Where does the African Union fit in the United States African military strategy?

By Rafiq Raji

US special forces (Reuters:Andreea Campean)

The increased presence of the US military on the African continent has coincided with an increased spate of terrorist attacks in hitherto peaceful states like Nigeria and Kenya. Some could argue of course that a correlation cannot be evidenced and dismiss attempts at suggesting causation to the oft-committed logical fallacy of cum hoc ergo propter hoc (“with this, therefore because of this”). There are also local factors, of course. That said, the coincidence is certainly uncanny. The analogy I like to use is that of a pressure cooker. The US presence has “pressure-cooked” a security threat that would otherwise have evolved at a pace within the management capacity of African governments. Surely, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has not been averaging at least one mission a day in Africa since 2008 just to say hello.[1] Before the US presence and US-pressured Libyan conflict, Nigeria didn’t have a history of terrorist attacks. At least, not a type with this level of sophistication. And it is certainly disrespectful to the intelligence of Africans when diplomats and leaders of African countries and the US say the US military presence on the continent is in non-combat functions. That is pure drivel. Articles have been written in respectable newspapers from Foreign Policy to the New York Times Magazine about this[2]. There are also many scholarly articles on the militarization of the new scramble in Africa.[3] So imagine my surprise when a respected African Union (AU) diplomat recently argued to the contrary when I attempted to make a connection between the US military presence and increased insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Of course, no diplomat in his or her right mind would acknowledge a connection. But at least, you’d expect an intelligent convolution of the argument and not just a terse disavowal from an experienced hand.

In taking an objective view, we have to ask the following questions. What is the AU strategy for dealing with the increased spate of terrorism and insecurity in SSA independent of the US effort? How does the AU plan to fill the vacuum that ultimately would materialize when the US draws down its military presence (however far off that is)? In proposing a framework, one inevitably must draw on subsisting arrangements elsewhere. The North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) is a case in point. In adapting the NATO arrangement to Africa, the AU could simply formalize the unilateral military arrangements many African governments already have with the United States into a single holistic continent-wide framework. This would of course be after the fact. The reality is that the two entities already cooperate on missions. One also has to bear in mind the political sensitivities around the issue of overt military cooperation with the United States for African governments. Not that that has stopped them in any case. Nonetheless, the taciturnity of diplomats around the issue is somewhat understandable. However, with the Ebola epidemic and consequent formal military presence of the Americans amongst others, any such pretensions to independence in a globalized world is now really tenuous at best. The US military is on the African continent to stay. Citizens of the relevant African countries know they are not just “training and supporting” African militaries. You don’t set up an entire command like AFRICOM just to train and support. The African Union should simply become proactive (and honest) about it. It should harmonize the various military cooperation agreements the US already has with a couple of African countries into a single continent-wide one with military bases spread across the major regions. A stand-by force with teeth. One that would allow the AU stop coups, counter terrorist threats and someday try its own leaders for war crimes and corruption instead of them taking trips reminiscent of colonial journeys of shame that one African head of state had to make recently for the benefit of his people.

Opinions expressed are mine and not that of any institution(s) I may be affiliated with.

Picture/Image credit: Reuters/Andree Campean/The Nation




[1] http://www.thenation.com/article/179050/why-us-military-averaging-more-mission-day-africa






[2] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/05/08/portrait_army_work_in_progress_regionally_aligned_forces_raymond_odierno



[3] The New Scramble for Africa: Imperialism, Investment and Development in Africa edited by Roger Southall and Henning Melber (http://ukznpress.bookslive.co.za/blog/2009/04/30/welcome-to-the-new-scramble-for-africa/ )

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