Bush counterterrorism initiative in Africa?

Across the front pages of several of this nation’s newspapers came the recent announcement that the Bush administration had embarked on another adventure in its “war against terrorism.” Referred to as the “Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative,” this effort involves an annual budget of $100 million as well as the deployment of troops and advisers to help prosecute the fight against terrorism in Africa.

There is only one problem: the sort of terrorism described by the Bush administration is not a major problem in Africa. In fact, to push the envelope a bit further, one could say that it is not even a minor problem. When compared on a scale with the major problems affecting the continent, it simply does not rate. Consider:

• Since 1997, approximately 4 million people have died as a result of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This amounts to more people killed in any war since World War II.

• In the Sudan, the long-running north/south civil war that just ended through a peace agreement resulted in the deaths of 2 million people. The current Darfur crisis in the western Sudan has resulted in the deaths of approximately 400,000 people.

• The HIV/AIDS pandemic has hit Africa like no other continent. In 2005 alone, 2.4 million people have died as a result of the illness. Only 10 percent of those infected with HIV in Africa are able to get regular access to anti-retrovirals.

• Poverty has been increasing over the years rather than decreasing. Africa has made insufficient advances in economic development and the building or rebuilding of infrastructure, and most of its nations are burdened by debt imposed by the international financial institutions and/or the nations of the global North.

In this environment it is nothing short of odd for the Bush administration to foist on the continent a program for the elimination of a problem that is not a major problem for the continent. Al Qaeda-like terrorism does not hold a candle to these tragedies.

More than anything else, the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative reflects both the desire to secure major African oil reserves as well as the mindset of an administration that has determined that its particular notion of the terrorism danger must be the greatest catastrophe to affect planet Earth since a meteor struck this planet 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs.

Rather than recognizing the principal problems affecting the majority of the world’s peoples generally, and African peoples in particular, such as poverty, civil wars, wealth polarization, corporate rape, out-of-control epidemics while governments are forced to divert resources to paying off debt, etc., the Bush administration has decided that counterterrorism must be, in all situations, the modus operandi for all nations.

Thus, at a moment when Africa needs desperately to demilitarize, the Bush administration promotes policies of militarization. At a moment when Africa desperately needs further democratization, the Bush administration promotes policies that encourage despotic governments to cry “terrorism” every time that they wish to suppress opposition (whether that opposition is armed or unarmed).

Lacking any real historical analysis, and certainly lacking any sense of the destructive roles that the United States and Western Europe have played in Africa for hundreds of years, the Bush administration adds kerosene to an already inflamed situation. What is so desperately needed is a U.S. contribution of assistance to peace-making and peace-keeping operations in Africa as well as constructive economic assistance to African nations as they position themselves to be successful actors in the 21st century.

Perhaps this is too much of a New Year’s wish.

Bill Fletcher Jr. is president of TransAfrica Forum. This article originally appeared in the Chicago Defender and other publications and is reprinted by permission of the author.