Blue Helmets ineffective compared to US troops in Central Africa?

After operations in Somalia ended badly in 1993, the US seemed to have full blown “Black Hawk Down” syndrome when it came to military intervention on the African continent. Many have cited the Somalia event among other reasons for the Clinton Administration’s failure to act during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. However, the US has been involved in militarizing the African continent since the Cold War: propping up warlords, funding resistance movements, and even assassinating the newly (democratically) elected head of state of modern day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Patrice Lumumba. Currently, the Obama Administration has shown no reason for restraint in sending troops to engage in African conflicts.

The UN has had a high degree of failure when it comes to peacekeeping missions in Africa. Largely due to limited mandates, UN troops in Rwanda, Darfur, and the DRC have been ineffective. The UN has had 15 deployments related to African conflicts, 8 of which are ongoing. The critical question is are UN peacekeepers more effective than US military interventions?

Darfur/ South Kordofan/ South Sudan

Sudan has presented a host of conflicts that seem to have baffled US and UN diplomats alike. Some have called for greater military intervention, but the US has focused on non-military negotiations and peace deals. The conflicts in the Sudanese region are largely based on the Sudanese government attacking other ethnic groups and attempting to maintain control of the remaining regions under their jurisdiction. The SPLA has become the main military of South Sudan and has an affiliate in Sudan (North) SPLM-N.

US

During the 2008 US Presidential race, on the campaign trail in 2007, Joe Biden called for a force of 2,500 US troops to end the genocide in Darfur. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards supported a plan for a peacekeeping force. Barack Obama called for a no-fly zone in Darfur and divestment from corporations supporting the Sudanese regime. Bill Richardson personally met with the Sudanese president to push for a peacekeeping force.

It is a little known fact that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) leader, John Garang, was trained at Fort Benning and that,

“The US government decided, in 1996, to send nearly $20 million of military equipment through the ‘front-line’ states of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda to help the Sudanese opposition overthrow the Khartoum regime.” (Source)

President Bush was lauded for his role in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the North-South civil war in 2005 which led to the popular vote dividing Sudan and South Sudan. However, there is no mention of the US’s military role in fueling the conflict.

The US has played a significant diplomatic role in the Sudanese region. There has been a lot of talk and agreements and support for peacekeepers, but there has been little accomplished in the way of ending the long running conflict between various groups. Could George Clooney get the US to send troops into Sudan?

UN

The UN has four current missions in the Sudanese region: UNAMID, UNMIS, UNISFA, UNMISS. The first of which, UNAMID, began operating in Darfur in 2007. Since, then 51 peacekeepers have been killed. Reports continue that the Sudanese government is targeting civilians.

Following the creation of South Sudan, a conflict arose over the area of South Kordofan in Abeyi. The  UN added missions in Abeyi to mitigate conflict in South Kordofan (UNIFSA) as well as a mission for South Sudan in general (UNMISS). By all accounts Darfur was a major failure of UN action and South Kordofan represented an equally prominent failure. Reports noted that UN troops stood by while Sudanese troops killed unarmed civilians.

In the Sudanese region, the UN has failed to end the killing of hundreds of thousands of people more than once and has suffered casualties of its own forces since becoming involved in the region. It is easy to quickly say that UN peacekeepers in the Sudanese region have failed, but would Joe Biden’s 2,500 US troops have done any better instead of the UN-AU peacekeeping force?

Actors:

  • Sudanese government troops
  • UNMIS (UN mission, 2005)
  • UNAMID with AU forces (UN-AU mission in Darfur, 2007)
  • SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army)
  • SPLM-N (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North)
  • SLM/A – Sudan Liberation Movement/Army
  • JEM – Justice and Equality Movement
  • UNMISS (South Sudan, 2011)
  • UNIFSA (S. Kordofan, Abeyi, 2011)

Uganda/ Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC has seen a high degree of conflict, which increased following the CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and the US backed Mobutu coming to power for the next 32 years. Mobutu supported the Hutu militia (FDLR) responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The FDLR has been given refuge by the political establishment in DRC first with Mobutu and later with current President Joseph Kabila utilizing the FDLR to combat intervening forces (i.e. Rwanda & Uganda in 1996, 1998).

US

Since 2008, US military advisors have been on the ground in DRC helping to train the Congolese army (FARDC) to better maintain control of various regions of the vast country. It is unclear why military advisors were sent in the first place. Potentially it was a move by the US to counteract Chinese development programs targeting natural resources extraction.

The US has largely been absent from the conflicts of the DRC until recently. In 2011, President Obama announced that 100 US troops would be headed to Uganda to act as military advisors in the campaign to flush out the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. However, Kony and the LRA aren’t in Uganda anymore, they have been hiding out and operating from the DRC since 2006. New reports have come out saying that US troops are operating from bases in 4 countries are tracking down the LRA from bases in Uganda, South Sudan, DRC, and the Central African Republic.

The fact that the US is willing to devote military assets to routing a single militant group is extremely significant especially since there have been numerous bad actors operating in the region for decades and US actions in African conflicts haven’t been forthcoming. Since Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni took power and ensured that he kept getting elected, there have been 22 armed groups that have been formed to combat the government. Museveni has perpetuated the North-South ethnic divide held over from British colonial rule. As much as the LRA needs to be routed, Museveni needs to be engaged by the US to step down and allow real democracy to occur.

UN

UN troops have been operating in the DRC since 2008, but have often had to bend to the will of area militias. What real power does the MONUSCO have in the DRC? More recently, in 2009 and 2012, MONUSCO has been cooperating with FARDC (the Congolese army) on joint missions to take down the FDLR and other militant groups, including the LRA. On March 14th, a senior officer of the FDLR surrendered to the UN forces.

The UN mission in DRC has the largest budget of any peacekeeping mission, but is notably underfunded and ill-equipped. The main problem is the vastness of the mountainous region and the multiple militant groups that need to be negotiated with or militarily engaged. It just can’t manage all the space with the man power that it has, therefore it is unable to protect the population because it is just unable.

Some have credited MONUSCO with ending the violence in some of the regions of DRC as well as organizing successful country-wide elections. Potentially the UN missions is gaining ground in the conflict?

Support from both the UN mission and US military advisors is somewhat concerning since FARDC has been involved in some of the worst human rights violations in the conflict.

Actors:

  • FARDC (Congolese army)
  • MONUSCO (UN mission, 2010)
  • General Nkundu – split from Congolese army to lead Tutsi forces against FDLR
  • FDLR – former Interhamwe responsible for Rwandan genocide
  • Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) – backed by Rwanda
  • LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) – from N. Uganda
  • UPDF (Uganda People’s Defense Force)


Will  the US replace the UN as primary peacekeepers in Africa? 

UN peacekeeping forces have tried to take on the Sudanese government and militias in the DRC, but have failed to keep peace or intervene in the killing of civilians. The UN almost always comes out with a statement condemning the killing of civilians by this or that group. Many peacekeepers have been killed in the various missions and there are only a few positive impacts noted from those missions. UN missions are notoriously plagued by underfunding, under-trained troops and a lack of adequate equipment.

In the past year the US has militarily intervened in 7 African countries with and without mandates or international support. They have trained the FARDC forces, which are now completing joint missions with MONUSCO to route militant groups. It seems as if Obama has taken up the Bush Doctrine to militarily intervene whenever he feels like it. Contrary to the UN missions, US military actions are rarely under-funded, troops are highly trained, and there is no lack of equipment.

On a side note, how can both the US and the UN overlook the atrocities committed by national armies (Sudanese government, FARDC, UPDF)? In these conflicts the UN/US create the narrative for who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, but there is a need for nuance. I understand that it isn’t possible to engage all sides and I can only hope that the UN/US missions are working to end atrocities committed by national armies, since those atrocities have often fueled conflicts further.

The UN is stretched and the US has the ability to send elite troops into conflict zones to rescue its citizens (Somalia). Can the US’s quick military interventions, anti-terrorism trainings, and military advisors create a more effective peace than the UN? After the LRA is eliminated will the US pick the next militant group to hunt down? Too many questions arise when analyzing military interventions. There is always cause for concern when conflict regions see an influx of militarization from the UN, US, and other countries with foreign policy interests.

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 week in african health

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“No weapons” MSF in Nasir, Upper Nile State, South Sudan

More:
A Tale of Two Refrigerators
Fighting has renewed in southern Sudan, but its not just between militant groups – aid groups fall victim to needless fighting as well. Diane Bennet writes on William Easterly’s Aid Watch blog about the 2001 peace in Sudan and how it was a ripe time to treat disease and build health infrastructure. Unfortunately internal bureaucracy and politics became the largest hurdle.

Sudan: Darfur – Thousands Flee to African Union Safety
More recently, South Darfur has become the seen of violent clashes between government forces and militants. It is important to never forget the impacts that conflict has on health services.

Africa: Public Health Care Must Lead

Oxfam International has released a report [access here] “challenging the myths about private health care in developing countries.” The report emphasizes the role that private health care can play in developing countries, but reminds us that there is no way a scale-up of private health services will reach poor people in need. Key recommendations are to increase funding for free universal health care infrastructure, rejecting ineffective practices of the past, and combining efforts to fuel effective initiatives – sounds a lot like SCOUT BANANA

Global Health: Mobile Phones to Boost Healthcare

Revolutionizing access to health knowledge, the efforts of the Mobile Health Alliance (mHealth), supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the UN Foundation, and Vodafone Foundation are making a mark across the African continent boasting 51 existing or to-be-implemented programs in 26 countries around the world. Harnessing the potential of growing technology in ‘developing’ countries for the purpose of health can only signal a major shift in access to health care across Africa.

Getting the Continent on Obama’s Agenda

It appears that Obama’s administration is stacked in the favor of Africa and in favor of better international development practices all around. With Susan Rice serving as Ambassador to the UN action against genocide may be bolstered, Gayle Smith more likely than not will be tapped as USAID Director, she was a major proponent of the HELP Commission creating a cabinet level position for foreign aid, and a well known name among insiders and outsiders in African affairs, Johnnie Carson, is expected to be named head of the Bureau of African Affairs of the State Department. The future of US relations in Africa has incredible potential and hope to change.

Zimbabwe: Staff Return to Hospitals, But Not to Work

As a massive cholera outbreak tears across the country, medical staff have returned to their posts, but the nature of their strike, that began in 2008 over poor working conditions and wages, is now “more like a sit-in.” In a country so crippled by Western exploitation and resulting politics, a strike of the health workers in the face of a rampant disease outbreak does not bode well for a vulnerable population.
More:
Too Much Cholera, Too Little Food
Over 80,000 Zimbabweans Infected with Cholera

Africa: U.S. Naval Engagement Offers Health Dividends

Imagine the potential of the US’ military might if it was dedicated to coordinating naval and health care workers from 13 countries to bring aid and health services to communities in need. This becomes a reality with the African Partnership Station Initiative and Project Handclasp. I can only dream of a day where initiatives like this are more a norm than a surprising gesture of good will.

Mali: Raising Money and Hygiene Standards

One of the most innovative programs that I have read most recently is the work the Dutch based Gender and Water Alliance which is employing women to make soap as well educate and use it to increase hygiene and combat preventable diseases. Health benefits, a source of income and empowering women!

Food Crisis Over, Say Experts

Supposedly the global food crisis of last year is over! Agricultural experts from Africa and Asia are saying that we are no longer in a food crisis and that there needs to be an increased production of rice in Africa in order to keep the food crisis at bay. In my opinion, as long as we continue our unsustainable and capitalist practices that commodify a basic human need, we will remain in a global food crisis affecting both the US and Africa.
More:
Rwanda: Food Production Up, Thanks to Green Revolution
Thankfully the increase is not due to the ‘Green Revolution,’ but instead to increase in practices that are focused on protecting the environment.

South Africa: Treasury Blamed for Shortage in Aids Drugs

Years of controversy seem to have brought the blame down on the South African Treasury. With an extensive bureaucracy, it is no wonder that the ARV roll-out program has taken much longer than it should – as many die without the proper medications. While the numbers of people enrolled in the ARV program has increased significantly there still exists a problematic policy of access. Access hinges on wealth, CD4 count, and location. To access the government’s ARV program your CD4 count has to be less than 300, which is at a point where you are already very vulnerable. This creates an issue of sustained treatment because it forces an irregular regimen. If your CD4 count is above 300, you will have to pay. Many cannot pay and if you live far from a government hospital access is just that much more difficult because of taxi fare and time sacrificed for travel. It seems the health and wellbeing of its citizens is not a high budget priority of the South African government.
More:
Rapid HIV evolution avoids attacks
Much like the flu virus, HIV mutates and evolves in response to treatments. This really exposes the South African ARV program as highly ineffective.
Duncan discusses HIV/AIDS in Morocco
Little known to the world, the HIV/AIDS crisis grows in Morocco.

Originally posted on the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

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.

who speaks for whom?

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) peacekeepers are trapped in the middle of the fight. Checkpoints are all over the North Kivu province and the UN personnel are not exempt from interrogation. The UN peacekeepers are forced to live with a precarious relationship with the various warring factions in the DRC, including the government army. The DRC’s current government army is just a conglomerate of merged rebel armies and so there does not exist a common identity. You never know who you may have to deal with at a checkpoint. Recently a rebel leader in North Kivu surrendered to the UN forces. Kabila has given the green light to loyal troops to engage and disarm rebel General Nkundu. The recent fighting between government forces and rebels probably caused the small rebel group of about 30 to surrender. The resurgence of fighting has also brough with it human rights abuses. From 2005 – 2007, over 258 cases of rape were recorded along with 14,200 cases of sexual violence. Less than one percent of these made it to court. The UN Independent Expert on human rights has called for an end to the impunity of sexual violence cases and urged Kabila to take up a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy.

There is now talk of US military trainers coming to the DRC to train the mixed-up government army. A large Congolese delegation, along with President Kabila, will visit the White House on Friday to discuss the possibility. Is this yet another move by the US to gain ground over the Chinese resource grabbing machine? Will the US be able to bring together a divided government army? This is yet another great example of the US aiding the re-militarization of African countries. Well this case may be different I can’t see the US handling in a more focused approach of helping to create law and order in the security sector of the DRC.

In Sudan, we see the deployment of a UN-AU joint peacekeeping force. The force still lacks necessary equipment, notably from China, including specialized units in both air and ground support. A great step to ending a terrible conflict, but a step that I feel will meet the same difficulties as the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. There are so many disconnected rebel movements in Sudan that it will again be hard to know who you are dealing with. In both countries peace deals had been signed to end the fighting, but fighting quickly resumed when rebel factions not associated with teh signing groups continued fighting. Somehow everyone needs to be brought to the table, but how? You have the government forces propogating a genocide and numerous, divided rebel groups fighting against the government and each other. The UN-AU peacekeeping force will be a help in Sudan. However in both the DRC and Sudan, peacekeepers will need to find out who is who and who speaks for whom if they are to broker a successful peace deal.

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.

ka-boom-ratta-tatta. . . airstrikes in somalia

Now you have a small snapshot of the truth. The US has reportedly carried out two airstrikes in Somalia and has conducted raids on al-Qaeda targets tied to the 1998 bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Pentagon has denied that any of this is happening, however witnesses have seen firsthand and the denials by the Somalian and US government make these events seem undeniably true. The Somalian President, Abdullahi Yusuf, told journalists that the US, “has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” The targets were Islamists driven to the wedge between the sea, patrolled by the US Navy and the Kenyan border, which is heavily guarded. The airstrikes were followed by gunships attacking the al-Qaeda targets. This is the first US military offensive in an African country since the 1993 Somalia operation. See the complete NPR article and report from witnesses in Mogadishu here. To try and claim that the US has no hand in this operation or that it never happened is obsurd. There has been an obvious build-up in the region (ie: new Africa Command, live military exercises in Cape Verde and neighbors, tracking Somalian ‘terrorists’). I had written a post last year about the threat of Chinese economic attack to gain natural resources, but now I am even more worried for the US military’s involvement in the name of fighting terror. What will the US do to Africa? Hasn’t the West already done enough military ill from the past? Where is our Africa policy headed now? Unilateralism again?

Update: The Pentagon has claimed the attack, but will not release their success. Somali elders say 19 were killed. White House Spokesman, Tony Snow: “This administration continues to go after al-Qaeda,” he said. “We are interested in going after those who have perpetrated acts of violence against Americans, including bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”This is after hte US said it would send only money, no troops or military to help stabilize the Somalian conflict. Check out the BBC Article.

Update 09.10.07: Somali hatred of the US has been rekindled by the recent airstrikes and it is reported that 27 civilians were killed, no al-Qaeda were among the dead. It will be very interesting to see what direction the US government and military takes on African conflicts in the name of fighting terrorism.

Update 09.11.07: Supposedly the US has not claimed the attack. However residents of the two areas attacked saw US gunships involved.