US not furthering their interests in Africa? Don’t be naive

“…Along with Latin America, West Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing sources of oil and gas for the American market…”

National Energy Policy Report, Office of the Vice President Richard Cheney, May 16, 2001

The Kony 2012 viral video – so far, this year’s biggest – focused so much attention on Uganda that its prime minister was obliged to post a response. It looks scripted but he seems less than impressed.

A striking feature of the Kony 2012 campaign is the line:

Everyone we spoke to in Washington said there’s no way the United States would ever get involved in a conflict where our national security or financial interests aren’t at stake.

The US’s track record in Africa makes this assertion naїve at best.

In 2007 George W Bush created the Department of Defence Unified Combatant Command for Africa (“AFRICOM”). It became fully operational in 2008. British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan provides an interesting insight into the birth of AFRICOM and the expansion of the war on terror into Africa.

AFRICOM’s stated mission:

Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defence capabilities of African states and regional organisations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development.

Not surprisingly, many African nations believe AFRICOM’s real objectives include the militarisation of Africa, controlling oil and containing China. The critics of AFRICOM don’t get much press, however, and unfortunately ‘Resist AFRICOM‘ didn’t go viral. Why the pro-intermeddling slant?

A Stratfor (of all organisations!) Intelligence Report from March this year contains some interesting observations:

…Last October, US President Barack Obama announced that US special operations forces would be deployed to help Ugandan and other regional forces combat the LRA through AFRICOM. The announcement was not controversial, but Stratfor believed that the United States had exaggerated the threat posed by the LRA. Though the United States is hardly concerned about the threat of the LRA, the rebels have been in constant threat in northern Uganda. The administration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly tried, without success, to eliminate the group. While the Museveni administration has significantly reduced the LRA’s area of operations in Uganda, the group has continued its attacks in the northwestern extremes of the country and in the territory of Uganda’s northeastern neighbours…

It continues:

…Newly discovered oil reserves around Uganda’s Lake Albert could open up new trade corridors and promote the creation of additional interior trade routes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, through Uganda, to Kenya and northern Tanzania. The relationship between Uganda and the United States still has its challenges, particularly with regard to China’s increasing economic influence in East Africa. But placing US boots on the ground under AFRICOM strengthens US-Ugandan political and military cooperation in an unprecedented way. While Washington further promotes Kampala as a key player in regional politics, Uganda is positioned to assist in the advancement of US interests in the region.

The oil finds in Uganda were first reported in August 2009. Energy companies found more than 700 million barrels of commercially viable oil in the Albertine Graben region (Lake Albert is in northwest Uganda and is shared by both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Anticipated exploitable deposits exceed 1.5 billion barrels.

With so much money at stake, Uganda’s Production Sharing Agreements are already causing concerns for the people of Uganda; major oil companies are still fighting over the application of Uganda’s tax laws ; and British oil firm Tullow recently signed a deal with French firm Total and Chinese Group CNOOC as new partners to develop its Ugandan oil fields.

Transparency International’s 2011 report on corruption perception ranks Uganda among the most corrupt countries in the world. That is alarming to say the least when it is being courted and escorted into the lucrative oil business, and it’s sadly consistent as shown in September 2011 when WikiLeaks released cables revealing oil deal profiteering.

In the Kony 2012 viral video filmmaker Jason Russell reads out the following highlighted passage from a particular paragraph of a letter from the president of the United States to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the president Pro Tempore of the Senate:

In furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy, I have authorised a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.

He didn’t read out the rest of the paragraph, which seems to contradict what Invisible Children representatives allegedly were told by the “people” in Washington:

I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.

Nor did Mr Russell refer to the paragraph which says:

…Since 2008, the US has supported regional military efforts to pursue the LRA and protect local communities. Even with some limited US assistance, however, regional military efforts have thus far been unsuccessful in removing LRA leader Joseph Kony or his top commanders…

The “unsuccessful efforts” president Obama is referring to presumably is the failure of Operation Lightning Thunder in 2008, on which the New York Times reported:

The American military helped plan and pay for a recent attack on a notorious Ugandan rebel group, but the offensive went awry, scattering fighters who carried out a wave of massacres as they fled, killing as many as 900 civilians.

And it’s a shame that the Kony 2012 video fails at least to outline the reports of Ugandan officials being complicit in torture or the report of human rights abuses being carried out by the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). In fact in December 2010, WikiLeaks released cables suggesting that:

“The US told Uganda to let it know when the army was going to commit war crimes using American intelligence – but did not try to dissuade it from doing so.”

According to president Obama’s letter, subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these US forces will deploy not just into Uganda but into South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The US forces are combat-equipped, but “will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense.”

Is it just a coincidence that WikiLeaks released a cable (08KAMPALA393), dated March 13, 2008, from the US Embassy in Kampala to the Secretary of State? It refers to a call by the:

Uganda People’s Defence Force requesting United States Government assistance with training and equipping a lake security force which could enforce Uganda’s territorial waters, protect Uganda’s oil assets, and reduce violent incidents…The country currently has no effective means to provide security on Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, George and Kyoga…oil exploration and production would raise the profile of the area, which could lead to increased incidences of violence between Ugandan locals and security forces and their Congolese counterparts…

The Kony 2012 campaign seems to be the brainchild of a fusion of competing interests and motivations, ranging from some perhaps “pure” through to others obviously not. But an important benefit of the extraordinary penetration of the campaign is that it has put Uganda, and Africa more generally, on the agenda and just may provide the impetus for people to consider and discuss what is actually happening in the continent today.

Global leaders should be asked to respond to the allegations raised in the Crisis in the Congo film. Our leaders should be prompted to disclose Australia’s knowledge of who has been involved in the covert war in Somalia, as reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and supported by WikiLeaks cables. Our Government should also disclose the extent of Australia’s direct or indirect involvement in AFRICOM, if any, or its future intentions. We should support those demanding justice for the people of Sudan. And we should ensure that aid is not militarised.

Decades of political and military power plays at all levels within Africa, as well as international power plays by Western countries, and presumably also China, have brought little joy to the ordinary people of Africa.

With the unsatisfiable greed of developed and developing nations alike for oil, precious metals and all kinds of other valuable resources, videos like Resist Africom, Crisis in the Congo, and The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo show only too clearly that for those people a brighter future isn’t waiting just round the corner.

Equally, the same videos show that we could give those people hope if truly altruistic international efforts, including by Australia, were directed at giving them a chance at self-determination.

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