US militarisation: The tragedy of Somalia
By Explo Nani-Kofi
Saturday, May 29, 2010
As the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) force becomes ever more active in Somalia, questions must be raised as to the intentions of this militarised organisation, writes Explo Nani-Kofi. Nani-Kofi stresses that the African continent grows ever more vulnerable to a maturing breed of neocolonial occupation based on US-led proxy wars.
When Barack Obama was elected president of the US, it was supposed to be the end of the bad old days of George W. Bush. But in Somalia, the 'war on terror' continues.
March this year saw the start of a new US operation in support of the transitional government in Somalia.
According to the New York Times, American advisors had spent the last several months training Somali forces to be deployed in the offensive against factions of the Union of Islamic Courts movement, and the US had provided 'covert training to Somali intelligence officers, logistical support to the peacekeepers, fuel for the maneuvers, surveillance information about insurgent positions and money for bullets and guns'.
This was something of a covert operation from the US point of view. A US official, who told the paper 'what you're likely to see is air strikes and Special Ops moving in, hitting and getting out', said he was not allowed to speak publicly about it.
The Somali government, however, was happy to boast of US involvement. General Mohamed Gelle Kahiye, the new chief of staff of the armed forces, said of a military surveillance plane overhead, 'It's the Americans. They're helping us.'
On 2 May, explosions in a mosque in Mogadishu's Bakara market, a stronghold of the US-targeted Al Shabaab group, killed 45 people and triggered fighting between a pro-government militia and Al Shabaab and Hizbal al Islam, both factions of the Union of Islamic Courts movement. It's not clear who actually set off the explosions, but it is beginning to seem that Somalia could be the US Africa Command's (AFRICOM) first overt war.
The Obama administration's 2011 budget request for security assistance programmes in Africa includes $38 million for arms sales to African states, $21 million for training African officers and $24 million for anti-terrorism programmes. This is in addition to the 40 tonnes of arms and ammunition supplied to the Somali transitional government in 2009, and military aid to Ethiopia, which fronted for the US in the fight against the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006. AFRICOM has now taken over US security assistance programmes with Mali, Niger, Chad and Senegal, and the Defense Department is now considering forming a 1,000-strong marine rapid deployment force for Africa. Although AFRICOM gives the impression it is not a combat force, it looks as if this may change.
The justification for US involvement in Somalia is 'Islamic extremism'. Al Shabaab is on the US list of terrorist organisations as a supposed part of al-Qaeda. On 14 March, General William ('Kip') Ward, commander of AFRICOM, singled out Somalia in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee as the east African country most 'threatened by terrorists', while Senator Carl Levin stated that 'al Qaeda and violent extremists who share their ideology are not just located in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region but in places like Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and Niger'. Kip Ward also spoke of support for the Somali government, which is being fought against by radical Islamist groups, as a responsibility that the US has to take up. This means that there is no separation between the US–UK presence in Afghanistan and AFRICOM's operations in Somalia and other parts of Africa.
Writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 10 March, the last ambassador of the United States to Somalia (1994–95), Daniel H. Simpson, posed the question 'Why, apart from the only lightly documented charge of Islamic extremism among the Shabaab, is the United States reengaging in Somalia at this time?' He provided the answer himself: 'Part of the reason is because the United States has its only base in Africa up the coast from Mogadishu, in Djibouti, the former French Somaliland. The US Africa Command was established there in 2008, and, absent the willingness of other African countries to host it, the base in Djibouti became the headquarters for US troops and fighter bombers in Africa.'
AFRICOM, responsible for US military operations for the whole of the African continent except Egypt, was established in October 2008, but the idea goes back to the beginning of the decade, when the US National Intelligence Council estimated that the US will buy 25 per cent of its oil from Africa by 2015. Oil and natural gas seems to always sit nicely with this so-called war on terror.
The case of Somalia epitomises the proxy war situation in Africa and also smashes some of the myths around why African countries are in the situation they are. It's sometimes argued that the different languages and tribes in many African countries are the cause of their problems. However, Somalia is one country with one language and one dominant religion, so by that reasoning it should have more internal harmony than its neighbours. The explanation for its problems lies in the history of colonialism and exploitation by Western powers. The breakdown of national cohesion in Somalia and the civil war in 1988, since when the country has been ungovernable from Mogadishu, was caused by its use in the Cold War and specifically by President Siad Barre's decision to seek alliances with the US and apartheid South Africa against Soviet Union-backed Ethiopia. Subsequent international interventions, like the UN force in 1992 and the Ethiopian US-backed invasion in 2006 have been more about occupation than mediation.
The US proxy war in Africa is a mechanism to re-colonise the continent and extend the boundaries of the war on terror. It's time to mobilise against it. To support the campaign against AFRICOM and the proxy situation in Africa, check the Sons and daughters of Africa Movement Facebook page, coordinated in Europe by Agnes Munyi-Vanselow and Explo Nani-Kofi of KILOMBO – Campaigning Against Proxy War Situation in Africa and AFRICOM. The latter is affiliated with the Stop the War Coalition in the UK.
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