General Ndugu Obama

General Ndugu Obama

Drawing by PSMandrake.
Many will be surprised that America has grown increasingly militant in Africa. Because Africa is where most world terrorists now locate, American policy on the continent is defined overwhelmingly by the American War on Terror.

Obama’s massive military involvement in Africa is mostly covert, so not readily understood. But the policy is public if difficult to ferret out, and Ralph Nader said yesterday on Iowa Public Radio that Obama is far more militant than George Bush, who got us mired in two major wars.

Nader’s right. But Nader neglects to explain that Obama’s militancy is predominantly covert. Using drones, very secret special forces that come and go quickly, and massive support of African proxy armies, Obama has exceeded American military involvement in Africa under George Bush almost exponentially. But not in soldiers. So Americans don’t feel it, and mostly they don’t know about it.

Africom, the Pentagon command for Africa, now has more personnel and overall resources than all of USAid for Africa. The command manipulates deployed drones that have assassinated a dozen African militants and been critical to successful African military operations in Somalia, Uganda, the DRC and the Central African Republic.

That is not, of course, the be-all and end-all of American foreign policy in Africa. There has been continued assistance throughout the continent on a wide range of issues from clean water to malaria eradication; the Obama administration has been particularly supportive of African initiatives in the UN and World Court; and on highly political issues (several regarding Rwanda) the Obama Administration has come down swiftly and correctly on the sides that we progressives champion.

But the bottom line is that Obama looks much more like a general than a philanthropist to Africans, today. It is unlikely he would be nominated today for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I remain certain terrorism cannot be eliminated strictly militarily. That results in two options: (a) don’t try to eliminate global terror, just do the best possible and learn to live with what remains; or (b) simultaneously work towards eliminating the cause of terrorism.

That [b] has gained the euphemism of “nation building” starting as early as the Vietnam War, and it remains hard to define, very open-ended nonmilitary support that is often squandered or misplaced. But there is no question Obama believes in the policy for Africa, despite the emphasis on militarism.

So as the veteran African diplomat John Norris pointed out in Foreign Policy earlier this year, “this president’s approach to Africa look a great deal like business as usual.”

It’s hard to fault a leader who had to dedicate most of his time to staving the collapse of the entire global economic order for being uncreative with new African development policies. But it’s not hard to critique his aggressive militant approach to Africa’s terrorists. That’s not “business as usual.” It is a considerable ratcheting up of war in Africa.

But fatefully or coincidentally “nation building” in Africa is proceeding at a rapid pace as well, albeit with little direct American support. The implementation of a new constitution in Kenya, a recharged South African political debate about basic social and commercial policies, glimmers of constitutional change in Tanzania and Malawi, might all be that is necessary to balance Obama’s militarism.

And it puts us progressives and peaceniks in a compromised position. Terrorism might indeed be on the wane in Africa because of Obama’s increased militarism, but the policies are not the ones we would have advocated in the beginning and the question of their shelf life remains dubious.

Is Obama an African war monger? Yes. But global peace maker, too? That is the crux of today’s African foreign policy debate.