Peace and Security

US Predators in Africa: A Disturbing Phenomenon

Derrick Kitiku

Of the most disturbing military developments in Africa- the impending arms race among African countries and the near purchase of damaged strategic military equipment from China none is more troubling than the expansion of US drone bases. This subtle yet insidious aspect of airspace security and evolving military equation will eventually cause incalculable injury to overall defense system of African states.  Surprisingly, this is not unrelated to the overall security policy of the Obama Administration. Contrary to political statements and diplomatic briefings the U.S. military is escalating the use of drones, expanding drone bases and installing equipments for surveillance in Africa. Many years after the intriguing declaration that George Bush’s Global War on Terror was over counter terrorist operations have noticeably broadened under President Obama. In fact, the Obama Administration seems to be in love with the same methods used during the Bush era.  Moreover, it expanded and developed all the measures it abhorred while coming to the White House. It seems a paradox, but it is true.

During Bush junior “sanctioned murder” was a contingency measure, but now it has become an integral part of the ‘counter terrorist’ agenda. The use of drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/UAVs/ is not a rarity; rather it has become the most preferred measure. In the beginning they were mostly used in Pakistan. Then expanded to Yemen and Somalia. Currently, they are everywhere. Conventional military bases are being expanded to house drones. Even Djibouti is fast becoming a base for drones, which are increasingly being used in several countries such as Afghanistan, Iran and Libya. While their use is illegal, violates international law and national sovereignty, the toll on civilians is unprecedented. As it stands this alone could bring about the most intolerable damage to African security. According to Christof Hegns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and arbitrary executions the policy of pointed murder is a sever violation of sovereignty of other states and can be treated as an open aggression.

More disturbing phenomenon since the end of 2012 is the mushrooming of drone bases in many parts of Africa. Compounding this is an increase in US army presence as single UAV bases Have to be operated by 300 US military and outsourced experts. Deploying unmanned Predators to the region would eliminate the risk of crew capture in the event of a shoot-down or accident, but it would also greatly increase the number of U.S. troops on the ground. A Predator base could require as many as 250 Air Force personnel to launch and maintain the drones, as well as to provide protection for U.S. troops. Few have investigated its toll on civilian lives. The human rights organization- New American Foundation- reported that only in Pakistan almost a quarter of the targets are civilians.

No hyperbolist could exaggerate the range, frequency and size of drone operations in Africa. The number of American drones flying day and night has exponentially rocketed in the last few months. Only up to July 2012 a total of 1666 UAV flights has been registered. As if this was not enough US officials are calling for more drone bases in Africa. The rhetoric is evidently clear. They are planning a new drone base in West Africa that would expand its surveillance of al-Qaeda fighters and other militants in northern Mali, a development that would escalate in a fast-spreading conflict. Already PC-12 aircrafts and turboprops have become operational in Burkina Faso which shares a long border with Mali. Several options are under consideration by the Pentagon. There may be plans to deploy drones to Burkina Faso as well, possibly at a military base in Ouagadougou, the capital all in the name of fighting terrorists in Africa. The idea that more drone bases and UAV operations should be expanded to fight al-Qaida is a perversion of the war on terror.

More dazzling, and at moments disorienting action plan is the reality of turning old and conventional military bases to drone fireworks. Pentagon’s official representative George Little recently said the threats emanating from Africa demand US drone bases in strategically appropriate places such as Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. This is again justified in the name of helping the French in Mali. The United States also, it seems, won permission for surveillance aircrafts to refuel in several West African countries. On the other hand two Obama administration officials said military planners are eyeing the West African country of Niger as a base for unarmed Predator drones, which would greatly boost U.S. spy missions in the region. A U.S. defense official called the plan “preliminary” and said the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and the government of Niger would all have to approve.  If approved, the plan would fill a gap in the Pentagon’s military capabilities over the Sahara, which remains beyond the reach of its drone bases in East Africa and southern Europe. U.S. officials said the plan was to use the Predators strictly for surveillance missions, not airstrikes, but they acknowledged that the drones could easily be armed if circumstances changed. Well, circumstances do change very easily and even decidedly.

And yet such an expanding and menacing development is not officially recognized by the US government. This explains why another UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emerson was forced to urge the US for cooperation in the investigation of UAV incidents. He and many others are demanding from Washington the simple cooperation: abandon this “absurd practice” of classifying the information about UAV operations. This situation cannot be justified. It is incompatible with the future of a peaceful, respected and prosperous Africa. The short term effects of this menacing development may look so subtle that it will largely go unnoticed until it is too late to reverse its long-term consequences.

Monday, February 4th, 2013 Peace and Security 11 Comments

The US Military and Africa: Key Issues

Marka Darra

The launching of AFRICOM and subsequent military expansion in Africa was the result of what is probably the least ambiguous case of the misreading of popular view and mood in the continent. The official argument for it, pressed in numerous speeches and conferences by Command representatives and US diplomats failed to convince most Africans. The widely held view remains to be that the US has been less transparent about its true intentions and exaggerates the capability of non-state actors in Africa to damage US interests, a major pretext for increased US military engagement in Africa. Some attest to the fact that under the pretext of securing information about terrorists the US is obtaining all the secrets of the continent, which could be used for any ill purposes. From the very beginning, large scale US military presence in the form of the US Africa Command/AFRICOM/ was not sold succefully to Africans, governments and the public at large.

Now that more Africans are suspicious about the Command and there will be a change at the top of the continental organization, the African Union, they expect an imminent change in US approach to Africa. The whole activity of Americans in Africa, including military bases, areas of stationing of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/UAV/ and other vehicles, must be transparent for the local authorities and the AU. The trust deficit that haunts AFRICOM is the lack of honest dialogue and strong synergy with African states and African organizations. Why AFRICOM avoids this is a question that demands explanation. The US should discard unilateral decisions in Africa on military matters, including entrenching of AFRICOM, a policy that is often combative in tone and judgment.

The US must do preliminary consultations even on the war on terror and exclude unilateral operations within the borders of African states. Moreover, Washington should coordinate its military missions with other international partners and seriously support and complete the process of establishing the African Standby Force and gradually replace US forces with African forces. In order this to happen both Washington and the new AU leadership should go back to the drawing board, interrogate the underpinnings of U military engagement in Africa, and establish a commonly agreed plan. The bottom-line: any attempt to push US military project in Africa must begin with a robust engagement with the new AU leadership.Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s primary task must be to make Africa speak with one voice on this matter and to pull the Africa-wide power into a continual force for the advancement of Africa-wide interest.

Friday, October 19th, 2012 Peace and Security 42 Comments

The New EU Person in the Horn

Alex Roba

On January 1, 2012 Alexander Rondos, a Greek National, occupied the post of Special Representative to the Horn of African Region. The new EU Special Representative to the Horn of Africa had received a university degree from Britain. He has a long record working with the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, besides working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/OSCE/. The causes of his dubious and embattled status have become clearer during recent years with the tumultuous uprisings in Eastern Europe. The other exact roles we know less about.
Brief as it is, Alexander Rondos’s image contains many elements that could potentially resurface in the crisis in Eastern Africa. Which is to say, most probably he will be involved in practically everything. He may be a sort of roving ambassador, and obviously, given his extensive knowledge and contact, that will be an important role for him. Considering that his plans are clear – that he will be involved in a lot of matters at both strategic and policy levels. That said, there are certain matters on which his position is more provocative than others, or more in line, in an obvious way, with Western security interests, and those will bear watching.

Monday, February 13th, 2012 Peace and Security 48 Comments

On the US and China in Africa

These days it’s impossible to think about America and its future role in the world without also thinking about China’s growing influence, if not domination, in Africa. The most important development in Africa’s international relations since the end of the Cold War is the rise of China. This has the potential to tear down pre-existing concepts and long-held friendships. Clearly,this seems to have worried the US which began a counter offensive strategy of criticizing the Chinese economic model and its relevance to Africa. Well, China’s growing role in is both an opportunity and a threat to Africa. Indeed, Western narrative characterizes China as a new imperialist power in Africa. Not just the content but even the tone of this characterization can resemble the emanations from China hawks in the United States. Clearly, Africa has emerged as the major battle ground for the US and China. The growing involvement of China in Africa feeds into the new military profile of the US. The increasing interest in the continent’s energy resources, manifested for example in the growing importance of the Gulf of Guinea further threatens to compound an already fragmented diplomatic terrain.

Military and political measures aside, the US has recently come out with the so-called African Consensus designed to be an alternative to the so-called Beijing Consensus, which was meant to unite Africa with China economically and politically in exchange of investments and other financial help. The US is planning to take further steps to create new instruments and institutions in a bid to strengthen the African Consensus as a major mechanism to check the growing economic influence of China in Africa. Compounding this is US aggressive diplomacy aimed at several African countries. The US refocuses its efforts on developing African partnerships in order to further establish itself as a valued international partner different from China. Until the U.S. gets to accept China as legitimate competitor and partner relations between the two will remain fundamentally insecure.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 Peace and Security 42 Comments

“Creative Chaos” and the War in Libya

The recent events in the Arab world were influenced directly by a powerful and well organized external force. And it is not totally unrelated to some grand strategies. The importance of the Arab world for strategic interests of the West is hard to estimate. When for the first time the word ‘creative chaos’ was heard, it was from the former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an attempt of transforming Middle East to a ‘new’ Middle East. This creativity worked almost a decade to get the desired results. Western military strikes in Libya wouldn’t solve the problem as the pro Western Libyan camp is divided and inefficient to bring stability and order to the country and its neighborhood.  The ouster of Colonel Ghadafi from power may not herald the beginning of a new era. Unless credible political process is put in place the end of Ghadafi could mean the beginning of a new cycle of conflict and violence. The bottom line: NATO campaign is perverse. Military solutions are not sustainable and cause suffering. Besides, only the Libyan people should determine their own future and choose their own leaders. My readers will know that I am far from squeamish about the war and the end of the Ghadafi regime. I have several questions about the intent of NATO and the West, but my real concern is whether this is a low-cost, politically appropriate measure.

Monday, September 19th, 2011 Peace and Security 30 Comments

Afghan Drugs and Fragility in Eastern Africa

A major change in the global drug trade is taking place. A report published by the United Nations office on drugs and crime/UNODC/ in late July 2011 has drawn unprecedented international attention to Eastern Africa’s role as an intermediary in the drug trade between Afghanistan and Western Europe.

Some African law- enforcement officers are deeply concerned by the likely effects of the drug trade and drug money on their own societies, and indeed there is evidence that drug money may be funding criminal and political groups. Diplomats and other international officials worry that some African countries could develop along similar lines to other Latin American countries especially Mexico, where drug gangs have a symbiotic relationship with political parties and with the state and drug-related violence results in thousands of deaths every year.

There is an urgent need to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan. So far the main focus has been for drugs coming from Latin America. The obsessions of the US with the drugs originating from the Americas have blurred the attention that should have been given to other drug trafficking and exporting regions. Nobody denies the threat from Latin America, but dealing with the threat of drugs from Afghanistan is equally immediate and important.

Monday, August 15th, 2011 Peace and Security 12 Comments

On the Crisis in Libya

Picks from Oliver Takwa

The crisis in Libya marks the first large scale bombings by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization/NATO/ in the African continent. It also heralded the first major military operation in Africa by the New US Africa Command or AFRICOM. Besides, Libya became the first major African crisis in which the African Union/AU/ became a mere spectator, unable to play a significant role. Again, the crisis in Libya epitomizes, perhaps for the first time, that the Maghreb has become the center of attention for political and armed conflicts in the continent.
Like NATO, AFRICOM’s function is that of every predatory military power: The threat and use of armed violence to gain economic and geopolitical advantages. Nothing more, nothing less. Whatever methods and motivations might have been displayed by Western powers two things have remained constant in their approaches to African conflicts. The first is the assumption that African regional organizations are incapable of resolving their own problems. The second is that, they- the Westerners- have all the solutions to whatever ails the continent. It is up to the AU to prove them wrong.

I hope this will trigger African responses and comments

Saturday, May 21st, 2011 Peace and Security 160 Comments

The AU and the Crisis in Libya: Reclaiming the Game

Alice Kamba

The future of Libya as an African country should only be determined with the active participation of Africans represented by the AU and only by peaceful means through establishing a direct political dialogue between the two belligerents. This is the widely held view in Africa.  If the AU believed that Western military intervention is bad for Libya, it should have said so and adamantly oppose the move in a serious and consistent manner. If it had thought that  the underlying objective of NATO is corporate interest and the possession of Libya’s oil reserves, as argued by many analysts, then it should have been steadfast in its opposition of the plan from the beginning and mobilize support against the military intervention. It failed to do all that in the earliest convenient time possible.

A confused position is not what you would expect from the AU-and certainly not a silence when Western military powers were preparing the pounding of Libyan cities. The AU, as a body with the primary responsibility to attend to peace and security issues in Africa should not have allowed itself to be outsmarted and outmaneuvered by Western nations bent on promoting their parochial economic and political agendas to take the issue of Libya into their own hands. It was not until late February that an emergency meeting of the AU’s Peace and Security Council sent a mission to investigate the situation in Libya.  Many are calling on African leaders to rethink the way the AU operates, review their ways and demonstrate strong commitment to fending the continent from disastrous external military interventions in the name of democracy and fundamental rights.

Have your say

Monday, April 18th, 2011 Peace and Security 132 Comments

Who is responsible for the Crisis in Ivory Coast? Gbagbo or Regional Diplomacy

Ivory Coast is descending into anarchy and regional diplomacy is partly to blame. Minor procedural issues aside, Laurent Gbagbo has lost the elections and this should have been communicated in clear terms by all international actors. Above all, the AU should have taken a clear position on the elections. Laurent Gbagbo is clinging to power after rejecting the results of the presidential elections, as declared by the Independent Electoral Commission, certified by the UN, and recognized by the international community designating Alassane Ouattara as the clear winner. The UN shouldn’t have allowed Gbagbo’s supporters to hijack the state media. There was an urgent need for all West African States to stand in unison against Gbagbo. The AU should have been in a position to out rightly condemn human rights violations as well.

Hesitations by some African countries, particularly from members of the Southern African Development Community/SADC/energized Gbagbo to continue evade international calls to handover power.Despite the hyped talk of democracy and good governance,most African leaders operate on the assumption that it is better to preserve the statusquo.  So why are Africa’s regional organizations and their Panel of Eminent Persons treating the crisis in Ivory Coast in a manner that is shortsighted and wrong-footed? The answer is simple. Continental diplomacy is compromised by the calculations of regime security and deep sympathy towards an incumbent. The AU Mediation Team tried to drag the process backwards and contemplated the idea of a National Unity Government. This sent the wrong message to Gbagbo and his support base, a tiny but vociferous and agitated minority. Rigging elections and refusal to accept electoral defeat has become the easiest way to power sharing.

The tragedy is that Africa is slowly moving backwards pursuing agendas that often do not end up promoting peace and security. Africa’s regional organizations lack the power and tools to be able to impose their will. But on this particular case, it is not clear what the will contains.

Saturday, March 12th, 2011 Peace and Security 67 Comments

A Puzziling Episode

Just as all political problems have historical foundations, the Sudan has one.

Kaguta’s ‘the present as history’ political analysis on Sudan is accurate. The year 1898 was the year that British occupation and subjugation of Sudan became irrevocable. It also heralded the beginning of the real problems of the country. During the same year, the British and the French concluded an agreement in Europe which made the French pull out of the South Sudan region handing over its portion of South Sudan to the same authorities who were already in control of North Sudan. This fateful decision resulted in decades of civil war and incessant political crisis. In Kaguta’s view, British colonial history made Sudan what it is. This is reasonably accurate.

As much as the British are responsible for what is happening in Sudan, the country’s political elite didn’t fare any better. That, the British are responsible for what is happening in Sudan is not doubted. What scares me most is, nobody-not least African leaders-not a single one mentions this. The British are in no mood for apology and compensation, not least because they are being allowed to get away with the mess they have created. Not to mention they are being asked by the AU High Level Panel and the Troika to extend their generous help to resolve the mess. The reality is that we are not any closer to independent foreign policy making than we ever were, and it has been too long.

Monday, December 6th, 2010 Peace and Security 138 Comments