Military service in Africa? No thanks
Army Times news service has reported that more than 3,000 United States soldiers will be deployed to Africa next year. While defense officials claim these troops will be involved in “teaching military tactics, medicine and logistics, as well as combating famine, disease and terrorism in secure environments,” some critics suspect the actual objectives are to secure U.S. access to Africa’s vast oil reserves and precious minerals.
Regardless of the motives, there will be proportionately fewer U.S.-born African soldiers to assign to these missions than there were in an earlier era. Data shows that in the year 2000, soldiers of African ancestry made up 23 percent of all U.S. Army enlistees. By 2006 that percentage had dropped to 13 percent. In 2010, less than one in five soldiers was of African descent, compared to one in four in 2000. During the past decade, Black representation in the U.S. Marine Corps dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent.
Several years ago, the Army became so concerned about these trends that it commissioned a special study to determine the causes. Researchers concluded that a combination of the unpopularity of the war in Iraq and advice provided by influential individuals in Black communities contributed to declining interest in military service.
It is also likely that diminished enthusiasm about military enlistment among U.S.-born Africans has deep roots in widespread perceptions that Black soldiers were used as cannon fodder in Vietnam, an immoral war carried out to advance imperialist objectives. Since then, unwarranted U.S. military interventions in other parts of the world (as in Grenada) have done little to improve such perceptions. Plans for an increased military presence in Africa provide even more reasons for concern and suspicion.
Notwithstanding assertions that U.S. troops will go to Africa with benevolent objectives, the record already betrays contradictions. To be specific, a year ago, at least 100 U.S. soldiers were sent to Uganda purportedly to search for Joseph Kony, an accused terrorist who leads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Both the U.S. government and a private international campaign portrayed the LRA as the cause of a grave crisis that demanded urgent action. However, reported comments of everyday Ugandans and others suggested otherwise. It was widely contended that the LRA is now but a shadow of what it once was and that Kony presents no immediate threat. In fact, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said in response to a question about whether Kony has been defeated:
“Oh yes, (Kony) is not a problem for us. Not any more! We are now hunting him down in southern Sudan, in Darfur. We are willing to follow him anywhere with the cooperation of others and with the permission of our neighbors.”
Museveni’s statement prompts demands for answers to questions about the true motives for the mission in Uganda. Many speculate that in addition to U.S. interest in African oil, the U.S. hoped to counter a growing relationship between China and Uganda. China’s expanding influence in various regions of Africa is a threat to U.S. hegemony on the continent.
Whatever the true motives may be for an expanded U.S. military presence in Africa, the military’s missions are likely to have more to do with exploitation than humanitarian assistance. We can at least be grateful that there will be fewer young Black men and women used as pawns in operations that are contrary to the best interests of their ancestral homeland.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about armed conflicts in Africa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org