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Beth Tuckey argues that in the end, it is not the militarization of Africa that will guarantee security for the US but rather justice and equitable trade.

As President Bush visits Africa this week, it is important to reflect on the Administration’s global foreign policy strategy and how it is emerging in the African context. Since 9/11, the United States has ramped up its military capacity to fight a Global War on Terror – a war that instills fear in the American people and according to the Bush administration, a war that justifies a vast network of defense and security operations worldwide.

Though this war is being fought as a means of achieving national security, it is in fact likely to decrease global stability if it is not accompanied by a more equitable and diplomatic foreign policy. In the end, generating long-term security has less to do with fighting rogue terrorist groups than with bolstering the power of communities, increasing access to education, and forging a trade policy that is in the global interest.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of Bush’s national security strategy is the mission of the new US military command for Africa (AFRICOM). The current administration sees Africa as a possible threat both because of its geopolitical location near the Middle East and its substantial Muslim population. The American government also recognizes the natural resource wealth of the continent as a foundation for replenishing the world’s depleting oil supplies, allowing the US to maintain its dependence on foreign fuel.

To the public, AFRICOM is presented as a benign presence that will bring stability, peace, and prosperity to the African continent. Looking deeper, it is a military command that has been structured to bring security only to the US and to bolster the interests of the elite few, not the interests of Africans. Furthermore, AFRICOM gives the Department of Defense (DoD) a dangerous level of jurisdiction over the State Department, USAID, and other non-military agencies. Ambassadors, who have traditionally been the point-persons for US foreign operations, may now be overshadowed by General William E. Ward, Commander of AFRICOM.

Developments like AFRICOM reveal that the Bush Administration’s national security strategy relies on putting soldiers at the front of nearly all foreign operations. Unsurprisingly then, African civil society and many African governments have voiced a resounding ‘no’ to AFRICOM that only confirms the need for the US to re-evaluate its War on Terror and hunt for oil. The security concerns of the US government are in some ways legitimate, but the strategy has been such that Africans now feel endangered and harassed by the flawed agenda of the Bush Administration.

If indeed the new command is intended to bring security to the African people, the mandate must change. Ultimately, the US government must recognize the power of a just and fair foreign policy in Africa and must listen to the voices arising on the continent. By investing in other aspects of security beyond those of the DoD, the US could go a long way toward achieving stability and democracy in Africa.

What the people of Africa need is not increased military presence but debt relief, fair trade policies, jobs, expansion of education, and improvements upon existing US policies such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Millennium Challenge Account. If the US were willing to boost the budgets of the State Department and USAID toward those ends, we may find precisely the results the Bush Administration is seeking in terms of stability. Long-term security is not generated through armed soldiers but rather through teachers, women, youth, microfinance, and an overall fair and equitable foreign policy.

Ultimately, peace and democracy in Africa are elements that can be attained if America is willing to work in concert with Africans to determine their needs and desires. Pushing a military strategy that serves merely to benefit special interest groups like private military sub-contractors and the oil industry will only provoke opposition, as it has already done in many countries around the world. Advancing a diplomatic strategy that relies on true partnership with African governments, the African Union, and African civil society is the only approach that is in the mutual, long-term interests of the American people and the citizens of Africa’s many nations.

Oil and terrorism – and the corporations who benefit – preclude the US government from setting its sights on a more practical, just, and beneficial foreign policy strategy. The war in Iraq, AFRICOM, and the restructuring of the executive branch are merely pieces of an overall shift – a shift that must be opposed, not least because of its capacity to damage the lives of foreign citizens for the sake of America’s immediate special interests.

If President Bush truly wishes to offer a message of success in Africa this week, his best bet is to provide significant boosts to development without involvement from the Department of Defense.

*Beth Tuckey is the Associate Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network

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