Africa is the new frontier for the U.S. Defense Department. The Pentagon has applied counterterrorism tactics throughout the Middle East and, to a lesser extent, Central and South Asia. Now it is monitoring the African continent for counterterrorism initiatives. It staged more than 546 military exercises on the continent last year, a 217 percent increase since 2008, and is now involved in nearly 50 African countries.
U.S. military and police aid to all Africa this year totaled nearly $1.8 billion, with additional arms sales surpassing $800 million. In terms of ensuring Africa’s safety and security, however, the return on this investment is questionable.
What if, for example, that money was instead spent eradicating pervasive viruses that are undermining Africa’s future? Yellow fever vaccination doses cost less than $1.00 and Hepatitis B vaccination doses cost 25 cents or less. These viruses, and their deadly bedfellows like Ebola, are the real threats terrorizing African communities — and more deserving of U.S. defense dollars.
The Pentagon’s serious ramp-up in funds and focus is an apparent response to the rise of groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the various insurgencies throughout Mali, Libya and Uganda. Yet the heavy U.S. military footprint is doing little to address the pressing socioeconomic needs of impoverished people in the Horn of Africa or politically and economically marginalized communities in West Africa.
The violence in these countries — from Nigeria in the west to Somalia in the east — is getting worse, despite increasing U.S. drone strikes, airstrikes, military advisers, joint special operations and other counterterrorism tactics. Relying on hard power in Africa does not address the root causes behind the many extremist groups.