Obama and the Militarisation of Africa
Emira Woods PT2: Under the “war on terror” framework, the US and AFRICOM are beefing up pro-US militaries across Africa
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Now we continue our conversation with Emira Woods. Emira is a codirector of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she joins us now from Washington, D.C.
Thanks for being with us.
EMIRA WOODS, CODIRECTOR, FOREIGN POLICY IN FOCUS – IPS: Always a joy, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Emira, we were discussing earlier how a big part of American policy is always to be the dominant force on the African continent. Can we elaborate a little bit further about how the U.S. has invested in security forces? We know that under the Bush administration AFRICOM was started. How has President Obama shifted or at all continued the same policies of the Bush administration?
WOODS: Well, Jessica, in many ways, you know, the Obama administration said that they would move away from this frame global war on terrorism, but it many ways they have continued down the same path [incompr.] you know, global war on terror, but it’s very much more of the same.
And what we see in the African context is that the U.S. has focused on the security sector, on essentially a militarized engagement with Africa. I think it is alarming, first, that the U.S., through AFRICOM, heavily involved in Libya, sending weapons to Libya, weapons that then–together with weapons that were in caches of the Gaddafi government, that then found their way across borders to Mali, where, you know, they were then used for civil unrest there in Mali.
I think what we had then was a response by the Malian military, a military that had essentially been trained and equipped by the United States, that then launched a coup a year ago, thought that they could run the country better. So what you had is a military trained and armed largely by the United States taxpayers, combined with weapons that had flowed from the United States and NATO and other countries, as well as some other Libyan caches, from Libya over the borders to Mali, so essentially arming both sides. And so the crisis in Mali that started a year ago has really had spillover effects not only for Mali but for the entire region. So these unintended consequences of U.S. militarization are part of the problem.
And what we see in reaction to the continuing crisis in Mali is really a doubling down, an increase in U.S. military engagement with the recent announcement of an establishment of a drone base in Niger just next door to Mali, essentially expanding the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles, these drones, in spite of real concerns about the impacts of the drones on civilians, particularly innocent women and children, about the legality of drones and their use for assassinated killings. I mean, this is really a major concern, not only for the potential to destabilize Africa, but also, you know, because it increases anti-American sentiment.
And so I think there was a sense and there still is a hope that there can be leadership from the Obama administration that really curbs the militarization of its engagement with Africa. I think there is also an opportunity during this trip for the Obama administration to actually sign the recently passed UN–again, it’s called the ATT, but the Arms Trade Treaty agreed to, advanced by many African countries. And yet, you know, the Obama administration on June 3, when the rest of the world came together to have initial signers for the Arms Trade Treaty, the U.S. was not among that group. So I think the trip is an opportunity for the Obama administration to pull back on its militarization of Africa, to also advance efforts to curb the flow of guns into Africa, to actually work towards peace and stability not only for Africa but really for the world.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s switch gears a little bit and focus on China and specifically the Chinese growing presence on the African continent. Do you look at Obama’s trip as being strategic in trying to subdue this growing presence?
WOODS: Well, I think for a while now many of us as African analysts had said that the U.S. interests in Africa are because of access to oil and other key resources, the so-called war on terror, and also countering China. So I do think that that becomes a key determinant in U.S. policy at this time. You know, some people call it the cold war between China and the U.S. that’s ongoing now.
But I think clearly when you see, you know, the rise of Africa–you know, Africa has six of the top ten growing economies in the world–I think it is incumbent upon the U.S. to engage more strategically, regardless of what happens with China, to engage in areas that move beyond particularly the security sector and the extractive industries, that help to create an environment where the enormous growth of Africa is coupled with a certain attention to inequality that is still also very rife on the continent.
So what China has been doing, essentially–yes, there are issues on labor rights concerns, on environmental damage for both China and U.S. investors, but China has also gone a long way towards infrastructure development on the continent, building roads, building hospitals, and, you know, building stadiums, even. You know. The experience of China is completely different when you look back over the last decade and compare it to the U.S., you know, that has, as we’ve said, been much more focused on the security sector, on not involving itself in infrastructure development.
I think it is important to use the trip as an opportunity to see some of the good that is done when infrastructure is built that can help to improve economies in the interests of those particularly in the areas where key resources lie. It is important for those who are on the land where the resources lie to actually benefit, that the resources of Africa, in the beautiful words of our liberation leader, you know, from back in the ’60s, Patrice Lumumba, you know, who said that resources of Africa must feed the children of Africa. I think there is a critical moment in history now to revisit that old adage from Lumumba and ensure that the benefits of Africa’s dramatic economic rise actually meet the interests of all of Africa’s people.
DESVARIEUX: Well, thank you, Emira. It’s always a pleasure having you on.
WOODS: Oh, it’s a joy. Thank you. And thanks to your audience at The Real News Network. Continued strength.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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