Business Day (Johannesburg)

14 February 2007

Africa: Why U.S.'s Africom Will Hurt Africa

opinion

Johannesburg — GOVERNMENTS protect their interests in various ways, but the US has opted to increase its military presence in Africa through the creation of a military command post, known as Africom.

Rational decisions about access to oil resources and geostrategic regions such as the Horn of Africa and the Middle East dominate US foreign policy decisions. The continent that must host Africom is characterised by a vulnerability to globalisation and identity politics. It is therefore disturbing to note that democracy, health, education, economic growth and development are being tied to military interests. Why would the military improve these services? The war in Iraq has proven that military might does not produce compliance or acquiescence within a region or a country.

Neither could the military create conditions under which democracy could grow and flourish. Much has been done in the name of democracy that has resulted in destabilisation and destruction of the host country, a process not easily reversed.

The expansion of an American strategic geopolitical military base on the continent will worsen many of the problems Africa has at present. The planned US military presence, possibly in Addis Ababa, is most likely a counterpoint to China's economic expansion in Africa, inducing déjâ-vu about Cold War tensions in Africa.

US oil interests and the "war on terror" lie behind the most recent plans, as Africom in Ethiopia would provide the US with a launch pad into the Middle East and the volatile Horn, also marked as a haven for "terrorists". Africom's presence in Ethiopia would raise that country's profile internationally but at the same time jeopardise its relations with its immediate neighbours and the rest of the continent.

Africom is meant to bring peace and security to the people of Africa, and promote common goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth. These are commendable ideals, but they are unilateral in their origin and their attachment to a military base or institutional framework leaves much to be desired. More importantly, as a result of military activity, whether it is foreign or local, a militarised community emerges.

Military bases in Asia and South America have produced a culture and economy that are focused on servicing and serving that base. Local women and men become militarised as they seek ways and means to survive and thrive in the presence of the military base.

Militarisation is not only about protecting interests and resources, but also about the militarisation of a society that yields a particular type of social relations, which entrench unequal relations between women and men. The military and its business are hyper-masculine, heterosexual and based on power-wielding institutions that support the military apparatus. Increased poverty and patriarchal cultural practices continue to disadvantage especially women in all spheres of their daily lives. Both women's and men's lives are structured to support the military institution in particular ways that worsen these differences.

As a result, a political culture emerges in which a country resorts to conflict resolution through military means, where masculinity in the military is favoured, and where women become vulnerable as a result of the increased presence of militaristic ideals and practices.

Military bases bring unsustainable economic development to the area in which they are established. In countries where unemployment is rife and where most of the unemployed are women, sex work becomes a necessity when women and men need to feed their families. This results in local women and men becoming more vulnerable and dependent on a patriarchal system for their daily subsistence.

In the light of the above, it is necessary for Africans to oppose the expansion of US military power on the continent. Debates will emerge about Africom's interests, manoeuvres and probable outcomes, but we should also examine the potential social, economic and political destabilisation of an already vulnerable continent.

The African Union and the Peace and Security Council were established to entrench democracy, create economic development and monitor and secure peace but have not been allowed to develop and mature enough to deal with the continent's problems. Africa does not need another US base aimed at "promoting" peace and development. Africom would destabilise an already fragile continent and region, which would be forced to engage with US interests on military terms.

Ruiters is a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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