Say No to Africom
by Danny Glover and Nicole C.
www.thenation.com, November 19,
With little scrutiny from Democrats in
Congress and nary a whimper of protest from the liberal establishment,
the United States will soon establish permanent military bases
in sub-Saharan Africa. An alarming step forward in the militarization
of the African continent, the US Africa Command (Africom) will
oversee all US military and security interests throughout the
region, excluding Egypt. Africom is set to launch by September
2008 and the Senate recently confirmed Gen. William "Kip"
Ward as its first commander.
General Ward told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Africom
would first seek "African solutions to African problems."
His testimony made Africom sound like a magnanimous effort for
the good of the African people. In truth Africom is a dangerous
continuation of US military expansion around the globe. Such foreign-policy
priorities, as well as the use of weapons of war to combat terrorist
threats on the African continent, will not achieve national security.
Africom will only inflame threats against the United States, make
Africa even more dependent on external powers and delay responsible
African solutions to continental security issues.
The US militarization of Africa is further rationalized by George
W. Bush's claims that Africom "will enhance our efforts to
bring peace and security to the people of Africa" and promote
the "goals of development, health, education, democracy and
economic growth." Yet the Bush Administration fails to mention
that securing and controlling African wealth and natural resources
is key to US trade interests, which face growing competition from
China. Transnational corporations rely on Africa for petroleum,
uranium and diamonds--to name some of the continent's bounty.
West Africa currently provides 15 percent of crude oil imports
to the United States, and that figure is expected to rise to 25
percent by 2015.
Policy-makers seem to have forgotten the
legacy of US intervention in Africa. During the cold war, African
nations were used as pawns in postcolonial proxy wars, an experience
that had a devastating impact on African democracy, peace and
development. In the past Washington has aided reactionary African
factions that have carried out atrocities against civilians. An
increased US military presence in Africa will likely follow this
pattern of extracting resources while aiding factions in some
of their bloodiest conflicts, thus further destabilizing the region.
Misguided unilateral US military policy to "bring peace and
security to the people of Africa" has, in fact, led to inflamed
local conflicts, destabilization of entire regions, billions of
wasted dollars and the unnecessary deaths of US soldiers. The
US bombing of Somalia in January--an attempt to eradicate alleged
Islamic extremists in the Horn of Africa--resulted in the mass
killing of civilians and the forced exodus of refugees into neighboring
nations. What evidence suggests Africom will be an exception?
In contrast, Africa has demonstrated the capacity to stabilize
volatile situations on its own. For example, in 1990 the Economic
Community of West African States set up an armed Monitoring Group
(Ecomog) in response to the civil war in Liberia. At their height,
Ecomog forces in Liberia numbered 12,000, and it was these forces--not
US or UN troops--that kept Liberia from disintegrating. In another
mission, Ecomog forces were instrumental in repelling rebels from
Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.
There are a range of initiatives that can be taken by the US government
and civil society to provide development and security assistance
to Africa that do not include a US military presence. Foremost,
policy toward Africa must be rooted in the principles of African
self-determination and sovereignty. The legitimate and urgent
development and security concerns of African countries cannot
be fixed by dependence on the United States or any other foreign
power. Instead of military strategies, African countries need
immediate debt cancellation, fair trade policies and increased
development assistance that respects indigenous approaches to
building sustainable communities. Civil wars, genocide and terrorist
threats can and must be confronted by a well-equipped African
Union military command.
American policy-makers should be mindful that South Africa, whose
citizens overthrew the US-supported apartheid regime, opposes
Africom. In addition, Nigeria and the fourteen-nation Southern
African Development Community resist Africom. These forces should
be joined by other African governments and citizens around the
world, to develop Africa's own strong, effective and timely security
capacities. Progressive US-Africa policy organizations and related
civil society groups have not been sufficiently organized to bring
this critical issue before the people of the United States. It
is urgent that we persuade progressive US legislators to stop
the militarization of aid to Africa and to help ensure Africa's
rise to responsible self-determination.