U.S. interventionism in Africa makes colonialism look progressive, empowers China

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, Global Information System / Defense & Foreign Affairs

Not since the peak of the colonial era has Western interventionism in African affairs been so intrusive and so damaging to the long-term interests and well being of the peoples and their lands.

Moreover, while during the colonial era the foreign forces were both legally and morally responsible for, and beholden to, the consequences of their undertakings, the U.S.-led West is presently invoking the “cause” of the independence of African states in order to disown the dire consequences the West’s actions have wrought.

U.S. Embassy Bangui, Central African Republic
U.S. Embassy Bangui, Central African Republic

The current crisis highlights the stark contrast between the deteriorating security and stability in Africa, mainly the greater west Africa, and the growing importance of the riches of Africa to the long-term economic recovery of the industrialized Europe/Eurasia. The growing importance of Africa’s riches to the well being of the West is sending the U.S.-led West — with France playing a distinct role of a self-anointed past-and-future colonial power — to actively intervene in African internal affairs, dictating to sovereign governments how they should handle their own affairs.

The Obama White House’s excuses — that it is supporting and furthering human rights, as well as fighting one Al Qaida offshoot or another — only aim to placate a reluctant Congress.

Ultimately, Western (and, increasingly, Eastern) interventionism aims solely to secure and further its trade or security interests. The price which Africans pay, and will continue to pay because of this intervention, matters little to outside societies.

That said, furthering the self interests of the West, particularly interests of immense importance such as facilitating the long-term economic recovery and re industrialization of the West, is seen as warranted and should be encouraged. In principle, the pursuit of these interests merits Western interventionism in Africa in order to secure safe access to the energy, ore and mineral resources, as well as the venues and routes for their transportation to markets.

However, where catastrophes loom is in implementation. The U.S.- and French-led interventions throughout Africa have been conducted in such a manner in recent occurrences as to exacerbate regional eruptions. In turn, these eruptions will spark a myriad of fratricidal conflicts. At this point, the West will ultimately be deprived of the safe access to the riches of Africa by the crises the West itself will have provoked.

At the root of the catastrophe is the reality that U.S.-led Western interventionism is focused on “feel-good, instant-gratification” in the Western media and political arenas. This is manifested in the declared objectives of these interventions and the demands made of the local governments and leaders, which often include such explicit or implicit demands as:

1. Cease hostilities immediately and at all cost. This effectively rewards those who provoked and unleashed the hostilities and those who use civilians as human shields;
2. Immediately implement Western-style democratic reforms, human rights, and swift elections. This undermines local governments, rooted in local customs and practices, and prevents them from addressing the real crises; and
3. Establish weak governments totally dependent on Western patronage and protection for survival –both for security and economically — and then extort them for access to local riches under most favorite conditions.

Unfolding interventions throughout sub-Saharan Africa — most notably in South Sudan and the Central African Republic — highlight the West’s penchant for instant-gratification cessation of hostilities and regime changes. These interventions continue as if the recent West-orchestrated “regime changes” in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria (attempted), and even Mali worked or benefited the public at large. Undaunted, the U.S. and France continue to lead the West in self-destruct policies in sub-Saharan Africa because of blatant disregard of the facts and realities on the ground while pursuing feel-good, instant-gratification interventionism.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), Western political and public discourse is based on the continued accusation of the Muslim Seleka for atrocities and near genocide. Altogether, half-a-dozen mass graves were discovered with a total of about 200 dead (hardly genocide). All of the dead were Muslim civilians: victims of the France-supported Anti-Balaka Christian militias. However, this did not prevent Washington and Paris from escalating their outcry for punishing the Michel Djotodia Administration for the ostensible humanitarian catastrophes.

The campaign peaked during, and in the aftermath of, the Dec. 19, 2013, visit to Bangui by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. Ambassador Power sided with the zealots among the Christian clergy (adherents of liberation theology) in denouncing Djotodia’s “Muslim power” and refusal to commit to reforms when he had already committed by then to every Western demand short of resignation.

And so, on Jan. 9, President Michel Djotodia was dragged to N’Djamena to face the leaders of the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). It was a show orchestrated by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and implemented by his protégé, Chad President General Idriss Déby Itno (who, by the way, rose to power in December 1990 as the head of a military rebellion against then President Hissène Habré). Nevertheless, Fabius and his protégé had difficulties forcing the other leaders to decide against President Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiengaye (who was also forced to resign).

All African leaders in attendance now know and dread that if they misbehave, they would be the next to be toppled by Paris. The breakthrough in the N’Djamena Summit took place only after French troops in Bangui rounded up and effectively detained all 135 members of the CAR Parliament, put them on an aircraft to N’Djamena so that they could vote their no-confidence in their President and Prime Minister should they refuse to surrender and resign. Both Djotodia and Tiengaye resigned before such a vote took place.

Throughout, both Paris and N’Djamena made no effort to conceal their blatant disregard of CAR laws which stipulate that Parliament votes only in the National Assembly Building in Bangui.

When the news of Djotodia’s resignation reached Bangui, people poured to the streets to celebrate. However, the celebrations in the streets were more in anticipation of lavish foreign aid than over the collapse of the Djotodia Administration. This was not by accident.

When in Bangui, Amb. Samantha Power promised that massive U.S.-Western economic aid would flow the moment Djotodia was gone. Irrespective of what Obama’s Washington presently claims, this was the clear and unambiguous message comprehended by all of Power’s interlocutors in Bangui.

The Bangui political establishment was urged to tolerate the toppling of national leaders by foreign intervention solely because this drastic move would “open the floodgates” of foreign aid from the West.

Indeed, when foreign diplomats asked celebrating people in Bangui why they were spending huge sums on foreign beers and alcohol, they (the diplomats) were told that everybody was confident that there was no reason to worry about expenditures since torrents of money were about to reach Bangui.

Come daybreak, violence resumed because the reign or resignation of Djotodia have had no impact on the root causes of the tribal revolt, lust for rewards, and consequent fratricidal violence. Violence in Bangui escalated as clashes between rival militias continued to intensify despite an ostensible curfew. Anti-Balaka vigilantes torched and burned Muslim homes and looted their shops with the French and Francophone African forces standing by and not intervening.

Soon, when the floodgates fail to open and no torrents of money reach Bangui, the people will blame the West (and particularly the heavy-handed public moves of both Washington and Paris) for their plight. Public support for President Djotodia — who had attempted to defend his country against Western interventionism until toppled by superior forces — will only grow. The West will pay the price in the hasty elections now planned for early 2015.

Meanwhile, the coup in South Sudan would not have happened without the conviction of the Machar camp that they had the support and endorsement of the U.S.-led West.

In Autumn 2013, the Obama White House all but encouraged Machar to rebel. Washington and other Western liberal foci of power warmly endorsed Machar’s rhetoric about reforms and human rights, arranged for supporting coverage in the Western liberal media, and harshly criticized President Kiir’s actions and record. Private foundations, mostly very close to the Obama coterie, were urged to funnel funds to Machar. Thus, the Obama White House and the liberal foci of power in the West created the impression of support and endorsement should Machar seize power.

Obama’s Washington took sides from the moment the coup erupted in mid-December 2013.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice remains in constant contact with Machar and is advising him concerning the Addis Ababa negotiations. Meanwhile, U.S. Amb. Susan Page continues to pressure President Kiir and official Juba to commit to power-sharing with the rebels and to the unilateral concessions they are demanding. Obama’s Washington even publicly doubted there had been a coup attempt and continues to threaten President Kiir and Juba with sanctions and cutting of aid in order to coerce Juba into giving Machar victory in a failed coup rejected by the vast majority of South Sudanese.

Significantly, the U.S. position stands in stark contrast with both all African states and all other Western powers, all of which rejected the coup and have supported the restoration of state authority in Juba.

The outcome of the Machar coup attempt is being decided on the ground throughout South Sudan.

The grassroots Nuer population from Bor to Bentiu refused to cooperate with the coup attempt. The main Nuer communities demonstrated by action that they preferred Kiir’s tribe-blind nation-building to Machar’s sectarian benefits.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) — including both Nuer troops and senior officers — remained loyal to the State and carried out successful operations against the rebel forces.

The Obama Administration’s distinct — and failed — intervention on the side of a power-hungry Machar and its willingness to derail the tribe-blind nation building effort in South Sudan will not be forgotten or ignored not only by virtually all South Sudanese, nor by the bulk of sub-Saharan African leaders and peoples who dread the reawakening of the tribal-secessionist ghosts.

Given the changing realities, the U.S. and France are playing with fire in sub-Saharan Africa.

The region is undergoing a tense and explosive transformation. The populace is facing a lot of frightening uncertainties on account of hasty urbanization, popular mobility, and an information-communication revolution. There is a grassroots dread of the evolution of the role and power of clans, tribes, and states (regarding authority, legitimacy, corruption, abuse of power, etc.). There is confusion regarding the potential impact on society of the development of riches. Finally, there exist the seduction and lure of violent criminality, as well as religious and ethno-centrist militancy and radicalism. Taken together, these grassroots apprehensions create a very explosive yet confused and confusing environment. It doesn’t take great effort to exacerbate such a volatile situation and spark a major eruption.

Moreover, there exists the evolution in the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) attitude toward, and commitment to, Africa.

The role of sub-Saharan Africa is evolving from just an economic resource for China into a Chinese strategic lever against the U.S.-led West. The Chinese have long been investing heavily in Africa as the key long-term source for energy, ores, rare earths, and other raw materials for their industrial growth.

Recently, the PRC has been expanding its operations into sponsoring the creation of a secondary industrial base in Africa itself in order to better support their economic undertakings. Beijing is now also looking to Africa as a prime instrument for preventing, or at the least controlling, the flow of resources to the West. The PRC is worried because the PRC leadership perceives that the U.S. is desperate to revive its sagging economy and disappearing industrial base while discussing an explicitly anti-Chinese pivot to East Asia.

The Chinese are also apprehensive that Europe is embarking on re industrialization and thus might lessen its dependence on Chinese imports and the trans-Asian venues of transportation — the new Silk Road — and their strategic value. It is in such a grand strategic context that Beijing is studying U.S.-led Western activities in Africa and, not without reason, is becoming increasingly apprehensive about them. Hence, Beijing is now determined to capitalize on the PRC’s preeminence in Africa in order to pressure, if not extort, the West. The margin for error under these conditions is extremely narrow.

America’s “humanitarian interventionism” in sub-Saharan Africa is markedly increasing tensions and exacerbating conflicts all around. The specter of current and future U.S.- and French-led military interventions and the ensuing toppling of leaders and governments is sending both African leaders and aspirant strongmen to posture for better positions in case the U.S. and France intervened in their states and regions. Desperate to increase their military capabilities, they make Faustian deals with any anti-Western power they can reach out to, be it China or Iran. Hence, there exists a growing possibility that U.S.-Chinese tension will also spark a clash in explosive Africa.

Where the next eruption in Africa will lead is anybody’s guess. In a recent Brookings Essay entitled “The Rhyme of History: Lessons of the Great War”, Professor Margaret MacMillan warned of the growing and disquieting similarities between the world of Summer 1914 and the world of early 2014.

“It is tempting — and sobering — to compare today’s relationship between China and the U.S. with that between Germany and England a century ago,” Professor MacMillan writes.

She also points to the prevailing belief — then as now — that a full-scale war between the major powers is unthinkable after such a prolonged period of peace. “Now, as then, the march of globalization has lulled us into a false sense of safety,” Professor MacMillan writes. “The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login