Medeshi March 19, 2009
Obama lacks interest in Africa
The first tip-off as to where Africa ranks in importance in the new Obama Administration was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks at her confirmation. Of the 5,000 words, two paragraphs — a little over 100 words — were devoted to Africa. As an American who gave to Obama until it hurt, that brush-off was disappointing.
But as a Kenyan resident who would like to see this country both safe and democratic, what concerned me even more was Clinton’s assertion that the top US priority in Africa was “security”, which she described as “combating al-Qaida’s efforts to seek safe havens in failed states in the Horn of Africa”.
In short, America isn’t going to think about Africa much, but when it does, it will be to continue the Bush-era habit of worrying that there is an al-Qaida militant under every bed.
It didn’t take long to see where such thinking leads. On February 7, the New York Times reported that Africom — the Pentagon’s new military command for the continent — had worked closely with Ugandan officers on a pre-Christmas mission against the LRA that had gone horribly awry, resulting in the LRA massacre of up to 900 civilians.
The Times said that the operation — for which the US provided satellite phones, intelligence, and $1 million in fuel — “was poorly planned and poorly executed.”
We’ve heard that one before. Somalia, for example, where the US sent in proxy Ethiopian troops in 2006 and conducted bombing raids that killed dozens of civilians in an effort to topple the Islamic Courts. Result? Rising militancy within Somalia, the presence of 250,000 Somali refugees in northern Kenya, and threats of retribution against those, including Kenya, seen as aiding Washington.
“SOMALIA REMAINS A FAILED STATE, in large part because of misguided US counter terrorist initiatives’” writes Africa specialist Stephen A. Emerson in the Winter 2008/2009 World Policy Journal.
Yet if Obama’s hawkish new national security advisor has his way, American military involvement in Kenya’s neighbourhood is likely to grow. James L. Jones, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, sought increased engagement of US and Nato forces in Africa and supported the creation of Africom, calling Africa “a continent of growing strategic importance”, according to the US Nation.
Similarly alarming should be the Obama Administration’s support for continuing the CIA’s “renditioning” of prisoners to other countries without legal rights and its indefinite detention of terror suspects.
The New York Times, on February 18, noted that Obama’s new CIA director said at his confirmation hearing that if approved interrogation techniques were not sufficient to get detainees to talk, he would ask for “additional authority” — a chilling reminder of the torture that Kenyans “renditioned” to Ethiopia have claimed were used on them.
We all want to believe that Obama stands for change, but the reality is that we must be prepared for a continuation — or even an acceleration — of America’s Bush-era focus on military solutions.
I wish now that I’d pushed for some straight talk about Africa from the Obama campaign officials who kept filling my inbox with requests for money. There’s still time for course corrections before the Obama Administration. But I’m beginning to feel like the victim of a bait-and-switch campaign, and my reservoir of hope is moving in the same direction as my bank account.
Ms Rothmyer, a veteran journalist, teaches at the University of Nairobi