U.S. policy in the continent is too much about terrorism, too little about trade

Every day, a fleet of remotely piloted drones takes off from American bases around the horn of Africa and heads out towards Somalia, Yemen and parts of the Middle East. As reported in The Washington Post, the U.S. military has acknowledged the existence of some of these bases, like Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and the remote airstrip in Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia, even as host countries are reluctant to comment on the matter.

America’s drone programme expanded exponentially in President Obama’s first term; and as he takes office once more, American engagement with the African continent continues to be predominantly militaristic.

“There are two trends that we see regarding the U.S. in Africa: both revolve around the securitization of U.S. relations,” said Dr. Christopher Alden of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

“One is institutional and involves the decision to promote the U.S. Africa Command (Africom). The second is that the relationship is based too much on pursuing terrorism and not enough about trade and development.”

Africom is based in Stuttgart, Germany, but the U.S. military frequently conducts joint training exercises with African allies. Since the Arab spring, the Obama administration has focused on the growing influence of groups like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the region last month to urge Algeria to support African-led military operations in Mali, where AQIM allied militias control an area the size of France.

Contrasts China's moves

The U.S. administration’s approach to Africa is in sharp contrast to the Chinese principle of investment and military non-interference. At a forum last month, Liu Guijan, former Chinese Special Representative on Darfur, spoke of Sudan as an example of China’s preference for trade, investment and engagement over the embargoes and sanctions adopted by western powers.

“Neglecting Africa in the twenty first century is a policy that no global power can afford,” Dr. Alden said, “but Washington seems intent on putting other regions ahead of the continent, seeing established and deep links in Asia as more consequential than new opportunities in Africa.”

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