy, and this doesn't go off very well either because it's almost entirely about Russia and China. The Africans felt like they were not part of the strategy.

But in the last year, I've been pleased with the bureaucracy finding a way. They launched an economic initiative called Prosper Africa, it's a lot to go still, but it's a good step, right? It's addressing some of the challenges that the U.S. private sectors had in investing in Africa. They've kind of found their footing on democracy and governance, which isn't really in any of the strategy documents or speeches.

But sanctions now on election spoilers in Nigeria, on corrupt officials in Kenya, on people who are stopping the peace process in South Sudan. So those are positive. The big question in year four is: Where is the DOD going? And you may know there is a proposal in front of Secretary of Defense Esper about withdrawing maybe even completely our troops in Africa, about 6,000 people. They already had reduced West African forces about 10%. I think this is a really dangerous policy. I think it's reckless.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And they are there supporting local forces who are fighting extremists?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Local forces, yeah. And it's not just sort of the CT side of the house, they're building capacity for Africans to deal with security challenges and they're there at the request of African governments. And we are there in partnership with our European friends.

And this has caused great anxiety amongst the global community that we may walk away from the continent. We have done this before and it wasn't very good. So you may know, Michael, that in the '90s, we dramatically reduced our presence in Africa. And then after 9/11 and the growing CT threat, we realized, actually, we need to be back. So reset those relationships.

Rebuild capacity. Reinvest in infrastructure. A lack of DOD presence is going to not only, you know, make us seem less committed to these challenges, but there are the other effects. Our

diplomats and our development officers depend on the military to get out to these hard-to-reach places.

I think our analysts are going to have a harder time understanding dynamics in Africa if there is less U.S. presence in these places. So I'm really concerned. I'm elated that the Hill has stepped up. Senator Graham, Senator Coons, a number of people on the House side have said this is a bad idea. And hopefully, Secretary Esper will decide not to do this.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah. And if we're not there, who fills the vacuum?

JUDD DEVERMONT:

Right, exactly. Our adversaries.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Judd, thank you so much for joining us.

JUDD DEVERMONT:

My pleasure. Thank you.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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