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Those committed to imperialist war won’t bring peace to Africa

Mark FancherBy Mark P. Fancher

For years, the criminal neglect of various western oil companies has caused massive oil spills that have wreaked environmental havoc in the Niger Delta. Not long ago, Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary had to face the music when a Dutch court ruled that it was responsible for massive pollution.

The court ordered the company to compensate Friday Akpan, a farmer in the region, for failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the sabotage of oil lines. In response to the ruling, Akpan said: “The spill damaged 47 fishing ponds, killed all the fish and rendered the ponds useless. Since then, I have been living by God’s grace and on the help of good Samaritans. I think this will be a lesson for Shell and they will know not to damage people’s livelihoods.”

Not everyone shares Akpan’s optimism. The unconscionable conduct of the oil companies over the course of decades, which in many cases has permanently ruined entire villages, has also generated an intense level of resentment among Niger Delta youth. Many have channeled their emotions into the militant activities of organizations like the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND). These groups stage armed attacks on oil company facilities, kidnap oil company personnel and otherwise disrupt business operations. Their attacks have caused the oil industry’s profits to drop significantly.

Adding to Nigeria’s misery is Boko Haram, a terrorist sect that is in no way connected with MEND or issues related to the Niger Delta. Some experts say Boko Haram’s objective is to create what it regards as a pure Islamic state by burning down schools and setting off bombs in public places.

As the U.S. has looked at all of this, it has concluded that the military’s U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) must be part of any strategy to protect U.S. interests, whether the threat is posed by Africans with legitimate grievances about corporate environmental crimes or terrorists seeking to bomb a theocracy into existence. It is a conclusion that ignores Africa’s realities and that resorts to a default military strategy that has proven over time to be not only ineffective, but also counterproductive.

When a Niger Delta farmer is in the middle of his fields standing ankle-deep in oil that has leaked from a neglected pipeline, his sentiments are likely to be with those from his village who have taken it upon themselves to strike back at the oil companies that have ruined his family’s way of life forever. He is unlikely to regard as “allies” U.S. military personnel who develop strategies to hunt down the rebels. Likewise, many supporters of Boko Haram are reported to have no plans to target the U.S., but it seems reasonable to presume their hatred for the Nigerian government will extend to U.S. military personnel who collaborate in operations against the group.

Those who arrive in Africa unarmed and bearing medicine, tools, books and expertise in infrastructure development make friends easily and carry a moral authority that is useful to conflict resolution. Even though AFRICOM understands this, and boasts of a long list of humanitarian projects throughout Africa, these efforts count for nothing among Africans who understand U.S. imperialist objectives and the fact that ultimately, soldiers are armed and ready to kill. The U.S. military may be well trained for war, but it is wrong for the job of making peace in Africa.

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

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