Remilitarisation of Africa Set to Fail

AFRICA, 21 Nov 2011

Horace Campbell - InDepth News

Kenya’s foray into Somalia, led from behind by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), represents a heightened threat to peace and reconstruction in Africa, especially East Africa. This Western-supported incursion is more against the Kenyan people than against the forces of Al-Shabaab, or whatever name that will be given to the musical chairs of military entrepreneurs in Somalia.

At the same moment when the Libyan adventure backfired with the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) retreating from taking credit for the end of the Gaddafi regime, the U.S. government announced the deployment of 100 troops to Uganda to assist the government of Yoweri Museveni to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Later the same month in October 2011, there was news that the Kenyan army had been deployed into Somalia in pursuit of armed Somalians known as Al-Shabaab (‘The Youth’) that Kenya blames for a series of kidnappings on its soil. It was also revealed that France would be supporting the Kenyan invasion in Somalia.

Sensitive to the future relationship with Africans who want peace, the spokespersons for AFRICOM have been ‘leading from behind’ in this Kenyan operation.

In the past 20 years, the U.S. support for militarism in the Horn of Africa has destabilised this region of Africa. Since independence in 1963, Kenya has been the cockpit of imperial ventures in Africa. This was because the radical traditions of Kenya from the period of the Land and Freedom Army had to be contained.

After three periods of containment using force, non-governmental organisations and sowing divisions among the progressives, the awakening in Africa pointed to the vibrancy and potential for people-centred change in Kenya. Thus, the security planners in Western states were not going to wait to be surprised by a Tahrir Square uprising in Kenya.

This process of remilitarisation will fail in Africa, just as support for Mobutism and support for apartheid failed decades earlier. The challenge for peace and social justice forces in North America and Europe is to take the question of the militarisation of Africa to the forefront of the struggles against the one per cent, and link the issues of militarism more closely to the banking industry and its private military contractors.

I will start with the six points that highlighted the catastrophic failure of AFRICOM in Libya, retrace the failure of the Operation Lightning Thunder of 2008 and then examine the fear of revolutionary uprisings in Kenya. The conclusion will retrace the intellectual and political crisis within the U.S. ruling circles in this depression, and explore why the current remilitarisation of Africa is being opposed fiercely in Africa and will influence the present movement for peace and social justice in North America and Western Europe.


When Seumas Milne from UK newspaper the Guardian wrote, “If the Libyan war was about saving lives, it was a catastrophic failure,” he was communicating a conclusion that had been echoed in newspapers and by analysts all over the world. From Asia, writers were linking the role of AFRICOM to the new power grab in Africa while there was massive opposition from Africa. In studying the catastrophic failures, I will briefly list the top six.

a) The first point that has been made by numerous writers that far from protecting lives in Libya, far more lives were lost from the NATO intervention. Seumas Milne wrote: “What is now known, however, is that while the death toll in Libya when NATO intervened was perhaps around 1,000-2,000 (judging by UN estimates), eight months later it is probably more than ten times that figure. Estimates of the numbers of dead over the last eight months – as NATO leaders vetoed ceasefires and negotiations – range from 10,000 up to 50,000. The National Transitional Council puts the losses at 30,000 dead and 50,000 wounded.”

b) The second major point of the NATO led quagmire in Libya is the destruction of the society. The rubble of former cities and towns is a testament to the unlimited bombing. Sirte, in particular has been completely destroyed.

c) The third point refers to the crimes of war committed by NATO and NATO supported troops. NATO and their surrogates committed atrocities and the execution of prisoners constitute a crime under the laws of war. There is no statute of limitation for crimes of war.

d) Fourthly, the banks and the financial institutions are involved in the financialisation of energy “markets.” The extent to which the Gaddafi regime was linked to Goldman Sachs and the opaque world of commodity financial contracts is yet to fully emerge. The Libyan Investment Authority lost billions of dollars and the peoples of Libya will have great difficulty unfreezing their assets that were frozen by western countries and the banks that are now plunging the world into a depression.

e) The now exposed role of Qatar troops and other forces on the ground when the UN mandate explicitly precluded ground troops.

f) The support for conservative Islamists who want to roll back the rights of women and the gains of the people of Libya.

Once the multiple layers of failures began to be documented around the world, the euphoric rhetoric about NATO success in Libya receded as General Carter Ham (head of AFRICOM) hid behind, while NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen flew to Libya in a self-congratulatory one day visit to hail the “success” of the NATO mission to assist the National Transitional Council.

While some senators in the USA were posturing about the NATO victory, the Obama White House was embarrassed by the exposure of the discussion about the assassination of Gaddafi while he was in the hands of the ‘National Security Council’ forces.

General Carter Ham who at the start of the Operation in March Libya was willing to take credit for the bombing of Tripoli was shy to have a full discussion on Libya. Carter Ham spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CISS) in October to present a public relations effort in relation to the new deployment in Central Africa.

While in March, Carter Ham was willing to be on the international news celebrating the role of AFRICOM in Libya, even before the execution of Gaddafi, Carter Ham was trying to shift attention from the on-going war crimes in Libya to speak of “threats to stability, security challenges and crises all over the continent.” The more tuned-in policymakers who attended grasped that Ham was clutching at straws and that no mention was made or attempt offered at setting out what the structural or underlying root causes of the ‘threats to stability and security challenges’ all over Africa actually are.

Carter Ham reproduced the same ideas about security and how to help client states in Africa protect U.S. interests. The criteria that AFRICOM continues to use to determine where it will look to offer ‘assistance’ to confront threats and address security challenges includes:

(a) dictators and constitutional democrats who will seek AFRICOM’s assistance to remain in power, (b) emphasis on the East African region as a strategic area for projection of force, (c) the importance of Uganda and East Africa for future U.S. planning, and (d) the usual justification for militarism, that of fighting Al Qaeda in Somalia.

What was not stated was that the goal of the United States in Africa was to pre-empt other revolutionary uprisings of the type and scale that removed the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Assisting Museveni

Less than two weeks after this public relations exercise at the CISS, newspapers in the USA announced that AFRICOM will send two combat teams of about 100 to Africa (Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,) to help fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

This deployment brings out the desperate efforts of Museveni to remain in power after 25 years. This ‘assistance’ of the U.S. military to Museveni is not new. In 2008, there was a much-publicised operation by the U.S. military to assist the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) to wipe out the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

This operation ended in a failure and reinforced the alienation of the people of Northern Uganda from the Museveni regime. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by this war that has been waged so that the Ugandan society can be partially militarised. Even a usual pro-interventionist ‘humanitarian’ NGO such as the Enough Project criticised the Uganda and U.S. governments over the past operation of 2008-2009. The Enough Project described the operation as ‘poorly executed’ and ‘operationally flawed’.

Peace activists in East Africa have for decades exposed the use of the war in the North of Uganda for the Museveni regime to stay in power and promote self-enrichment. Those sections of the Ugandan society who had any progressive leanings left the Museveni regime and those military personnel with any integrity died under dubious circumstances.

Major Reuben Ikondere and Noble Mayombo were two members of the UPDF who had progressive Pan-Africanist leanings. They lost their lives at young ages. Other progressives who had joined the National Resistance Movement (NRM) in opposition to dictatorship slowly left Museveni. The most outstanding of this group were the former underground forces from Kitwe who had been the liberating force inside of Uganda during the era of dictatorship and other militarists.

The Museveni government spurned efforts by elders from all across East Africa who wanted a negotiated solution to the fighting in order to isolate the LRA’s Joseph Kony and his murderous bands. While the brutal atrocities of this group were well-known, there were elders in Acholi land with links to elders in the region who were capable of isolating Kony. Just as the U.S. military benefited from keeping Osama Bin Laden alive as a threat, so the Museveni regime holds this scare of the Kony bands over the people of Uganda.

More significantly, the Museveni government is seeking external support from the conservative factions in the United States as the region of the Great Lakes becomes a major target for increased oil exploration and production. In what is now being called the largest onshore oil discovery in sub-Saharan Africa in 20 years, UK-based oil exploration and production company Tullow Oil discovered reserves of nearly two billion barrels of oil in rural western Uganda, with the largest finds in the Lake Albert Basin. Subsequent press reports exposed the reality that drilling will yield ‘several billion’ barrels of oil; at least 15 major strikes by various oil companies have been made throughout Great Rift Valley since Tullow’s discovery.


Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See He is the author of ‘Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA’ and a contributing author to ‘African Awakening: The Emerging Revolutions’. He is currently a visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. A version of this article appeared on Pambazuka News.

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