AFRICOM is Everywhere

Nick Turse wrote up a report last month detailing some of the U.S. Africa Command’s presence in Africa, some of which is widely known, much of which is more opaque. The whole thing is worth a read, but here is a snippet:

Here, however, is the reality as we know it today.  Over the last several years, the U.S. has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles.  Meanwhile, an airbase in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, serves as the home of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as of the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative.  According to military documents, that “initiative” supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara.  U.S. Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch also mention the deployment to Chad of an ISR liaison team.  And according to Sam Cooks, a liaison officer with the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has 29 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers. 

AFRICOM is also engaging in a lot of humanitarian-like activity, leaving USAID and the State Department in its wake as it launches numerous programs across the continent. More from Turse:

When I spoke with Chris Gatz of the Army Corps of Engineers, the first projects he mentioned and the only ones he seemed eager to talk about were those for African nations.  This year, $6.5 million in projects had been funded when we spoke and of that, the majority were for “humanitarian assistance” or HA construction projects, mostly in Togo and Tunisia, and “peacekeeping” operations in Ghana and Djibouti.

[Wayne] Uhl [chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers] talked about humanitarian projects, too.  “HA projects are small, difficult, challenging for the Corps of Engineers to accomplish at a low, in-house cost… but despite all this, HA projects are extremely rewarding,” he said.  “The appreciation expressed by the locals is fantastic.”  He then drew attention to another added benefit: “Each successful project is a photo opportunity.”

All this reminds me of is this money-quote from Adam Branch’s book on humanitarian intervention in northern Uganda. Citing correspondence with an anthropologist working in Kitgum, Branch discusses a U.S. Army training exercise in that town. I won’t add commentary, because it really speaks for itself:

As a public relations officer at the American camp set up during the operation put it, “We want people to see the military as something other than soldiers. In the U.S. soldiers are seen as heroes. In Uganda they have much more fear, so we are trying to change that image. The intention is to blur the demarcations between civilian and military.” This is a frightening testament to the militarization of U.S. society, in which exporting American values now becomes equated with exporting the U.S. military.

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US Ramps Up Counter-LRA Operations

Last night, news came out that the Obama administration is doubling down on the efforts to help hunt down the top commanders of the LRA. According to the Washington Post:

At least four CV-22 Osprey aircraft will arrive in Uganda by midweek, along with refueling aircraft and about 150 Air Force Special Forces and other airmen to fly and maintain the planes.

For those who’ve been following this for a long time, 100 special force advisers were sent to Uganda in 2011 to help track down the LRA. This recent news is a huge increase in troop commitment and in other material.

So far, the U.S. presence there has helped implement safe reporting sites and coordinate defection messaging efforts, including dropping fliers and flying helicopters with speakers to encourage LRA rebels to surrender. The presence has also helped bolster the Ugandan security sector and further militarized central Africa, though it may have had an effect in monitoring UPDF abuses.

The Ospreys are on loan from a base in Djibouti, where they have been under Centcom control. Africom is borrowing them for counter-LRA efforts, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they were there on standby in a region where more and more problems are arising. The Ospreys were already active in the region, attempting to respond when South Sudan descended into chaos in December.

The buried lede is that Kony and the LRA aren’t the only (or maybe not even the main) reason to send troops to Uganda:

The LRA poses no threat to the United States, but the administration sees assistance to the A.U. mission as a useful way to build military and political partnerships with African governments in a region where al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are rapidly expanding, as well as to demonstrate adherence to human rights principles.

African Studies and Militarization

Last month, an article by David Wiley, “Militarizing Africa and African Studies and the U.S. Africanist Response,” [gated] appeared in African Studies Review. It’s an important look at what Africanist scholars face in an increasingly militarized field. The piece examines how area studies programs initially developed during the Cold War (for a quick look at that, read this) and how many scholars dealt with attempts to militarize their field. He discusses how there were some scholars in all area studies who were involved in policy-making, but that many were critical of American interventionist policies. Africanists were actually late to the game in this, Wiley explains, but once they did organize against U.S. foreign involvement, (in the 70s, in Angola and South Africa), it was strong and resolute.

Africanists had a lot to criticize in U.S. Africa policy, from backing dictators to arming rebels to assassinating democratically elected leaders. In an effort to gain favor, the Defense Intelligence Agency offered four Title VI universities (there are 11 universities with African Studies programs that receive funds from the Department of Education, among other Title VI centers for other areas) large amounts of funds to work with the government, an offer which they refused. Beyond that, the directors of all of the Title VI National Resource Centers for Africa voted not to apply for or accept any military or intelligence funding in 1982, and in 2008 reaffirmed that position, stating that:

We believe that the long-term interests of the people of the U.S. are best served by this separation between academic and military and defense establishments. Indeed, in the climate of the post–Cold War years in Africa and the security concerns after 9/11/2001, we believe that it is a patriotic policy to make this separation. This separation ensures that U.S. students and faculty researchers can maintain close ties with African researchers and affiliation with and access to African institutions without question or bias. Such separation, we believe, can produce the knowledge and understanding of Africa that serves the broad interests of the people of the United States as well as our partners in Africa.

At the same time, the Association of African Studies Programs also voted to reject military and intelligence funding for programs, and argued that no scholar or program should accept funding from those sources. But while these acts of independence began in the midst of the Cold War, and were reaffirmed in the context of U.S. involvement in the Global War on Terror and in Iraq, things have shifted in the last few years. With AFRICOM coming onto the field with it’s whole-of-government approach, Africanists have faced a growing threat in the militarization of academic scholarship. Wiley gives a long list of examples of AFRICOM’s actions on the ground:

  • Establishing Camp Lemonier in Djibouti as the base for AFRICOM and allied military units, in addition to ~2000 personnel in Stuttgart, Molesworth, and MacDill AFB
  • Establishing the Social Science Research Council in Stuttgart and supporting the Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team to provide troops with cultural knowledge.
  • Creating an AFRICOM liason unit at AU headquarters in Ethiopia
  • Building a CIA operations base in Somalia with prison, planes, and counterterrorism training for Somali intelligence agents.
  • Establishing bases in Seychelles, Djibouti, and Ethiopia for drones.
  • Expanding intelligence operations with private contractors.
  • Expanding U.S. Special Operations teams in countries without government permission (apparently based on a 2010 directive by Gen. Petraeus.
  • Training hundreds of African military officers at conferences.
  • Mounting AFRICOM-led operations in Libya and Somalia
  • Providing 100 troops to work with Central African armies in an anti-LRA campaign.
  • Increasing the number of army personnel stationed in Africa by 3000 in Central Africa, Mali, and Somalia.

In addition to all of this, AFRICOM’s whole-of-government approach has included engaging in both diplomatic and development work on top of traditional military duties. While some hail this as a more integrated approach, it also blurs the lines between military and non-military actors. As a result, State Department officials and USAID personnel, and even non-governmental aid workers, are being viewed as part of America’s military involvement in Africa.

While this was all occurring in Africa, in the United States the field of African Studies has faced a similarly forceful push of militarization. Wiley notes an “unprecedented surge of funding for studying Africa and African languages in the DOD, in intelligence agencies, and in military-focused higher education institutions.” He also estimates that “funding for the study of Africa in U.S. security agencies now exceeds that of American universities probably by a factor of fifty, perhaps more,” despite the fact that universities offer more languages and better instruction. On top of all of this, DoD also sponsors three programs to fund the study of Africa in civilian institutions: the National Security Education Program, the Minerva Research Initiative, and Human Terrain Systems (I worked briefly on a Minerva project while I was a fellow at ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and wrote about it and Human Terrain Teams here).

All of these programs are well-funded projects of the Defense Department, while the U.S. Department of Education cut 46% of Title VI area studies centers (including the 11 Africa universities), with the government favoring area and language study programs run by DoD. In addition to this, the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Disseration Abroad and Faculty Research Abroad programs were suspended in 2011 and the Summer Cooperative African Language Institute was cancelled in 2012. With non-military funding opportunities shrinking, scholars (and students) are facing a dilemma in how to acquire funds to carry out research and teaching.

In this time of austerity, especially at public universities, there is a growing sense that civilian agency funding is collapsing and military and intelligence funding increasingly is the “only game in town.” As a result, two university African centers and linguists in two other universities that have Title VI Africa centers (with the dissent of their African center faculty), have taken funding for African language instruction programs from the DOD’s NSEP.

Africanist scholars are beginning to fall under the control of the military as DoD-funded projects dictate what they study, where they do research, and what questions they ask. From here, things will only get worse. Title VI universities are already worried about Foreign Language and Area Studies funding suffering even more egregious cuts (FLAS grants arrive in three-year packages, and the current round of funding expires next summer), and other sources of funding will also be disappearing if Congress continues to cut funding (one needs only to peruse the Department of Education grants site to see how many programs have been suspended or cancelled). Wiley paints a sad picture of where area studies programs stand now, and the possible future we might find ourselves in. If the military controls more and more funding for higher education, our colleges, scholars, and students will have less options. As DoD annexes the social sciences and humanities, will the leading African Studies programs in the country be able to maintain their independence from military control? Or will all researchers and students trying to work in the region be following the army’s orders?