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A New Proxy War in Scramble for Africa

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Kenyan troops near al-Shabaab town in Somalia By Horace Campbell*
IDN-InDepth NewsEssay – Part 3 of 3

Kenyans can now reflect on the changing alliances of the US military inside Somalia before and after the Ethiopians were defeated by nationalist elements. Abdi Samatar has written extensively on the ebb and flow of the fabrication of terrorism. It is again apt to reinforce what Samatar has said of the US counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn. In his argument on how the US fabricated terrorism in the Horn of Africa Samatar wrote: "The hallmark of America's bankrupt policy is the conspicuous gulf between its democratic rhetoric and its support for thugs, warlords, tyrants, and venal politicians in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere."

BEIJING (IDN) - In the same week when President Obama announced that US AFRICOM forces would be assisting the Museveni government to track down terrorists, the army of Kenya moved into Southern Somalia to pursue those that the media label as "Islamist militants."

While the western media dubbed this war as "Kenya's first major military war on foreign soil", this intervention has been an extension of a low intensity war that has gone on at the Kenyan border since Somalia became the base for western destabilisation of the Horn of Africa.

Many Somalis opposed this intervention just as they have opposed other foreign intervention in their country since 1991. In an attempt to keep this opposition from Somalia out of the international media there were press reports that the intervention by Kenyan military forces was requested and welcomed by the US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Mogadishu. Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said: "The governments of Kenya and Somalia are now cooperating in the fight against al Shabaab, which is an enemy of both countries."

These statements do not hide the reality that all previous incursions by foreign forces have been resisted by the people of Somalia. From the time of the first major deployment of United Nations Operation in Somalia, or UNOSOM, nationalist elements opposed external military intervention.

This phase of external involvement came to a screeching halt after the Black Hawk Down humiliation in October 1993 when US army rangers sent to hunt down Aideed were killed in Mogadishu. After the traumatic experiences of the US soldiers in the so-called Operation Restore Hope of 1993, the experience of Somalia has been trumpeted as an example of how "failed states" provide the breeding ground for terrorism in Africa.

Yet, when the people of Somalia moved to stabilise their political situation, the US colluded with the government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia on the grounds that the Union of Islamic Courts was harbouring terrorists. Abdi Samatar, among others, had penetrated the hype behind the Union of Islamic Courts to outline how the fabrication of terrorism supported the US military presence in the Horn.

Bankrupt Policy

Kenyans can now reflect on the changing alliances of the US military inside Somalia before and after the Ethiopians were defeated by nationalist elements. Abdi Samatar has written extensively on the ebb and flow of the fabrication of terrorism and I have earlier drawn from his work. It is again apt to reinforce what Samatar has said of the US counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn. In his argument on how the US fabricated terrorism in the Horn of Africa Samatar wrote:

"The hallmark of America's bankrupt policy is the conspicuous gulf between its democratic rhetoric and its support for thugs, warlords, tyrants, and venal politicians in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere. In the minds of most people in the region American foreign policy and practice has become synonymous with dictatorship and arrogance, and most people believe that those are the core values of the America government. Consequently, the US government has lost the hearts and minds of the Muslim people all over. America's gifts to the Somali people in the last few years have been warlords, an Ethiopian invasion, and an authoritarian, sectarian and incompetent regime."

It is this incompetent regime that has been protected by pliant elements from African states that are allies of the USA. The people of Kenya had witnessed the invasion of Ethiopia and the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops and how the political leadership in Ethiopia manipulated the Somalia issue to gain support from western powers.

What are the Goals?

The government of Kenya has declared that it will end its military campaign against Al-Shabaab in Somalia when it is satisfied it has stripped the group of its capacity to attack across the border. If one goes by the experience of the past 18 years, then this statement can be read that Kenya will be in for a long-term deployment to Somalia.

The corollary to this is the reality that Kenya and its cities will be spaces of war, security clampdown and general destabilisation of the population. Since the Kenyan foray, there have been two grenade attacks at a bar and a bus terminal that killed one person and wounded more than 20 people in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. These attacks have already affected the tourism industry, one of the most important sources of revenue for the government of Kenya.

Militarism

The deployment of Kenyan troops to Somalia was not discussed openly by the Kenyan Parliament. Those who collaborated with the government of Kenya to organise this deployment in Somalia are looking way beyond the issue of Somalia. The more important question is the matter of democratic participation on Kenya.

Those who have studied wars in Africa, especially counter-insurgency wars, know that these wars have their own dynamic. One such dynamic is that invading armies get bogged down. The more the army is bogged down, the more there are demands for more resources for fighting to get the job done. Wars are not cheap and precisely the moment when the labour of the Kenyan working people was being devalued, this deployment of troops is demanding extra resources from the Kenyan Treasury.

At the same time while resources are diverted to war, revenues from the tourism industry will diminish in the face of the general climate of insecurity that will prevail. . . . Mohamed Najib Balala, the Minister of Tourism sought to reassure foreign tour operators that it is still safe for tourists to visit Kenya, but international news of grenades being thrown into bars do not provide good publicity for the tourism industry.

The longer Kenyan troops remain in Somalia, the more there is a danger of the society being sucked into a long term commitment to fight in a way that demands states of emergencies inside of Kenya itself.

Terrorism of all kinds must be opposed and extremists must be isolated. However, the record of the US in the Horn of Africa is that isolation of extremist elements is the furthest thing from the defence planners in Washington who are seeking new places for the deployment of US military resources in the wake of the withdrawal from Iraq.

Jeremy Scahill has documented the musical chairs of the military entrepreneurs in Somalia and how these entrepreneurs have been able to shift their alliances according to the whims of the US counter-terror experts who are now working with the Kenyan military. In his article entitled 'Blowback in Somalia', Scahill drew a picture of the various militarists who were enemies of the US in one moment and allies of the US in another moment. He concluded his analysis in this way:

"In any case, the Shabab's meteoric rise in Somalia, and the legacy of terror it has wrought, is blowback sparked by a decade of disastrous US policy that ultimately strengthened the very threat it was officially intended to crush. In the end, the greatest beneficiaries of US policy are the warlords, including those who once counted the Shabab among their allies and friends. 'They are not fighting for a cause,' says Ahmed Nur Mohamed, the Mogadishu mayor. 'And the conflict will start tomorrow, when we defeat Shabab. These militias are based on clan and warlordism and all these things. They don’t want a system. They want to keep that turf as a fixed post—then, whenever the government becomes weak, they want to say, 'We control here.'"

Al Shabab has always benefitted from foreign intervention and the Kenyan foray into Somalia will provide these military entrepreneurs the political legitimacy to argue that they are opposing foreign invaders.

However, from the point of view of this commentary, the more long-term consequence will be the efforts to torpedo the efforts of the people of Kenya to end 48 years of kleptocratic rule where the state is run like a criminal syndicate. If the popular and democratic forces are not organised to demand a full withdrawal from Somalia, the danger is that this deployment will cascade into repression leading to a postponement or cancellation of the elections scheduled for December 2012.

AFRICOM follows the Tradition of US Failed Enterprises in Africa

The present remilitarisation of Africa is being opposed in Africa by those who support peace. Museveni of Uganda and the militarist faction of the Kenyan leadership have been working hard to push the African Union to be completely subordinated to the demands of US military crusaders.

On top of the confusion wreaked by the international media, the peace and justice forces internationally have not been engaged sufficiently on the question of the remilitarisation of Africa. . . . Bill Fletcher, Carl Bloice and Jamal Rogers (have) called upon the progressive sections of the African American community to oppose this remilitarisation. In this article, they asked in relation to the Obama Foreign Policy in Africa, where is the outcry?

"It is no rhetorical flourish to say that the foreign policy of the Obama administration, far from representing a qualitative break with that of the Bush administration, has proven in most spheres to be continuality."

I want to join my voice to the call by these progressive forces to raise the opposition to the new vigour of imperialism in Africa. Additionally, I want to elevate the opposition to the Obama administration’s remilitarisation of Africa. This call is for the peace movement to put on their marching boots just as when the previous generation opposed the US military in their support for Mobutu and apartheid.

From this record, it is clear that at every moment of African agency to break from colonial forms of plunder, the USA was willing and ready to intervene on the side of the exploiters. The most dramatic intervention came at the period decolonisation when the government of the United States conspired to assassinate Patrice Lumumba and derail the self-determination project in Africa. In every region of Africa, progressive and anti-imperialist leaders were executed and puppets maintained in power.

The second period of militaristic deployment was after the African peoples gave notice of plans for economic integration under the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980. The political leadership of the USA responded with the entrenchment of Structural Adjustment Programmes on the economic front and the establishment of the US Central Command on the military front.

Interventionist Thrust

Most recently, at precisely the moment when the peoples of Africa seek to strengthen the African Union by setting an agenda for the Union of the People's of Africa, the militarists have intensified the interventionist thrust into Africa. In every instance, the commitment for peace and justice won out over repression and destruction.

The previous efforts at military control of Africa failed. The alliance between peace forces in Africa and beyond will ensure that this new round of the scramble for Africa will be resisted and ultimately, defeated. This is one more reason for the work to unify Africa and work for the demilitarisation of Africa.

In their testimonies before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year, the representatives from the Department of Defense and the Department of State went to great lengths to outline how US Africa Command was now a force for "diplomacy, development and defense."

Africans have understood these Orwellian doublespeak of the intellectually bankrupt US policymakers who repeat the same arguments that were repeated when the US was supporting Mobutu as a stabiliser in Africa. This writer joins the call of those who are calling for the disbanding of the US Africa Command and for the people of Africa to rise up to oppose dictators and religious extremists who manipulate religion for military purposes. The root cause of the "threats to stability and security challenges" all over Africa stem from the exploitation and plunder of Africa. [END OF PART 3 of 3. Read PARTS 1 and 2.]

* Horace Campbell is professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. See horacecampbell.net. 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. [IDN-InDepthNews - November 17, 2011]

Picture: Kenyan troops near al-Shabaab town in Somalia | Credit: ramadji.com

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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