Beware of Americans bearing gifts, guns, and an AFRICOM patch; their embrace can turn fatal. “One minute, Gadhafi was America’s best friend in northern Africa and in the next minute he was an evil menace.” The turnabout can be sudden. “Robert Mugabe too has been romanced by imperialism and then jilted.” The results were highly inflationary, and may yet bring unwanted intrusions.
Mark P. Fancher
“If an African ‘partner’ were to attempt to give African interests priority over U.S. objectives, the partnership would be short-lived.”
Public statements issued by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) frequently refer to Africa’s governments and military forces as “our African partners.” The following AFRICOM website excerpts are typical:
“An important part of this approach is that we learn from our African partners what is important to them.”
“Our African partners have expressed four common, defense-oriented goals that are consistent with U.S. interests and AFRICOM objectives…”
“U.S. AFRICOM’s programs and activities support the development of capable, professional partner military forces…”
Partnerships typically involve trust, mutual respect and shared decision-making. These may be hard to find in relationships that AFRICOM has with Africa’s armies because history and circumstances have determined that Africa’s true, best interests and U.S. interests will always diverge. Consequently, in any relationship between Africa and the U.S., one set of interests will likely dominate the other.
For its part, AFRICOM has declared: “As a military organization, our responsibility to the American people is to support U.S. national security priorities.” Africa’s security priorities were forced to yield to so-called U.S. national security priorities when AFRICOM initiated military attacks against Libya at the same time that the African Union was calling for dialogue as a means of resolving conflicts in that country. This provides the best clue that if an African “partner” were to attempt to give African interests priority over U.S. objectives, the partnership would be short-lived.
Historically U.S. imperialism has embraced selected governments as “allies,” or “friends,” or “partners” when there is something to be gained from the relationship. But when these “friends” in some way jump ship, the U.S. turns on them like an enraged schizophrenic. Libya is the latest example.
Although the U.S. is waging an intense war in Libya at the moment, as recently as 2008, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Libya, broke bread with Moammar Gadhafi, and declared: “…I think, after many, many years, it’s a very good thing that the United States and Libya are establishing a way forward.”
“In any relationship between Africa and the U.S., one set of interests will likely dominate the other.”
There were also reports that in 2009, Gadhafi did not rule out the possibility of cooperation with AFRICOM in selected missions.
One short month before the first U.S. attacks on Libya, President Obama requested that Congress increase U.S. aid to Libya’s military to $1.7 million. Then, with blinding speed, the U.S. launched its war against that country, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made the following dubious if not baseless accusations:
“We have seen Colonel Gadhafi’s security forces open fire on peaceful protesters. They have used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians. Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators. The result of these human rights abuses is that they have lost the legitimacy to govern.”
What happened? One minute, Gadhafi was America’s best friend in northern Africa and in the next minute he was an evil menace. Various analysts have suggested that the causes for this radical change are rooted in everything from Libya’s oil to Gadhafi’s call for a united Africa to the Libyan leader’s proposals for changing Africa’s currency. The precise reasons are less significant than the fact that when it comes to fickle friends, the U.S. has no peer, and this should give pause to any African country considering a relationship with AFRICOM.
Lest any would-be AFRICOM “partner” assume that Libya is an aberration, it is important to recall that Gadhafi is not the only African leader to be kicked to the curb. Robert Mugabe too has been romanced by imperialism and then jilted. In an uncomplimentary essay about Zimbabwe’s president, journalist Belinda Maswikwa said that in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s independence: “Zimbabwe was soon identified as an African success model, and Mugabe became the ‘Darling of the West,’ meeting with President Ronald Reagan in September, 1983, George H.W. Bush in July 1991 and Bill Clinton in 1995.”
“When it comes to fickle friends, the U.S. has no peer.”
Maswikwa also explained: “Mugabe was highly educated, eloquent, spoke the language of reconciliation and showed a willingness to respect the Lancaster Constitution. Furthermore he seemed to have abandoned Marxist rhetoric in favor of a predominantly capitalistic model that incorporated ‘acceptable’ elements of social democratic states, such as increasing public spending on education, health-care and social services. Mugabe was therefore showered with international praise, honors and awards in the early years…”
Maswikwa attributes Mugabe’s fall from grace to alleged human rights abuses, but her collateral descriptions of Zimbabwe’s circumstances probably do more to explain the changed relationship. She places events in the context of the agreement reached by freedom fighters and western powers to cooperate in the transfer of land held by white settlers to black Zimbabweans.
“[Zimbabwe’s] relations with the United Kingdom only soured in 1998 when Tony Blair’s Labor government refused to honor the land reform deal that Mugabe had negotiated with John Major and Margaret Thatcher’s conservative governments. Britain thus decided to stop funding the land reform as dictated by the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979.”
When the U.K. reneged on its agreement, liberation war veterans and others took matters into their own hands and began to occupy settlers’ farms. Mugabe responded by developing an orderly system for land redistribution. Maswikwa observed:
“It is interesting to note that America’s relationship with Zimbabwe became strained in 2000, when the U.S. ambassador criticized the compulsory land seizures.” She wrote that ultimately, “…[t]he Bush administration imposed sanctions and by 2005, Zimbabwe had become ‘an outpost of tyranny.’”
“It is worth contemplating the dangers of having to tell AFRICOM ‘no’ one day.”
African countries considering “partnerships” would do well to engage in sober analysis when AFRICOM arrives bearing gifts of humanitarian assistance and military training. Given the treatment accorded other U.S. “friends” who have fallen out of favor, it is worth contemplating the dangers of having to tell AFRICOM “no” if one day a request is made to participate in a mission that is clearly contrary to Africa’s best interests. This is not a far-fetched potential dilemma.
AFRICOM announced that one of its exercises for this summer is called “Shared Accord.” Its purpose is to train “…U.S. and African forces to conduct peacekeeping operations in sub-Saharan Africa.” Once trained, who will be the targets of these “peace keepers”? Will they include the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND)? According to reports, MEND recently vowed to attack facilities of an Italian company that MEND accuses of theft of Nigeria’s oil. MEND claims its attacks are in solidarity with Libyans enduring imperialist attacks by Italy and others.
Or then again, perhaps AFRICOM will decide to move militarily against Robert Mugabe. Whatever the target, if prospective “partners” don’t have the stomach for anti-African imperialist missions, or the wherewithal to resist U.S. retaliation for refusing to cooperate, they should probably refuse to answer the door when AFRICOM comes a knocking.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney and African affairs analyst. He is the author of the book “I Ain’t Got Tired Yet,” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.