Strength Through Understanding

Research & Publications

Research Topic: Contours of The Ogaden War

Supervisor: Professor Richard Reid

Research Synopsis:

Why did Somalia invade Ethiopia in July 1977? Despite accounts describing the war in terms of Cold War Rivalry and African decisive battles in a rare instance of African Interstate war, this conflict was really one part of a larger renaissance of regional dynamics and a resumption of wars rooted in patterns of violence dating before the 19th Century. These precolonial patterns of violence constructed politically unstable states defined by opportunistic militarism. Precolonial history, therefore, has been vital in shaping late 20th Century conflict. The Somali invasion and subsequent Ogaden War, therefore, is rooted in much earlier patterns of violence between Ethiopians and Somalis which means any account of The Ogaden War requires historical depth. How was the Ogaden War actually fought from the perspective of its combatants? Were there specific or unique Ethiopian and/or Somali practices in war or warfare? Was there actually something exceptional and superior about the Ethiopian highlanders, reflected in their national style of warfare, which was the cause of their battlefield success? Did these battlefield successes end of the war and resolve the conflict? I hope my work sheds light on these unanswered—and unasked—critical questions.


As an American Army Officer and historian of modern Africa, I am focused upon understanding contemporary warfare Africa and its deeper historical roots. I am particularly interested in the culture and practice of warfare in the modern period and have focused on the transformations in violence in the late precolonial period (the nineteenth century), as well as on more recent armed insurgencies, especially those between the 1950s and the 1980s. While some of my published work spans across the continent such as Terrorists in Mali or insurgencies in Niger, my primary research at Oxford is on the Horn of Africa and focused upon the Frontiers of Violence between Ethiopia and Somalia.

The American Way of War in Africa: the case of Niger

Increasing attention on U.S. casualties in Africa and headlines about American “secret wars in Africa” have fueled discussion about American military involvement on the continent. Despite the fact that Africa has been a part of the American way of war since the beginnings of the United States – consider the early combat actions of U.S. Marines in Tripoli – current African conflicts are challenging our understanding of war and approaches to winning them. This article examines the ways America seeks to achieve its ends in Africa with a particular focus upon the last ten years of American counter-terrorism and stability operations in Niger and the Sahel Region. I offer an alternative to unify American, Allied, and partner efforts through a strategy of Active Containment

Terrorist Sanctuary in the Sahara

The idea to deny sanctuary to terrorist groups lies at the heart of contemporary U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Violent extremist organizations in North Africa have used remote and sparsely populated areas in the Sahara for protection from security forces to perform a range of activities such as training, planning, and logistics in order to conduct terrorist operations like kidnapping, murder, and bombing. Even after the many years since the September 11 attacks and the enormous resources dedicated to efforts to deny sanctuary, the concept of sanctuary remains largely unexplored. This multi-disciplinary inquiry utilizes a wide range of open-source documents as well as anthropological, sociological, and political science research, including interviews with one-time Belmokhtar hostage, Ambassador Robert Fowler, in order to construct a picture of what a day in the life of sanctuary-seeking terrorists is like.

Ethiopia: Enigma and Dilemma

Ethiopia—a foreign policy risk or an economic opportunity? I present contemporary risks and opportunities by analyzing Cold War Ethiopian-American relations and contrasting them with current events in order to derive foreign policy lessons for contemporary policy practitioners.

African Defense and Security: Looking Forward

Those interested in Africa and Defense are ahead of the crowd. They understand that the nations and people of Africa are future great powers and Defense and Security will play a major role in tomorrow’s world. What is the future of defense and security forces in Africa?

Common Sense and Uncommon Leadership

What kind of leadership does Africa need and do Africans demand? I explore the rise of African democracy in my 2015 online essay published by Africa Leadership Magazine.

Essential Africa

The United States is increasingly becoming involved in Africa, and many new to the most diverse continent often inquire what should be read to better understand the often enigmatic people and places of Africa. I propose ten books which I believe capture several essential elements of Africa which are likely to be expected of a Foreign Area Officer, or anyone with a deeper interest in Africa. To understand, one must hear the story of Africa, to listen carefully to the voices telling the story, and to seek comprehension of the context from which those voices speak. Thus, my selections are weighted towards work striving to make that voice heard and to tell the story of Africa and Africans as clearly and candidly as possible. Experiencing Africa first-hand is exciting, dynamic, colorful, humorous, and memorable; reading about it should be no less.

Biometrics: No Longer Science Fiction

Biometrics is no longer just Science Fiction but an increasing reality in our lives. I discussed the concepts of biometrics in my 2007 essay published in the “Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin.”