Training the next generation of miltary governments for Africa? or is this a humitarian mission, as the headline at africom.mil suggests: Opening ceremony in Northern Uganda Marks Start to Humanitarian Exercise.
KITGUM, Uganda - Soldiers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States participate in an opening ceremony at the start of Natural Fire 10, October 16, 2009. Natural Fire 10 is a multi-national, globally-resourced exercise focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and regional security. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Africa)

KITGUM, Uganda - Soldiers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States participate in an opening ceremony at the start of Natural Fire 10, October 16, 2009. Natural Fire 10 is a multi-national, globally-resourced exercise focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and regional security. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Africa)

AROMO, Uganda - Seaman Apprentice John Sanders, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, and Uganda Peoples' Defence Force Corporal Ongora Bonny begin constructing the foundation of a bridge in Aromo, Uganda, October 10, 2009. The bridge, scheduled to be completed in January 2010, will benefit local residents by improving their transportation ability. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ronald Lafosse, CJTF-HOA)

AROMO, Uganda - Seaman Apprentice John Sanders, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3, and Uganda Peoples' Defence Force Corporal Ongora Bonny begin constructing the foundation of a bridge in Aromo, Uganda, October 10, 2009. The bridge, scheduled to be completed in January 2010, will benefit local residents by improving their transportation ability. (Photo by Staff Sergeant Ronald Lafosse, CJTF-HOA)

Natural Fire 10, a multinational military exercise involving five East African partner states — plus partners from the U.S. military — began October 16, 2009 in northern Uganda.

Soldiers from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States opened the exercise with a ceremony attended by senior military officials from each country.
The 10-day exercise focuses on humanitarian and civic assistance, disaster relief and regional security.

Roughly 550 U.S. personnel and 133 military personnel from each of the five partner nations are taking part. Altogether, there will be nearly 1,220 participants. Three training opportunities are going on simultaneously. Medical, dental and engineering projects will assist the local community and security partnership exercises near Kitgum which will increase the soldiers’ ability to work together.

Meanwhile, in Kampala and Entebbe, military leaders and senior civilian officials from participating countries will take part in a tabletop exercise — facing simulated emergencies in Africa. This type of exercise will sharpen senior and mid-level military leaders’ skills in their response to disasters, to offer humanitarian assistance and to prepare for pandemic situations.

Medical care will include direct care by a doctor or dentist, to include optometry and pharmacy services as well as dental extractions. Education classes on HIV/AIDS, nutrition and hygiene will also be provided. The care will be provided at Pajimo Health Center, Palabek Health Center, Mucwini Health Center and Kitgum Government Hospital.

Engineers will work together to make improvements at a high school, primary school and a hospital. Improvements include repairing or replacing roofs, window panes and doors, repairing walls, installing handicap ramps and placing a concrete floor. Engineer projects will be conducted at the Kitgum High School, Mucwini Primary School and Kitgum Government Hospital.

Natural Fire 10 closes with a ceremony October 25, 2009, when all participants will return to their countries.

Natural Fire was first held in Kenya in 1998, with U.S. partnership. Since, then it has been held every two years in East Africa. In 2000, it grew to include Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the U.S. and Kenya — a significant step for the EAC alliance. In 2006, Natural Fire expanded to include field training and humanitarian assistance. Since then, the exercise has grown to feature five partner states, with the addition of soldiers from Burundi.

This gives you the basic description of the exercise. You can see the location of Kitgum on this map. You will notice that Kitgum is right on the border of southern Sudan, where there is oil, and where US coporations are buying up large tracts of land. There are recent significant discoveries of oil in Uganda, with more expected both in Uganda and in the DRC.

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance Army, map created by Mark Dingemanse for Wikimedia.

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance Army, map created by Mark Dingemanse for Wikimedia.

There are many questions about what other agendas are at work with this exercise, besides the ones that have been publicly announced.

Paul Amoru describes the location of the exercise:

Northern Uganda, the former epicentre of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict, has become home for US Marines and army officers, at least for the next three weeks.

Over 600 military personnel from Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda are also expected to arrive in Kitgum District, where Uganda, along with these partners will hold a 10-day exercise, focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

For a region that has just returned to normalcy, three years ago, the high levelled military cooperation has triggered raw excitement among the formerly displaced community. The US-led exercise is dubbed Natural Fire 10.

Advanced US military personnel, who are settling in the war battered region, have already mounted several installations in Kitgum, including a water purification plant at Akwang Sub-county. The plant will produce up to 20,000 litres every day.

UPDF 4th Division spokesperson Ronald Kakurungu yesterday remained upbeat about the event. “This is an opportunity for us to associate more with civilians. We expect to cement our strategic relationship with the community,” Capt. Kakurungu said.

As an article in the East African points out:

the decision to site the exercise in northern Uganda raises questions about whether it may presage a renewed US-supported assault against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Natural Fire 10 will involve live fire in the field as well as convoy operations, crowd control and vehicle checkpoints, the US Army reports.

And while Maj Gen William B. Garrett III insisted recently that the exercise is focused on training for humanitarian relief, the US Army commander added that the forces he will lead in Natural Fire 10 will be ready to respond to any security threat that may arise in the Kitgum region.

The Obama administration is being urged by dozens of Democratic and Republican members of Congress to help finish the fight against the LRA.

Several non-governmental organisations based in the US also advocate US military action to put an end to the maraudings of the LRA.

The US provided operational support to a joint Ugandan-DR Congo-Southern Sudan offensive last December that was aimed at capturing or killing LRA leader Joseph Kony and dealing a decisive blow to an insurgency that has terrorised Ugandan civilians for the past 20 years.

But the operation dubbed Lightning Thunder failed in its objectives.
[you will find more details on Operation Lightning Thunder here and here]

Kony escaped, and his forces embarked on a killing spree that took the lives of an estimated 1,000 Congolese villagers.

Natural Fire 10 may well have the primary purposes claimed for it, but the skills being taught to the East African soldiers “are readily transferable to any sort of operations that their commanders want to undertake,” notes Daniel Volman, head of the Washington-based, non-governmental African Security Research Project.

Kony and the LRA have spread out from northern Uganda into both Sudan and the DRC. They are in the way of the exploitation of the oil and other natural resources. So suddenly, in addition to the humanitarian horror they have always been, they are now inconvenient to the interests of global money. So now there is talk of further military action against them. The Acholi Leaders Peace Initiative writes to us courtesy of Africa Focus, about the possibility of a military option:

The military option has been explored numerous times in the past, notably Operation North (1991), Operation Iron Fist (2002) and Operation Lightning Thunder (2008-2009).

Experience shows that despite such attempts to end the conflict, only dialogue can be attributed to the relative calm experienced in Northern Uganda since July of 2006 Military strategies launched against the LRA have time and again led to severe reprisal attacks on the innocent civilian community as illustrated by the recent 900 civilian deaths during Operation Lightning Thunder.

Not only has the cost of the military option been expensive regarding the loss of human life, the financial implications of war are also immense. The large sums of money required to carry out war drain the resources needed to bring about development and reconstruction of affected areas.

It must be acknowledged that there are numerous groups which are causing insecurity throughout the region. While the LRA is one said group, any strategy that is put in place must also address the other negative forces working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Uganda who pose a threat to stability.

As the conflict has transformed into a regional issue, diplomatic engagement with regional stakeholders, namely those from Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic, and Uganda is integral so that the needs and concerns of all affected are adequately addressed.

Furthermore, we feel that not all non-violent strategies have been explored adequately. While some have put forward that dialogue has failed, we argue that there were certain factors such as the stick and carrot approach, vested interests, presumptions, and the lack of coordination and communication between the LRA, GoU, and mediating parties did not provide a fruitful environment for dialogue to take place.

Time and again, issues of spoilers both regionally and internationally have played a role in frustrating any attempts at peace. For any regional strategy to be successful, we feel that such spoilers need to be investigated, made known if found guilty, and held accountable for their actions in the interest of sustainable peace.

It has been observed that past development programs in Northern Uganda have failed to make an impact on the ground due to various factors such as corruption. … [a] plan needs to be put into place to ensure that support is maintained to the affected civilian population to prevent them from once again being victims due to the actions of others.

Among the regional spoilers have been the governments of Uganda and Rwanda, both of whom have been in competition with each other and with the DRC to take advantage of the mineral resources of the DRC. Both those governments are taking part in this exercise. And both of those governments have acted as proxy warriors, looking after the interests of US and other western interests in minerals in the DRC, in addition to their own interests. This has led to unending war and humanitarian disaster in the Eastern Congo.

Democratic institutions need encouragement and support in East Africa, as in many other places. Military exercises, no matter how humanitarian their decriptors, do not provide support for democratic institutions. Military exercises feature soldiers as government. Those who eye Natural Fire 10 and other recent US military exercises on the African continent with skepticism and apprehension have much to justify their fear.

Africom’s budget of $763 million in the coming fiscal year, compared to the Africa Bureau’s allocation of $226 million, is enabling the US military to take on roles previously played by American diplomats and civilian development experts. (from the East African)

KARAMBO, Rwanda - Members of the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) show Lieutenant Darren Denyer, from Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, a water distribution point built by the RDF during ’Army Week’ — the RDF’s civil-military operations campaign conducted throughout Rwanda. CJTF-HOA sent Maritime Civil Affairs Team (MCAT) 104 to Rwanda, August 1-8, 2009, to strengthen the partnership between the Rwanda and U.S. militaries and to observe civil-military operations throughout the country. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Jon E. McMillan)

KARAMBO, Rwanda - Members of the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) show Lieutenant Darren Denyer, from Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, a water distribution point built by the RDF during ’Army Week’ — the RDF’s civil-military operations campaign conducted throughout Rwanda. CJTF-HOA sent Maritime Civil Affairs Team (MCAT) 104 to Rwanda, August 1-8, 2009, to strengthen the partnership between the Rwanda and U.S. militaries and to observe civil-military operations throughout the country. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Jon E. McMillan)

“The US military is stepping into void created by a lack of resources for traditional development and public diplomacy,” the inspector general warns.

That finding appears to confirm charges by some independent analysts that American policy toward Africa has grown increasingly militarised in the years since the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

… the Obama administration is continuing to move in that direction, despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emphasis on development issues during her recent seven-nation Africa tour.

The inspector general’s report contrasts the work of Africom’s “military information support teams” (Mist) with what it describes as the “failure” of the State Department’s 10-year-old effort to integrate public diplomacy into its operations. “Mist teams have exponentially more money to spend in a country than do embassy public affairs offices,” the report says

For more on the spending inequities the August OIG report, PDF reports:

In Somalia, for example, the Embassy had $30,000 to spend on public diplomacy while the MIST team had $600,000. Given the urgency of combating terrorism in Somalia, money was needed and the reported successes of MIST programs elsewhere served as a recommendation. Under MIST, AFRICOM inherited an established military practice of working closely with embassy public affairs officers to develop and fund effective programs.

In Somalia so far there is no evidence of any success resulting from MIST, or any other US spending. Although if one assumes the purpose of US spending and intervention is to weaken and destabilize Somalia, then the policy has been a success. Spending this money would have been the responsibility of US Ambassador to Kenya Ranneberger, who is tasked with managing Somalia relations, and who has engineered a consistently disastrous policy for Somalia, as well as damaging Kenyan democracy.

Daniel Volman writes that:

In May 2008, the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, hosted “Unified Quest 2008,” … it was the first time the war games included African scenarios as part of the Pentagon’s plan to create a new military command for the continent: the Africa Command or Africom.

There were 4 scenarios gamed, including one in Somalia and one in Nigeria, about which we have some information:

… set in 2013 — which was a test of how Africom could respond to a crisis in Nigeria in which the Nigerian government is near collapse, and rival factions and rebels are fighting for control of the oil fields of the Niger Delta and vying for power in the country which is the sixth largest supplier of America’s oil imports.

As the game progressed, according to former U.S. ambassador David Lyon, it became clear that the government of Nigeria was a large part of the problem. As he put it, “we have a circle of elites [the government of Nigeria] who have seized resources and are trying to perpetuate themselves. Their interests are not exactly those of the people.”

Furthermore, according to U.S. Army Major Robert Thornton, an officer with the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, “it became apparent that it was actually green (the host nation government) which had the initiative, and that any blue [the U.S. government and its allies] actions within the frame were contingent upon what green was willing to tolerate and accommodate.”

This information should not have been a surprise to anyone with even a moderate knowledge of Nigeria. I’m sure most Nigerians could have told the wargamers this same information. I think one thing it makes clear is that diplomacy, NOT military force is what is needed now, and what will be most useful going forward. So far, despite examples such as this, or the ongoing disaster in Somalia, continually made worse by US interference, the Obama administration seems committed to the military path. And despite all the talk of cooperation and development from those promoting Africom:

… neither the commander of Africom, General William Ward, nor his deputy, Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, are under any illusions about the purpose of the new command.

Thus, when General Ward appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2008, he cited America’s growing dependence on African oil as a priority issue for Africom and went on to proclaim that combating terrorism would be “Africom’s number one theater-wide goal.” He barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or conflict resolution.

And in a presentation by Vice Admiral Moeller at an Africom conference held at Fort McNair on February 18, 2008 and subsequently posted on the web by the Pentagon, he declared that protecting “the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market” was one of Africom’s “guiding principles” and specifically cited “oil disruption,” “terrorism,” and the “growing influence” of China as major “challenges” to U.S. interests in Africa.

So far President Obama, rather than seeking the civil and diplomatic route, has decided:

… to expand the operations of Africom throughout the continent. He has proposed a budget for financial year 2010 that will provide increased security assistance to repressive and undemocratic governments in resource-rich countries like Nigeria, Niger, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to countries that are key military allies of the United States like Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda and Uganda.

And he has actually chosen to escalate U.S. military intervention in Africa, most conspicuously by providing arms and training to the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, as part of his effort to make Africa a central battlefield in the “global war on terrorism.” So it is clearly wishful thinking to believe that his exposure to the real risks of such a strategy revealed by these hypothetical scenarios gave him a better appreciation of the risks that the strategy entails.

________
h/t b real of africa comments for source material

The main Tutsi militia leader in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda, gestures at his mountain base, in Kachanga

The main Tutsi militia leader in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda, gestures at his mountain base, in Kachanga

Michael Klare writes in Rising Powers Shrinking Planet:

What makes Africa so enticing today is precisely what made it so attractive to foreign predators in previous centuries: a vast abundance of vital raw materials contained in a deeply divided, politically weakened continent, remarkably open to international exploitation.

… As in previous centuries, resource-consuming nations will extract as much of Africa’s wealth — in this case, oil, gas, and minerals — as they can, often jostling with one another for access to the most prolific sources of supply. In doing so they will repeatedly proclaim their deep interest in African development, insisting that the exploitation of raw materials will contribute to the improvement of living conditions for the masses of ordinary citizens. If past experience is any guide, however, few of those living in Africa’s resource-producing countries will see any significant benefit from the depletion of their continents natural bounty. (p 146, 149-50)

In addition to the mineral wealth, because of Africa’s oil wealth, George Bush created the Africa Command, AFRICOM. As Bush said: African oil is of strategic interest to us. (p. 149) But long before the Africa Command the US has been arming and looting in the Congo. It is the reason the US sponsored Mobutu for 30 years.

No country has the combination Klare describes of wealth and vulnerability in greater proportions than the Congo. None has suffered more from resource hungry predatory nations than the Congo, you can read some of this history in King Leopold’s Ghost. Businessmen from the US and round the globe flock to the Congo in order to get a piece of the resource pie.

This is all money,” says a Western mining executive, his hand sweeping over a geological map toward the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is explaining why, in 1997, he and planeloads of other businessmen were flocking to the impoverished country and vying for the attention of then-rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The executive could just as accurately have said, “This is all war.”

 

The interplay among a seemingly endless supply of mineral resources, the greed of multinational corporations desperate to cash in on that wealth, and the provision of arms and military training to political tyrants has helped to produce the spiral of conflicts that have engulfed the continent – what many regard as “Africa’s First World War.”

 

These minerals are vital to maintaining U.S. military dominance, economic prosperity, and consumer satisfaction. … In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government installed the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko, which ensured U.S. access to those minerals for more than 30 years.

Today, the United States claims that it has no interest in the DRC other than a peaceful resolution to the current war. Yet U.S. businessmen and politicians are still going to extreme lengths to gain and preserve sole access to the DRC’s mineral resources. And to protect these economic interests, the U.S. government continues to provide millions of dollars in arms and military training to known human rights abusers and undemocratic regimes. Thus, the DRC’s mineral wealth is both an impetus for war and an impediment to stopping it.

Both Rwanda and Uganda provide arms and training to their respective rebel allies and have set up extensive links to facilitate the exploitation of mineral resources. Along with their rebel allies, the two countries seized raw materials stockpiled in DRC territory and looted money from DRC banks. Rwanda and Uganda also set up colonial-style systems of governance, appointing local authorities to oversee their territories in the DRC. Meanwhile, high-ranking members of the Rwandan and Uganda military (including relatives of Kagame and Museveni) retain significant control over illegal mineral exploitation. Local Congolese, including children, are forced to work in the mines for little or no pay, under guard of Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Rwanda prisoners also participate in mining. To transport weapons to the rebels in the DRC, and to fly resources out of the DRC to Rwanda and Uganda, the authorities rely on private companies owned or controlled by Kagame’s and Museveni’s friends and relatives.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have knowingly contributed to the war effort. The international lending institutions praised both Rwanda and Uganda for increasing their gross domestic product (GDP), which resulted from the illegal mining of DRC resources.

For the west, the extraction of the wealth is what matters, where it comes from, or who gets hurt, is a matter of indifference.

This summer Refugees International published the report U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement. Contrasted to the nearly $50 million the US is spending on rebuilding the Liberian army:

it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities

Violence has flared up again in North Kivu province the DRC. The Africa Faith and Justice Network sent out an email on Friday August 29 that said:

Since yesterday, the Congolese army has been fighting with Laurent Nkunda’s pro-Rwanda rebel group in eastern Congo in the Rutshuru territory. Last year, it was around this time when the violence resumed, forcing the same people from Kanombe, Mutovu, and the surrounding areas to leave. It was just last month that we got news that people were beginning to go back to their villages to see what remained of what they left behind last year.
Now they are on the run, going back into displacement camps again. Sustainable peace is what we, and mostly importantly the Congolese people, are asking for so that they can bring their kids back home and attend school in classrooms instead of temporary displacement tents.
Please take action now. Call the White House today at 202-456-1111 and tell President George Bush that you demand action for peace in the D.R. Congo.

Laurent Nkunda is sponsored by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and funded indirectly by the US. His militia is responsible for vast numbers of atrocities, and is a key participant in the ongoing violence and unrest.

I shall continue this topic tomorrow, The picture of Laurent Nkunda above is from this picture gallery at The Guardian.

Read Part 2 of DRC – Minerals, militaries, money and violence here.