Obama’s Africa Policy is Military Policy

Oil and US Military Activities in Africa

Many people had high hopes for Obama’s presidency having a serious focus and positive impact on the African continent (including myself). The policies of past presidents relegated Africa to a single, monolithic policy for a continent of 55 countries. Under Bush, AFRICOM launched and a renewed focus on military engagement became the norm for US Africa Policy with the US military providing anti-terrorism training and the military implementing humanitarian aid projects typically conducted by USAID.

As Obama was campaigning as a Senator, I thought he had great potential to make changes in US Africa Policy. In 2007, I wrote:

Just last year the Illinois Senator went on an African tour visiting South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad – discussing the issues of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the growing violence in Darfur, refugees from the Sudan conflict, the Kibera slums, and Africa becoming a new haven for terrorists. I wonder if he is in favor of the Africa Command? Obama presents a great hope for American political reform and rebirth, but also Obama presents a great hope for Africa and bringing about a more focused and effective and involved US African Policy that is not afraid to invest in the continent. (Written 01/06/2007)

President Obama began his presidency repairing the world’s view of the US after the extremely negative view the world population held of Bush and his wars in the Middle East. In 2009, Obama gave compelling speeches in Ghana and Egypt. To me, these speeches seemed to signify that the Obama Administration was going to engage countries in Africa as individual actors and place engagement in Africa as a higher priority.

My hopes aren’t as strong as Obama begins his campaign for a second term. It is no mystery that Obama’s focus has been on domestic issues during the last 4 years. Beyond the far reaching impacts of political unrest and change across North Africa and the Middle East, Obama’s Africa Policy has been kept at an arms length. Hillary Clinton has done a commendable job of managing the US’s image abroad, but Obama’s Administration has not engaged the continent the same way he has spoken to and about Africa.

How has Obama fared since his Africa Tour of 2006? What advances have been made in US Africa Policy? Here are the issues since 2006:

HIV/AIDS

Arguably the most prominent accomplishment of Obama’s term was passing Healthcare Reform. Much of his time and effort was focused on fighting, compromising, and pushing for this legislation. The strong domestic focus is expected, but its seems Obama only mentions HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day. This past year (2011) Obama had a strong story and spoke of a growing commitment to “The End of AIDS.” However, we have also seen Congress push to slash our humanitarian aid budget to even less than 1% while at the same time the Global Fund is in a funding crisis. Bush often mention PEPFAR in his State of the Union speeches, but Obama never has. This may have just been political, Bush needed to deflect attention from his unpopular war-mongering and Obama needed to draw in his base of supporters for the upcoming election. Obama has said publicly that he will defend the US funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund. Many people note that if Obama is elected to a second term he will likely be involved in more international issues. This seems to be one on Obama’s radar for future involvement.

Darfur, Sudan

While serving in the Senate, Obama was a staunch advocate for ending genocide in Darfur. After elected, he appointed strong anti-genocide advocates to key posts: Susan Rice, UN Representative for the US, and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State. During Obama’s term, the world’s newest country was formed: South Sudan. Both Obama and Clinton have made statements affirming US support for the new country of South Sudan. Obama has made strong statements that South Sudan and Sudan need to move past long standing differences if they are to both prosper, but the reality on the ground is another story. The violence and bloodshed has not ended. Rhetorically I ask, why have no troops been sent to Darfur or South Sudan?

Slums

During his Africa Tour, Senator Obama visited the Kibera slum in Kenya. The AFRICOM 2011 statement of purpose notes the great need for increased economic support in Africa to bring stability and growth. This past year has seen revolutions and uprisings against governments across Africa, from human rights protests in Uganda, to full revolution in Egypt, armed conflict in Libya, land protests in South Africa, to #OccupyNigeria decrying the oil industry’s grip on the country. The slums in full view of skyscrapers are a common sight in many of the developing world’s major cities. Global inequality is not being ignored any longer and populations are taking things into their own hands. Obama has been known to be in close personal contact with African heads of state. US investment in Africa has not been as well publicized.

In 2011, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis spoke about the US’s Africa trade and investment policy. Marantis highlighted the small-scale, project by project, country by country investment related to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as well as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), but it seems that the glaring issues with these programs raised during the Bush administration have not been addressed. Marantis also spoke of the US’s efforts to sign bi-lateral trade agreements, 7 total, which will increase private investments. If you ask me this is a poor response and demonstrates a lack of imagination and innovation towards African engagement.

Terrorism

This has been by far the most prominent area of the Obama Administraion’s Africa Policy. Out of all issues focused on in Africa, the military intervention and on the ground action seems to be the “go to move” for African engagement. Since 2003, the US military has been conducting anti-terrorism trainings with many African militaries in the West African Sahel region, working to mitigate Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). The US military has also been involved in the Somali conflict, helping Kenyan troops to protect their border and engaging Al-Shabab, these efforts have not been without civilian casualties. Recently, US special forces went into Somalia to rescue aid workers held by a Somali pirate group.

Obama authorized the US military to run support missions in Libya, carrying out the majority of flight missions attacking Libyan military installations. The US military presence was significant even though the UK and France were leading the mission. More recently in October 2011, Obama announced he would be sending around 100 troops to Uganda to assist in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) responsible for a long running conflict affecting Northern Uganda and neighboring regions.

This year, the bombing skills of Boko Haram have improved quickly and the Nigerian and US militaries believe AQIM is teaching militants in Nigeria to make better bombs. The attack on the US Embassy has lead the US to commit military efforts to helping the Nigerian government fight Boko Haram.

What will 2012 Bring?

Some have called these various efforts the “Pentagon’s shadow war in Africa,” however nothing has been veiled in shadows. The US holds nothing back to show it is there to militarily support African countries. The US Africa Policy has been revealed to be a focus on mitigation of terrorist groups that seem to be gaining ground and ensuring regional security before other economic or humanitarian efforts are increased.

“Africa is not big in Washington, there is no constituency that cares about Africa that much,” said Kwaku Nuamah, a Ghanaian professor at American University in Washington.  “I did not think the traditional contours of American foreign policy were going to change because there was somebody in the White House with ties to Africa, but of course a lot of people expected that.”

Like all presidents, Obama has many words and equally many unfulfilled commitments. As Obama is focused domestically, it has been the US military that has demonstrated his Africa Policy. Obama has chosen the sword over the pen in implementing policy across the continent and I can only continue to hope, like others, that a second term for Obama will mean more non-military engagement in Africa. This all goes without noting the US’s competition with China in Africa. . .

the continuous scramble for africa

From the so called great scramble to the new scramble, I believe that there never really is any difference or change in scrambling. The imperialist tendencies and actions towards Africa have been concentrated in one continuous scramble – for resources: land, people, minerals, diamonds, timber, markets, etc. A continuous scramble and a systematic exploitation and looting of the African continent. Globalization and the global political economy are generally not looked at through the African perspective. While I can hardly offer that perspective, I work to understand.

For a long while many people, non-Africans, Europeans and African alike have understood the systematic destruction of Africa. Quoted in an article in Alternatives: A book written by Walter Rodney in the 1970s was titled “how Europe underdeveloped Africa” and Karl Marx noted in his Critique of the Political Economy that the “hunt for black skins” signaled the dawn of capitalism. It seems the African continent may have been doomed from the birth of the capitalist dream.

The Scramble for Africa began long before the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, when the African cake was divided by European powers for land claims and resources (slave trade). The scramble, however, did not end after that conference. The European powers were not appeased with just staking claim to the land. Oppressive and brutal remained in control and increased their thirst for more, and more. The Alternatives article notes that there now exists NEPAD, the WTO, EU, AGOA, EPA, and I think you could place any international agreement that places the wants of those in power over the long exploited African people.

The article also notes the increase and spread of the Chinese influence in African markets seeking to gain access to fossil fuels and resources. There is now considerable critique into the effects and practices of the Chinese (I have been part of this). However, this makes the practices of the EU and the USA almost completely fall from the picture. Well the Chinese may be pursuing extremely detrimental practices in Africa they cannot be left as the scapegoat for why Africa is “under-developed,” exploited and robbed of resources to spur growth. The European powers and the USA need to be exposed and the ills of their actions need to be dissected and understood as well. These “historically-structurally disadvantaged societies” need leaders who will place the interests of their country-people above their own advancement. A lot needs to happen if the scramble is to end, but that requires a recognition to the problem and a plan to empower local communities. Resources do not have to be the downfall of a country. As long as the resources are used properly and agreements are in place so that the benefit reaches the people resource can be a positive. It is my opinion that African countries need to adopt a near protectionist policy in regards to socio-economic matters if the scramble and following exploit is to stop.

China is pouring money into Africa for “development” flooding markets and building infrastructure with money that will flow right back into China, the US is militarizing the continent at a frightening rate (nothing new) to “fight terrorism” and gain access to resources in their “triangle of interest,” Brazil, India, Russia, and countless other countries are positioning themselves to yet again eat from the African cake. This competition can work as a positive for Africa, but only as long as the minority of elites need to recognize the great need of their people.

democractic movements as terrorism

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is the Zimbabwean political party focused on promoting democracy in a country where it has become very dangerous to associate with politics. Formed as an opposition party to the Zimbabwean African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), which is led by current President Robert Mugabe, the MDC brings together a number of civil society groups. The MDC is now labeled as a terrorist organization by Mugabe’s government, political activists are regularly beaten and arrested, and known members of the MDC disappear. The MDC front webpage tells of three recent deaths of people closely affiliated with the MDC. The site notes that this is becoming an all too common.

In a 2000 parlimentary election MDC candidates won overwhelming majorities, but there were calls of unfair elections and the issue remains caught up in Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court. The South African Development Community (SADC) and the South African Ministerial Observer team both maintain their positions that the election was free and fair. MDC members say there was harassment and force used by the ZANU-PF government at the polls. In 2004 the MDC split over the decision to take part in the 2005 parlimentary elections because of the “illegitimate outcome” of the last election. The MDC voted to take part in the elections (33-31), but Morgan Tsvangirai voted the decision down saying it was a waste of time. The MDC then split into Tsvangirai’s decision supporters and pro-senate members, led by the former MDC deputy. Some say that the split was ethnic based.

There are two main ethnic groups in Zimbabwe, the Shona (75%) and Ndebele (19%). Ndebele was an ethnic category that grew out of the military state created by the British in 1830. The ethnic term of Ndebele encompassed people of many different origins and in fact Shona people lived in this conquered area, but were placed under the Ndebele label. However, the ethnic identifications of and between these two groups were very low and there was no historical enmity between them. In 1896-7 these ethnic groups actually joined in the Ndebele-Shona Chimurenga resistance to the British. Guerilla forces grew and became political parties, but neither was purely ethnic based and recruited across the board. Needless to say the ‘ethnic conflict’ in Zimbabwe was the least serious of all African ethnic conflicts. The greatest conflict was between Black and White in Zimbabwe. There have been recent talks to reunite the split political parties.

This is the real historical problem that has led to Zimbabwe’s current problems. The problem in Zimbabwe can be summed up to a battle between Pan-Africanism and Neo-colonialism. Mugabe has called for White people to leave and so it makes the situation difficult when British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said that he is working closely with the MDC to create a regime change. Well there may be a high degree of internal pressure, the external powers cannot be dismissed. In order for the Western powers to achieve the goal of regime change they will use their secret services, CIA, network os military bases, and economic tactics. There is this other side of the argument that says maybe the MDC is not promoting democracy at all and is really a facade for Westerners to experiment in African politics yet again (Zaire’s Lumumba?).

Back to democracy, regardless of conspiracies the basics for democarcy do not exist in Zimbabwe. Recently six MDC members were arrested under the “Law and Order Act” for holding illegal political meetings. The 2008 Presidential election is close and the MDC and ZANU-PF are in negotiations. Tsvangirai has said that the MDC wants to participate, but they want to ensure that it is a free and fair election. The MDC wants to participate to create democratic change and not to give legitimacy to a system favoring one side. The MDC is demanding that there be international control of the elections and that millions of Zimbabweans abroad be allowed to vote, a new voters’ roll and the appointment of an independent Zimbabwe Election Commission to supervise the polls. South African president, Thabo Mbeki has been chosen by the SADC to mediate the negotiations between the two political parties. There is worry that Mugabe will not comply with demands.

Zimbabwe Timeline from: 1200-2007

why the US does not become involved in african conflicts

The title of this entry is a question that very often crosses my mind as I continue to read the news and stay up to date on the various African conflicts across the continent. How can the country with the most power sit idly as conflicts that tear nations and governments apart worsen? How can the country with the most power get involved in its own political war games and ignore the dying?

“If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Mother Teresa spoke these words and they can possibly lend us an answer to why there is inaction with mass conflict. I found this quote used on the Foreign Policy news page with an article called Numbed by Numbers. The argument of the article is that “people don’t ignore mass killings because they lack compassion. Rather, it’s the horrific statistics of genocide and mass murder that may paralyze us into inaction. Those hoping that grim numbers alone will spur us to action in places like Darfur have no hope at all.” The article says that it is our own human psychology that hinders our action. We are unable to comprehend the numbers and put them into terms of massive human tragedy. The article also notes a study where aid to a young child, when accompanied by large statistics, declined sharply. We cannot comprehend mass human tragedy and apply our actions. Now there are worries that just one more major security incident could create a ‘humanitarian collapse’ in Darfur. I suggest reading the full article on Foreign Policy.

Another possibility of an answer lies in the blog of an American who has just returned from living in Uganda. The conflict, or civil war some say, that is being revealed in Northern Uganda is another conflict in the scope of mass human tragedy. Peace talks were started and stalled last month in Uganda, but are set to re-start in April. The blog entry on March 19th from ‘In an African Minute’ says, “The United States, with very little effort, could drastically increase the possibility of a permanent resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda. Why Washington hasn’t made an effort has been a matter of speculation in policy and development circles since the peace talks began in August 2006.” There is much speculation, especially since the US has been so involved in the continent with ‘anti-terrorism’ measures by giving support to key African countries. ‘Fighting terrorism’ has replaced communism as the US’s new objective in Africa. Ending divisive and destabilizing conflicts in the region is not on the top of the US agenda, if at all.

There are roughly eight conflicts in the African continent affecting nearly 16 million people. Why are these not on the US agenda? We can’t handle numbers, we are blinded by the fight against terrorism, or maybe we just don’t have the Administration with the resolve to act on others behalf when there is no obvious gain for the country or government?

the US policy on africa

What is the US’s policy on Africa? Do you know? Many people do not and now is your chance to find out. On the US government page on African Policy the first thing I notice is the picture displayed on the top, not just because it is a picture, but because it is President Bush and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia at a ‘Partners in Democracy’ forum. As you can see Bush is pointing off into the distance and Ellen looks quite fed-up and dismayed. First, is this the US policy on Africa point to the distance and not involve the African leadership. Second, did we forget that Africa is not a country and that there are 54 countries within the continent. Africa as a whole does not have one policy on the US, each different country has a policy – why doesn’t the US have a policy for each country in Africa? Maybe it is just not strategic enough or worth the US’s time? Whatever the case I find the picture very telling of the US goverment approach to Africa. They then jump right into the Darfur conflict and the subsequent peace agreement in the works. This I find very disturbing as all the US government has done for the Darfur conflict is give it lip service and some nicely written statements. After scrolling down the page, to what is almost the bottom, you will find the outline of the US policy on Africa:

“In Africa, promise and opportunity sit side by side with disease, war, and desperate poverty. This threatens both a core value of the United States—preserving human dignity —and our strategic priority—combating global terror. American interests and American principles, therefore, lead in the same direction: we will work with others for an African continent that lives in liberty, peace, and growing prosperity. Together with our allies and friends, we must help strengthen Africa’s fragile states, help build indigenous capability to secure porous borders, and help build up the law enforcement and intelligence infrastructure to deny havens for terrorists. An ever more lethal environment exists in Africa as local civil wars spread beyond borders to create regional war zones. Forming coalitions of the willing and cooperative security arrangements are key to confronting these emerging transnational threats.”

Bush’s Africa policy has three pillars which mostly are comprised of holding lots of meeting with various groups and on different issues affecting African countries (ie: AU, malaria, HIV/ AIDS, growth and opportunity act, etc.) Meetings a indispensible when one does not want to act. I am afraid the US’s policy on Africa is just a bunch of words, no action.

Another great site that I found helpful in my search of US’s African policy was Africa Action. Each year they write a full report on the US policy for Africa. They critique and offer potentials and what needs to happen in years to come. Africa Action opens the report with this quote, “2006 will help clarify whether the compassionate concern for the African continent, worn like a badge by western leaders last year, is a true determinant of Africa policy, or whether it merely masked other, more ‘strategic’ and less ‘benevolent’ impulses and interests.” 2005 was a great year for more focus and interest in African issues. It was a year of more advocacy and awareness about Africa and thus there was more talk of doing something on the continent. I find this is a beautiful quote to begin critiquing the US African policy. What has 2006 shown? It seems that US policy is focused only on strategic advancement and leans no where to the benevolent side. Africa Action begins by outlining the year from Live 8 to Live X. Concerts which raised funds and awareness for Africa to US military sweeping into the continent to be sure America is secure. This comes with the development of the Africa Command as well. This military shift in Bush’s Africa policy obviously speaks to the ‘War on Terror’ focused on intelligence gathering and keeping al-Qaeda out of Africa. Yet even with this upswing of troops and US intelligence in Africa a genocide continues and conflicts spread, threatening regional security.

Another development to note in US policy is the potential of African oil. It is estimated that over $10 billion a year will be invested by the US in African oil activities. Many policy analysts say that the US needs to shift its oil dependence from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Guinea, however as many analysts fail to realize, African oil is a creates a great deal of conflict by itself without the US involvement. The US may only intensify conflicts and make themselves a target. Lastly, the Africa Action report notes the slim mention of security in the US Africa policy. With the growing threat to public health and differences on global issues, a great disparity is enlightened between African priorities and American interests. The report also highlights the hypocrisy of the current Administration focused on showing its humanitarian side and not its creeping military and strategic involvements. The US African policy is also not within in the lines of what most Americans would like to see as the US policy towards Africa. The US needs to adapt its policy to involve African leaders and to include the voice of the American people. I encourage you all to read the site on US Africa policy and the Africa Action report. After reading let your politicians know how you feel and what you want to see happening in Africa from the US.