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Research Questions

  1. How are defense institution building efforts in Africa planned and executed?
  2. How do these activities support official U.S. strategic goals?
  3. What lessons can be learned from the experiences of other countries engaged in defense institution building in Africa?

This report assesses U.S. efforts in defense institution building (DIB) in Africa and suggests possible improvements to planning and execution. It first defines DIB and reviews some best practices from DIB and security sector reform experiences. It also highlights how DIB activities serve U.S. official strategic guidance for Africa. The report then examines how DIB is currently planned and executed in Africa and describes the range of programs that are available to U.S. planners for that purpose. It also provides a structured approach to aid in the prioritization of such programs. The report then analyzes DIB efforts in two African nations — Liberia and Libya. Finally, it examines how other institutions and countries undertake DIB by taking a closer look at the DIB activities of DoD's regional centers, as well as the relatively extensive experience of two key U.S. allies — the United Kingdom and France — in this domain.

Key Findings

  • Understanding how to tailor programs to specific conditions of partner nations, gaining buy-in from partner leadership, incorporating civil society considerations, and establishing monitoring and evaluation techniques should greatly improve DIB effectiveness. We found little evidence these best practices were being systematically documented to support DIB planners.
  • Formal guidance is insufficient and communication is overly ad hoc, given the complexity of DIB and how it relates to security cooperation more generally.
  • DIB is a stepping stone to other U.S. defense objectives in Africa. Planners often fail to understand the important linkages between DIB objectives and other U.S. objectives.
  • Significant resource and legislative constraints inhibit the United States from effectively applying security sector reform and DIB lessons.
  • OSD and AFRICOM officials disagreed on DIB priorities and even the definition of DIB. In part because of different understandings of DIB and in part because DoD planners did not consistently document activities, monitoring of activities was uneven. Coordination challenges among OSD, AFRICOM, and others led to ineffective articulation of requirements, poor communication of DIB opportunities to African partners, poor understanding of partner interests, and insufficient substantive or regional expertise.
  • There are more DIB-related programs (47) than is generally thought. DIB can be implemented through a variety of activities, including sending of advisors, needs assessments, education, information exchanges, and personnel exchanges. Such variety provides options for implementing DIB even with sensitive partners. Strengthening DIB efforts in Africa does not require creating new programs but rather focusing existing programs in this direction.


  • DoD should develop a DIB best practices briefing tailored to Africa. This briefing could address strategic guidance and best practices.
  • DoD leaders should work with Congress to address the need for additional DIB-related resources and to facilitate whole-of-government, long-term DIB efforts.
  • DoD should develop a security cooperation playbook with a prominent section on DIB, written in simple language describing how DIB supports other U.S. objectives and how it can be used with African partners. The playbook would help planners coordinate activities and communicate with African partners.
  • AFRICOM should develop guidance for country desk officers to consistently coordinate DIB planning efforts across the command and country teams. This would help harmonize DIB-related objectives in country-level plans.
  • AFRICOM should strengthen its DIB coordinator office and institutionalize an annual DIB conference.
  • DoD should set up a DIB enterprise liaison at AFRICOM as part of AFRICOM's DIB coordinator office.
  • DoD should include a DIB familiarization module in its Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management Course and by having AFRICOM institutionalize in-house DIB training. Such training should improve understanding of how these many different programs can be employed toward DIB and how to integrate them with other security cooperation activities.
  • DoD should organize a pilot effort in a single African country to serve as a model for future DIB activities, including a five-year DIB plan developed by U.S. and partner stakeholders. The plan would be based on a comprehensive baseline assessment conducted jointly with partner nation and international officials.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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