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Africa's big issues for 2010

World Cup, Sudan, piracy and food will make headlines

Piracy: 2009 was another banner year for piracy off the coast of Somalia. In 2010, hijackings in the Indian Ocean by Somali pirates will continue, but it’s also likely there will be a spike in piracy off Nigeria's Atlantic coast.

Overshadowed by the hyperactive pirates in the Gulf of Aden, Nigerian piracy has been quietly on the rise for several years. However, it’s difficult to know how large this increase actually is. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center, the global authority on piracy attacks, believes that Nigerian piracy is seriously underreported. With continued unrest in the Niger Delta, unsafe coastal waters will make Nigeria even more unattractive to multinational oil companies. Increased instability in Africa’s most populous country will not go unnoticed in the United States, and could prompt the young U.S. Africa Command to assist in patrolling Nigerian waters.

Somalia: Africa’s longest-running failed state will remain a diplomatic headache for the United States and one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. There are rumors that Al Shabaab, the militant Islamic youth organization that has recruited Somali youth from Minnesota, has upped its ties with Al Qaeda. Whether this is true or not (the evidence is vague) almost doesn’t matter.

The United States has a history of ill-advised actions in Somalia, from backing warlords to supporting an Ethiopian invasion in 2006 that routed the one group who had briefly brought stability to the country — the moderate Islamic Courts Union. Now, the United States has few constructive policy options and Al Shabaab has started making threats to attack targets outside Somalia.

Agriculture/food security: The Obama administration’s biggest Africa policy initiative thus far is a food security and agriculture project that was first announced at the G8 summit in July 2009. Since then, the administration has been consulting with a variety of African stakeholders — from the World Bank to USAID to African governments — on the composition of the policy. 2010 should see more concrete details emerge on this food security initiative that could become as significant to Obama’s Africa policy as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was to George W. Bush’s Africa policy.