“Africa is a Command” – Bush to Obama to Trump

By electing President Obama we got through with race and became post-racial.  Now that we have elected Trump we are surely done with “political correctness”, so lets us speak plainly.  What is “Africa” as seen from Washington?
Well, surely Africa is a playground for so many characters, but that is nothing new at all, and we don’t really like to focus on that.  From Trump children big game hunting to politically engaged ministers and ex-diplomats involved in unusual investment schemes, Africa abides.  With election campaigns to run and autocrats to lobby for in Washington.  And missions and aid and economic investment programs continuing apace with varying degrees of pep and power in accordance with the visions and priorities of policy makers.

The thing that is new from U.S. vantage in this century is the overriding common legacy of the Bush and Obama administrations: AFRICOM (recognizing that the new command was primarily planned by the Bush Administration but did not “stand up” until Obama was almost in office).

I never had strong opinions about whether having a separate combatant command for Africa would be better or worse than than the status quo under CENTCOM, et al, that existed in my time working in Kenya and Somaliand in 2007-08.  It has escaped my attention if there are many Americans who see our policies in Africa during the Cold War as a highlight of our better angels, and I think on balance our aspirations for our relations in Africa in this century are higher than back in the past; nonetheless, largely staying out of Africa directly with our own military during the the Cold War and its initial aftermath may have reduced risks that are now potentially at play.

I think it is fair to say that ten years in the December 2006 Ethiopian operation to remove the ICU in Somalia with our support has not over time convinced all skeptics.  In fairness, perhaps, as with the French Revolution, it is still too early to tell.

So did having AFRICOM as a separate combatant command from late 2008 (with a new “whole-of-government” flavor and hardwired entre for USAID and State Department involvement) result in wiser judgment and better execution in terms of US national security and/or related and ancillary command objectives in recent years?

It is hard to judge because it is a big command (aside from the answer being, in substance, classified) but the experience with regard to the Libya intervention in particular is not altogether encouraging.

Would having CENTCOM engaged from Tampa rather than AFRICOM from Stuttgart have made a difference in some way to our consideration of intervention and our planning-perhaps more hard questions initially to Washington from a more “war wary” perspective as opposed to input from an entity with the bureaucratic equivalent of the “new car smell”?  [If inexperience was not a factor, what do we need to change to avoid future repetition if we agree that something went wrong on Libya?]

One way or the other, Trump takes office with AFRICOM at his command, a vast range of relatively small training interactions of a primarily “military diplomatic” nature all over, large exercises and larger programs with many militaries, active limited and largely low profile (from outside) “kinetic” operations  across a wide “arc of instability” and the war in Somalia with a new legal opinion, for what its worth, tying the fight against al Shabaab more explicitly to 9-11 and al Queda.  Along with a real live emergency in South Sudan and several other critical situations from a humanitarian and stability perspective.

I have declined to be persuaded by a dark view of the intentions behind standing up AFRICOM (versus the status  quo ante and any realistic alternatives).  Perhaps this is merely self protective since I am, after all, American, but also worked for much longer in the defense industry than my brief foray in paid assistance work.  But it is my attempt at honest judgment from my own experience.  Regardless, we are where we are, and Donald Trump will be giving the orders at the top to AFRICOM and whatever anyone had in mind, the fact that it is a military command rather than a civilian agency makes a great deal of difference in terms of the latitude that he inherited along with possession of the American White House.

Needless to say I hope it turns out that he has a yuge heart and bigly wisdom however fanciful that hope might look from what he has said and done so far.

My Memorial Day post: If a President Al Gore had invaded Iraq in 2003 with the support of Sen. Hillary Clinton . . .

all the current GOP presidential candidates would agree now that it was a foolish act of hubris given that the administration had in hindsight clearly been shown to have simply not known what they were doing.

I am not now nor have I even been a member of the Democratic party.  I worked in the defense industry throughout the whole bloody course of the Iraq war.  I even voted for George W Bush that first time in 2000 even though I knew deep down he had very thin, maybe too thin, experience on foreign and national security policy.  (In my defense I will say that I don’t think I should have been expected to know how strongly opposed many of his most senior advisers and subsequent appointees would turn out to be to the values he expressed in seeking our votes in his campaign that year.)

I certainly did not wish him to fail, nor did I wish the harm experienced by my country or by Iraq and its region from that decision but I cannot pretend it away.  It seems to me to be deeply misconceived for citizens of a democratic republic to create an “identity politics” around the competition of parties to the point of transcending a larger patriotism, moral and spiritual values, even the ability to observe and process basic facts.  Over 4000 Americans and over 100000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the Iraq war and the pre-ISIS aftermath and no one who wants to be the “leader of the free world” can plausibly duck an assessment of this war, of our choice, because of the identify of the party of the Commander in Chief at the time.

Part of the reason I took leave from my job and moved my family to East Africa in 2007 to work on democracy assistance is that I had seen how badly we were screwing up our relationships in the world by having embraced a doctrine of “preemptive war” that traditionally might have been seen as unworthy of our national ethos by both “hawks” and “doves” of other generations.  And how our biggest democracy assistance program, by far, was going in Iraq were it was in many respects too late in the wake of the invasion, as opposed to places like Kenya and Somaliland that were not at war where we had a bona fide opportunity to make a positive contribution.  The suspicions and damaged credibility of our country made the work more challenging even among those inclined to a positive view of our aspirations.

Other than the “moral injury” to our country as a whole, the Iraq war did me no personal harm–my taxes didn’t go up so my kids presumably get stuck with the bill, although it might cramp my Social Security and Medicare down the road.  I worked primarily in Navy shipbuilding, on which going to war or not going to war had relatively little business impact; we didn’t build more or less ships than we would have if we had not gone into Iraq from 2003-11.  Before we launched the invasion I was convinced by a senior friend in the industry who had been a naval officer that the sectarian situation in Iraq was beyond our grasp and I did not see the decision to launch the war as anything other than a huge risk that would have been warranted only by an extreme immediate threat which the Iraqi regime simply did not pose by any reasoned assessment.

But here at home now my dry cleaner is an Iraqi Christian.  Before we invaded, he was a medical doctor, a specialist, in his country, as was his wife.  He runs the cleaners himself six days a week, but will be closed and with his family for Memorial Day.  I’ll think of him with gratitude that he was able to get here and for the relative safety and freedom he has here, but with sadness that we elected to reach for the war hammer rather than have the patience to continue to turn the diplomatic screw in 2003 and in so doing upended his life, that of his family and community and his country.  (See Waiting for An Ordinary Day: The Unraveling of Life in Iraq by Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi, excerpted here.  A must read, to accompany all the war and political reporting, on life for middle class Iraqis following the invasion, for those who want to learn from the war.)

I will mourn those Americans who gave their lives for the endeavor, especially those young people who volunteered out of patriotism to protect our country in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.  The rest of us collectively let them down and the very least that is required of us now is to learn from their sacrifice and do better together whatever our preferences of party or domestic ideology.

I will also be thinking with gratitude of my uncle who volunteered for the Navy in World War II as a 17 year old on the family farm after Pearl Harbor, made it home from the Pacific and is still with us at 90.  He he told me years ago that he did not believe we had any business taking it on ourselves to invade Iraq to change the regime without the support of the United Nations that we created with our allies in the wake of that war that he and his “greatest generation” fought at high but shared cost.  And his grandson, serving in the Air Force now, with his own young son.  Let us use his service wisely, with a judicious and open debate over what we ask him to do for us, being honest enough with ourselves to learn from the experiences that have cost the lives of others.
 

 

 

Democracy International Observers express pessimistic realism ahead of Egyptian vote

I had missed this last week   I thought it was very much worth noting in terms of what election observation missions can do to add clarity before a vote.

“Mass Death Sentences, Arrests and Crackdowns: Why Egypt’s Elections Are Already in Trouble” from BuzzFeed, May 13:

United States election observers say they are pessimistic about Egypt’s chances of holding free and democratic elections in two weeks, the first time that an international monitoring group has spoken up to criticize Egypt’s presidential elections.

Democracy International, a U.S.–based NGO has had a team on the ground for weeks, said the widespread arrest of Egyptian activists, a crackdown on protest groups, and mass death sentences were all signs that Egypt’s elections, slated for May 26–27, can hardly be part of the “democratic roadmap” that the White House has required of Egypt in exchange for releasing aid.

“The environment for political participation is not as you would hope would be the case in a democratic transition,” said Dan Murphy, the director of elections and political processes for Democracy International. Last month, U.S. officials announced they would resume some military aid to Egypt, following a previous decision to withhold aid until the country made progress on a “democratic roadmap.” The decision to restore aid was criticized by many diplomats and observers, who said the decision was “baffling” considering Egypt’s current human rights record.

U.S. officials have expressed hope that following this month’s presidential elections, billions of dollars in aid will be once again delivered to Egypt. They have said that following the elections, the White House will determine whether Egypt is pursuing a democratic roadmap that would see a inclusive, pluralistic political environment.

According to the observers who have already been on the ground for weeks, Egypt’s current state of affairs is hardly a transition toward democracy.

.  .  .  .

There have been no debates, and very few public forums in which Egyptians can educate themselves about the upcoming vote, according to Democracy International, a private U.S.–based NGO funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which operates in more than 60 countries. The group recently took part in monitoring Egypt’s national referendum on a new constitution, of which they expressed “serious concerns” about the political climate, which they said virtually guaranteed a yes vote.

“There was no real opportunity for those opposed to the government’s roadmap or the proposed constitution to dissent,” read a statement released days after the vote, citing “a backdrop of arrests and detention of dissenting voices.”

Murphy said the Democracy International team was currently in Egypt to see if any of the recommendations issued following the referendum vote had been heeded. At the moment, he added, there was a great deal of concern.

“Have some of these problems, which we cited in the referendum gotten better at all? Have any of our recommendations been heeded? Is there space for people with dissenting views to participate in debate more than after referendum process? At the moment we are very concerned that this is not the case,” said Murphy.

Democracy International and a team led by the European Union are the two largest foreign groups set to monitor the presidential vote. Both groups are already on the ground . . . .

.  .  .  .

“Competition for Military Superiority” between Uganda and Kenya not a sign of political maturity

British Helicopter

British Helicopter at base near Nanyuki

 

The Daily Nation reports on new data on Ugandan and Kenyan defense spending from SIPRI, “Arms race hots up in East Africa”:

Competition for military superiority in the East African Community has seen Uganda’s arms expenditure surpass Kenya’s for the first time this year, a new global arms report shows.

Kampala spent US$1.02 billion (Sh83 billion) — much more than Kenya’s US$735 million (Sh61 billion), the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) says. The institute does research into conflict and arms control.

The most advanced

In particular, Uganda’s acquisition of six SU-30MK Russian jets is said to have elevated its air force to one of the most advanced in East and Central Africa.

The reasons for the increased budget, according to the report, include competition for regional military superiority, especially with Kenya, and the threat of a spillover from potential conflict between Sudan and South Sudan.

Others included the operation in Somalia against Al-Shabaab where the region’s armies, including Kenya’s, are fighting under the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom), and against Joseph Kony’s rebels in the DR Congo are quoted as reasons for Uganda’s ballooning military expenditure.

The friction with Kenya over Migingo Island almost sparked a confrontation and this is also cited as justification for more military spending by Kampala.

Kenya’s military expenditure has also been going up in the last decade. The country spent only Sh14 billion on the military in 2000 compared to more than Sh60 billion today.  .  .  .

There are plenty of positive opportunities for competition and national pride within the East African Community, but acquisition of military hardware in support of governing egos is not something that is affordable for either country in the context of need, and supports the temptations of saber rattling for political gamesmanship.  Any type of military confrontation within the EAC would be an absurd tragedy.  Since the U.S. and our European allies are heavily engaged in interacting with the Ugandan and Kenyan militaries, perhaps we can be positively influential in dissuading this type of behavior in conjunction with our support for less tangible types of political reform.

A little Kenyan-American history: Kissinger, Waiyaki, Kibaki; getting the F-5s, safaris and slums

History–Kenyatta, the Kenyan military and GSU; origins of U.S. military assistance

More Kenyan-American diplomatic history: Kenyatta’s health and succession; status of whites; military assistance

New Report on Uganda’s Defense Spending Plans

A release on businesswire.com highlights a report from consultants BMI on Uganda’s expected defense budget in coming years:

In 2010, BMI estimates that Uganda’s defence spending totalled US$450mn, up 37.21% from US$328mn in 2009. Per capita spending is still very low by global standards, at US$13.30. Defence expenditure was equal to 2.3% of GDP, a normal level for developed countries but quite low compared to some other African countries. Defence accounted for 12.9% of government spending, high by developed country standards, if not those of emerging markets in unstable regions. Therefore the expenditure reflects the small size and moderate level of development of the Ugandan economy, as well as the country’s military commitments.

In 2011, BMI expects defence spending to grow more slowly in nominal dollar terms, growing 4.72% to US$471mn, or US$13.50 per capita. In constant price terms, this represents a drop of 3%, though as a proportion of government expenditure, defence will rise to 13.4%.

Over the forecast period, as Uganda’s economy grows, and with regional risks and Uganda’s position as a military power in the region increasing, BMI expects defence spending to rise rapidly, peaking at 36.52% growth in 2014 in nominal dollar terms.

Uganda is therefore likely to follow the trend seen across Africa of heavy investment in military capacity over the coming years, with defence a major government priority. The wave of investment will taper down in the second half of this decade as the army takes delivery of new equipment, but growth will still remain relatively high. By 2019, we expect defence expenditure to total US$2.150bn, or US$47.89 per head still low by rich country standards, and remaining at 2.3% of GDP, but accounting for a huge 23.6% of government spending.
. . . .
Gen Aronda Nyakairima, Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces said that Ugandan troops are now able to participate in international peacekeeping missions, a signal of intent that the country, while still relatively poor, is ready to make its presence felt internationally, including theatres outside East Africa. Kampala has shown itself to be increasingly willing to step in to protect its interests and fight militants. Its armed forces, having had a considerable amount of success against the LRA, can be considered among East Africa’s strongest.

Internally, tensions have been rising in the run-up to 2011 elections. Some fear the army could intervene in the polls, and even that the military sees itself as an extension of the ruling party due to the latters militaristic policies. Therefore concerns have been raised that the army could intervene on the governments side in a disputed election, which could potentially lead to an escalation in violence and damage Uganda’s international reputation. After Kenya’s troubled 2007 election, there are serious concerns about the potential for political violence in Uganda, as an entrenched government faces a fractious and frustrated opposition.

AFRICOM and the “Whale of Government” Approach? [Updated]

Ok, maybe it’s tilapia instead of whale, but I thought this blog post from AFRICOM public affairs was worth a look:

By Dace Mahanay, Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University graduate student

Note: Dace Mahanay is currently interning with the Borlaug Institute on an AFRICOM agriculture project in Kisangani, DRC. He is sending periodic blogs detailing the project’s progress.

At Camp Base, just outside of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture continues to work with Agriculture Company (AgCo), a company of Congolese soldiers (Forces Armes de la Republique Democratique du Congo, widely known as FARDC), in an effort to provide sustainable methods of food production for the training center and U.S.-trained light infantry battalion. From fish farming to the cultivation of cassava, the needs of soldiers are being met in a sustainable way that is positive for the future of Camp Base and the community of Kisangani as a whole.

The last few weeks have been an exciting time for the agricultural project. A fish farming expert from the U.S. visited the project and provided valuable recommendations for increased production of tilapia and African catfish. The first batch of harvestable tilapia will be ready in the next couple of months and will be an excellent source of protein for FARDC soldiers.

The President’s new development policy invokes a “whole of government” approach, and I did learn last week about some encouraging specifics in coordination, such as the fact that the MCC has, for the first time, executed an actual Memorandum of Understanding with USAID. Nonetheless, if AFRICOM as a military combatant command, is going to be leading agricultural projects in places where we are not openly militarily engaged except in “permanent” and ongoing training and related activities, what are the lines between civilian and military? Between defense/security/diplomacy and development/agriculture assistance?

It sounds like a great program from an agricultural standpoint. Also sounds like it gets into areas that could involve unintended consequences if all the local circumstances are not well understood.

Update: Here is a story raising the issue of reports of rape and murder by the Congolese army:

Government troops are raping, killing and robbing civilians in the same area of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where militias carried out mass rapes more than two months ago, a top United Nations envoy said.

Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for UN efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, told the Security Council that UN peacekeepers have received reports of rapes, killings and looting by government soldiers.

“The possibility that the same communities who were brutalised in July and August by FDLR and Mai Mai elements are now also suffering [at the hands of the army] is unimaginable and unacceptable,” she said, referring to the Rwandan-led rebels from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda.