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Niger: a reminder of why the US military’s presence Africa needs constant scrutiny

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On October 4 an American Special Forces team was ambushed by a contingent of Islamic State affiliated fighters in Niger. Four American soldiers were killed and two wounded. The team of 12 soldiers was returning from a meeting with community leaders when it ran into a group of up to 50 terrorists.

The incident caused a furore in the US, sparking recollection of 1993’s “Black Hawk Down” incident in Somalia that saw 18 American soldiers killed. Questions were raised about how it was that four US soldiers died, why one of the bodies was retrieved only 48 hours after the ambush, and why US troops were in Niger in the first place. US President Donald Trump’s failure to address the matter with the necessary transparency and sensitivity fueled the agitation.

The Niger incident reaffirmed the need to ask important questions about US military presence in foreign territories and in this case, in Africa. African institutions that advocate for human security must continuously question the motives behind US military presence on the continent as well as its impact.

The US has an extensive military presence on the continent. In 2016 it was reported that its military had been involved with more than 90% of the 54 countries in Africa.

Two important and related questions arise following the Niger incident. Is the US military’s presence in Africa good or bad for Africa’s security? And is America pursuing the right strategy to combat terrorism on the continent? These are pertinent questions given that Africa is “the new battleground” in the fight against terrorism.

READ MORE: Why Is West Africa Less Attractive To Investors?

The history

The US military’s presence in Africa is best understood in the wider context of America’s national security strategy. In establishing a military presence with global reach, the Americans are informed by what they call “forward strategy”. This is a national security policy shaped during the Cold War.

“Forward strategy” was based on the idea that establishing and maintaining a significant US military presence in close proximity to the former Soviet Union would discourage communist expansion. This encouraged the emergence of America’s global military footprint either through a physical presence or in the form of proxy forces belonging to sympathetic or opportunistic governments.

Forward strategy gained renewed impetus following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. This renewal was marked when the president George W. Bush declared a war on terror.

Africa had already featured in the story of the fight against terror, when in 1998 US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed by Al-Qaeda. In 2007, and following Bush’s declaration, the “United States Africa Command” (AFRICOM) was established as the ninth unified combatant command. AFRICOM was founded with the operational objective to neutralise violent extremist organisations and beef up regional security on the continent.

The US troop contingent in Niger is part of this effort. AFRICOM is also engaged in an array of supporting activities deemed necessary for ensuring regional security. These include foreign military salesmilitary education and trainingprovision of healthcare and veterinary services.

The US military’s strategic objective is underpinned by two ideals: the “economy of force” and “preventative war”. “Economy of force” refers to the idea that it’s more cost effective to train and equip African forces in the fight against terror than to commit extensive numbers of US troops. “Preventative war” centres on the argument that large wars can be avoided by fighting on smaller scales wherever necessary.

America’s forward strategy persisted under both the Bush and Obama administrations. By all indications it is a strategy that’s likely to continue under Trump.

READ MORE: Trump’s Africa policy is still incoherent

Citizens will pay a price

The danger is that, in some instances, citizens can bear the brunt of a US military presence that involves training and equipping of African forces. This is particularly true in countries where interventions, inadvertently perhaps, strengthen repressive state apparatus. On the other hand Africa’s gatekeepers – self-interested, ruling elites – have the means to ensure their own security. They control the state, and its access to foreign partnerships and aid, whether military or otherwise.

case in point is Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni – a key African ally in the war on terror.

And of the 16 African countries that host US military presence, 10 are categorised by the US-based Freedom House as “not free”, four as “partly free” and only two as “free”.

Various reports this year indicate that armed forces in a number of countries that host a US military presence have abused civilians. Burkina FasoCameroonChadEthiopiaKenya and Uganda are a few examples.

These sorts of situations have the potential to fuel fundamentalist backlash.

READ MORE: Qatar’s conflict with its neighbours can set the Horn of Africa alight

Is America’s strategy working?

What is the efficacy of the US’s military presence in Africa?

Research by the Institute for Security Studies suggests that heavy-handed anti-terrorism strategies breed insecurity by making fundamentalist organisations appear attractive to ordinary citizens. The exercise of what ordinary citizens perceive to be illegitimate force, on the part of state security institutions, increases the likelihood of those same citizens joining fundamentalist organisations.

But it seems these findings are being ignored. The danger is that if current patterns encouraged by the US military persist, countries are likely to experience an increase in extremism. This in turn is likely to perpetuate the heavy-handedness of already illiberal regimes and the vicious cycle of interventionism in Africa.

In the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “Our responses to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy.” – Written by Craig Bailie, Lecturer in Political Science (Mil), Stellenbosch University

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Why Zimbabwe Is Not There Yet

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Despite the ample investment opportunities in Zimbabwe, post-election setbacks challenge its economic recovery

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First African Elected Female Head of State Urges Women to Be Bold

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has an iconic status in Africa and the world. As the first elected female head of state in Africa, she served as the leader of Liberia for two elected terms.

Those terms saw Liberia’s slow and steady march from what was considered a pariah state to a country with what the Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls a “trajectory of progress” that has helped transform its economy, survive the shock of Ebola, and restructure public institutions to respond to the needs of the people.

READ MORE: The People’s President

It is only fitting that FORBES WOMAN AFRICA gets to meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Rwanda, a country known for its high representation of women in Parliament, and where Sirleaf is awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership at a special ceremony.

Q. Please share your thoughts on the African Union (AU) self-funding reform goal, the Kaberuka Proposal.
The dependency of the AU on external sources has been the subject of debate for many years, and the thinking of our leaders is that it is better to finance our operations by ourselves and alleviate pressure and dictation from these external sources. On the other hand, we know that to have financial autonomy, every country must be able to contribute consistently. So, the crux of the reform is to change the payment formula and make sure everyone knows they have to pay their part.

When it comes to the Kaberuka suggestion, it meets our objective of financing our organization ourselves. However, it does place a burden on the poorer states… So, our position with the Kaberuka plan is to study it some more so when we commit, we do not fall into arrears. We want to see the reform implemented, and for it to include cost-reduction in structural aspects such as travel and positions etc., thus reducing the burden on poorer countries.

Q: Will Africa really be able to tackle illicit financial flows? And with women being conspicuously absent from financial decision-making, yet being the greatest losers on such issues, how do we tackle these discrepancies?
We have to become more accountable and pass stringent mandates in institutions, as well as instill practical capacity to understand the complexities of these financial transactions. Also, we must implement a legal system that will enforce against such flow violations.

Access for women is difficult even in the case of legitimate flows. Even with a growing manufacturing sector and agri-industrial activities usually manned by women, access is still limited, for rural women particularly.

There is a big effort being put in by different regional institutions; in Liberia’s case, GIABA, the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, has been analyzing the flows and determining what is illicit.
But it is up to women to stand up and put other women in leadership roles, because the record is clear: women are more credit-worthy when it comes to financial transactions, and this suggests the more women there are heading these institutions, the more we can be assured that regulatory laws will be more effective.

READ MORE: ‘Women’s Leadership Is Under Attack Globally’

Q: What are your plans? How would you encourage young women to follow in your footsteps, or even create their own path?
We are establishing the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. The activities will center around five themes that will promote women in business; women in leadership; women in fragile states; women in migration; and education for women and girls. We will use the life experiences of women who have excelled in these areas. For the young women, I say to all, be self-confident and pursue your goals…Let us be bold as women.

– Interviewed by Laura Rwiliriza

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Prosecution And Praise For Jacob Zuma

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It proved a day short on time in court and big on political posturing and speeches. The former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma’s appearance lasted a mere 10 minutes, on April 6, and the trial postponed until June 8 – yet he managed to make political capital out of his day in court in Durban.

On a bright sunny day in the coastal city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa, the former head of state stood trial in his own court. Almost 10 years ago, 10 days after this day, 18 charges on 783 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering were dropped against Jacob Zuma by former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Mokotedi Mpshe.

This decision was said to have been based on the recordings of the so-called ‘spy tapes’, which were presented to Mpshe by Zuma’s legal team. And almost a decade later, Zuma stands trial in the same court for the same charges which were reinstated by now NPA boss Shaun Abrahams.

The court was packed to full capacity with only 25 journalist allowed inside. Media came from all over the country, the continent and the world. Night vigils and pickets were held outside the night before the court case and on the day the case took place, led by different organizations supporting the former president. These organizations included Transform RSA, Black First Land First led by Andile Mngxitama, student groups from various KZN universities and members of the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party who claimed not to be operating under the party’s name.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC made an announcement a week before the trial that members of the party who liked to support Msholozi, as Zuma is affectionately called, could do so in their own personal capacity and not wear any party regalia. However, ANC members who attended actually did the opposite and when asked if they were defying their own party, countered “you cannot have an ANC without Jacob Zuma”.

Thousands of supporters in front of the Durban High Court chanted struggle songs and praised Zuma.

Zuma addressed the crowds after spending close to 15 minutes inside the court room.

“I keep asking them what have I done for them to keep trying to bring me down but they have no answers but one day they will,” he said.

Among the top-ranking ANC officials in KZN was the province’s MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Sihle Zikalala who vowed to aid in defending the former president.

What is clear is that the ANC in KZN is still divided, with its members committing to prove Zuma’s innocence and unseating current president Ramaphosa before the 2019 elections. On the other hand, some others are calling for his prosecution by the court of law.

This case may take years to be concluded and political wars in the province may not augur well for the ANC.

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