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. . .

do the presidential candidates know anything about africa?

Since my last visit to the White House webpage on the current “Africa Policy” not much has changed. Our current administration still lumps all African countries together and creates one broad policy to deal with all African governments. On the site there is a list of President Bush’s “Africa Accomplishments and Initiatives.” They include meeting with 25 African Heads of State, visiting Africa in his first term, providing the greatest level of monetary assistance, and promoting health, development, and peace & stability. Possibly a great list, but it all has to put into context. We need to look at what was discussed with African Heads of State, where he visited in Africa, what restrictions there are on his ‘development’ funding, and what constitutes peace and stability promotion?

As can be imagined, the administration has special agreements with certain strategic African governments. For example on my State Department search for the US policy on Africa, I came across a report titled: Foreign Military Training: Joint Report to Congress, Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007. This report, released by the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, highlights the amount of training and funds spent on the “State Foreign Policy Objectives – African Region.” Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Dijbouti, Equatorial Guniea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda, Sao Tome Principe, Senegal, Seychells, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia all have recieved military training from the US government and all have a short brief on their strategic importance to US interests in the report. This is all not to mention the increase in US military presence in Djibouti during the Somali-Ethiopian conflict and the increase of ‘trainings’ in the oil-rich Sahel countries.

What will a future president bring to the table when working with African countries? Will he/she have a policy that deals with Africa as a whole, or will there be separate policies for separate countries? Do the current presidential candidates have what it takes to keep Africa at the forefront? The Council on Foreign Relations has just come out with a compilation of where the current candidates stand on issues in Africa. The issues that top the list are: the genocide in Darfur, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and focusing development aid. I have to say that these candidates probably have the best stances on African issues and are more aware of the issues, but that could be more that they need to be, rather than the fact that they are concerned about Africa and the US’s role on the continent. As CFR notes, Africa is seen now as more of a humanitarian issue, but I would argue that African countries are more than just humanitarian issues. They hold economic potential, diplomatic alliances, and deposits of natural resources for which the entire world is searching.

The responses to policy questions on African issues have no party divide and there is no clear party position on Africa. This is a positive I feel as people are taking stances on what they truly believe as opposed to what they are supposed to think because of party affiliation. Most of the candidates can only say that they have signed or supported a piece of paper, called a bill, to do something in or for Africa. Not many can say they have actually experienced or taken real steps to assist African countries or governments. A few highlights of candidates’ views. Joe Biden supports a 2,500 US force to end the genocide in Darfur – somehow 2,500 troops is going to solve everything. Hillary Clinton is all about education and has a bill before the Senate, she also wants a peacekeeping force for Darfur, supported by either the US or NATO. John Edwards is following Clinton’s lead. Barak Obama has traveled to Africa with Senator Brownback. He supports a no-fly zone in Darfur and is all about divestment from companies operating in Sudan. Bill Richardson has, in my opinion, the best appraoch to African issues. He has personally met with the Sudanese President to push for a peacekeeping force, he calls for a multi-lateral ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa including health, education, and economic assistance. Sam Brownback follows Obama’s lead and also supports US aid going to health initiatives. Rudy Giuliani – don’t even count him as having an approach to Africa – he wants to continue Bush’s skewed programs and has a significant amount invested in companies operating in Sudan. McCain only has broad statements to make and no real ideas. Ron Paul ‘attributes widespread African poverty to “corruption that actually is fostered by Western aid.”’ He’s a keeper (sarcasm). Mitt Romney has praised Bono’s work in Africa, but holds investments in an oil company operating in Sudan. Tom Tancredo co-sponsored a bill on Darfur and sits on the House Sudan Caucus.

If I were a one-issue voter, which I am not, and this were the issue I would be voting (in order): Richardson, Obama, Clinton. Each of these candidates hasn’t said too much in the way of ‘African policy,’ but at least some of them have an idea of what is happening on the continent and plans that have potential to work well. There is so much going on, so much potential, and the US seems to be taking steps backward each day. We need a candidate that recognizes the importance of the world stage beyond the stereotypes and myths of the past. Africa is not a continent without importance, it is not a single entity to deal with, it is not just a humanitarian issue that we can all look away from when it becomes too complicated. We need a candidate that is willing to stare conflict, democracy, disease, corruption, success, and failure directly in the eyes. African countries, governments, peoples we have not forgotten you – let us now elect a leader who will also not forget.