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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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Current Affairs

OPEC And Its Allies Are Ready To Boost Production, But Here’s Why An Oil Market Recovery Isn’t Guaranteed

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After record production cuts in April intended to prop up the market amid a demand crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s largest oil producers are expected to ease up on the restrictions and begin to increase their output next month.

KEY FACTS

  • Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the other members of OPEC+ will meet Wednesday to discuss the current market situation and debate future production limits, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, adding that most delegates in the organization support loosening restrictions.
  • As lockdown measures ease across the globe, demand for oil is slowly beginning to rise again as shipping and air travel resume. 
  • Oil prices are still down significantly from pre-pandemic levels, however, with the Brent international benchmark priced at about 30% of January levels. 
  • The International Energy Agency said Friday that while global demand for oil had recovered strongly in China and India in May, world demand is still projected to decline during the second half of the year before recovering in 2021. 
  • The recent spike coronavirus cases and new lockdowns are creating “more uncertainty”: additional lockdowns could discourage travel and international trade, which would put more downward pressure on prices.
  • The risk to the oil market is “almost certainly to the downside,” the IAE said. 

KEY BACKGROUND

In April, the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies agreed to record oil production cuts of 9.7 million barrels a day as the coronavirus decimated global demand for crude oil. The agreement put an end to a weeks-long price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that added even more pressure to an already-struggling market. 

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“If OPEC clings to restraining production to keep up prices, I think it’s suicidal,” a person familiar with Saudi Arabia’s thinking told the Journal. “There’s going to be a scramble for market share, and the trick is how the low cost producers assert themselves without crashing the oil price.”

Sarah Hansen, Forbes Staff, Markets

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Current Affairs

Zindzi Mandela passes away, aged 59

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Picture taken for the December 2014 cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA by Jay Caboz

Zindziswa ‘Zindzi’ Mandela has died. The 59-year-old is believed to have breathed her last in a Johannesburg hospital in the early hours of July 13, Monday, SABC is reporting.

Zindzi was the daughter of struggle icons, South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and currently serving as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.

In December 2014, Zindzi graced the cover of FORBES WOMAN AFRICA alongside her mother, a year after her father’s death.

She lost her 13-year-old granddaughter, Zenani, in a car crash after a pre-tournament concert during the 2010 FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa.

In 2018, her mother Winnie, passed away.

Zindzi is survived by her four children, husband and grandchildren.

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Heroes & Survivors

The Test, Trial And Triumph

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment for FORBES AFRICA

After 14 days in isolation as a Covid-19 patient, this FORBES AFRICA photojournalist recovered to see the world with new eyes and realize he had the gift of life.

It was around 3PM on June 24 when a nurse called to tell me that I could now officially end my 14-day self-isolation period at home. I had tested Covid-19 positive three weeks before and now was in total disbelief that I had survived this particular physical trial and mental ordeal.

Before testing positive, I was like any other ordinary South African, pursuing my work from home, and as a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist, recording the impact of the coronavirus.

I had thought my face-mask and hand-sanitizer were my armour against the virus, but I guess one can never be too careful.

The first 72 hours of knowing that I had confirmed positive for Covid-19 came with its own set of emotions and experiences. Some friends, and even family, criticized and judged me for carrying the virus, but I also came to know about the ones who cared.

A group of doctors visited me at home to check if I needed hospitalization. They were young and not cloaked head-to-toe in PPE as I had thought. One of them was wearing a camouflage top and sported a few tattoos on his left arm. After his consultation with me, he spoke excitedly about the baby he and his wife were expecting, due later in the year.

There was hope in the world.

I was confident my health was getting better until a nurse called me a few days later. She was the pin that burst my bubble, as she stated things I didn’t want to hear at the time. They were facts, she clinically warned, as she sees people dying daily of the virus.

My mind raced to the previous two nights, when I experienced mild short breaths and thought how the attack could have been worse. I could have died at night all by myself, just trying to breathe. I shed tears as she spoke.

Soon after that, an old friend of mine, who had been shot (and injured) in the spine during an armed robbery attack, called. His timing was perfect. He encouraged me to live on and smile, and told me that the nurse was only doing her job, in advising me to keep to a healthy diet during this time. He brought a smile to my face.

A week later, it was my mother’s birthday. Every year, I visit her with a gift and a cake. This time, all I could do was video-call her; she was both happy and sad not to be able to see me. Two days later, it was my own birthday. I felt low and lonely, but was glad to be alive as my two weeks in self-quarantine was going to be over soon.

“I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed.”

I was reluctant to leave the house, but on June 24, the call by a lady who identified herself as “Nurse Nomsa from the Department of Health” liberated me. She was following up on my health status for the previous two weeks and I had ticked all the right boxes. I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed. She told me I had recovered, but should continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Today, I can stand outside my home in Soweto and watch the neighbors’ kids play, shout and scream, asking from their yards, “Malume (uncle), are you okay?”

With a gentle laugh and nod, I acknowledge my story of survival to them.

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