Violence or vaccines: Which path for U.S. in Africa?

Written by: David Wiley

Primary Source: African Militarism Watch

In response to Obama’s U.S. Africa Summit in Washington this last week, Michael Shank (Reuters, 2014-08-06) comments on the growing focus of the U.S. on military security on the continent: “[AFRICOM] staged more than 546 military exercises on the continent last year, a 217 percent increase since 2008 (when AFRICOM was founded), and is now involved in nearly 50 African countries. U.S. military and police aid to all Africa this year totaled nearly $1.8 billion, with additional arms sales surpassing $800 million.”

Going forward to address African insecurity, Shank argues,

….the African continent will need to work with the international community to counter security threats facing each country, whether food-, water- or resource-related, or problems with non-state actors. The question is how. More big-business engagement by multinationals like Coca-Cola (which pledged to invest $5 billion in Africa over six years) and Marriott Hotels, as President Barack Obama promised Tuesday in Washington at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, won’t directly or immediately help the impoverished and unemployed on the streets of Mogadishu or the marginalized in northern Nigeria.
Africa-centric agendas, however, require longer game plans, with development strategies that are locally owned, locally administered and sustainably funded. The quick fix of a drone strike will likely only increase the continent’s instability. The same applies to the quick fix of top-down corporate funding or aid relief. The real terror on the continent remains the elusiveness of a sustainable, grass-roots development agenda that is genuinely inclusive.
That should be Washington’s focus. It’s time to stop looking at Africa through the barrel of a gun.

In a separate article in Politix (2014-08-07), Shank argues that the outcome of focus on violence and terrorism in Somalia and Libya has been particularly disastrous,

“The problem with many of the West’s policies on the African continent is that they tend to focus on the violence – e.g. weapons imports/exports, terrorist activity, homicide rates, violent demonstrations, conflicts fought, and violent crime (some of the top indicators on the GPI). That’s where U.S. administrations tend to direct the majority of funds, ignoring the very indicators that promote peace.

In the still violent and unstable Libya, for example, U.S. taxpayers spent half a million dollars on each of the several hundred Tomahawk missiles it rained down on the country, leaving its institutions and infrastructures in ruins, ignored and unrestored. The U.S. administration prioritized a military response in Libya but failed to prioritize that which would help her become less violent, whether it was a well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, human capital, lower corruption, sound business environments, the rights of others, free flow of information, or better relations with neighbors.

Libya is not unique. The story is the same in other places on the continent. Somalia got the same military treatment, leaving the thousands of unemployed youth to be recruited to al Shabaab for nothing more than $20 and a cell phone. Similarly, it is no surprise, for example, that some of the most unstable and insecure countries in Sub-Saharan Africa perform the poorest in the JustJobs Index’s ranking of countries with employment opportunity, income security, employment security, safety at work and healthy work conditions, equality of treatment and opportunity.”

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David Wiley is Professor Emeritus of Sociology and African Studies at Michigan State University (MSU). He served as director of the African Studies Centers at MSU (1978-2008) and University of Wisconsin-Madison (1972-77). He has worked in Rhodesia and, with research on urban and rural environments, in Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa and participated in the struggles for democracy and majority rule in Southern Africa. He has been President of the national African Studies Association; Vice-Chairperson of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO; and co-chair and co-founder of the Council of National Title VI Centers and the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He is a member of the U.S. Africa Network and has chaired international committees of the National Science Foundation, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Sociological Association. His recent research concerns environmental issues in South Africa, militarism in Africa, and international education in U.S. universities.