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AFRICOM’s apologies are not enough in Mali

Mark FancherBy Mark P. Fancher

Howard University is regarded by many as the cradle of the Black Power movement. It is the alma mater of Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), who is often credited with popularizing the slogan “Black Power” as a rallying cry for militant struggles for self-determination and justice. It is ironic then that General Carter Ham, outgoing head of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), selected Howard as a place to confess one of AFRICOM’s many sins against the African continent.

AFRICOM was established during the George W. Bush administration to ensure that armed forces will be available to maintain U.S. access to Africa’s oil and other natural resources. AFRICOM’s modus operandi has been to train and use the armies of African countries as proxies in missions that would, if carried out by U.S. troops, prompt global condemnation.

Amadou Sanogo is among the many African soldiers trained by AFRICOM. Sanogo is a captain in Mali’s military, and not long ago he led a coup that not only displaced Mali’s government, but also created enough chaos to give secessionist forces in the northern part of the country, along with external extremists an opportunity to capture and hold considerable territory — including the legendary town of Timbuktu. France then intervened militarily as countless civilians made their best efforts to cope with misery, death and trauma.

During a speech at Howard, General Ham was asked about Mali. He said: “We have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years. Some of that has occurred in Mali, and some of it was Malian officers coming to the U.S. for training, to include Captain Sanogo, who led the military coup that overthrew the constitutionally elected government. That’s very worrisome for us.”

Ham goes on to explain that in the aftermath of the coup, U.S. military leaders have evaluated the training program, and they have noted that its focus is heavy on use of weapons and machinery. “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and a military ethos that says when you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority.”

Meanwhile, as the U.S. military continues to provide logistical support to French and Malian troops, a French news service reports: “In northern Mali, the country’s army frequently turns to torture and murder against people suspected of backing armed Islamist groups.” There have also been allegations that forces in Mali who claim to be Muslim fundamentalists have carried out amputations and other tortures against civilians.

General Ham may regard all of this as “worrisome,” but when AFRICOM’s decisions and actions trigger a deadly disruption of an entire country, it’s simply not enough to say I’m sorry.

Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about armed conflicts in Africa. He can be contacted at


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