When Barack Obama took office as president of the United States in January 2009, it was widely expected that he would dramatically change, or even reverse, the militarized and unilateral national security policy toward Africa that had been pursued by the Bush administration. But, after a little more than one year in office, it is clear that the Obama administration is essentially following the same policy that has guided U.S. military involvement in Africa for more than a decade. Indeed, it appears that President Obama is determined to expand and intensify U.S. military engagement throughout Africa.
Thus, in its budget request for the State Department for FY 2010, the Obama administration proposed significant increases in funding for U.S. arms sales and military training programs for African countries, as well as for regional programs on the continent, and is expected to propose further increases in its budget request for FY 2011.
The FY 2010 budget proposed to increase Foreign Military Funding spending for Africa more than 300 percent, from just over $8.2 million to more than $25.5 million, with additional increases in funding for North African countries. Major recipients included Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa.
The FY 2010 budget request for the International Military Education and Training program proposed to increase funding for African countries from just under $14 million to more than $16 million, with additional increases for North African countries. Major recipients slated for increases include Algeria, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, and Uganda.
The FY 2010 State Department budget request also proposed increased funding for several other security assistance programs in Africa, including the African Contingency Operations and Training Assistance program (which is slated to receive $96.8 million), the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement programs in Algeria, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Sierre Leone, Sudan, and Uganda, and Anti-Terrorism Assistance programs in Kenya, South Africa, and the Africa Regional program.
The same is true for funding in the Defense Department budget for the operations of the new Africa Command (Africom) which became fully operational in October 2008 and the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) forces which have been stationed at the U.S. military base in Djibouti since 2002. The Obama administration requested $278 million to cover the cost of Africom operations and Operation Enduring Freedom-Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership operations at the Africom headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. The administration also requested $60 million to fund CJTF-HOA operations in FY 2010 and $249 million to pay for the operation of the 500-acre base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, along with $41.8 for major base improvement construction projects. And the administration is now considering the creation of a 1,000-man Marine intervention force based in Europe to provide Africom with the capability to intervene in Africa.
The continuity with Bush administration policy is especially evident in several key regions. In Somalia, for example, the Obama administration has provided some $20 million worth of arms to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and initiated a major effort to provide training to TFG troops at the CJTF-HOA base in Djibouti and in Europe. Furthermore, President Obama has continued the program initiated by the Bush administration to assassinate alleged al-Qaeda leaders in Somalia and, in August 2009, he authorized an attack by U.S. Special Forces units that killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was accused to being involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al-Qaeda in August 1998.
In the Sahel, the Obama administration has also sought increased funding for the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Program ($20 million in FY 2010) to and created begun a special security assistance program for Mali to provide that country with some $5 million of all-terrain vehicles and communications equipment. Administration officials have justified this escalating military involvement in the Trans-Saharan region by arguing that the increasing involvement of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in criminal activity (including kidnapping for ransom and drug trafficking) constitutes a growing threat to U.S. interests in this resource-rich area.
In Nigeria, which supplies approximately ten percent of U.S. oil imports, the Obama administration has decided to expand U.S. military support to Nigerian military forces, despite concerns about security in the Niger Delta, Islamic extremism in northern Nigeria, and the country’s fragile democratic institutions. Thus, during her visit to Nigeria in August 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that the administration would consider any request by the Nigerian government for military support to enhance its capacity to repress armed militants in the Niger Delta region. The failure of the Nigerian government to implement major elements of its amnesty program in this vital oil-producing area has recently led to a resumption of violent incidents and attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta.
In Central Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Obama administration is increasing security assistance to Uganda, Rwanda, the Kenya, Ethiopia, and other countries in the region, and has conducted major training exercises both in Uganda and in Djibouti for the new East African Standby Force (EASF). The EASF is a battalion-sized force authorized by the African Union for independent African peacekeeping operations and other missions, but it remains dependent upon external support—especially from the United States—and is not expected to be able to operate on its own for many years to come. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Obama administration has just authorized the deployment of U.S. Special Forces troops to train an infantry battalion at a base at Kisangani that was recently rehabilitated by the United States. The Obama administration has chosen to engage in this training program despite the continuing involvement of Congolese troops in gross human rights violations (including the rape and murder of civilians) and in the illegal exploitation of the country’s mineral resources.
This growing U.S. military engagement in Africa reflects the Obama administration’s genuine concerns about the threat posed by Islamic extremism and by instability in key resource-producing regions, and by its desire to help resolve conflicts throughout the continent. However, all these measures increase the militarization of Africa and tie the United States even more closely to unstable, repressive, and undemocratic regimes. Furthermore, despite President Obama’s rhetorical commitment to an approach that combines military and non-military activities, the administration lacks a comprehensive and effective plan to address the underlying issues—the lack of democracy and economic development—that lead to extremism, instability, and conflict in Africa.
This is chiefly because the Obama administration lacks the diplomatic and economic means to address these issues. The State Department and the Agency for International Development have been systematically starved of funding and other resources for years and simply lack the capacity to engage in Africa in the manner that would make such an effort possible. It will take many years and substantial increases in funding to build this capacity. And the Obama administration’s food security program—its one major new initiative for Africa—is highly problematic since it relies on the use of expensive petroleum-based fertilizers, the mechanization of agricultural production, and the use of genetically-modified seeds.
In the meantime, President Obama has decided that he has no choice except to rely primarily on military instruments and to hope that this can protect U.S. interests in Africa, at least in the short term, despite the risk that this military engagement will exacerbate existing threats. The Obama administration would be well advised to curtail its military engagement in Africa and devote its attention to developing the capacity for diplomatic and economic efforts to address Africa’s underlying problems (as Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen argued in a recent speech) and to working with the European Union, China, and other stakeholders on a cooperative engagement with Africa that will not further undermine African security and jeopardize America’s long-term interests.
Africa Report, Number 22 (April-May 2010)
Daniel Volman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC (www.concernedafricascholars.org/african-security-research-project and a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He is a specialist on U.S. military policy in Africa and African security issues and has been conducting research and writing on these issues for more than thirty years.