History is just one of those hard things to ignore, especially in South Sudan.
In 2011, the U.S. midwifed the creation of a new nation, South Sudan. Though at the time Obama invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King speaking about Ghana (“I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment”) in officially recognizing the country, many were more focused on the underlying U.S. motives, isolating the rest of Sudan as part of the war on terror, and securing the oil reserves in the south for the U.S. The State Department rushed to open an embassy in South Sudan, and U.S. money poured in to pay for the new government. Like his counterparts from Iraq and Afghanistan when the U.S. was still in charge of those places, the new South Sudan president was brought to the White House for photos, all blithely pushed out to the world via the Voice of America. The two leaders were said to have discussed “the importance of maintaining transparency and the rule of law.”
In 2012 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the nation as part of an extended effort at creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign, and Obama publicly applauded a deal brokered between Sudan and South Sudan on oil pipeline fees that the White House claimed would “help stem the ongoing violence in the region.”
However, like in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places that fell apart while being democratized and stabilized by the U.S. (one also thinks of Libya, itself part of the African continent), the rush to mediagenic proclamations without addressing the underlying fundamentals led only to catastrophe. A scant few years later, South Sudan is at the brink of civil war and societal collapse, the U.S. is evacuating another embassy and indeed one variety or another of “rebels” are shooting at U.S. military aircraft arriving in their country in violation of their national sovereignty. Those who believe that the U.S. efforts in South Sudan do not involve special forces on the ground and drones overhead no doubt will have a nice Christmas waiting up to catch a glimpse of Santa.
Obama, apparently unwilling to remember how he stood aside while an elected government recently fell apart in Egypt, went on to double-down on hypocrisy by stating in regards to South Sudan, “Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of long-standing support from the United States and the international community.”
The Militarization of Africa
If the U.S. efforts in South Sudan were isolated, that would be tragedy enough. However, the U.S. militarization of Africa paints such a sad, similar picture that it bears a recapping here. The always on-track Nick Turse reported:
– In recent years, the US has trained and outfitted soldiers from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, among other nations. They have also served as a proxy force for the US in Somalia, part of the African Union Mission (Amisom) protecting the U.S.-supported government in that country’s capital, Mogadishu.
– Since 2007, the State Department has given about $650-million in logistics support, equipment and training for Amisom troops. The Pentagon has given an extra $100 million since 2011.
– The U.S. also continues to fund African armies through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and its Pentagon analogue, now known as Operation Juniper Shield, with increased support flowing to Mauritania and Niger in the wake of Mali’s collapse. In 2012, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development poured approximately $52 million into the programs and the Pentagon chipped in another $46 million.
– In the Obama years, U.S. Africa Command has also built a sophisticated logistics system, officially known as the Africom Surface Distribution Network, but colloquially referred to as “the new spice route”. Its central nodes are in Manda Bay, Garissa and Mombasa in Kenya; Kampala and Entebbe in Uganda; Bangui and Djema in the Central African Republic; Nzara in South Sudan; Dire Dawa in Ethiopia; and the Pentagon’s showpiece African base, Camp Lemonnier.
– In addition, the Pentagon has run a regional air campaign using drones and manned aircraft out of airports and bases around the continent including Camp Lemonnier, Arba Minch airport in Ethiopia, Niamey in Niger and the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, while private contractor-operated surveillance aircraft have flown missions out of Entebbe. Recently, Foreign Policy reported on the existence of a possible drone base in Lamu, Kenya.
– Another critical location is Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, home to a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment and the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support Initiative that, according to military documents, supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force — Trans-Sahara.
The Failure of the Militarization of Africa
Libya is in flames, Benghazi the only point of attention for Americans while chaos consumes a once-stable country. Egypt, again on the continent though perhaps not of it, saw its brief bit of democracy stamped out by a military coup. The governments of Mauritania and Niger fell to their militaries. Chad experienced a coup, albeit unsuccessful. Fighting continues in Mali and the Central African Republic. In October 2011 the U.S. invaded, albeit in a small way, the Central African Republic In December 2012, the U.S. evacuated its diplomats and civilians. 2011 also saw a U.S.-backed Kenyan invasion of Somalia. U.S. troops are hunting humans in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like ghosts from the 18th century, pirates haunt the waters off East Africa. The U.S. admits to having 5,000 troops in ten African countries when once there were none.
And So, Why?
The basic rule for any investment is what do you gain in return for risk? It applies to buying stocks as well as investing a nation’s blood, resources and prestige.
In the case of Africa, the U.S. investment has been a disaster. Chaos has replaced stability in many places, and terrorists have found homes in countries they may have once never imagined. The U.S., in sad echo of 19th century colonialism, has militarized another region of the world.
Every rebel and terrorist the U.S. kills creates more, radicalizes more, gives the bad guys another propaganda lede. The more we kill, the more there seem to be to kill. America needs fewer people saying they are victims of America. The Chinese are building cultural ties and signing deals all over Africa, and we’re just throwing up barbed wire. Why?
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, will be available April 2014 from Luminis Books.