By Salim Lone, was spokesman for the US mission in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, now is a columnist with the Daily Nation in Nairobi, Kenya (THE GUARDIAN, 12/03/07):
For decades, Africa has pleaded in vain for a comprehensive engagement from the west on the basis of shared interests, particularly in the economic arena. But the new engagement the continent has been offered, in the form of a military US command, is the last thing the world’s most impoverished continent needs.The decision to establish Africom, as the command will be known, reflects the Bush administration’s primary reliance on the use of force to pursue its strategic interests. Among the key goals for the new command, for example, is the assurance of oil imports from Africa, which have assumed much greater importance given the hostility to the US presence in the Middle East.
China has similar energy needs, but how differently it is pursuing them. When George Bush announced Africom’s creation last month, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, was touring eight African countries to negotiate oil-related deals and announcing multibillion-dollar aid agreements. Many commentators voiced legitimate concerns about China’s intentions; none have been voiced about Africom in the major western media.
Central to Africom’s mission will be tracking and crushing the growing terrorist hot spots in the vast, neglected regions with large Muslim populations, from the Horn of Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. Bush described the new military command as a vehicle to “promote our common goals of development, health, education and economic growth”. Is that what huge military bases accomplish for countries whose populations are seething with anger? Hardly.
Africom will instead militarise American relations with Africa, and militarise numerous African countries. It will also tilt these countries’ policies towards the use of force. And it will inflame Muslim passions and create more angry militants opposed to a US military presence in their country or region. The command’s establishment will also provide the US with new bases from which to project force into the oil-providing Middle East.
The misguided reliance on force is shown by the disastrous results of the US forcibly toppling the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia with the muscle of the Ethiopian army. In a smaller-scale reprise of the Iraq catastrophe, the military victory in January was swift, but the plan to install a client regime has quickly gone awry and a fierce insurgency is already under way.
The relative peace the ICU had brought Somalia has been shattered, and the arrival of an African Union force mandated by the UN security council will further exacerbate and internationalise this crisis. In Iraq’s case, both the UN and the region resisted sanctioning a multinational occupying force, but it’s much easier to get your way over Africa, with the continent too weak to resist US dictates.
The Somalia war also made a hitherto stable Kenya a frontline state in the “war on terror” after it was pressured by the US to allow its territory to be used by American forces, and also because it handed over genuine refugees and suspected ICU supporters and fighters to Somalia, where they faced torture and death.
The kidnapping of Britons in Ethiopia may be a consequence of the exacerbated pressures that confront Addis Ababa, already beset by revolts against its ruthless repression of minorities.
Once again, Bush has embarked on an ostensibly legitimate mission – greater security for America and Africa, and fighting terrorism – with methods that will accomplish the opposite. After the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is madness to believe that military might can curb terrorism unless its political and social causes are addressed.