Danger: US Militarization Of Africa

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The unvarnished historical truth is that stability, which is fundamentally different from imposed order, can be fostered only by the unfettered operation of the rule of law. Equally important, extremist ideologies can be countered effectively not simply by propaganda and fear imposed by demonstration of awesome military might but by sustainable economic development that addresses the aspirations and welfare of people

[Issues Of Principle]

 

The Bush Administration, over the past several months, has engaged in high-level campaign to retail to African leaders its scheme to establish combatant US Military Command Headquarters in Africa, commonly referred to as AFRICOM.

As the Administration makes its push for the scheme, it is imperative for all concerned to know some of the basic facts, and probe into the significance of AFRICOM for Africa, not least because the establishment of AFRICOM has the potential to dramatically affect prospects for democratic governance, the rule of law, sustainable development and enjoyment of human rights in the continent.

How has the scheme been marketed? General William Ward (AU), the designated commander of AFRICOM, appearing at a meeting with African Union leaders in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa in early November, made a strong case for establishing military bases, or the stationing of troops on the continent by the USA on the grounds that it would foster stability in Africa. This is how the general articulated the point to African leaders: "We don't come here and just do things because we want to do things, we come and do things to assist our African partners in increasing their capacity, their capability to provide a stable environment here in Africa."  He rhetorically asked: "Any notion of a militarization of the continent because of this?” His answer was, “Absolutely false; not the case."

Before disclosing the policy framework of AFRICOM, it is appropriate to first examine the general’s case. It is understandable that General Ward would, in attempts to get the support of African leaders who were otherwise reluctant, present AFRICOM in more or less altruistic terms. It is indeed true that the USA is keen to establish AFRICOM not “just to do things because we want to do things.” It is doing so as part of a carefully considered geo-strategic plan to protect and advance its economic interests in the continent and beyond. 

Certainly, it cannot be doubted that the general is right in saying that “we come to do things to assist our African partners in increasing their capacity.” On that score, it is legitimate to ask the following basic questions: who are the partners; what criteria are used to choose the partners; and in whose interests do the partners work?

For those who might not know much about AFRICOM, it is necessary to disclose some of the basic facts that are not classified. The Congressional Research Service in its report issued on July 6, 2007, titled “Africa Command: U. S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U. S. Military in Africa,” gives the following background to, and reasons for, the establishment of AFRICOM.

It states, first, that “Africa recently surpassed the Middle East as the United States’ largest supplier of crude oil, further emphasizing the continent’s strategic importance." In fact, it is estimated that U. S. petroleum giants have already invested $60 billion in Africa; and that by 2010, it will top $100 billion.

Beyond petroleum, the U. S. is aware that Africa is a treasure trove of strategic raw materials. Among these are: 90 percent of the world’s cobalt; 64 percent of its manganese; 50 percent of gold; 40 percent of platinum; 30 percent of uranium; and, 20 percent of the total petroleum currently traded. In addition, the continent also boasts 70 percent of cocoa; 60 percent of its coffee; and 50 percent of palm oil. All of these have been blessings as well as curses that have attracted big powers keen to exploit the continent.

Second, the report points out that it is largely in recognition of Africa’s economic importance that the U. S. plans to establish AFRICOM, a command that “would have all the roles and responsibilities of traditional combatant command, including the ability to facilitate or lead military operations.”

Third, in order to advance its economic interests through the scheme, the document reveals that the Bush Administration has determined that “U. S. security strategy must focus on building indigenous security and intelligence capabilities through bilateral engagement and coalition of the willing”.

And fourth, according to the report, the projection of U. S. military might would be complemented and reinforced by a propaganda component. This is how the report puts it: “The United States is placing increasing emphasis on Information Operations (IO) in Africa, which use information to improve the security environment and counter extremist ideology through military information support teams deployed to U. S. embassies.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a distinguished U. S. military and geo-strategic analyst, has made an instructive observation about AFRICOM in the following way: “Fulfilling such a broad mandate would, however, necessitate that the command's theatre-wide engagement be a spectrum array which embraces, in addition to ‘hard power’ options, diplomatic, developmental assistance, humanitarian relief, and other proactive ‘soft power’ missions which some in the military have been hesitant to engage in …Likewise, closer in-theatre coordination will be needed between the members of intelligence community whose work is more directly coordinated by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), their counterparts in the Defense Department's intelligence bodies, and AFRICOM's commanders.”

Although the Administration has not revealed in which country AFICOM will be located, at present the U. S. has Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs) agreements with five African countries, which are now operational in Entebbe, Uganda; Libreville, Gabon; Accra, Ghana; Dakar, Senegal; and, Lusaka, Zambia.

Significantly, there is a joint U.S.-Ugandan intelligence fusion center, which operates in a nondescript red-brick house in a rundown Kampala suburb. This is where U.S. Army intelligence specialists gather and coordinate information on groups designated as terrorist. Given the way the Administration has patronized the regime in Uganda, and given the country’s geo-strategic location vis-à-vis the Sudan, which is a predominantly a Muslim country, and its proximity to the Congo, which is fabulously reach in mineral resources, it might not be off-the-mark to conjecture that Uganda is a likely candidate for the location of AFRICOM.

It is obvious that the Bush Administration’s decision to establish AFRICOM reflects its approach to foreign policy, which relies heavily on the use of force rather than principled commitment to the historically vaunted American ideals and values anchored in the rule of law, democratic governance and fundamental freedoms. This is quite a radical departure from traditional reliance on diplomacy and engagement with civil groups to advance its strategic interests. It is, however, doubtful that the approach will achieve the intended objectives on a long-term basis.

The approach by the Bush Administration contrasts rather sharply with other approaches which hitherto had enormous impact on winning the hearts and minds of Africans, while at the same time not betraying U. S. comparative advantage in the areas of human rights, peace and the rule of law. A legitimate example is what President John F. Kennedy advocated in the early 1960s at the heights of the Cold War. Kennedy sought to win Africans and those in the so-called Third World not by simply projecting military might but by establishing the Peace Corps, which in very practical ways helped build bonds of solidarity between Americans and people in the Developing World.

Similarly, in the mid-1970s when African countries were undergoing a dreadful period of military coups and dictatorships, it was President Jimmy Carter’s enunciation of human rights as forming the linchpin of his foreign policy that inspired a cross-section of Africans to look to the U. S. as a beacon of hope and solidarity for democratic rights. To these days, the two U. S. Presidents are remembered with great admiration across the continent.

When the facts are examined, the planned establishment of AFRICOM is not simply myopic but also counterproductive in advancing mutual U.S. and African long-term interests. For the great majority of Africans who in the last three decades of the twentieth century suffered indelibly under military dictatorships of various shades, it is tantamount to advocating their permanent servitude in today’s knowledge driven interdependent world, where conditions of democratic pluralism and freedom not fear imposed by military might, are prerequisites for progressive sustainable development.

A rudimentary understanding of history and politics should counsel the Bush Administration that no country has ever become a healthy democracy by embracing militarism. On the contrary, every country that has enjoyed democratic governance first discarded militarism or reliance on the military as mainstay of society. Africa cannot be an exception to this iron law of democratic development. In fact, historical realities and analysis show it was principally due to the militarization coupled with personalization of politics since the 1970s that dealt devastating blows to democratic governance and the rule of law, which in turn contributed to the growth of a multitude searing crises that bedeviled the continent.

The establishment of AFRICOM would inject a dangerous toxin in the body politics of the continent already disabled by the cancer of militarism and will further help gnaw at the sinews and fabric of African societies. In fact, if AFRICOM is established in Africa, it will sanction militarism as well as ensure the demise of the rule of law, democratic governance and human rights, as the military will take the commanding heights of African states.

If indeed the Bush Administration is genuinely serious about building conditions of stability in Africa, it should instead invest in building institutions in which a robust judiciary can function with optimum independence. The unvarnished historical truth is that stability, which is fundamentally different from imposed order, can be fostered only by the unfettered operation of the rule of law.

Equally important, extremist ideologies can be countered effectively not simply by propaganda and fear imposed by demonstration of awesome military might but by sustainable economic development that addresses the aspirations and welfare of people. For this matter, the Administration would be better served if it invested in the building of infrastructure, in the socio-economic sectors of the continent and in championing fair terms of trade for African products. In addition, the Administration should support and cultivate progressive Africans who are committed to the translation of the values and ideals that animate the rule of law, democratic pluralism and human rights into practical reality.

As for African elites who support the US military efforts to establish AFRICOM in the continent, it could be that they are either woefully ignorant of the implications of the establishment of AFRICOM or do not care much about the welfare of African people except their own parochial interests and survival in power.

In the final analysis, a win-win policy for both the U.S and Africa should not be predicated on a scheme to establish AFRICOM; rather, the U. S. should pressure African rulers to discarded militarism and embrace the ideals and values of democratic pluralism and human rights.

At the same time, the U.S. should put in place a version of the Marshal Plan for Africa that would transform the enormous potential of the continent into vibrant economies and robust democracies. Only then can both the U. S’s and Africa’s long-term interests flower to the reasonable benefit of all.



Black Star News columnist Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu is UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Executive-Director of the UConn-ANC Partnership and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. His column appears bi-weekly online and in the newspaper.

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