Week Six. The United States in Africa: from Aid to Anti-Terror

Together, the three readings this week seek to debunk, to varying degrees, America’s involvement in the manifestation of the global war on terror in Africa. In Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police, Alice Hills chronicles specifically the addition of a security agenda to USAID’s original mandate as a development agency. This new agenda, as Hills notes, is beyond USAID’s traditional roles and signals a corruption of the somewhat “humanitarian” principles upon which the parastatal was formed. USAID’s security agenda manifests mainly in the form of “security aid” to the police departments of several African countries, notably Kenya; this way, the hope is that these African countries will be better equipped to carry out anti-terror missions.

In Kenya, the United States, and Counterterrorism, Jeremy Prestholdt takes an approach very similar to Hills’, in that they both examine the flow of security aid from U.S. to Africa (Prestholdt focuses here on Kenya). However, Prestholdt’s most significant addition to the scholarship on U.S.-Africa relations is that he considers the impact to the otherwise obscure population of this deceitful and futile security aid. He notes that the aid has empowered Kenyan forces, which is not such a bad thing, but that the Kenyan government proceeds with his “duties” in ways that can be comfortably labelled as violations of both domestic and international laws.

Likewise, in The Banana Theory of Terrorism: Alternative Truths and the Collapse of the ‘Second’ (Saharan) Front in the War on Terror, Jeremy Keenan explores America’s collusion with the Algerian government, supposedly in order to fight terrorism in the Sahara. Keenan makes the argument that this Saharan front in the War on Terror never existed and is in contravention of several laws — international and domestic. He presents the Banana Theory as the nonexistent route through which nonexistent terrorists from Afghanistan made their way to Africa, starting from the Horn in Somalia and ending up in the Sahara. He believes, however, that this falsified Saharan front in the War of Terror is collapsing: academics are finally being made aware of the deceit, and indigenes of these Saharan regions are also being made aware of, and beginning to believe in, the alternative truth. In his words, “The official truth has now become a demonstrable lie.”

As stated earlier, the three articles share a common characteristic: they all seek to dismiss America’s collusion with African states in attempts to fight terror — attempts that, more often than not, end up being thwarted, opaque, and obfuscatory. Furthermore, they all seem to suggest that even if America’s conflation of security with development (with regards to the War on Terror in Africa) were morally defensible, it consistently fails to be practically defensible. This is simply because, as the three authors imply, African governments are corrupt, unreliable, and irrevocably prejudiced; and their security apparatuses echo this ineptitude in every possible way. The empowerment of these African security apparatuses would be positive if the apparatuses were competent and a little less politicized. While this is true, it is equally important to point out that with or without American security aid, these security apparatuses will function in incompetent and prejudiced ways.


 — To what degree do you think Nigeria’s reluctance to receive security assistance from America (in regards to the Boko Haram insurgency) is as a result of America’s practices as depicted in the readings?

— Joseph Keenan seems to dismiss the existence of terror in Africa — especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Is this a careless conclusion by Keenan, given, of course, the rise in Africa of Boko Haram, and dozens of other similar terrorist groups.

— Moyosore Arewa


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