our leaders skipped history class: revealing the u.s. foreign policy on africa

Learning from the past and taking lessons from history are what we often pride ourselves in doing. Our elementary and high school teachers would often use this phrase when referring to wars and conflicts, strategies and crises, mistakes and wrong-doings. We work so often in history courses to note that great leaders learned or did not learn from past actions. What can be said now for the our current leaders?

We are now the recipients of a bad history grade in policy on Africa. The US has a unprecendented push to re-militarize Africa. Before I continue on this point we need to look back in time. The colonial legacy began with the arrival of Portuguese soldiers on African soil. The first encounter that any Africans had with Europe was with the military. Likewise, the colonial masters first established the institutions of the military and police to be able to ‘control’ their territories. Eventually the occupied Africans were incorporated into those systems and made to conform to the militarized method of ruling a colony. Much of the conflict, war, and strife in Africa can be linked back to this colonial legacy of militarization. The colonial era of militarization moved on into World War II, further on then to the Cold War – each time Africa became more militarized with the most advanced killing equipment.

Now in the age of a supposed ‘war on terror’ the US is propogating the re-militarization on Africa. Back in January I wrote about the birth of the African Command and past US/ CIA ventures in Africa. This was a timely development as conflict grew on the African continent, the colonial military legacy expanded also in a time of great strife and forced division of Africa. Recently one of my professors gave a lecture on the current US involvement in Africa. Much of what he had to say I already knew, but an equally large amount was new information to me. He told the class that he had been invited to the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mihigan to talk to a unit about Africa. However, he soon learned that this was no introductory talk about Africa as everyone in the unit had traveled to the African countries where US interest is strongest. This month I wrote about the presidential candidates and their stances on African issues as well as the growing amount of military training and weapons supplied to Africa. Is all this really in the name of terrorism? Or is there a greater underlying issue? Oil? The US triangle of influence in Africa includes all of the African countries that have discovered and exported oil. Coincedence?

The new African Command is seen by some as a milestone in US foreign policy showing that the US actually does care about Africa. I would say this is a great representation of how we have seen Africa throughout our policy writing – only important when the US has a self-interest or gain to achieve. I have to agree with the growing number of people who are not pleased with AFRICOM. So far there is only a handful of African countries that agree to hosting the AFRICOM base. It seems that the only future for US foreign policy in Africa will be military based. Our ‘development’ and aid work will be conducted by the military and people will begin looking to the military for aid and assisatance. In a BBC article a Kenyan columnist sums up the fears of many, “The military now is going to be working with civil society, to promote health and education. Africa is going to look at all its development efforts through the lens of the Pentagon. That’s a truly dangerous dimension. We don’t need militarisation of Africa, we don’t need securitisation of aid and development in Africa.” For a comprehensive archive of US military involvement in Africa check out the Association for Concerned African Scholars (ACAS).

I cannot remember where I read, but in an article about the history of the US’s foreign policy an expert had said that it was, “one bad decision after another”(hopefully I can track down the quotee). From my study and knowledge of US foreign policy I can see the obvious truth of such a statement. The truth of this statement is relevant especially in regards to Africa. “One bad decision after another.” Zimbabwe is all over the news after Mugabe kicked out the white farmers and now the country’s economy is plummeting. What many people do not know is that as the Rhodesian conflicts waned and constitutions to grant freedom were written the US played a crucial role. When the new constitution was revealed with no mention of land for Northern Rhodesia’s majority population, Mugabe and Nkomo were ready to leave the talks. The British government reached out to the US President Carter to back a deal to pay white farmers for their land, which would then be redistributed.

the new military frontlines – africa?

In an article written by a Washington Post blogger and later briefly analyzed and linked to on the Foreign Policy website, the new Africa Command, which has been created to supposedly focus on the globe’s most neglected region, approved by Donald Rumsfeld, will be operational within two months. Some say this mark an important change in US policy more focused on preventative measures rather than Cold War posturing. Currently there are five commands, three of those split the African region. It has been suggested that the creation of the Africa Command will allow a single organization for agencies like the State Department and CIA. Now stop, the State Dept. and CIA? The last time US military was based in Africa was during World War II. More recently the CIA has been involved on the continent throughout the Cold War and, I am fairly certain, currently. Through the US government the CIA did some ‘wonderful’ work: propping up numerous “democratic” dictators (Milton Obote and Idi Amin in Uganda) and assassinating a true democratic leader, Lumumba in Zaire (DRC), and setting another dictator, Mobutu. These are just a few examples of the track record of the US military and CIA on the African continent, not to mention the misguided attempts in Somalia and the fearful neglect of the Rwandan genocide. The US military has many links to rebel movements and the put-down of rebel movements in roughly six African countries since 1990.

The Washington Post blogger, William Arkin, is quoted in the Foreign Policy blog that he does not believe the new Africa Command will be a positive for the continent. The FP piece then asks: “Why?” The obvious answer to that question is just look at what the US government has done or attempted to do in Africa. With the US’s current actions and their ‘putting Africa on the back burner’ (or maybe its not even on the stovetop) I really do not think much has changed. A new command to place the US military and CIA present on the continent cannot be a positive change in policy. The US has provided military support to Sahel countries with known oil resources such as Chad and Ethiopia, but not Sudan. The US military is afraid of actual action on the African continent since the 1993 Somalia mission. A genocide is by far too much for the current administration to handle. Bush on genocide, “Not on my watch.” Try opening your eyes.

Interesting to take note of is China’s Africa Policy released last year. Last year I wrote a post, check it out, about the new African policy focused on helping to build infrastructure regardless of political regime type in exchange for natural resources. A policy without ethics some might say. Is this new Africa Command a front to the recent increase in Chinese aid and involvement on the continent? Keep your eyes on the lookout for US military actions in Africa. Also check out the Times article on the Africa Command.