Policy experts and scholars familiar with Africa have a single cautionary word for the planned military expansion that would see deployment of US soldiers and drones in as many as 35 nations dotted across the continent in the coming year: Don't.
The announcement by AFRICOM commander US General Carter Ham—made under the familiar guise of 'fighting terrorism'—was presented most expansively earlier this month at a public colloquium at Brown University in which Ham argued that the US military would begin or expand operations in Mali, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, and more than two dozen other countries.
Pushing back, however, other experts on Africa called for AFRICOM—which is tellingly not even based in Africa but in Stuttgart, Germany—to be dismantled not expanded.
According to some, the US Africa Command has merely served to increase resource exploitation and imperial expansion, instigate more violence in Africa, and intensified regional conflicts that have actually undermined the authority of regional organizations and the African Union.
However, taking the military's frame for the US Africa Command's new agenda, the Associated Press reports Monday:
A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.
The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense.
The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.
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In his speech at Brown, Ham explained that the expansion is designed to protect the 'national security interests of the United States'. However, in his remarks—in which he acknowledged the audience included "ambassadors and scholars, former ambassadors and practitioners, members of various governments and civil society"—he admitted that he lacked the "depth of knowledge and background and experience in Africa" that was widely represented by others.
It was many of these members of the audience who subsequently argued that if the United States and its government were serious about improving "security for Africans" and the international community more broadly, "then the present dominance of the military over aid and education ventures would be reversed."
Giving voice to the wide consensus against AFRICOM's push for increased militarization, Prof. Horace Campbell of Syracuse University and other experts who attended the talk at Brown, challenged the conventional wisdom Ham offered regarding US involvement on the continent. In fact, Campbell argues that General Ham's own statements provided the best case against deeper military involvement in Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and other countries.
As Campbell concludes in a lengthy but insightful piece published at Pambazuka News:
In the final analysis of the intended benefits versus consequences of the establishment of AFRICOM, the balance sheet weighs heavily against Africa’s continental good. The current instability in Libya and Mali are directly related to the military planning and activities of AFRICOM. It has been documented by a number of books that US Africa Command has increased resource exploitation, imperial expansion, instigated more violence, intensified regional conflicts, undermined the authority of regional organizations like IGAD, SADC, EAC, and eventually the African Union. As such, AFRICOM as a formal vehicle of US imperialism is a disaster. Although the Resist Africom formation no longer exists in a formal sense, their platform for the resistance fertilized and offered another way to get beyond the arguments of the military information operations of AFRICOM.
Of the three areas of ‘terrorist’ activities in Africa, the case can be made that military engagement by Britain, France and the United States will only provide the rationale for increasing militarization. It should be of the highest importance for activists and scholars to push back from the argument that associated Al Queda groups in Africa ‘present significant threats to the United States.’ This is an exaggeration. Second, the issues of reducing militarism and insecurity in Nigeria cannot be separated from the exploitation and oppression of the Nigerian people. Third, after 20 years, the situation of peace in Somalia can only be solved in a regional context where there is cooperation among democratic states. The peoples of Africa need international partners but Africans cannot accept partnership from a society where the military industrial-complex abroad fortifies the prison-industrial complex at home where African descendants are warehoused.
AFRICOM is not what the people of Africa need and it is not what will achieve long-term stability on the continent. The struggles against militarism and exploitation in the United States cannot be advanced by a military command that serves the interests of oil companies and private military contractors. Mo Ibrahim spoke for many Africans at the colloquium when he said that it was time that US oil companies were as aggressive in cleaning up the African oil spills as they were in opening new oil platforms. The call for resistance can now bring up to date the concrete experiences of the US military and mobilize for the dismantling of the US Africa Command. General Carter Ham sought to use the space of a scholarly platform to justify the need for the existence of the US Africa Command. Instead the content of his message provided some of the clearest reasons why the war on terror has passed the tipping point.