"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Monday, March 30, 2009

Africa Is NOT A Commodity


The United States' keeps tightening its military noose around the globe. With roughly 1000 military bases around the world, the U.S. has pretty tight control over anything it wants to get its hands on just about anywhere. And while all eyes have been on places like Iraq and Afghanistan, a quiet but serious military expansion has been taking place on the African continent, where the U.S. (under President Bush's order) established the United States African Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. In that same year 20% of all U.S. oil imports came from Africa. Hmmmm...

AFRICOM's mission is to "conduct sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy" (Source: AFRICOM Website). Translation: We are going to establish a major military presence in Africa to expand the (endless) War on Terror, ensure uninterrupted access to oil (and other strategic materials), and counter Chinese influence on the continent.

At the recent Seattle Green Festival I attended a presentation by Dedan Gills and Belvie Rooks, co-founders of Growing a Global Heart, whose presentation was called "Our African Journey: An Odyssey of Remembering, Honoring and Healing Along the Slave Coast of Africa." It was a powerful sixty minutes that, through words and pictures, took the audience deep into the spiritual heart of the African (and African American) people, and the pain and suffering that they have endured in recent centuries. Most importantly, it helped me understand the importance of looking back into history to create a better future, and how to (creatively) work towards a sustainable Africa (and world).

I hope to share more about this couple's work in a future posting; for now I want to focus on a particular quote from Belvie. She said (and I apologize if I didn't get it verbatim) that, "First they sold the Africans as slaves; then they sold the continent." That statement struck me like a ton of bricks. Indeed, besides the selling of slaves and shipping them off to foreign ports, numerous European powers colonized the continent and enslaved the African people right at home. They took all they wanted, and when they were done (or finally forced out) they left countries devastated and impoverished.

The post-colonial history of parts of the continent has been difficult and sometimes bloody, and now the United States seems poised to be a new "occupying" power. AFRICOM is not the way for the United States to "promote a stable and secure African environment" in any way (for the African people). The way to do that is through compassionate, collaborative (non-military) assistance that listens to and honors the needs of communities, regions and nations. Africa (along with its people and resources) is not a commodity! If nations want the continent's resources, shouldn't they pay a fair price and not promote promote poverty, conflict and environmental degradation, or greedy dictators?

If you want to help promote peace and sustainability for the African people, one really important way you can get involved is at Resist AFRICOM, a campaign of concerned U.S. and Africa-based organizations and individuals opposed to the new U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM).

Another important point made by Belvie and Dedan was that of the "dismissal of human suffering." To paraphrase Dedan, "the consciousness that created the slave trade is the same consciousness that kills whales and hunts wolves." It is the same consciousness that uses (and abuses) people and their lands to acquire all that we want, while "dismissing" their suffering. No longer can we reduce others in order to justify our actions. Isn't it time to develop a new consciousness out of which can grow a compassionate and just U.S. foreign policy? And isn't Africa (and AFRICOM) a good place to start???

Towards Peace and Sustainability,


Note: The article about AFRICOM (referenced in this post) in Foreign Policy in Focus (June, 2008) by Antonia Juhasz, titled AFRI(OIL)COM is very interesting. It has an interactive map that graphically illustrates oil and U.S. military interests on the continent.

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