Monday, September 10, 2007

Millennial Opportunity in Disguise: Africom the new opportunity for security in Africa?

Global Strategic Enterprises, Inc for Peace and Prosperity-

Sept. 17, 2007 issue - America is quietly expanding its fight against terror on the African front.

Two years ago the United States set up the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership with nine countries in central and western Africa.

There is no permanent presence, but the hope is to generate support and suppress radicalism by both sharing U.S. weapons and tactics with friendly regimes and winning friends through a vast humanitarian program assembled by USAID, including well building and vocational training.

In places like Chad, American Special Forces train and arm police or border guards using what it calls a "holistic approach to counterterrorism." Sgt. Chris Rourke, a U.S. Army reservist in a 12-man American Civil Affairs unit living in Dire Dawa, in eastern Ethiopia, says it comes down to this: "It's the Peace Corps with a weapon."

Sometime in the coming months, after a vetting process to find a good partner country, the United States plans to establish a new headquarters in Africa to spearhead this armed battle for hearts, minds and the capture of terror suspects.

The Pentagon says Africom—the first new U.S. strategic command established since 2002—will integrate existing diplomatic, economic and humanitarian programs into a single strategic vision for Africa, bring more attention to long-ignored American intelligence-gathering and energy concerns on the continent, and elevate African interests to the same level of importance as those of Asia and the Middle East.

Africom joins 10 other commands, including CENTCOM in Florida, the now famous nerve center for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the establishment of a major American base in Africa is inspiring new criticism from European and African critics of U.S. imperial overreach.

The Pentagon says Africom will bring its hearts-and-minds campaign closer to the people; critics say it represents the militarization of U.S. Africa policy. Already, the United States has identified the Sahel, a region stretching west from Eritrea across the broadest part of Africa, as the next critical zone in the War on Terror and started working with repressive governments in Chad and Algeria, among others, to further American interests there.

Worried U.S. allies argue that Africom will only strengthen America's ties with unsavory regimes—including the Ethiopians, who have become U.S. proxies in an expanding civil war in Somalia—by prioritizing counterterror over development and diplomacy.

Among the nations most often mentioned as candidates to host the Africom headquarters: Ghana, Liberia, Tanzania and Ethiopia, which now has one of the worst human-rights records in Africa. "If you have soldiers hugging trees and painting hospitals at the same time as they're killing people, the perception of the local populations is going to be altered significantly," says one European official, who spoke to NEWSWEEK on the condition that his identity be kept secret.

In fact, the U.S. military footprint in Africa has been expanding significantly in recent years. The armed forces didn't have a permanent troop presence anywhere on the continent in 2001.

Two years later, nearly 1,800 military and civilian members of a combined task force were operating out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. Today, they are responsible for a swath of 10 countries in East Africa. And now they're looking farther afield. Civil Affairs teams from Djibouti are negotiating entrance into Sudan, NEWSWEEK has learned.

Africom would take these piecemeal efforts and expand them substantially. The outlines are already visible. In Dire Dawa, a dozen American reservists and Army National Guardsmen on a yearlong tour live together in a four-story house that serves as both base and home. Each morning they raise two flags: Ethiopian and American.

With a $1 million budget they hope to build enough schools and wells and bridges to wrestle key local leaders, clan elders and unemployed youth over to their vision of Ethiopia's future.

Africom, with its cadre of officer corps and civilian expertise, could then integrate those smaller efforts with larger strategic objectives across the continent, sharing intelligence and speeding up communications. Amazingly, China now has more embassies and consulates—and thus more listening posts—in Africa than the United States.

But it's halting and frustrating work. In the town of Hurso, most residents don't have access to drinking water, so the team spent $98,000 and built a well on a site picked by a Washington-based hydrologist. (The well failed; the team is negotiating another contract.) Nearby, in Melekajebdu, it's building a 19-classroom school, but construction has stalled because no one can figure out how to wire the $463,000 cost electronically to Ethiopia.

In Wahil, a largely Muslim village, a donated computer covered with stickers that say from the american people sits unused in a clinic because the generator is too weak. "This all falls under the global War on Terror," says the group's leader, Lt. Col. Joseph Gamble, 57, a U.S. Army reservist.

Some analysts argue that Africom may strengthen America's image by overseeing more patronage from a central location. It will not only coordinate counterterror and aid work, it will centralize the control of U.S. military operations in Africa, which are now handled by three separate commands: Europe, Central and Pacific. "Africa should welcome that," says Robert Rotberg, an Africa specialist at Harvard.

"Africom could mean more training, more peacemaking, more conflict resolution alongside African armies."

The problem is that, increasingly, African leaders appear not to want Africom. They see it as the next phase of the War on Terror—a way to pursue jihadists inside Africa's weak or failed states, which many U.S. officials have described as breeding grounds for terror.

They worry that the flow of arms will overwhelm the flow of aid, and that U.S. counterterrorism will further destabilize a region already prone to civil wars. Two weeks ago South Africa's Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota called for a continental ban on Africom and said 14 nations of southern Africa—including South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania—would reject the presence of "foreign forces."

Senior South African officials have refused to meet with Gen. William (Kip) Ward, whom President George W. Bush recently named as the eventual head of Africom. "I can imagine that countries are very nervous about what Africom means," Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of State for African affairs, conceded to NEWSWEEK.

Perhaps the biggest source of concern is the recent U.S. track record in the Horn of Africa, where Washington has been pursuing an increasingly militarized policy for more than a year with disastrous results. Twice in the past year, the United States has intervened in Somalia—first by supporting local warlords, then by backing an Ethiopian invasion—to undermine the regime of the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which Washington accuses of maintaining links with Al Qaeda.

Fighting has raged across Mogadishu ever since, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and forcing some 400,000 from their homes, without decisively toppling the Islamists. U.S. and European attempts to create a government of national unity have failed spectacularly.

Now the conflict is spreading west to Ethiopia—where tensions between ethnic Somalis and Ethiopians are at a high—and north to Eritrea, which the United States accuses of harboring Qaeda operatives with ties to the ICU.

The Bush administration is now on the verge of labeling Eritrea, once a U.S. ally, a state sponsor of terror. None of this helps Washington sell the idea that Africom will be a force for peace. "We have done a horrible job in getting our message out in the War on Terror," says one senior U.S. official in Ethiopia, who provided comment on the condition that his name not be used. "We've ceded the battlefield to these extremist elements."

One of the mistakes Washington has made—a mistake the creation of Africom might compound—has been to rely so heavily on Ethiopia. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who just 10 years ago President Bill Clinton hailed as one of a "new generation of African leaders," now has one of the worst human-rights records in Africa.

Secret police repress opposition members while the Meles government intimidates international aid organizations, kicking the medical charity Doctors Without Borders out of Ethiopia's conflicted eastern border region last week.

Similar concerns elsewhere may make it harder for Africom to find a permanent base. But there will probably always be takers.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has offered her country as a possible location. And Frazer maintains that she's "positive" Africom will find a home on the continent somewhere. But with so much hostility, it may never feel entirely welcome.

With Jason McLure in Dire Dawa, and Silvia Spring and Alexandra Polier in Nairobi

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

MSN Privacy . Legal
© 2007

Taking the war on terror to Africa

The United States is planning a new strategic command to take the global War on Terror to the Horn of Africa.

By Scott Johnson

Newsweek International
Voice of America

Date: Mon Sep 10 2007 - 13:37:36 EDT

Diaspora Keeps Somalia Alive But Remains Divided

By Darren Taylor


10 September 2007

War-weary Somalis are surviving largely because of
money sent to them by their relatives in the diaspora
Somalia continues to be wracked by conflict, despite
another congress aimed at national reconciliation
having ended recently in Mogadishu.

Human rights groups say fighting between insurgents and
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and occupying
Ethiopian troops has killed many people and displaced
hundreds of thousands.

But somehow Somalis continue to survive, chiefly as a result of international aid and financial remittances sent to them by their relatives who’ve relocated to foreign lands. In the fourth part
of a series on the situation in Somalia, VOA’s Darren
Taylor examines the role played by the country’s
extensive diaspora.

A prominent member of Somalia’s diaspora community in
the United States, Prof. Ahmed Samatar, who’s dean of
international relations at Macalester College in
Minnesota, is certain there’s “hardly a corner of the
globe” that doesn’t host a Somali community.

“I sometimes think Somalis don’t get enough credit for
their resilience and their adaptability,” he says.
“We’re talking about people here, most who couldn’t
even speak a word of English, and then they uproot
from the desert and move to countries like Germany,
Norway, England, the US and Australia.

They learn to speak all these foreign languages, and melt into
completely foreign cultures – sometimes in the face of
great religious and racial discrimination and other
challenges. It really is a sad but remarkable
situation, what talented Somalis have been able to

Their success is a testimony to what Somalia
could become, if only the country’s political elites
could put aside their differences.”

Almost two decades of violence in Somalia has forced
many of the country’s people into exile. In the latest
chapter in the saga of the Horn of Africa nation of 10
million people, insurgents said to be loyal to the
Union of Islamic Courts – who have been branded
terrorist sympathizers by the United States and
Ethiopia – are battling TFG and Ethiopian troops.

Human Rights Watch says all parties in the conflict
have committed gross violations against innocent
civilians, including executions and indiscriminate
bombing of residential areas.

“It’s amazing that through this all, Somalis, and
especially those living in Mogadishu, are carrying on
with their day-to-day lives,” says Omar Faruk Hassan,
the chairman of the National Union of Somali
Journalists. “But a big reason why they are surviving
is because of all of the money that is sent to them by
their relatives in the diaspora.

So, as long as the markets continue to be open and the traders can import goods from Dubai and Yemen, and people can get their
remittances at the money transfer companies, then
people can buy food and other essentials. If it wasn’t
for the diaspora, Somalia really would have no hope.”

“The Somali Diaspora actually has been the backbone of
the survival of the Somali people during the last 16
years. It’s because of the donations and remittances
they have been sending home that has kept people alive
in Somalia, so they’re very, very important,” says Dr.
Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, a Somali linguist, historian
and cultural expert and author of a book, “Culture and
Customs of Somalia,” based in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

According to Prof. Abdi Ismail, who teaches geography
at the University of Minnesota, the Somali Diaspora
contributes almost a billion dollars a year – “bigger
than any export earnings that the country can
generate” – to the tattered economy.

He laughs and says, “You could say that the diaspora
is the Somali economy!”

Ismail is fresh from a visit to South Africa, where he
met some of the 20,000 Somalis living in various
cities in Africa’s most powerful economy. It left him
feeling optimistic.

“They are making businesses in places that African
people in South Africa were unable to break into. So
Somalis by sort of their culture are entrepreneurs,
and they want to rebuild their country if they are
given the chance,” he says.

But Ismail also says many of the Somalis he’s met in
the diaspora express “complete lack of faith” in the
TFG, saying the transitional authority is incompetent
and not fully representative of Somali society because
it’s dominated by President Abdullahi Yusuf’s Darod

A spokesman for the TFG, Mohammed Abdirizak, says many
Somalis in the diaspora are being “over-critical” and
he urges them not to “criticize from a safe distance”
but instead to return to Somalia to “make a

“I myself am from the diaspora – I’ve been here (in
Mogadishu) for a very short time, but I can see a lot
of things where I can contribute. We need the help of
those who are criticizing the government to come into
the country and help us. We need every one of them. We
need the expertise of other Somalis who are abroad,”
he says.

Samatar agrees that the Somali diaspora can be a “very
powerful tool for democracy and peace. Most of the
talented people have fled from Somalia. There are more
Somali doctors, for example, in the United States,
than in all of Somalia, and most of the top educated
Somalis are in the diaspora: lawyers, engineers,
pharmacologists, living all over the world. If there’s
ever going to be a revival of Somalia, these people
have a very, very crucial role to play.”

And yet, says Abdirizak, many educated Somalis living
in foreign lands aren’t willing to share their talents
with their less fortunate compatriots.

“They seem very good at speaking and criticizing, but
it seems as if they don’t want to get their hands
dirty. They’re in their comfort zones abroad and are
concentrating on themselves, instead of rebuilding
their own country,” he says.

Ismail responds that it’s asking a lot of Somalis,
“whoever they may be,” to abandon their new lives in
foreign countries to return to a homeland that’s
“still a war zone.”

“It’s upsetting to me that there’s this feeling
amongst certain people that Somalis in the diaspora
are cowards, who don’t love their country, and for who
life is very easy amongst foreigners, away from the
people they love. They do it to survive, not for fun.

Don’t you think we’d all go back if we could, if there
was a prospect of returning to a prosperous country
that is free of warlords, foreign invaders, militants
and selfish clan leaders, where we could build good

Ismail does, however, agree that the Somali diaspora
community shouldn’t be above criticism.

“They are disorganized, and some of them are quite
sectarian, and unless they are able to get together,
and create a kind of social movement that has
particular focus on democracy and peace and
development, then it will all be rhetoric (about) what
role they can play (in the future of Somalia).”

Samatar urges his fellow Somalis in the diaspora to
plough some of their assets, including their
intellectualism, back into their homeland, to “help
the process of reconstitution and reconstruction of
Somali society by offering their talent, by offering
their resources – and maybe even offering themselves
as potential leaders for the direction the country
needs to go.”

Dr. Andre Le Sage, the academic chairman of the
Terrorism and Counterterrorism section of the Africa
Center for Strategic Studies, a US-government think
tank in Washington, has worked throughout the Horn of
Africa region for various international organizations,
including the United Nations. He’s also a former
political advisor to the negotiation process that
resulted in the formation of the TFG, and he maintains
contact with a great many Somalis in Somalia itself,
and also in the diaspora.

“Somalis are a wonderful and genuine people, very open
to forging lasting, trusted relationships with
outsiders. There is absolutely no way that I could
have worked inside Somalia without the support, trust,
honesty and security given to me by my Somali
contacts,” Le Sage says.

“The Somali diaspora is huge, and it is growing. But
it is just as fragmented as the people inside the

Nevertheless, I think that they have a number of
potential levers that they can pull, to either help or
hinder the process of rebirth of a Somali society. The
first is that they can help in terms of resources –
and that is resources both in terms of capital, money,
and in terms of human talent.”

But Prof. Hagi Mukhtar of Savanna State University in
Georgia says people shouldn’t expect “too much” from
Somalis in the diaspora.

“Somalis in the diaspora also have their own lives and
their own struggles. They must do what they can to
help Somalia, but first they have to help themselves.”

No comments:

Post a Comment