More often than not, American perspectives on Africa were framed almost exclusively in terms of preoccupation over the humanitarian consequences of poverty, war, and natural disaster. Alas, as noble as these moral impulses have been, they lacked the “staying power” needed to sustain a long-term commitment. Rightfully, many of our African friends viewed us as well meaning, but unreliable.
The American public at large may believe US involvement in Africa has been mostly humanitarian. That perception is being fed most recently by celebrity condescension. It is misleading. The US government’s actual involvement with Africa has been a policy of arming and fueling conflicts for decades. US policy has been quite the opposite of what J Peter Pham describes in his article on Selling AFRICOM. US policies have not been well meaning, certainly not in their effects, but rather, violent and manipulative. If the “noble” “moral impulses” Pham describes existed, they were quickly buried. The problem was never with noble moral impulses, the problem was always the behaviour that occurred instead, arming the worst authoritarians, and promoting discord.
As William Hartung and Bridgit Moix wrote in 2000:
The reality, however, is that the problems facing Africa and her people — with eleven armed conflicts under way, political instability, and the lowest regional rate of economic growth worldwide — have been fueled in part by a legacy of U.S. involvement in the region.
Throughout the Cold War era, from 1950 to 1989, the United States delivered over $1.5 billion worth of weaponry to Africa. Many of the top U.S. arms clients –Liberia, Somalia, the Sudan, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) — have turned out to be the top basket cases of the 1990s in terms of violence, instability, and economic collapse.
. . .
During the 1990s, the U.S. supplied over $227 million in arms and training to African nations. In addition, U.S. special forces have trained troops from 34 of Africa’s 53 nations under the Joint Combined Exchange Training program, including forces fighting on both sides of the Congo’s civil war.
. . .
Meanwhile, even as it fuels military build-ups, the U.S. continues to cut development assistance to Africa and remains unable (or unwilling) to promote alternative, non-violent forms of engagement. While the U.S. ranks number one in global weapons exports, it falls dead last among industrialized nations in providing non-military foreign aid to the developing world.
And in 2004 we learn:
Since the beginning of the war on terrorism in 2001, the United States’ top 10 sources of oil imports have experienced a 350 percent increase in U.S. military aid and training. In 2003, the United States plans to provide these countries with $58 million in military assistance. In fiscal year 2001, their military assistance totaled $12.2 million.
A large part of the increase is explained by Washington’s rewarding of regimes like Algeria and Nigeria for their ability to cloak domestic repression in the rhetoric of the “war on terrorism.”
. . . Washington’s desire for Nigerian oil and territory triggered deeper military relationships. During the reign of Gen. Sani Abacha military ties were frozen. But since his death in 1999, the thaw has been quick. That year, Nigeria purchased $74,000 in U.S. weaponry. By 2001, the United States delivered thousands of times that-a total of $3.1 million. Military aid also skyrocketed, from $90,000 in 1999 to more than $4 million for 2003.
How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization is unclear.
How increased military aid will improve human rights and efforts toward democratization remains unclear with AFRICOM. If the US wants to help Africa, it needs to listen to Africans. Pham is rather blatantly disinclined to listen, for example, calling the testimony of Dr. Wafula Okumu “rather incoherent and self-contradicting“. Although if you read the testimony with an open mind, you will learn a lot about African points of view. Dr. Okumu was certainly clear and coherent. I think it was the message that Dr. Pham did not like.
It is not possible to work cooperatively unless you are willing to listen to the people you are “cooperating” with. I don’t see any sign that the US has a clue about this when it talks about AFRICOM.
The US needs to stop arming repressive governments, and stop arming and inciting opposing factions. There is almost nothing I read in the US press or see or hear in the US media, that indicates people in the US are willing to listen or learn from Africans, or change the US approach to Africa away from the emphasis on military assistance. AFRICOM just offers more of the same militarization and destabilization the US has been offering Africa for decades, as a “payment” for taking away the natural riches of the continent.