Exporting ‘American democracy’ to Africa with guns

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Sha'ban 16, 1418 1997-12-16

Special Reports

by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 20, Sha'ban, 1418)

The US has stepped up efforts to increase its influence in Africa, dubbed the ‘last frontier.’ Jesse Jackson, perhaps the best-known African-American today, embarked on a mission to two countries in Africa on December 1 to drum up support for political and trade links.

Jackson, appointed by US president Bill Clinton as his special envoy for Africa, was in Kenya for three days. From there he went to Zambia. The regimes in both countries are involved in brutal suppression of dissent. President Daniel arap Moi agreed only last month to allow the opposition Safina Party to register and, therefore, become eligible to participate in the December 29 elections.

President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia survived a coup attempt last October but human rights groups have accused his regime of torturing political detainees, 84 of whom were arrested in connection with the coup. An international human rights group has complained the Zambian government barred it from visiting detainees held under emergency laws who allege they were tortured by interrogators.

In Lusaka, Alex Vines, a representative of the Washington-based Human Rights Watch/Africa, was quoted by Reuters on November 30 as saying that ‘it appears that the government does not want any independent, international verification of the condition of the detainees.’ Even more damning allegations were made at a December 1 news conference in Lusaka by judge Lombe Chivesakunda, head of the government appointed human rights commission.

In a telephone interview with Reuters on the eve of his trip, Jackson said he would stress that ‘democracy, human rights and a free press are the predicates’ to more US trade and investment. ‘The United States and Africa are entering a new era,’ he said. ‘For the US, it (increased trade) represents economic growth and expansion. For Africa, it represents development.’

Jackson’s trip preceded the six-country African tour by Madeleine Albright. At press time, the US secretary of State was on her way to Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Zimbabwe from December 8 to 15. Her tour was to start with an address to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at its headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

The US’s ‘civilising mission’ in Africa has aroused much cynicism. Even American commentators have questioned Uncle Sam’s self-proclaimed noble intentions. Scott Nathanson, senior researcher at Demilitarization for Democracy, a Washington-based group, and author of the book Fighting Retreat, in an article in the Los Angeles Times in November, wrote: ‘before Jackson can start, he must understand what exactly he is promoting [in Africa].’

Nathanson warned that before drum-beating about Africa’s march towards democracy, serious thought ought to be given to what is actually happening there. He drew special attention to US training of African military personnel and dictatorships in Africa.

‘The statistics are striking. Of the more than 3,400 African officers trained in the US International Military Education and Training programme in 1991-1995, 69 per cent were from nations under authoritarian rule.’

He went on: ‘Eighty-one per cent of those trainees were in nations whose armed forces wield substantial political and economic power independent of a civilian government. The US training gives the armed forces of developing nations significant new skills that have been used to repress dissent. Similar training is provided on the ground in Africa through the United States’ joint combat exercise programmes. Again, the statistics show the preponderance of US combat training in Africa is with authoritarian regimes (55 per cent) or armed forces independent of civilian control (71 per cent).’

The most glaring example of this emerged in Rwanda whose military was trained by the US. Paul Kigame’s mercenaries were then used as shock-troopers for Laurent Kabila’s assault on Kinshasa in Zaire (renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo) last April/May. While no one need shed any tears for the late ousted Zaireian dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, Kabila is hardly an improvement on his predecessor.

The same holds true for Uganda, whose army is now being trained by the US. These US-trained soldiers are currently involved in a genocidal campaign against their own people in northern Uganda.

The US has also established a new Africa Crisis Response Initiative. Under this scheme, only those countries that ‘have military establishments that accept the supremacy of democratic civilian government’ will be allowed to join, as the State department’s paper dated July 7 on the programme claims.

Yet the record speaks for itself. US special forces are training African troops that allegedly will respond to a crisis threatening the stability of a country or region, like the Rwandan genocide of 1994. According to John Christiansen, the Crisis Response deputy coordinator, ‘minimum military efficiency’ is now the entry standard instead of civilian rule. Jackson and Albright clearly have some explaining to do.

Only one of the seven countries slated to be trained can be qualified as a ‘democracy’, accepting the most charitable interpretation of this term. The fears of misuse of Crisis Response-equipped and trained troops came true almost immediately, as the first troops trained under the programme in Uganda were immediately dispatched to use their new skills in a counter-insurgency war against rebel forces.

Charlie Snyder, deputy head of the Africa Bureau at the State department, defending the continued involvement with African dictators called it ‘constructive engagement.’ Ronald Reagan, the cold war crusader, had used the same term to justify his links with the apartheid regime of South Africa in the eighties.

‘Constructive engagement’ is a euphemism for close links with tyrannical regimes. The US’s prefers dealing with dictators because it is easy to get things done. They do not have to justify their actions to anyone.

Nathanson has some sound advice for the US government. ‘We must understand that democracy in Africa should be supported by, not imported from, the United States.’ Neither Clinton nor Albright are likely to heed such advice.

Muslimedia: December 16-31, 1997

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