How African Dictators Play the “Fighting Terrorism” Card to Buy U.S. Support

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Gen. Museveni—America's “son of a bitch” for 35 years now. Photo: Facebook.

Referring to the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García, the first of the Somoza family dictators, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 reputedly said, “He may be a son of a bitch but he is our son of a bitch.”

Secretary of State Cordell Hull, is also credited with referring to another dictator, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic in a similar vein. The U.S. embraced a string of dictators in South and Central America, Europe—Francisco Franco and  Antonio Salazar—Asia, and in Africa. The U.S. was willing to abandon its democratic principles and concern for human rights as long as these dictators served the anti-communist cause during the cold war. 

In Africa the racist Apartheid regime of South Africa was a valued U.S. ally. Among the newly independent countries in the 196os the U.S. groomed future dictators such as Mobutu of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country the dictator renamed Zaire during his reign. Access to American favor was conditioned on claims that the particular ruler was “fighting communism” which the S.O.B.s obliged with uncommon zeal and brutality.

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Mikhael Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost and perestroika led to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The U.S. now had to find a new bogyman. It didn’t take long before al-Qaida’s attack on the New York Twin Towers on 9/11 provided the opportunity. 

The military industrial complex and the Neo-Cons around George W. Bush escalated military spending. The anticipated peace dividend from the end of the Cold War quickly evaporated. The new enemy was now terrorism to which the Islamophobes and xenophobes attached “Islamic’” to the new danger. 

Over the following years and decades one Muslim country after another became target of America’s fury and military might: Sudan, Iraqi, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Pakistan. President Bush in his address to Congress on Sept. 21, 2001 put countries that did not join in the crusade on notice:  “You are either with us or with the terrorists”. Authoritarian regimes who saw an opportunity to stamp out legitimate opposition to their rule quickly lined up behind the U.S. war on terror. 

It became easy to label the political opposition as “terrorists.” In Africa, dictators from Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Isaias Afeworki in Eritrea, Hosni Mubarak and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, all waved the anti-terrorist flag to tighten their grip on power. Some like Museveni enriched themselves in the process.

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed, declared what amounts to a genocidal war on his own people in the Tigray region on Nov. 4, 2020. Now he’s in a quagmire, bogged down in a war he can’t win. He and his new friend and ally in the invasion of Tigray, Afeworki of Eritrea have been accused of ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in the conduct of the war. 

The AU, U.S..EU, have called for immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of Eritrean troops to no avail. The image of Abiy as a peacemaker has been irretrievably tarnished. The war which by Abiy’s estimation was to have been over in two weeks still rages six months since it started. Atrocities by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops and armed militia from the adjoining Amhara state are reported on a daily basis. Collective punishment of civilians include starvation by withholding humanitarian aid, burning farms, withholding seeds from farmers and telling them they were not permitted to farm. Gang rapes by the invading troops have become routine weapons of war. 

Taking a page out of other dictators playbooks, Prime Minister Abiy has now designated the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)-Shene as “terrorist” organizations. He can now join his other “anti-terrorism” fighters peers and perhaps restore his our “S.O.B” status with Washington.

Indeed, the initial demand by the U.S. and EU Commission (EUC) for an end to violence and the launch of dialogue for a peaceful solution appears to be tapering. The U.S. now seems more focused on containing the conflict from spreading to the rest of the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea nations. 

The U.S. is moving to delegate the responsibility of protecting its geo-strategic interest to its regional proxies: the absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Bethlehem-designated Apartheid state of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, along with the Egyptian dictator al-Sisi. 

The humanitarian crisis of Tigray is looking like a small price to pay for the illusion of peace and security of the Red Sea thoroughfare. The Tigray Defense Forces however are refusing to be cowed into submission and may in fact be gaining ground on the invaders, poised to determine the outcome on the ground in their favor. 

Mohammed A. Nurhussein MD, is a retired physician.

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