For an update regarding the March 2012 coup in Mali, see: Coup In Mali – AFRICOM’s Train & Equip Triumphs Over Democracy.

US foreign policy in Africa IS military policy. The US State Department is starved for money. The Pentagon’s gargantuan budget is still largely unquestioned and treated politically as free money. Major portions of the State Department budget are allocated for military activity and support instead of traditional diplomacy. This picture illustrates the institutional problem US policy has created, and that it faces.

BAMAKO, Mali - U.S. Army Master Sergeant Robert Price stands with Malian soldiers he helped train as he is congratulated by Malian Minister of Defense Natie Pleah during a Counter Terrorism Train and Equip (CTTE) transfer of equipment ceremony in Bamako, October 20, 2009. Price, a logistics NCO with Special Operations Command Africa's Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara, supervised maintenance and supply accountability training provided to Malian soldiers for tactical vehicles and communications equipment transferred to Malian units. Under the U.S. State Department's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Program (TSCTP), U.S. Africa Command's Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans Sahara (OEF-TS) Counter Terrorism Train and Equip initiative provided 37 brand-new Toyota Land Cruiser pickup trucks and high-tech communications equipment that will allow Malian military units to move, transport and communicate across vast expanses of open desert in the northern region of the country. In addition, replacement parts, clothing, individual equipment and other supplies will be provided in the next few weeks as part of a U.S. government capacity-building equipment transfer totaling more than $5 million. The CTTE program is designed to develop stronger military-to-military relationships while underscoring U.S. support for partner nation sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

State Department money and contracts are paying for the equipment and the training described in this picture. The only significant budget the State Department has, particularly regarding African affairs is money that is spent on military supplies and activities, and therefore supplements the Pentagon’s already bloated military budget. In these circumstances the only possible product of US foreign policy is increased militarism.

Vijay Prashad recently published an article at Pambazuka that describes the ongoing effect of US policy on Mali:
Counterterrorism’s blindness: Mali and the US

Describing the military expenditure pictured above:

[T]he US government will provide US$5 million in trucks and military equipment to Mali. The aim of this donation is to help the Malian military fight the group known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Last December, AQIM kidnapped two Canadian diplomats, who were released after four months. This is what they do these days: kidnap, extort, run guns and drugs. Islam is a veneer.

The association with al-Qaeda is a propaganda coup … AQIM is a small shop with a large sign, paying its franchise dues without increasing its own business. But since AQIM operates on the border between Algeria and Mali, and does some of its business in Mali, the US government decided to help fortify Mali’s military. US$5 million is not much money for the US, but for a country with total revenues of US1.5 billion, with a military budget of about US$70 million per year, this small disbursement is considerable. And it is set to increase – keep an eye on that.

Through the TSCTP, the US government wanted not only to fight the Islamists on the battlefield, but also take on their extremist ideology. To this end, USAID got some funds to help revise textbooks, pay for schools that teach a ‘tolerant ideology’ and run rural radio stations ‘by broadcasting moderate views and providing information on government services’. The money for these non-military functions was available in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006. Because of this fluctuation, according to the General Accounting Office of the US government, ‘the mission suspended its peace-building program in northern Mali‘.

All attention was focused on the military aspect, although even here there is some uneasiness. The US Embassy in Bamako was quick to point out that the US$5 million for trucks and other military hardware comes not from the US military, but from the US State Department.

The fact that this money comes from the State Department is not a mitigating factor. It only makes the situation worse. The principal US institution that should be working for peace and democracy, that should be working to strengthen civilian institutions, becomes just another tool to subsidize military activity and war.

Although, the State Department is not the only one involved; from April to June this year, 300 US Special Forces ‘advisers’ trained the Malian military at three of its bases. These Sahelian initiatives are now run through AFRICOM, the US African Command, set up in October 2007. It operates a programme called ‘Joint Task Force Aztec Silence’. … The ‘silence’ after Aztec is chilling.

The insurgents in northern Mali are various. The longest tension is between the Malian government and the ‘Tuareg rebels’.

Prashad goes on to describe the tensions between Mali’s government and the Tuareg over the years. And as Keenan points out, quoted below, in 2006 US Special Forces worked with the Tuareg and the Algerians to destabilize Mali. Now in 2009 the US is backing Mali’s current government.

Prashad provides a summary history of Mali since independence. It came out of colonial rule almost completely dependent on cotton.

… a popular government led by the charismatic Modibo Kéita came to power. But the country was dependent on one crop (cotton) for more than half its GDP (gross domestic product), it had little processing and industry and almost no sources of energy. … Further, the cotton subsidy regime in both Europe and the United States strikes at the heart of Mali’s attempt to grow its already dismal economy.

Prashad recounts the changes in Mali’s leadership, and that immediately following Kéita, Mali came under military government:

Traoré had none of Kéita’s imagination, and none of the socialist movement’s patience with the devolution of power. When things turned bad, he went to Washington. The World Bank welcomed him in 1981, and Mali became the test case for its ‘structural adjustment’ policies.

In 1995, Howard French reported from Bamako for The New York Times, ‘Diplomats also speak of this large landlocked country as a bulwark against the spread of Islamic militancy from its northern neighbor, Algeria. Already Mali faces a destabilizing conflict involving Tuareg tribesmen in the north, but any settlement has been thwarted by a lack of resources. At the same time, Mali’s debt burden, contracted under years of dictatorship, consumes so much of the country’s revenues that there is little left for development needs.’ The point was clearly made. No one listened.

Washington’s counterterrorism spectacles see only al-Qaeda. The debt burden and the impossibility of governance are not on the agenda. Whether the State Department or the Defense Department give arms to the Malian military says more about anxiety in the US than about the dynamic in Mali. Once more the US will strengthen the military against civil society, and once more we might see Mali fall the way of Guinea and others in the region that were set up to become dictatorships.

I have quoted from Demystifying Africa’s Security by Jeremy Keenan before, but he makes a number of points that are particularly relevant to Mali:

Beginning in early 2003, the US, in collusion with Algeria, its key regional ally in the GWOT, fabricated a string of false flag ‘terrorism’ incidents in the Algerian Sahara and across much of the Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad) in order to justify the launch of a new or ‘second’ African front in the GWOT.

US presence sought to resolve conflicts in Africa by brute military intervention. Post-2006 interventions by US troops in the Sahara-Sahel have been widely documented(Keenan, 2006d, 2008b, 2009b). In May 2006, for example, US Special Forces, flown secretly from Stuttgart to Tamanrasset, accompanied Algeria’s secret military services into northern Mali to give support to the Algerian-orchestrated Tuareg rebellion designed to destabilise northern Mali. In February 2008, US Special Forces (possibly contractors – PMCs) accompanied Malian troops on a vindictive raid on a desert town in the same area, at the same time as AFRICOM’s commander, General William ‘Kip’ Ward and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, were promoting AFRICOM at a RUSI meeting in London and at which Ms Whelan denied the presence of US ‘troops’ in northern Mali.

Since 2005-6, justification for the US’s militarisation of the continent has shifted from the GWOT and straightforward counterterrorism to the more humanitarian security-development discourse. The fundamental question with regard to AFRICOM is whether its website news headlines and its ‘peace and development’ oriented mission statements really do reflect a paradigm shift in US military thinking, or whether they are merely good PR, a further twist in Washington’s ‘information war’: a deceptive mystification process that enables AFRICOM to be portrayed as more benign than it really is. The answer is found on the ground – in Africa. Whether couched in the language of the GWOT or the security-development discourse, local-regional outbreaks of civil unrest and rebellion (‘incursions’) by minority-cum-opposition groups, frequently provoked by local US supported politico-military elites, continue to help legitimise the US military presence in Africa and are being dealt with by military means. Far from bringing ‘peace and security’ to Africa, AFRICOM is directly instrumental in creating conflict and insecurity.

Does AFRICOM have any prospect of bringing peace, security and development to Africa? While AFRICOM’s commanders have been preaching ‘security and development’, their operations on the ground have so far created insecurity and undermined democratic expressions of civil society.

many [African regimes] are now using the pretext of the GWOT to repress legitimate opposition by linking it with ‘terrorism’