US war on drugs extending to Africa

In a New York Times article on the 21st of July 2012; America has announced an expansion of their operations in Africa. The reports specify that America have moved to train an elite unit of counter-narcotics policing in Ghana, with proposed expansions in both Kenya and Nigeria. The program will be enforced through America’s Africom division; an organisation setup in October 2008 to co-ordinate all american military activity in the African continent.

This expansion is part of America’s long running ‘War on drugs’ campaign; not to be confused with the so-called ‘war on terror’ despite both ‘wars’ operating in similar areas. This is largely due to the fact that the illegal drugs trade makes an estimated $330 billion a year, with huge profit margins and insurgent groups would love to have a piece of that pie to finance their operations. Since the establishment of the DEA (drug enforcement administration) in the 1970s the war on drugs has taken on a more violent path. The war on drugs has taken place for many years against America’s Latin American neighbours; Mexico and more recently Honduras. Drug cartels are believed to transport drugs into regions of demand, which incidentally happens to be America, with explosive consequences. The violent responses to drug trafficking have led to a rising body count. Operation anvil, Americas aptly named new anti-narcotic campaign, much like the war on terror, has led to many misled incursions and many civilian deaths. This death-toll, when added to a growth in violence of some 71 percent between 2009-2010, confirms that total drug-related casualties since 2006 in Mexico may be as high as 50 thousand – higher than some estimates of civilian deaths in Afghanistan since 2001. Yet the drugs trade still grows despite a high body count legacy. So naturally progression means to make anti-narcotic operations bigger and strike harder, doesn’t it?

“We see Africa as the new frontier in terms of counterterrorism and counternarcotics issues,” said Jeffrey P. Breeden, the chief of the D.E.A.’s Europe, Asia and Africa section. “It’s a place that we need to get ahead of — we’re already behind the curve in some ways, and we need to catch up.” [2012]

The situation does not seem entirely of a drugs nature. Africom, while an American initiative, only has 2000 American military nationals on the continent. The rest is made up of proxy groups and locals to help fight their wars for them. It is also telling of Africom that prior to 2008, Africom had to be established in Stuttgart, Germany. This announcement comes ahead of supposed operational success in Honduras in previous months. More interestingly however is that this statement announcement does coincide with Chinas increasing influence in Africa. An Africom statement in June 2008 affectionately titled ‘China in Africa: Implications for US policy’ highlights a pressing need to re-establish American influence in the area but also calls for a combined dialogue with China to further African interests. So why does China have a greater influence in Africa?

America pushes for increased influence in Africa through the use of military presence and partnerships with country leaders often providing support to the more placid individuals. China, on the other hand, has gone the other way: an increased economic standing in Africa. While China has invested in Africa for many years, this past decade has seen a remarkable rise in investment and return for both countries. Its overall trade with Africa rose from $10.6 billion in 2000 to $75.5 billion in 2008, propelling Africa's growth rate to 5.8% in 2008.

It can be argued that while military influence affects the elite of the country to use as they see fit, China’s initiative is of a more long-term investment for the general populace.

China’s investments in Africa have been more holistic in nature with little or no strings attached in loans. Schools, hospitals and communal services have been provided to African communities by the Chinese. The increased trade in Africa has also raised interest in the country with other countries such as India and France also investing in economies. However much like the Americans, Chinese involvement also has their drawbacks.

The past decade has seen economic meltdown for America and the west; economic boom for China and the east. The improving economic muscle of China and its rapid growth has demanded fast production and outsourcing of materials for trade and infrastructure within China. With Africa’s rich resources of minerals, China has tapped heavily into this resource. More disturbingly while Africa has imported cheap goods from china, markedly lacking in quality, has effectively limited local trade and businesses. China has also taken over industry, mostly with their own countrymen. Working standards are very low and the allowance of both Chinese immigrants to settle and buy farmland bears the hallmarks of imperialism. African citizens are growing more distrustful in the Chinese agenda as they progressively take over trade and land.

America on the other hand have historically exploited Africa for profit and leaving Africa destitute. With their new war on drugs initiative in Africa this does not bode well. The damaging military intervention has left countries such as Mexico in poor conditions and damaged relations. It is a violent spiral, as the less economical opportunity and alternatives for the populace there are, more involvement in the drug cartels increasingly becomes the only viable option. This could very well become the situation in Africa.

A more malicious outlook may also be present. Africom’s Vice Admiral Robert Moeller declared in a conference in 2008 that Africom was about preserving "the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market", and two years later, in a piece in Foreign policy magazine, wrote: "Let there be no mistake. Africom's job is to protect American lives and promote American interests." Through this body, western powers are resorting to the use of military power to win back the leverage once attained through financial monopoly.

The past few years has seen a removal of American ‘strongmen’ in power in African countries. Previous American policies were to offer military and diplomatic immunity, largely by turning a blind eye to the countries in question as long as they get their dividends. Unrest suits American interests as it keeps the elite happy with their hard hand treatment but also disrupts Chinese economical ventures. Figuratively, Africom may pursue the al capone business model; offer protection to governments for an extortionate and orbital fee. It is not surprising since resources are now available all across the country; Africa now has both oil and minerals much like how Iraq had oil and Afghanistan has heroin. The aforementioned countries now act more or less as an imperial extension to America and her allies.

While all of this is conjecture and the possible strings attached to both countries ‘investments’ in Africa, There is a drug transit problem in Africa. Whether military intervention is appropriate is difficult to ascertain. 2012’s world drug report by the United Nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC) displays increasing seizures of cannabis across Africa, less so with regards to cocaine and heroin/morphine. The issue is that Africa could become the next Mexico. Mexico is used as a transit point for moving illegal drugs, as Africa is accused of doing. The difference is that Mexico’s drugs are moved into the US while Africa’s drugs are moved into Europe. Consistent military interventions may have stopped one route but other routes are then exploited for drug trafficking. This leads to a never ending game of cat and mouse where the cartel is always one step ahead. Additionally a lack of economical stability could drive more individuals into illicit trafficking of drugs. The Chinese approach is seemingly providing a mutual business exchange with Africa, yet some of the terms and the manner of their economic dealings are suspicious as possible economic imperialism. The large acquisition of minerals, the large movement of Chinese nationals to live on African soil, damaging local markets through Chinese exports and poor working conditions does raise some eyebrows

Latin American leaders agree the war on drugs has failed in Mexico, with money and citizens lost. So why do America want to pursue a lost campaign in Africa?

The announcement of increased Africom operations in Africa is rife with other agendas. A failure of the war on drugs on Mexico does not justify the move towards to Africa to deal with the same problem. It also happens to be that China has increased influence in Africa and has access to Africa’s resources. It seems that America seeks a slice of that resource and influence. While China may approach Africa from an economic view and America in its military; they both present drawbacks.