Why the attempted remilitarisation of Africa will fail | by Horace Campbell

by Nov 20, 2011Africa

remilitarisation_of_africaKenya’s foray into Somalia, led from behind by US Africa Command (AFRICOM), ‘represents a heightened threat to peace and reconstruction in Africa, especially East Africa’, argues Horace Campbell. AFRICOM’s attempts at remilitarisation will not solve Africa’s problems, says Campbell, when ‘the root cause’ of the ‘threats to stability and security challenges’ across the continent is ‘the exploitation and plunder’ of its resources.

At the same moment when the Libyan adventure backfired with the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) retreating from taking credit for the end of the Gaddafi regime, the US government announced the deployment of 100 troops to Uganda to assist the government of Yoweri Museveni to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Later the same month in October 2011, there was news that the Kenyan army had been deployed into Somalia in pursuit of armed Somalians known as Al-Shabaab (‘The Youth’) that Kenya blames for a series of kidnappings on its soil. It was also revealed that France would be supporting the Kenyan invasion in Somalia.
Sensitive to the future relationship with Africans who want peace, the spokespersons for AFRICOM have been ‘leading from behind’ in this Kenyan operation. In this article, I argue that of the US-supported ventures in Africa, the foray into Somalia represents a heightened threat to peace and reconstruction in Africa, especially East Africa. I will argue that this Western-supported incursion is more against the Kenyan people than against the forces of Al-Shabaab, or whatever name that will be given to the musical chairs of military entrepreneurs in Somalia.

In the past 20 years, the US support for militarism in the Horn of Africa has destabilised this region of Africa. Since independence in 1963, Kenya has been the cockpit of imperial ventures in Africa. This was because the radical traditions of Kenya from the period of the Land and Freedom Army had to be contained. After three periods of containment using force, non-governmental organisations and sowing divisions among the progressives, the awakening in Africa pointed to the vibrancy and potential for people-centred change in Kenya. Thus, the security planners in Western states were not going to wait to be surprised by a Tahrir Square uprising in Kenya.

This process of remilitarisation will fail in Africa, just as support for Mobutism and support for apartheid failed decades earlier. The challenge for peace and social justice forces in North America and Europe is to take the question of the militarisation of Africa to the forefront of the struggles against the one per cent, and link the issues of militarism more closely to the banking industry and its private military contractors.

I will start with the six points that highlighted the catastrophic failure of AFRICOM in Libya, retrace the failure of the Operation Lightning Thunder of 2008 and then examine the fear of revolutionary uprisings in Kenya. The conclusion will retrace the intellectual and political crisis within the US ruling circles in this depression, and explore why the current remilitarisation of Africa is being opposed fiercely in Africa and will influence the present movement for peace and social justice in North America and Western Europe.

When Seumas Milne from UK newspaper the Guardian wrote, ‘If the Libyan war was about saving lives, it was a catastrophic failure,’ he was communicating a conclusion that had been echoed in newspapers and by analysts all over the world. From Asia, writers were linking the role of AFRICOM to the new power grab in Africa while there was massive opposition from Africa. In studying the catastrophic failures, I will briefly list the top six.

  • The first point that has been made by numerous writers that far from protecting lives in Libya, far more lives were lost from the NATO intervention. Seumas Milne wrote: ‘What is now known, however, is that while the death toll in Libya when NATO intervened was perhaps around 1,000-2,000 (judging by UN estimates), eight months later it is probably more than ten times that figure. Estimates of the numbers of dead over the last eight months – as NATO leaders vetoed ceasefires and negotiations – range from 10,000 up to 50,000. The National Transitional Council puts the losses at 30,000 dead and 50,000 wounded.’
  • The second major point of the NATO led quagmire in Libya is the destruction of the society. The rubble of former cities and towns is a testament to the unlimited bombing. Sirte, in particular has been completely destroyed.
  • The third point refers to the crimes of war committed by NATO and NATO supported troops. NATO and their surrogates committed atrocities and the execution of prisoners constitute a crime under the laws of war. There is no statute of limitation for crimes of war.
  • Fourthly, the banks and the financial institutions are involved in the financialisation of energy ‘markets.’ The extent to which the Gaddafi regime was linked to Goldman Sachs and the opaque world of commodity financial contracts is yet to fully emerge. The Libyan Investment Authority lost billions of dollars and the peoples of Libya will have great difficulty unfreezing their assets that were frozen by western countries and the banks that are now plunging the world into a depression.
  • The now exposed role of Qatar troops and other forces on the ground when the UN mandate explicitly precluded ground troops.
  • The support for conservative Islamists who want to roll back the rights of women and the gains of the people of Libya.

Once the multiple layers of failures began to be documented around the world, the euphoric rhetoric about NATO success in Libya receded as General Carter Ham (head of AFRICOM) hid behind, while Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen flew to Libya in a self-congratulatory one day visit to hail the ‘success’ of the NATO mission to assist the National Transitional Council.

While some senators in the USA were posturing about the NATO victory, the Obama White House was embarrassed by the exposure of the discussion about the assassination of Gaddafi while he was in the hands of the ‘National Security Council’ forces. General Carter Ham who at the start of the Operation in March Libya was willing to take credit for the bombing of Tripoli was shy to have a full discussion on Libya. Carter Ham spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CISS) in October to present a public relations effort in relation to the new deployment in Central Africa.

While in March, Carter Ham was willing to be on the international news celebrating the role of AFRICOM in Libya, even before the execution of Gaddafi, Carter Ham was trying to shift attention from the on-going war crimes in Libya to speak of ‘threats to stability, security challenges and crises all over the continent.’ The more tuned-in policymakers who attended grasped that Ham was clutching at straws and that no mention was made or attempt offered at setting out what the structural or underlying root causes of the ‘threats to stability and security challenges’ all over Africa actually are.

Carter Ham reproduced the same ideas about security and how to help client states in Africa protect US interests. The criteria that AFRICOM continues to use to determine where it will look to offer ‘assistance’ to confront threats and address security challenges includes: (a) dictators and constitutional democrats who will seek AFRICOM’s assistance to remain in power, (b) emphasis on the East African region as a strategic area for projection of force, (c) the importance of Uganda and East Africa for future US planning, and (d) the usual justification for militarism, that of fighting Al Qaeda in Somalia.

What was not stated was that the goal of the United States in Africa was to pre-empt other revolutionary uprisings of the type and scale that removed the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Less than two weeks after this public relations exercise at the CISS, newspapers in the USA announced that AFRICOM will send two combat teams of about 100 to Africa (Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,) to help fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

This deployment brings out the desperate efforts of Museveni to remain in power after 25 years. This ‘assistance’ of the US military to Museveni is not new. In 2008, there was a much-publicised operation by the US military to assist the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) to wipe out the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). This operation ended in a failure and reinforced the alienation of the people of Northern Uganda from the Museveni regime. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by this war that has been waged so that the Ugandan society can be partially militarised. Even a usual pro-interventionist ‘humanitarian’ NGO such as the Enough Project criticised the Uganda and US governments over the past operation of 2008-2009. The Enough Project described the operation as ‘poorly executed’ and ‘operationally flawed’.

Peace activists in East Africa have for decades exposed the use of the war in the North of Uganda for the Museveni regime to stay in power and promote self-enrichment. Those sections of the Ugandan society who had any progressive leanings left the Museveni regime and those military personnel with any integrity died under dubious circumstances. Major Reuben Ikondere and Noble Mayombo were two members of the UPDF who had progressive Pan-Africanist leanings. They lost their lives at young ages. Other progressives who had joined the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in opposition to dictatorship slowly left Museveni. The most outstanding of this group were the former underground forces from Kitwe who had been the liberating force inside of Uganda during the era of dictatorship and other militarists.

The Museveni government spurned efforts by elders from all across East Africa who wanted a negotiated solution to the fighting in order to isolate the LRA’s Joseph Kony and his murderous bands. While the brutal atrocities of this group were well-known, there were elders in Acholi land with links to elders in the region who were capable of isolating Kony. Just as the US military benefited from keeping Osama Bin Laden alive as a threat, so the Museveni regime holds this scare of the Kony bands over the people of Uganda.

More significantly, the Museveni government is seeking external support from the conservative factions in the United States as the region of the Great Lakes becomes a major target for increased oil exploration and production. In what is now being called the largest onshore oil discovery in sub-Saharan Africa in 20 years, UK-based oil exploration and production company Tullow Oil discovered reserves of nearly two billion barrels of oil in rural western Uganda, with the largest finds in the Lake Albert Basin. Subsequent press reports exposed the reality that drilling will yield ‘several billion’ barrels of oil; at least 15 major strikes by various oil companies have been made throughout Great Rift Valley since Tullow’s discovery.

As many readers of Pambazuka know, where there is oil, there is the US Africa Command.

Yoweri Museveni was part of the Dar es Salaam School. He associated himself with the ideals of liberation in order to gain support from Julius Nyerere. Soon after coming to power in 1986, Museveni ingratiated himself with the Washington decision-makers in the military and financial institutions. This service became manifest over the years from the alliance with western mining companies in the plunder of the resources of the Congo and the derailment of full liberation in Kenya. This derailment has continued from the period of Mwakenya and continued up to the recent struggles over elections in Kenya in 2008. Museveni was ready to do everything to keep the Kibaki group in power. Probably, one of the areas that the Uganda leadership has to answer for is the circumstances surrounding the helicopter crash that took the life of John Garang of the Sudan People’s Liberation Front (SPLM).

Opposition to Museveni has been growing inside the society and in the military. After changing the constitution to become eligible to run for president beyond a mandatory two terms, there has been heightened opposition to the Museveni administration. The opposition has devised numerous means to oppose this government with the latest being the ‘Walk to Work’ campaign. Opposition has also grown inside the military with senior commanders calling for a complete withdrawal from Somalia. These calls inside the military came after the massive bombing in Kampala in July 2010 that took over 74 lives. The Somalia group Al-Shabbab claimed responsibility for this bombing.

It was long ago in Tanzania when Walter Rodney said to me that of the three countries of the then East African Federation, the radical forces in Kenya were the ones with the deepest roots in their society. Walter Rodney had written a short article on Mau Mau in East Africa where he explored the influence of the war of liberation in Kenya on the rest of East Africa. The British understood these radical traditions in Kenya and for over 50 years have been working to destabilise the progressive sections of Kenyan society. Working in alliance with other European imperial experts and the United States, the British worked assiduously to diminish the influence of radical ideas in the Kenyan body politics. This included targeted assassinations and the politicisation of ethnicity and regionalism. Yet, this effort never completely succeeded and the call for the exposure of the crimes of the British in Kenya has recently been through the British legal system with a ruling on the criminal actions that require reparative justice.

The second wave of counter-revolution in Kenya came from the period of the nationalistic government of Daniel Arap Moi. Western military and counter-insurgency forces used military and non-military means to isolate those Kenyans who opposed dictatorship. Up to today, the full history of Mwakenya has not been written and it is a requirement for the healing and truth telling inside Kenya. One of the tools deployed by imperial forces was the massive non-governmental funding which gave Kenya notoriety as the headquarters for many international non-governmental agencies in Africa. John Le Carré has written one fictional account of the criminal world of some of these organisations in the book, ‘The Constant Gardener’. In interviews Le Carré has said that the truth was even more bizarre than the fiction.

Non-governmental organisations and imperial forces could not hold back the tide of opposition to exploitation and the impulse for democracy burned inside the people of Kenya. The cabal that held on to political power turned Kenya into a regional base for international capital with surpluses gleaned from Southern Sudan, Eastern DRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia and from Kenya itself. Every major scheme for plunder and money laundering in this region passed through the financial institutions that exploded in Nairobi in the past two decades. So lucrative was this position as regional power brokers that the cabal could not countenance leaving power after the elections in December 2007. These barons of finance in East Africa conjured complicated fraud and theft schemes. Scandals of corruption became so numerous that the populace became immune to the barrage of information of innovative methods of theft that were being practiced. Back issues of the Kenya Law Review have complete information of the level of fraud and theft in the banking sector. When the elections were stolen in January 2008, the western forces organised a ‘government of national unity’ to keep the cabal in power. Corruption in Kenya had gone beyond the question of law enforcement and became interwoven with the struggles for democratic rights.

Since the establishment of the government of National Unity with the victors suborned as junior partners, the conditions of the people of Kenya have deteriorated with the increases in prices, shortages of food and groups calling for an Unga Revolution. Novel forms of organising were being fashioned at the grassroots and these new techniques came to the fore in the effort to write a new constitution for Kenya. The grassroots organising is also calling for those responsible for the killings in 2008 to be brought to justice. However much Kenyans oppose the International Criminal Court (ICC), there is a call for an end to the levels of impunity enjoyed by the ruling plutocrats in Kenya since 1963.

From the period of the launch of the War on Terror, the people of Kenya have been used as political football. Every document relating to the war on terror starts off with the experience of the bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Mombasa in 1998. Yet, the US never fully took on the interconnections of the bombings and a wider world of extremists until the events of 11 September 2011 in the USA. From that period the state apparatus of Kenya became more deeply integrated with the US military deployment in the Horn and the Indian Ocean.

It is now well documented how there was collusion between the US government and the government of Kenya to arrest and illegally ‘render’ Kenyan citizens. These issues of kidnapping and ‘rendering’ Kenyan citizens remain one of the issues of the vibrant human rights lobby in Kenya. But, the War on Terror served to destabilise one of the most vibrant communities in Nairobi, the Eastleigh constituency. This is an area of Nairobi where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Somalis reside. This constituency was the scene of electoral manipulation and for three years there was no real representative in this constituency. Less than three months after the election brought a representative that vowed to bring the people of this area of Nairobi together, we have this deployment into Somalia to track down ‘terrorists.’ Kenyan citizens of Somali extraction are being criminalised as the escalation of war and repression take root in Kenya.

In the same week when President Obama announced that US AFRICOM forces would be assisting the Museveni government to track down terrorists, the army of Kenya moved into Southern Somalia to pursue those that the media label as ‘Islamist militants.’

While the western media dubbed this war as ‘Kenya’s first major military war on foreign soil’, this intervention has been an extension of a low intensity war that has gone on at the Kenyan border since Somalia became the base for western destabilisation of the Horn of Africa. Many Somalis opposed this intervention just as they have opposed other foreign intervention in their country since 1991. In an attempt to keep this opposition from Somalia out of the international media there were press reports that the intervention by Kenyan military forces was requested and welcomed by the US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said: ‘The governments of Kenya and Somalia are now cooperating in the fight against al Shabaab, which is an enemy of both countries.’

These statements do not hide the reality that all previous incursions by foreign forces have been resisted by the people of Somalia. From the time of the first major deployment of UN United Nations Operation in Somalia, or UNOSOM, nationalist elements opposed external military intervention. This phase of external involvement came to a screeching halt after the Black Hawk Down humiliation in October 1993 when US army rangers sent to hunt down Aideed were killed in Mogadishu. After the traumatic experiences of the US soldiers in the so-called Operation Restore Hope of 1993, the experience of Somalia has been trumpeted as an example of how ‘failed states’ provide the breeding ground for terrorism in Africa. Yet, when the people of Somalia moved to stabilise their political situation, the US colluded with the government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia on the grounds that the Union of Islamic Courts was harbouring terrorists. Abdi Samatar, among others, had penetrated the hype behind the Union of Islamic Courts to outline how the fabrication of terrorism supported the US military presence in the Horn.

Kenyans can now reflect of the changing alliances of the US military inside Somalia before and after the Ethiopians were defeated by nationalist elements. Abdi Samatar has written extensively on the ebb and flow of the fabrication of terrorism and I have earlier drawn from his work. It is again apt to reinforce what Samatar has said of the US counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn. In his argument on how the US fabricated terrorism in the Horn of Africa Samatar wrote:

‘The hallmark of America’s bankrupt policy is the conspicuous gulf between its democratic rhetoric and its support for thugs, warlords, tyrants, and venal politicians in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. In the minds of most people in the region American foreign policy and practice has become synonymous with dictatorship and arrogance, and most people believe that those are the core values of the America government. Consequently, the US government has lost the hearts and minds of the Muslim people all over. America’s gifts to the Somali people in the last few years have been warlords, an Ethiopian invasion, and an authoritarian, sectarian and incompetent regime.’

It is this incompetent regime that has been protected by pliant elements from African states that are allies of the USA. The people of Kenya had witnessed the invasion of Ethiopia and the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops and how the political leadership in Ethiopia manipulated the Somalia issue to gain support from western powers.

The government of Kenya has declared that it will end its military campaign against Al-Shabaab in Somalia when it is satisfied it has stripped the group of its capacity to attack across the border. If one goes by the experience of the past 18 years, then this statement can be read that Kenya will be in for a long-term deployment to Somalia.

The corollary to this is the reality that Kenya and its cities will be spaces of war, security clampdown and general destabilisation of the population. Since the Kenyan foray, there have been two grenade attacks at a bar and a bus terminal that killed one person and wounded more than 20 people in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. These attacks have already affected the tourism industry, one of the most important sources of revenue for the government of Kenya.

The deployment of Kenyan troops to Somalia was not discussed openly by the Kenyan Parliament. Those who collaborated with the government of Kenya to organise this deployment in Somalia are looking way beyond the issue of Somalia. The more important question is the matter of democratic participation on Kenya. Those who have studied wars in Africa, especially counter-insurgency wars, know that these wars have their own dynamic. One such dynamic is that invading armies get bogged down. The more the army is bogged down, the more there are demands for more resources for fighting to get the job done. Wars are not cheap and precisely the moment when the labour of the Kenyan working people was being devalued, this deployment of troops is demanding extra resources from the Kenyan Treasury. At the same time while resources are diverted to war, revenues from the tourism industry will diminish in the face of the general climate of insecurity that will prevail. This week, Mohamed Najib Balala, the Minister of Tourism sought to reassure foreign tour operators that it is still safe for tourists to visit Kenya, but international news of grenades being thrown into bars do not provide good publicity for the tourism industry.

The longer Kenyan troops remain in Somalia, the more there is a danger of the society being sucked into a long term commitment to fight in a way that demands states of emergencies inside of Kenya itself.

Terrorism of all kinds must be opposed and extremists must be isolated. However, the record of the US in the Horn of Africa is that isolation of extremist elements is the furthest thing from the defence planners in Washington who are seeking new places for the deployment of US military resources in the wake of the withdrawal from Iraq. Jeremy Scahill has documented the musical chairs of the military entrepreneurs in Somalia and how these entrepreneurs have been able to shift their alliances according to the whims of the US counter-terror experts who are now working with the Kenyan military. In his article entitled ‘Blowback in Somalia’, Scahill drew a picture of the various militarists who were enemies of the US in one moment and allies of the US in another moment. He concluded his analysis in this way:

‘In any case, the Shabab’s meteoric rise in Somalia, and the legacy of terror it has wrought, is blowback sparked by a decade of disastrous US policy that ultimately strengthened the very threat it was officially intended to crush. In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of US policy are the warlords, including those who once counted the Shabab among their allies and friends. “They are not fighting for a cause,” says Ahmed Nur Mohamed, the Mogadishu mayor. “And the conflict will start tomorrow, when we defeat Shabab. These militias are based on clan and warlordism and all these things. They don’t want a system. They want to keep that turf as a fixed post—then, whenever the government becomes weak, they want to say, “We control here.”’

Al Shabab has always benefitted from foreign intervention and the Kenyan foray into Somalia will provide these military entrepreneurs the political legitimacy to argue that they are opposing foreign invaders.

However, from the point of view of this commentary, the more long-term consequence will be the efforts to torpedo the efforts of the people of Kenya to end 48 years of kleptocratic rule where the state is run like a criminal syndicate. If the popular and democratic forces are not organised to demand a full withdrawal from Somalia, the danger is that this deployment will cascade into repression leading to a postponement or cancellation of the elections scheduled for December 2012.


The present remilitarisation of Africa is being opposed in Africa by those who support peace. Museveni of Uganda and the militarist faction of the Kenyan leadership have been working hard to push the African Union to be completely subordinated to the demands of US military crusaders. On top of the confusion wreaked by the international media, the peace and justice forces internationally have not been engaged sufficiently on the question of the remilitarisation of Africa. Last week Bill Fletcher, Carl Bloice and Jamal Rogers called upon the progressive sections of the African American community to oppose this remilitarisation. In this article, they asked in relation to the Obama Foreign Policy in Africa, where is the outcry?

‘It is no rhetorical flourish to say that the foreign policy of the Obama administration, far from representing a qualitative break with that of the Bush administration, has proven in most spheres to be continuality.’

I want to join my voice to the call by these progressive forces to raise the opposition to the new vigour of imperialism in Africa. Additionally, I want to elevate the opposition to the Obama administration’s remilitarisation of Africa. This call is for the peace movement to put on their marching boots just as when the previous generation opposed the US military in their support for Mobutu and apartheid.

From this record, it is clear that at every moment of African agency to break from colonial forms of plunder, the USA was willing and ready to intervene on the side of the exploiters. The most dramatic intervention came at the period decolonisation when the government of the United States conspired to assassinate Patrice Lumumba and derail the self-determination project in Africa. In every region of Africa, progressive and anti-imperialist leaders were executed and puppets maintained in power.

The second period of militaristic deployment was after the African peoples gave notice of plans for economic integration under the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980. The political leadership of the USA responded with the entrenchment of Structural Adjustment Programmes on the economic front and the establishment of the US Central Command on the military front.

Most recently, at precisely the moment when the peoples of Africa seek to strengthen the African Union by setting an agenda for the Union of the People’s of Africa, the militarists have intensified the interventionist thrust into Africa. In every instance, the commitment for peace and justice won out over repression and destruction. The previous efforts at military control of Africa failed. The alliance between peace forces in Africa and beyond will ensure that this new round of the scramble for Africa will be resisted and ultimately, defeated. This is one more reason for the work to unify Africa and work for the demilitarisation of Africa.

In their testimonies before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year, the representatives from the Department of Defense and the Department of State went to great lengths to outline how US Africa Command was now a force for ‘diplomacy, development and defense.’ Africans have understood these Orwellian doublespeak of the intellectually bankrupt US policymakers who repeat the same arguments that were repeated when the US was supporting Mobutu as a stabiliser in Africa. This writer joins the call of those who are calling for the disbanding of the US Africa Command and for the people of Africa to rise up to oppose dictators and religious extremists who manipulate religion for military purposes. The root cause of the ‘threats to stability and security challenges’ all over Africa stem from the exploitation and plunder of Africa.

* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See horacecampbell.net. He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’ and a contributing author to ‘African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions’. He is currently a visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China.

Issue 557 http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/77841

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