Monday, May 12, 2014

A brief history of Africa and US Involvement

I wrote my previous blog in response to the Boko Haram kidnapping and focused my analysis on that particular group and Nigeria.  However, it is becoming apparent to me the more that  I read that this is much more than just about oil and Washington power games.  What is happening in Nigeria is a microcosm of African history.

The modern map of Africa is the legacy of European colonization beginning in the 15th Century by the Spanish and Portuguese.  Both of these European colonial powers started with the coastal areas of the African continent looking to expand their trade routes.

War with the English and French weakened the Spanish and Portuguese empires.  By the 17th Century, the Dutch, English and French had increased the colonization of Africa.  The Ottomans, Germans and Belgians would also colonize parts of Africa as each European power sought to have a stake in Africa's natural resources and slave trade.

World War I disrupted much of the European power base that had colonized the African continent.  After World War II, the European empires had been replaced by the United States and Soviet Union.  The new superpowers were even more dependent on the natural resources of Africa (strategic minerals were even more rarer and valuable than diamonds and gold).  Unlike the European empires though, the United States and Soviet Union used their allies (proxies) to protect their interests in Africa.  As African nations "won" independence from their European colonial powers, the governments were often puppets of either the US or Soviet Union.  Often though the emancipation of a particular African country meant little as a European corporation (such as Royal Dutch Shell) continue to own or control all of the mineral rights of the former colony.

More recently, the so-called "Arab Spring" was widely supported by the United States and Europe and saw many long-standing governments overthrown by pro-Western (or at least that's what the West hoped) opposition governments.  Let's look at just two examples.

Libya was ruled by Muammar Qaddafi for 41 years.  By all accounts, he was an absolute tyrant, mass murderer, rapist and terrorist.  Yet even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Libya was a former Italian colony and under Qaddafi the country became wealthy.  At its height, it produced over 2% of the worlds oil production (which Qaddafi insured no outside powers controlled).  He used to wealth from nationalized oil to improve social programs in Libya.  We hear about the negatives from the Western press but to many in Libya and North Africans, Qaddafi was the epitome of an anti-imperialist throwing off the shackles of the European colonial powers.  This last point is particularly important as the military operation against Libya was carried out by Europe (!) with France (?) taking the lead.  Former French President Sarkozy was not about to be left without France having a cut of Libya's vast oil.

The other case to look at is Egypt.  Former Egyptian President Mubarak became president after the assassination of Anwar Sadat.  In a sense, he was the legacy of the Camp David Peace Accords.  As such, he maintained the peace between Israel and Egypt and was a stabilizing force in the region.  As Sadat's heir, he was also a great ally of the United States making him of of the few pro-West Arab leaders.

Mubarak though also had his dark side and like Qaddafi, committed many atrocities (torture, rape, murder) on any Egyptian that opposed him or his policies.  The US turned a blind eye to these abuses because Mubarak was pro-West at a time when the US was becoming more actively involved (Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom although Mubarak was against the latter).  The State Security Investigations Service (SSI) or secret police, were perhaps what the US found most valuable in the war on terror.  Egypt was were the US sent suspected terrorists under the "extraordinary rendition" practice of the Bush and Obama administration.  As the American public grew increasingly uncomfortable with US "interrogation techniques", the Bush Administration decided to basically use a third-party to carry our interrogations.  The same techniques the the SSI used on terrorists are what ultimately caused the Arab Spring to spread to Egypt.

Although neither Qaddafi or Mubarak were saints, they did represent stability in their respective countries.  Once they were ousted, both countries were plunged into civil chaos.  In North Africa and the Middle East, the answer to civil chaos is almost always more atrocities and human rights abuses.

Africans view US and European involvement as part of the problem, not the solution.  Take Somalia as an example.

In 1992, the US lead United Task Force (UNITAF) was charged with carrying out United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in the southern half of the country.  This was followed in March 1993 by UN Security Council Resolution 819 (United Nations Operation in Somalia II  or UNOSOM II) to extend intervention in Somalia.  UNOSOM II was supposed to, as did UNOSOM I, were to create a secure environment in an increasingly lawless area so that humanitarian operations could be conducted.

Mohamed Farrah Aidid, along with other armed opposition groups, drove out former President Mohamed Siad Barre's regime from Somalia's capital Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War that broke out in the early 1990s.  Thus was launched Operation Gothic Serpent was an operation conducted by the US Army Rangers and Delta Force with the primary mission of capturing Aidid and two of his lieutenants.  This would lead to the Battle of Mogadishu, also know as Blackhawk Down.

Some 20 plus years afterwards, Somalia is still run by warlords and has no government.  To Africans, this is the result of failed European colonial policies as well as US intervention.  Critics of the US involvement in Somalia say it was more about protecting corporate interests in the region than about promoting humanitarian relief.  

I think it shows more how the US and Europe fail to grasp the long-term consequences of their actions. But it has also underlined the limits of U.S. influence and fed the narrative, common in Africa, that Washington only cares about Africa in times of crisis or insecurity.

Most know that the Global War on Terror was primarily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.  What many don't realize is the US also has based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) out of Camp Lemonnier (home to around 4,000 troops), Djibouti since 2003.  After negotiations between March and May 2001, the Djiboutian government allowed for the base's use by the U.S., providing for demining, humanitarian, and counter-terrorism efforts, and it now serves as the location from which U.S. and Coalition forces are operating in the Horn of Africa. On May 5th it was announced that the United States and Djibouti have signed a new 10-year lease on "a U.S. military base in the Horn of Africa nation" (Camp Lemonnier) that the White House called a critical part in fighting terrorism. (Voice of America)

In the event the US were to conduct major operations in African, it would need a theater command to direct its military forces.  In 2006, US Africa Command (USAFRICOM) was established.  It is headquartered at Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany. It is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations – an area of responsibility (AOR) covering all of Africa except Egypt, which is within the area of responsibility of theUnited States Central Command.  Yes, a major command responsible for Africa based out of Europe and one of the former colonial powers.  You can't make this stuff up.

In a Twitter discussion, Secretary of State John Kerry was admonished that “In choosing security over democracy in Ethiopia, U.S. will get neither”.  That perhaps best sums ups the US involvement in Africa.  The Washington Post goes on further;

"There is little doubt that America is increasingly concerned about the security climate in Africa. Two decades after Osama bin Laden left Sudan, ethnic conflicts and security vacuums are multiplying
in the region. Insurrections in Mali, Libya, Algeria and the Central African Republic, among other places, have sown worry that al-Qaeda affiliates or others bent on harm to Americans will be able to use Africa as a base.

In response, the Obama administration has greatly expanded its counterterrorism operations and partnerships over the past six years. In the process, it has often joined forces with anti-democratic or authoritarian regimes
."--WP.  Oops, the same mistakes previous administrations have made in Central and South America is now being repeated by the nation's first Black President in his father's homeland.

Now this admittedly abridged history of the colonization of Africa and US involvement was to lead to a conclusion on my part.  Allow me to thread together everything I've written thus far.

Africa is the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources.  Its huge population also represents a cheap labor force which has historically exploited as slaves but now as people displaced by war.  If Europe is no longer the colonial empire in control, and the end of the Soviet Union, who is left in control?  Certainly not any Africans.  Certainly not the United States as its recent actions seem to be in reaction to another power being in control.  

For the answer, one needs to travel to Egypt.  A very good friend of mine recently travelled to Egypt and discovered that all of the lands there have been bought by the Chinese.  He also noted a huge population of Chinese now living and working in Egypt.  Why?  Because China is buying all of Egypt's debt from the United States, which is why President Mohamed Morsi travelled to Beijing and not Washington on his first official visit outside Egypt (sorry Barack!).  

Our relations with China will increase, because our new government has some doubts about the West,” said Mohamed Kadry Said, military analyst at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies--Global Post.  

In November 2010, an opinion poll released by the Pew Research Center showed 52 percent of Egyptians held a favorable view of China, while just 17 percent of Egyptians held a favorable view of the United States.  Just this week China has signed on to build a power station, a water desalination plant and a high-speed train line between Cairo and Egypt’s second city, Alexandria totaling around $500 million worth of investments.

It explains why former Secretary Clinton and President Obama wanted to "pivot" towards Asia.  China has the wealth to outbid the US in Africa and thus control its resources.  The only hope was to try to keep China in check with increasing US military presence in Asia and the creation of USAFRICOM.  The latter was created, in non-specific terms, to deal with threats in Africa.  Right now the only real threat is China.

This explains why Hillary Clinton didn't label Boko Haram a terrorist group.  They really didn't pose a threat to US interests and even now, the White House is stumbling over how to work the kidnapping in as a prelude to increased military actions in Nigeria.  It won't be a death knell for Hillary 2016 unless some other damaging information comes out.  Most likely this will be used as a way to openly increase US influence in Nigeria and prevent further expansion of China's influence on the African continent.

And perhaps this is the real reason the Obama Administration is seemingly unable to stop Russia.  It has decided China is the bigger threat and has diverted too many resources towards that end making it unfeasible to also engage Russia.  And Russia knows it.

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