Hillary tours the African frontlines of America's war on terror
She says she’s here to strengthen democratic institutions and improve business ties, but her itinerary tells a different story. Hillary Clinton’s 10-day, seven-country blitz through Africa takes her to all main hubs of America’s proxy war on terrorism in Africa, where her job will be to make nice with presidents and cheer on the soldiers doing all the fighting. Those war drums don’t bang themselves, you know. By SIMON ALLISON.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton descended on Africa on Wednesday, kicking off her continental expedition with a visit to Senegal, described by one US official as America’s closest friend in the francophone world. It’s as good a place as any to start, having turned over a new leaf this year with the unexpected and unexpectedly peaceful election of President Macky Sall.
Over the course of 10 days, Senegal will be followed in quick succession by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa and Ghana, a last-minute addition to the schedule to allow Clinton to attend the state funeral of recently-deceased president John Atta Mills. It’s a hectic schedule (good thing she’s travelling on her own plane; good luck getting through all that with SAA, Kenyan or Ethiopian Airways on time and with all your baggage intact).
US State Department said the trip is all about re-affirming America’s commitment to Africa. “During this trip, the Secretary will emphasise US policy commitments outlined in the Presidential Policy Directive—to strengthen democratic institutions, spur economic growth, advance peace and security as well as promote opportunity and development for all citizens,” said spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
While she’s here, Clinton won’t miss the chance to give African leaders some friendly, not-at-all-biased advice. US politics website Politico spoke to some State Department staffers about what Clinton plans to say. Her speeches will centre on Africa’s need to choose responsible partners for development, a veiled but unmistakeable warning against Africa’s close and getting closer relationship with China. “Clinton will urge African leaders to carefully consider projects proposed by foreign countries that do not demand complete accountability and may encourage corruption to the detriment of the people of some of the world's most impoverished nations,” wrote Politico.
It seems unlikely, however, that Clinton has come all this way to deliver gentle rebukes steeped in hypocrisy. It was, after all, the American government that funded Hosni Mubarak’s military to the tune of $1.3-billion per year, and has continued to do so even as the military took control of the country and continued many of Mubarak’s policies, adding a few new twists of their own such as virginity testing.
As her itinerary reveals, Clinton and the USA have a few more pressing concerns in Africa: namely, their war on African terrorism, currently being fought by proxy by a number of African countries.
The first, from The Washington Post in June, detailed the rapid expansion of America’s secret intelligence operations in Africa. It described a network of small, unmarked prop planes monitoring militant organisations in Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda.
The second, in the Los Angeles Times 29 July, was even more revealing, focussing on America’s role in the Somali conflict. It is worth quoting at length:
“Nearly 20 years after US Army Rangers suffered a bloody defeat in Somalia, losing 18 soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters, Washington is once again heavily engaged in the chaotic country. Only this time, African troops are doing the fighting and dying.
“The United States is doing almost everything else.
“The US has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab, the Al Qaeda ally that has imposed a harsh form of Islamic rule on southern Somalia and sparked alarm in Washington as foreign militants join its ranks.
“Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by US and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the US government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.”
So much for the African Union’s intervention in Somalia being an African solution to an African problem; instead, the military push has American fingerprints all over it. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Clinton is visiting both Kampala and Nairobi on her African trip. Uganda and Kenya have provided the bulk of the troops operating in Somalia, and—within an African context—much of the political impetus. It was Kenya’s sudden invasion last October which changed the dynamics of the Somali conflict and put Al Shabaab on the back foot. Just how much this invasion was motivated by American influence and incentives we don’t know for sure. (One can suspect it was the main motivation.)
Uganda is also spearheading the hunt for Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord immortalized in the Kony 2012 campaign. About 100 American troops are on the ground in Chad, the DRC, South Sudan and Uganda to assist in the as-yet unsuccessful search. This support could well be a quid pro quo for Uganda’s bullish approach to Somalia; it’s certainly not an altruistic gesture, given that Kony has been around for decades and the US has previously shown little to no interest.
In the light of all this, Clinton’s visits to Juba, Kampala and Nairobi make perfect sense. Someone needs to make sure everything’s on track with America’s proxy war on Al Shabaab in Somalia; that would be her.
The Senegal leg is also not as innocent as she would like us to think. Dakar just happens to be the base of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a US-led programme designed to strengthen regional counterterrorism capabilities, discredit terrorist ideology and reinforce bilateral military relations with the US. Its geographical scope extends across seven countries, including Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. Nigeria has been helpless to deal with Islamist militant group Boko Haram, while the other three, Mali in particular, have all been used as bases for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. As stability in Mali has decreased, American fears about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have increased exponentially. The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership is the most important weapon they’ve got to deal with the problem, hence the secretary of state’s Senegal visit.
It’s only on the last few legs of her trip that Clinton will be allowed to relax a little, and forget about Islamist militants and the war on terror for a few minutes. Al Qaeda hasn’t managed to penetrate Malawi yet, and the South Africa and Ghana segments are both for specific appointments: a personal meeting with Nelson Mandela in Qunu, and John Atta Mills’ funeral respectively.
Make no mistake, these are little extras that help disguise the real purpose of Clinton’s trip. She’s touring the frontlines of America’s war on African terror. It would be wise for Africans to remember this as she lectures us on choosing responsible partners for development. DM
- Clinton Africa trip seen as countering China influence on VOA News
- Clinton starts Africa swing in Senegal on AFP
Photo by Reuters