Africa can say “no” to drone attacks

As David Cameron arrives in Washington, Barack Obama’s drones continue to attack Somalia. Is it any wonder African nations are so keen to clasp the hand of China, when Europe and America seem more interested in bombing them than providing genuine aid and investment?

A report last month calculated that the US had executed 21 military strikes on Somalia since 2007 killing up to 169 people. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which arrived at the figures, was somewhat cautious about Press TV’s reportingwhich claimed 56 drone attacks on Somalia since 9/11, killing 1,370 people including many civilians. (Recent Press TV reports of the incidents in the last few months can be viewed hereherehereherehere, and here).

Whatever the precise figures there has undoubtedly been a significant escalation in action since last autumn, most of it largely unreported in the British media.

Drones – the weapon of choice for the Obama administration in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – is big business. A report in the US newspaper the Sun Herald, picked up by the organisation Green Left, claims spending on drones is predicted to rise from $5.9 billion a year to $11.2 billion. Green Left reports:

“Drones have attacked Somalia since at least June last year. In a country wracked by political instability, economic breakdown and lawlessness, drone strikes are the last thing that could bring a stable, unified, democratic society. But the Obama administration’s aim is not democratic changes, but to expand the reach of US military and economic interests.

“In his January 30 Guardian column, veteran journalist and political commentator George Monbiot described the US drone war as a coward’s war.”

Britain eventually concluded the way to bring peace in the north of Ireland was to talk to those engaging in terrorism, and Allied nations in Afghanistan will inevitably have to live with a political settlement involving the Taliban sharing power. We may not like the groups involved or what they stand for, and we may abhor their tactics, but bombing them – or refusing to talk to them while they bomb us – is simply nonsensical. Clearly a political settlement is needed in Somalia, one involving al-Shabaab insurgents, yet they were excluded from the recent London peace conference.

Aside from Somaliland, Somalia has been a relative lawless state for a variety of reasons over the past three decades, not least because surrounding countries have intervened. So why has America suddenly upped the ante now? The relative dampening down of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan may well have turned attention to Africa as the new theatre of war against al-Qaeda. After all, Osama bin Laden and his group were originally based in Sudan before eyeing up more fertile ground in Afghanistan.

The fact that Somalia is being opened up as an oil-producer may well have also focussed Washington’s minds. Last month The Observer clearly linked oil exploration with renewed efforts to defeat the al-Shabaab Islamic force. Comparisons with the post-Gaddafi Libyan oil-rush are bound to be drawn.

The fact that pirates have been hijacking oil ships – going so far out they are now approaching the coast of India, and have even been carrying out attacks off the coast of Kuwait on the far side of the Saudi Arabian peninsula – threatens to disrupt world oil supplies.

But there’s a fourth reason why Somalia is squarely in the cross-heads of the US. According to reports AFRICOM, the African arm of the Pentagon run by an African-American, General William “Kip” Ward, is morphing from an agency charged with analysing America’s strategic and resource interests in the continent to an organisation fermenting – if not participating in – war.

In an article headlined “Africom’s First War”, Rick Rozoff quotes Tony Holmes, AFRICOM’s deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, as saying:

“Somalia, that’s an area where we’re going to be doing a lot more, the European Union is already doing a lot and will be doing more. Somalia is very important for us. The European Union is involved in training Somalis in Uganda and that’s something we might be able to work closely with to support.”

There are already reliable reports that AFRICOM marines are training militia to fight Islamic forces in Somalia. The Voice of Detroit reports: “AFRICOM has penetrated the armed forces of the continent to a degree no single European power could have ever aspired.”

Somalia has been unfinished business since the Black Hawk Down, but the combination of oil exploration, protecting shipping routes and a new wave of strategic wars across Africa – from Libya (executed by the US and UK) to the Central African Republic (France) – and now suggestions that America may intervene in Nigeria, herald a crucial time for the continent to defend its’ nations’ sovereignty and destiny.

It is time for the African Union to stand up and take responsibility for resolving conflicts within its’ borders, and foster greater unity between nation states in order to position Africans to benefit from its’ own resources and trade with the rest of the world, and on its’ own terms. Gaddafi had many faults but one good point was his Pan-Africanism. I, for one, predicted his assassination would leave a vacuum at the heart of geopolitics in Africa that America would seek to exploit.

It is incumbent on African leaders to reject the flexing of military muscle by the United States. We remember the legacy of bloodshed and coups installing corrupt elites which the proxy Cold Wars brought to the continent in the 60s, 70s and 80s; elites which democratic revolutions are now seeking to remove.

Africa’s rising wealth and entrepreneurship mean its’ various nation states are in a better position than ever before to resist Western influences stoking strategic wars. China is an alternative investor which delivers on its’ promises, on time, and without seeking to impose its’ own values on others by attaching neo-colonial strings to aid and investment.

Drone attacks on Somalia are a reminder that despite the hope Obama’s election gave America still relies primarily on the brutal hard politics of its’ military-industrial complex to get what it wants, namely natural resources and strategic power. And as Britain turns its’ “ring-fenced” overseas aid budget into a giant slush fund to aid British businesses, it is increasingly clear that Cameron and Obama do not have Africa’s real interests at heart any more than their predecessors.

The Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah said:

“Examination of recent events in our history, and of our present condition, reveals the urgent need for a new strategy to combat imperialist aggression, and this must be devised on a continental scale.”

African unity might appear distant at present but when the nations of the continent decide to trade on their growing economic prosperity and attain political power to match they will at last demand of America, Britain and Europe that they take their drones and proxy-wars away from the land that witnessed greatness before they arrived.

Follow me: @suttongoingon

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