David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post that he would like to see a clearer role for the US military in Africa before spending billions setting up a continental command center, AFRICOM:
The real puzzle with AFRICOM is understanding its purpose. Some advocates propose pragmatic strategic goals, from containing China‘s influence in Africa to countering terrorism to protecting African oil supplies. But the official rationale is much less specific — in Ward’s formulation, “bringing stability to the continent.” Some Africans worry that these generalities mask a deeper goal of establishing what amounts to American neocolonialism.
What would AFRICOM be doing now in Kenya, say, if it were up and running? Would it intervene to halt the violence between Kikuyus and Luos that exploded last week? Would it work with nongovernmental and relief organizations? Would it operate jointly with the Kenyan military to restore order? Ward says that he does not “envision kinetic operations for United States forces,” but what happens if Kenya spirals toward Rwanda-level genocide?
The U.S. military is so powerful — so blessed with money and logistical skill and leadership — that it’s easy to make it the default answer to problems that are otherwise in the “too hard” category. That’s my worry about AFRICOM. Its nation-building goal sounds noble, but so did European imperialism of 150 years ago to its proponents. Before America sends its soldiers marching off to save Africa, we need more discussion about what this mission is all about.
This is a great point. I’ve been hoping for clarity as well, as well as suggesting that it envisions the US military as source of peacekeeping support and training in military professionalism and not a development agency or exporter of the Patriot Act. Asking what role AFRICOM would play in the current crisis is a superb way to call attention to the opacity of AFRICOM’s purpose.
What I wish, however, is that intelligent commentators like Ignatius stop referring to Kenya’s conflict solely as ‘tribal violence’ (as he does in his opening line). Ethnic division is a obvious and regrettable feature of Kenyan political life, and the violence has fallen along tribal lines. Even so, (as I’ve said before) these ethnic divisions are also reflective of linguistic, regional, and class divisions in the country.
Moreover, the anger being expressed is not born of tribalism (a description which conjures ancient and barbaric hatreds) but rather a genuine grievance, namely frustration with an opaque and probably stolen election. The anger and violence in Kenya is a great many more things than simply tribal, and an otherwise peaceful opposition movement has been spoiled by a handful of hateful ethnic actors. Shame on Kibaki and Raila for not acting more quickly and decisively to quell the violence. But I believe neither harbors ethnic hatred.
Tribal warfare does fit our stereotype of the dark heart of Africa, however, and presumably it sells papers. I’d like the Post to do better.