DAKAR, Senegal - Representatives from Senegal participate in the three-day Africa Endeavor 2009 Initial Planning Conference, January 13, 2009 in Dakar, Senegal. Africa Endeavor, the largest multinational communication interoperability exercise on the African continent, will be hosted in Gabon in July, 2009. The exercise is designed to encourage information-sharing among African nations that will support the development of overall African Union humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peace-support missions. (U.S. Africa Command Photo by Justin G. Wagg)

DAKAR, Senegal - Representatives from Senegal participate in the three-day Africa Endeavor 2009 Initial Planning Conference, January 13, 2009 in Dakar, Senegal. Africa Endeavor, the largest multinational communication interoperability exercise on the African continent, will be hosted in Gabon in July, 2009. The exercise is designed to encourage information-sharing among African nations that will support the development of overall African Union humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peace-support missions. (U.S. Africa Command Photo by Justin G. Wagg)

This exercise supports a lot of U.S. goals“, U.S. Air Force Major Eric Hilliard, of the Africa Command (Africom)

DAKAR, Jan 13 (Reuters) … Communications experts from around 25 African armies and the U.S. Africa Command (Africom) are meeting in Senegal this week to plan a continental exercise in Gabon in July, the third of its kind and intended to pave the way for a common communications platform.

“The aim is to devise a transmission architecture for control, command and coordination, as well as an information system, for an eventual African Union peacekeeping force,” Captain Mouhamadou Sylla, of the Senegalese army, told Reuters.

This exercise also helps cement the US Africa Command in place as an imperial colonial power organizing and directing proxy armies, controlling the tools, techniques, perhaps the language of their communication. It would be nice if the US would invest in standardizing communications between first responders in the US, or in enableing their communication devices to communicate across the board with each other.

From Congressional testimony by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, in July 2008:

The ‘train and equip’ idea is not new. In fact, it has a very bad history in Africa – a history that harkens back to the proxy wars of the Cold War and U.S. support for illegitimate or corrupt regimes.

In the 1980’s, the U.S. spent $500 million to train and equip Samuel Doe in Liberia. According to a report from the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, “every armed group that plundered Liberia over the past 25 years had its core in these U.S.-trained Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) soldiers. There is thus a fear that when the United States withdraws support for its security sector reform program and funding for the AFL, Liberia will be sitting on a time bomb; a well-trained and armed force of elite soldiers who are used to good pay and conditions of service, which may be impossible for the government of Liberia to sustain on its own.”

AFRICOM’s value as a structure for legitimizing African armies should therefore be called into serious question. The long-term ramifications of irresponsible training and equipping should be taken into consideration before the U.S. military is awarded more power in Africa. PMC’s should be debated and scrutinized by the African people and parliamentary bodies in every country should be encouraged to enact legislation against their operations. Propping up and arming corrupt leaders is no path to stability in Africa. The U.S. must act as a credible force for peace, not an overzealous superpower that employs private contractors to conduct military operations in Africa.

Many question the idea of training and coordinating African militaries at all. Many African military forces are primarily used against their own people in order to keep the current regime in power.

South African poet and activist Breyten Breytenbach spoke of US interest in Africa:

… it would seem that the two major sources of interest when it comes to the African continent for the United States is security, the way they interpret it, in other words, how to counteract the possibility of Islamist influence in Africa.

And the second one, of course, is the access to natural resources, particularly to oil. Same effect. In other words, you’re not concerned about developing society. You’re not concerned about democracy. You’re not concerned about women’s rights. You’re not really particularly concerned about the health problems either, although some work has been done in that field. So, AFRICOM, I think, should be seen within that context.

He also spoke in the larger context on government in African countries:

If I may step back for a minute, there’s a big picture that’s emerging in Africa. Africa is rapidly moving to the point where we’re going to have to reconsider the viability of the nation-state concept, when it comes to the African continent, because governments are falling apart. These are plundering elites, as in the case of Zimbabwe, and as is the case with Senegal, for that matter, who use the notion of sovereignty, of national sovereignty and of national independence to be able to plunder and pillage their own people. African armies don’t fight one another; they fight the civilian population.

But you have—parallel to that, you have developing a network, a continental network of civil society organizations, women’s organizations, children’s organizations, the youth, cultural organizations, human rights organizations. Those really, to a large extent, now produce very essential services. One should invest in these organizations. That’s the way it should happen. But, of course, it’s a complicated thing, because you are then denying this club, this very well fed, comfortable club, international club of rulers recognizing one another.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi writes more on these civil society groups that are actually doing the work of governing in much of Africa:

But there’s another side of Africa, the one that pushes back. This side is comprised of political and social organisations and activists, school teacher organisations, journalists, and health professionals, as well as women, worker, and youth organisations that patiently chip away at Africa’s problems usually with no funding, media coverage, or national and international recognition to speak of.

These Africans work against great odds to prevent famine, war, human rights abuse, the spread of AIDS, and a host of other urgent issues. When tragedy strikes, they work hard to ameliorate the effect. But even when they aren’t facing political persecution, they are under-funded and without the protection that comes with media coverage. They are the unseen, under-supported and unrecognised pillars of African societies.

… the question is why it is much easier for us to listen to philanthropists talk about what is wrong with Africa rather than the serious and dedicated political activists on the ground. Why are we not helping those who are helping themselves?

We love glossy packages that promise big bangs and super solutions. Take the Bill Gates Initiative, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa that promises super seeds for super plants to end famine in Africa. A simpler and more long-lasting solution lies in organic African farming, growing more food crops over cash crops, the diversification of African agriculture, and the depoliticisation of food and other basic human necessities.

The point is that every little bit of support counts and it can come in many forms – moral solidarity, awareness-raising, or financial support. But this help should not be afraid of the Africa that pushes back, or come at the expense of long-term solutions. One helping hand should not kill dreams with the other.

It looks like Breyten Breytenbach is correct when he says to the US:

“… you’re not concerned about developing society. You’re not concerned about democracy. You’re not concerned about women’s rights. You’re not really particularly concerned about the health problems either, although some work has been done in that field. So, AFRICOM, I think, should be seen within that context.”