"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.09.2009

meddlesome monday

Well, this weekend we learned that the new United States African Command (you know, the new military command that can't convince any African country (save tiny, not-close-to-the-Gulf-of-Aden Liberia!) to actually house in Africa) is off to a rousing start in its efforts to interfere, I mean, support African militaries in their missions to spread democracy and peace.

Seems seventeen or so American military personnel went out to Kampala to plan and finance the oh-so-professional Ugandan army in its effort to rout out the Lord's Resistance Army, a particularly nasty rebel group that's now hiding out in the Congo. As is wont to happen in central Afrique, things didn't quite go as planned. In fact, they went so poorly that when the LRA did what it always does (run and rape and/or kill everyone in their path), the Ugandan army was not in position to protect Congolese civilians, 900 of whom were killed by the LRA as it fled. Those would be Congolese civilians who have no connection whatsoever to the LRA's beef with Uganda; their families just happen to live in the wrong place in the wrong century.

Oops.

America's post-Cold War military mission in sub-Saharan Africa happens to have been the subject of my master's thesis. What you can learn from that auspicious work is that our focus since we figured out we needed to have a focus has been to build capacity of African militaries to do their own peacekeeping and routing out of troublemakers. Oh, and we want to keep terrorists from hiding out on the continent. Which is why we needed the Africa Command in the first place.

Unfortunately, the number of people in the American military and civilian command structures who really understand African politics and civil-military dynamics is pretty limited. African security policy has never been a priority for the United States government and policy in that area tends to be made without reference to an understanding of regional dynamics (or how mad our actions make the French).

While there are plenty of good people working for AFRICOM, this latest endeavor suggests that the lessons of the past have not been learned. Something as basic as civilian protection should've been considered from the beginning of planning, and no one should have assumed that the Ugandans would take care of that side of the operation without prompting.

But, hey. Third time's a charm, right? Then again, Susan Rice is back in power, which is never a good thing for Africa policy.

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