US Aid to Africa: The Military's Outsized Role
December 3, 2013
Friends Committee for National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
US military activities in Libya, Mali, Niger and Somalia grab occasional headlines, but how many people in the US know the name of the African country where the US is building a $1.4 billion military base expected to last for at least 25 years? A 2007 report prepared by former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar's staff warned that, in some African embassies, military personnel would soon outnumber diplomats. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse.
Supporting Peace in Africa
Friends Committee for National Legislation / Washington Newsletter
(July-August 2013) -- The African continent includes some of the fastest growing economies in the world, holds large stockpiles of key energy resources and has produced some of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. Nelson Mandela may be the most famous, but Mahatma Gandhi also tested some of his ideas on the continent.
Yet several African countries also have long histories of political violence and instability. In part a legacy of a colonial past, this is also a result of conflicts over how natural resources are used and how different parts of society are included (or not) in national decision-making. Climate change is also putting pressure on many of these communities.
African nations are not alone in confronting these problems, but in Africa these challenges are compounded by outsized US spending on "security assistance." The US has increased investments in military infrastructure for Africa, in 2008 opening a new AFRICOM military command focused on the continent and this year opening a base for drone operations in Niger.
The US policy focus on short-term military goals rather than the overall impact of military and development aid undermines prospects for peace.
US assistance to Kenya provides an example of the dangers of this approach -- but also offers examples of effective ways forward. In advance of the 2013 Kenyan elections, FCNL worked closely with Quakers in Kenya to encourage US government support for community leaders and local peace networks. We believe this work helped mitigate violence.
Yet investments in peace-building were still dwarfed by the huge amounts of security assistance the US provided to Kenya -- some of which went to the very security forces that have been involved in human rights abuses. Thanks largely to the efforts of Kenyans, election-related violence was low. But the seeds of conflict remain.
It is encouraging that the US government is taking note of what seems to be working as well as the ways in which US policies need to be improved. The Atrocities Prevention Board, a relatively new interagency panel that is coordinating a government-wide strategy for preventing mass atrocities and genocide, has looked closely at the US role in Kenya as a model for the future.
But atrocities prevention is only a small part of an overall US policy that in Africa is dominated by expanding military actions. FCNL is asking increasingly hard questions about these choices.
Our FCNL community is a leading advocate for State Department and USAID efforts, such as the Complex Crises Fund, Conflict Stabilization Fund and Office of Transition Initiatives, that work to stop deadly conflicts before they begin. Investment in these programs and this approach will be only more critical in the years ahead.
It is important that our community continues to address the root causes that fuel conflict -- in Africa and elsewhere. To do this, we need to work for equitable and just solutions that cool the crises surrounding these potential conflicts. We invite you to join us in this effort.
US Aid to Africa:
The Military's Outsized Role
US military activities in Libya, Mali, Niger and Somalia grab occasional headlines in our country, but how many people in the US know even the name of the African country where the US is building a $1.4 billion military base expected to last for at least 25 years?
A report prepared by former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar's staff in 2007 warned that, in some embassies in Africa, military personnel would soon outnumber diplomats. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse.
The US military has set up an special "Africa" command (AFRICOM) to focus attention on the continent; is providing training and military assistance to individual countries and to African peacekeeping initiatives; and is becoming a leading provider of humanitarian aid by sending troops to dig wells, build schools and strengthen ties with local communities.
One major hub of this operation is Djibouti, the tiny African country on the coast of East Africa. This is where the US is building its base, which is already being used to launch drone attacks.
"All told, about 3,200 US troops, civilians and contractors are assigned to the camp, where they train foreign militaries, gather intelligence and dole out humanitarian aid across East Africa as part of a campaign to prevent extremists from taking root," explained the Washington Post. Yet, as US officials acknowledged in advance of President Obama's trip to three African countries in June 2013, military assistance is not a good tool to address the root causes of these conflicts.
Sometimes our country's military assistance and training even means that the US is supporting the very people who are creating the greatest problems. This was certainly the case in Mali in 2012, when a military officer trained by the US overthrew his own government in a coup.
It was also the case in Congo in 2012, when members of the 391st Commando Battalion received their formative training from the US military, then went on to commit mass rapes and other atrocities, according to a UN report.
A report from the Open Society Justice Initiative released in November 2012 also connects US counterterrorism assistance and influence to systemic human rights abuses in the name of counterterrorism in Kenya and Uganda.
Kenyan security forces have a documented history of abusing Kenyan Somalis and Muslims in the name of counterterrorism. The Kenyan government has resisted reforms, despite the fact that Kenyan security forces were responsible for much of the violence after the 2007 presidential elections.
While no security force is perfect, the emerging pattern of US military assistance to African countries shows a disturbing pattern. Often in the name of short-term US interests, the US provides aid to countries who have or who develop a pattern of human rights abuses and violations of democratic rule.
Despite these issues, US military assistance continues. As the US military expands its influence in Africa, our government must critically consider how short-term policies related to strategic interests directly undermine the efforts of those working toward justice, peace and long- term stability.
The root causes of violence are rarely addressed by military force. Decades-old tensions in society are often behind violence. Addressing these cores issues is the work of local peace-builders and community leaders, yet the vast majority of US assistance to Africa is dominated by the military. FCNL continues to encourage the US to shift its approach in order to support the long-term work needed to build peace.
Learning from Kenyans
Over the past two-and-a-half years, I've learned a lot from working with Kenyan peace-builders. Their work also holds important lessons for FCNL's work and for US policy to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
I came to FCNL in 2011 to focus on preventing violent conflict around the Kenyan presidential elections, knowing only bits and pieces about what it took to peacefully prevent deadly conflict.
After years of studying international conflicts in college classes, I was eager to explore the answer to a question FCNL had been asking for many years: if war is not the answer, what is? What does peace - building look like on the ground?
Quickly, I began to find out answers to these questions. Just three weeks after I started work, Getry Agizah, a Kenyan Friend and the coordinator of the Friends Church Peace Team, arrived in Washington, DC for a weeklong speaking tour. My time with her taught me more about the power of community-based peace-building than I'd imagined possible.
In 2007-8, Kenya suffered a violent electoral crisis. More than 1200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. With another potentially volatile national election approaching in March of 2013, the Friends Church Peace Team was one of a number of Kenya-based Quaker organizations working to prevent renewed deadly conflict.
From Alternatives to Violence and non-violent social change workshops to trauma healing and reconciliation, Kenyan Friends were beginning the process of fueling dialogue, addressing root causes of violence and building long-term peace in their communities. I saw this work first-hand when I traveled to Kenya in the winter of 2011.
Many of my first lobby visits in Washington were spent sitting beside Getry as she talked with members of Congress and their staff about the importance of working at the grassroots level to prevent violence. She shared the tools that were working in Kenyan communities to help people become local leaders for peace and social change.
In addition to making violence prevention real for me, I witnessed Kenyan Friends' work doing the same for US policymakers -- and, despite my anticipated disillusionment with Washington, DC, I witnessed those policymakers truly listen.
Why was it so important for lawmakers to hear about peace-building work underway in Kenya? One of the most important goals of the violence prevention tools for which FCNL advocates is to encourage the US to better work with and learn from those building peace in their communities.
Our partnership with Kenyan Friends offered an incredible opportunity to infuse US policy towards Kenya with the insight and concerns of local peace-builders. I feel lucky to have been in a position to make these connections.
Two years and many international conference calls later, Friends have had an important impact. The Senate has passed a resolution that stands with Kenya's communities, and many more members are aware of concerns about US military interests in Kenya.
Through our advocacy, FCNL helped encourage what became an unprecedented US focus on violence prevention around Kenya's 2013 elections. In addition to providing grants to Kenyan peace-building organizations through the Complex Crises Fund, the US sent a long-term team to Kenya from the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. President Obama even made a rare, preemptive speech recognizing the power Kenyan communities have to reject violence.
In the months leading up to the March elections, tensions in Kenya were high and violence was mounting. Many of the citizen monitors trained by Kenyan Friends to track and intervene nonviolently in potentially volatile situations wondered how they could possibly respond.
Once again, Getry and Kenyan Friends offered a powerful message: "What we can do is create a safe space in our own surroundings. If we can make it our goal to keep peace in our own small ways, in our own communities, then we will make a difference -- no matter what."
After years of work on the part of Kenyan reformers and peace-builders -- and unique efforts on the part of the US and international community to stand with them -- Kenya's 2013 elections were relatively peaceful.
Still, US-Kenya policy was far from perfect. The polls themselves were fraught with irregularities and work in Kenya is far from over. The seeds of conflict remain. Since elections in Kenya came to an end, FCNL has continued to meet with lawmakers so that the important steps taken toward violence prevention will not be lost.
The lessons learned from Kenyan peace-building efforts can help inform US action in future situations for years to come -- and help us continue learning how to develop US policies to help prevent, rather than fight, war.
What the US Can Learn from Kenya
Here are a few of the takeaways that FCNL has shared with US policymakers so far:
Local Peace-building Works
It's hard to know for sure why Kenya didn't return to violent crisis this March. Some Kenyans point to changing political dynamics, while others argue that the trauma of 2007-8 remained an ongoing and powerful deterrent.
What's clear, though, is that local efforts to prevent violence had an impact on Kenya's communities -- and Kenyan Friends' work, through the Friends Church Peace Teams, the African Great Lakes Initiative and others, is a powerful example.
In anticipation of the election, Friends helped train more than 1,200 monitors to actively track potential signs of tension and violence. If an incident occurred, community members and organization staff would come together to brainstorm means of nonviolent intervention.
Using this system, trained peacemakers responded to a number of volatile situations, from cases in which fields were burned to potential political killings. A major challenge for US government staff is the ability to work with local leaders. The vast, bureaucratic nature of the US State Department and USAID often leads to partnerships with large, international organizations rather than community-driven groups.
In Kenya, however, a number of agencies took important steps to bridge this gap. The Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations supported local violence prevention networks, while the Office of Transition Initiatives provided a broad range of grants to small, local organizations.
These US entities were eager to hear from Kenyan Friends about their ongoing programs, and each of them has reflected on the power of community-based violence prevention in Kenya.
At FCNL, we have been glad to see this growing focus on following local leadership -- and continue to advocate for that to take first priority in continued efforts in Kenya, as well as in other conflict situations.
Peace Should Be the Priority
US efforts to support those working toward peace and justice in Kenya are exciting, but it's also important to consider the ways in which US-Kenya policy can undermine peace. It's not helpful if USAID and the State Department are nurturing peace while the US military is training soldiers and buying guns that could be used on civilians.
US concerns to counter violent extremism in Kenya as well as elsewhere in Africa have led to an emphasis on US military operations and assistance that can work counter to peace-building efforts.
Prevention Is Long-term
The immediate goal of avoiding large-scale violence around the elections might have been met, but a long road toward building durable peace and social justice lies ahead. Organizations across Kenya have noted that much of the real work toward systemic change is just beginning.
Now more than ever, Kenyans will be working to ensure that issues around land distribution; inequity; and accountable, local-level governance are taken seriously in their communities.
As this process continues, prevention and peace-building must be ongoing for the long term, and US policymakers must continue to think critically about whether all US policies are supporting peace.
While it may be tempting to call the Kenyan elections a success story for violence prevention, the US cannot stop standing with those working toward justice and peace in Kenya -- especially with the dominance of US militarism. The same goes for all other situations of potential violent conflict, where connections with local peace-builders should be early and sustained.
With gratitude to Friends for all they've taught me -- and with gratitude to all those who have supported this work, Cassidy Regan
Cassidy Regan's work as the Kenya Project Coordinator at FCNL ended in May 2013. The Friends Church Peace Team and other groups continue to work for peace in Kenya, and FCNL continues to advocate for US policies that prevent violent conflict, in Kenya and elsewhere.
Washington Newsletter No. 760, July/August 2013 Friends Committee on National Legislation 245 Second Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-5761
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