Africa: No Butter, But Lots of Guns

The developed world has a message for Africa: “Sorry, but we are reneging on our aid pledges made at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland back in 2005, but we do have something for you—lots and lots of expensive things that go ‘bang’ and kill people.”

And that was indeed the message that came out of the G8-G20 meetings in Canada last month. The promise to add an extra $25 billion to a $50 billion aid package for the continent went a glimmering. Instead, the G8 will cut the $25 billion to $11 billion and the $50 billion to $38 billion. And don’t hold your breath that Africa will get even that much.

The G8 consists of Britain, the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, Japan, France, and Russia, although Moscow is not part of the aid pledge.

Canada’s Muskoka summit hailed “significant progress toward the millennium development goals”—the United Nations’ target of reducing poverty by 2015—but when it came time to ante up, everyone but the United Kingdom bailed. The Gleneagles pledge was to direct 0.51 percent of the G8’s gross national income to aid programs by 2010. The UK came up to 0.56 percent, but the U.S. is at 0.2, Italy at 0.16, Canada at 0.3, Germany at 0.35, and France at 0.47. Rumor has it that France and Italy led the charge to water down the 2005 goals.

The shortfall, says Oxfam spokesman Mark Fried, is not just a matter of “numbers.” The aid figures “represent vital medicines, kids in school, help for women living in poverty and food for the hungry.”

AIDS activists are particularly incensed. “I see no point in beating around the bush,” said AIDS-Free World spokesman Stephen Lewis at a Toronto press conference. He charged that Obama Administration’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief “is being flat-lined for at least the next two years.” Lewis said AIDS groups were treating five million patients, but that another nine million needed to be in programs. “There are AIDS projects, run by other NGOs [non-governmental organizations], where new patients cannot be enrolled unless someone dies.”

But if the poor, sick, and hungry are going begging, not so Africa’s militaries.

According to Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project, the White House is following the same policies as the Bush Administration vis-à-vis Africa. “Indeed, the Obama Administration is seeking to expand U.S. military activities on the continent even further,” says Volman.

In its 2011 budget, the White House asked for over $80 million in military programs for Africa, while freezing or reducing aid packages aimed at civilians.

The major vehicle for this is the U.S.’s African Command (AFRICOM) founded in 2008. Through the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, AFRICOM is training troops from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Chad. The supposed target of all this is the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Meghreb (AQIM), but while AQIM is certainly troublesome—it sets off bombs and kidnaps people— it is small, scattered, and doesn’t pose a serious threat to any of the countries involved.

The worry is that the various militaries being trained by AFRICOM could end up being used against internal dissidents. Tuaregs, for instance, are engaged in a long-running, low-level insurgency against the Mali government, which is backing a French plan to mine uranium in the Sahara. Might Morocco use the training to attack the Polisario Front in the disputed Western Sahara? Mauritanians complain that the “terrorist” label has been used to jail political opponents of the government.

In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson said the U.S. was seeking to bolster Nigeria’s “ability to combat violent extremism within its borders.” That might put AFRICOM in the middle of a civil war between ruling elites in Lagos and their transnational oil company allies, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta, which is demanding an end to massive pollution and a fair cut of oil revenues.

The National Energy Policy Development Groups estimates that by 2015 as much as 25 percent of U.S. oil imports will come from Africa.

So far, AFRICOM’s track record has been one disaster after another. It supported Ethiopia’s intervention in the Somalia civil war, and helped to overthrow the moderate Islamic Courts Union. It is now fighting a desperate rear-guard action against a far more extremist grouping, the al-Shabaab. AFRICOM also helped coordinate a Ugandan Army attack on the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—Operation Lightning Thunder— that ended up killing thousands of civilians.

The U.S. has been careful to keep a low profile in all this. “We don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked,” Volman quotes one U.S. AFRICOM officer. “We want Africans to go in.”

And presumably get “whacked.”

AFRICOM’s Operation Flintlock 2010, which ran from May 3-22, was based in Burkina Faso. Besides the militaries of 10 African nations, it included 600 U.S. Special Forces and elite units from France, the Netherlands, and Spain. Yes, there are other arms pushers out there, and the list reads like an economic who’s who: France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Sweden, and Israel. Some 70 percent of the world’s arms trade is aimed at developing countries.

So, is AFRICOM about fighting terrorism, or oil, gas and uranium? Nicole Lee, the executive director of Trans Africa, the leading African American organization focusing on Africa has no doubts: “This [AFRICOM] is nothing short of a sovereignty and resource grab.”

And who actually benefits from this militarization of the continent? As Nigerian journalist Dulue Mbachu warns, “Increased U.S. military presence in Africa may simply serve to protect unpopular regimes that are friendly to its interests, as was the case during the Cold War, while Africa slips further into poverty.”