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US Military Plan for Africa Panned

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - While in Africa this week, George W. Bush drew fire for his plans to expand the United States' military presence on the resource-rich but economically strapped continent.0225 04

"AFRICOM is driven by U.S. interests in preserving access to African resources," said Gerald LeMelle, executive director of Africa Action, a non-profit organization in Washington, DC working to support peace and development in Africa.

AFRICOM is the acronym for the U.S. Africa Command, which was established in February 2007 after top Pentagon officials concluded that "peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. as well."

Before the end of his week-long trip to Africa Thursday, Bush said the new command would provide African nations with military training and assistance so that they could handle their problems in an effective way.

But critics think the U.S. military presence would make the situation much worse for ordinary people across the continent.

"This aggressive initiative threatens successful U.S.-African partnerships for development and democracy," said LeMelle about AFRICOM, noting with concern that, "neither African governments nor the United Nations were consulted on the announcement of AFRICOM."

Like LeMelle, Africa Action's policy analyst Michael Swigert is concerned about Washington's policy towards Africa, calling it a mix of "militarism and ideological inflexibility."

"In order for the success stories he saw last week to be replicated across Africa, President Bush should do his best to ensure that future U.S. policies support widespread systemic changes in U.S.-Africa relations," said Swigert.

"This means fully funding the fight against HIV/AIDS and removing the ideological limitations in PEPFAR that undermine the program's effectiveness. The U.S. should cancel the foreign debt of African countries so that aid money is no longer trapped."

PEPFAR refers to Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It restricts one third of U.S. global HIV prevention funds to abstinence-until-marriage programs that critics say have proven ineffective and have caused serious risks to women's health.


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Congress is currently considering bills that would reverse this policy. If passed, the proposed Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth (PATHWAY) Act in the House and the Senate's HIV Prevention Act would change the way the funding is delivered.

Most of the attention around the Bush visit was focused on U.S. public health programs in Africa, particularly PEPFAR. Although Bush has said publicly that he wants to double the amount spent on the program to $30 billion over the next five years, critics say his actual budget proposal for next year would provide no increase at all.

Groups campaigning for development aid to Africa have repeatedly demanded the cancellation of many African countries' foreign debts, arguing that it makes little sense for the United States to fund education, health care, and other programs in a foreign country while simultaneously taking money from that government that otherwise could have been spent building those programs locally.

Many also argue that the loans were provided decades ago to rulers who spent it on weapons and their own personal estates -- often with the full knowledge of those who were providing the loans. The current citizens of Africa and their less corrupt governments should not be saddled with these "odious" debts that were squandered by previous generations, analysts say.

"Bush witnessed firsthand the positive impacts of debt cancellation in Tanzania," said Swigert. "As long as other African countries remain bound by the chains of debt, similar gains across the continent will be difficult."

In Liberia, Bush pledged U.S. support to tackle poverty and disease, as well as literacy programs, which included providing 1 million books and furniture for about 10,000 students by the beginning of the next school year.

So far, Liberia is the only nation among the 53 African countries that has agreed to host the U.S. forces. Reports from the region indicate that many African countries are uncomfortable with the United States' intention to increase its military presence there.

According to some analysts, including those at Africa Action, U.S. efforts to increase its military presence in Africa are related to the continent's untapped natural resources -- particularly oil.

"Widespread cheerleading for U.S. development initiatives should not dupe the public into ignoring the militarization of U.S. foreign policy toward Africa," said LeMelle.

© 2008 One World

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