The Dilemma at the Heart of America’s Approach to Africa

If Washington really wants to promote African democracy, why is it partnering with the continent’s autocrats to create military spy programs?

U.S. marines watch as members of the Uganda army undergo training in combat operation skills at a military training school in Singo, 78km (46 miles) south of capital Kampala, April 30, 2012, in preparation for their deployment to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). REUTERS/James Akena

Howard W. French
The Atlantic
6/15/2012

JUBA, South Sudan — In an extraordinary pair of articles published this week, The Washington Post has filled in the picture of how the U.S. military and intelligence establishment have worked to create a network of a dozen or so air bases for spying purposes across Africa. What is most remarkable about the articles are not the details themselves, which involve small, specially equipped turboprop aircraft flying surveillance missions out of remote airfields in the Sahel and in equatorial East Africa.

What stands out most about the articles, instead, is the way that this news has cast the African continent as a place where serious American interests are at play. Such things are all too rare for the mainstream media, which typically chronicles African political upheaval, violence and suffering as distant and almost random incidents or miscellany with little connection to life outside of the continent.

The Africa of our day-to-day coverage is dominated, in other words, by vivid splashes of color, by scene and emotion, and it is largely bereft of form or of pattern, and of politics and ideas that could help connect one development to another or connect the whole to the rest of the world. Some of this may be changing slowly with the recent sharp rise of China’s profile throughout the continent, which has drawn a belated response from a United States suddenly eager to avoid seeing the continent be snatched away from the West, as some fear…

…If…American policy is really about fighting an endless succession of enemies, which is what seems to drive the security agenda that the Post has so usefully lifted the veil on, then candor should require admitting that building democracy is really important only when it is convenient.

Read the entire article at The Atlantic.

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