Ex-Diplomat: US Military Not Fueling Instability in Africa

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Johannesburg (CNSNews.com) - A former American diplomat currently affiliated with a top African think tank has disputed arguments by anti-war campaigners that the presence of U.S. forces may be linked to conflicts in the continent.

An umbrella group called the South African Anti-War Coalition recently announced the launch of a campaign to probe which nations and organizations were profiting from Africa's wars.

The group said it would, in particular, scrutinize the United States military presence in Africa, as well as South African private- and public-sector weapons manufacturers.

J. Brooks Spector, a former diplomat who served in Africa and Asia, said there were many factors behind the deployment of U.S. forces in parts of Africa, and he took issue with the implication that their presence could be fueling instability.

In an interview here, Spector said these factors could include pre-positioning forces to deal with other conflict areas, such as the Middle East; peacekeeping initiatives, like that in Liberia; and the protection of specific natural resources, such as the case of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

"U.S. military presence in Africa is closely tied to encouraging democratic growth and stability in Africa."

Spector, who is currently a research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) in Johannesburg, argued that good governance may be the missing link in efforts to end the continent's repetitive civil and intra-nations wars.

Africans should direct their efforts toward building up democratic institutions, while efforts should be made to avoid stirring up issues that could prompt segments of society to take up arms.

"Even without small arms and weapons, disagreements will always occur and people will fight using machetes, stones and sticks as is happening in Africa," said Spector, disputing a commonly-held view that Africa's wars are fueled, in particular, by the easy availability of small arms.

Efforts to address the causes of wars in Africa have largely been directed at finding ways to curb the proliferation of small arms and building political consensus within the affected country.

Few efforts were focused on resolving issues related to competition for regional supremacy, ethnicity across Africa's artificially-drawn borders, factional power struggles, and questions related to succession.

The primary factors for conflict in Africa were therefore within Africa itself and not outside, he said.

According to World Bank studies, civil strife is one of the most significant contributors to high levels of poverty in Africa.

African nations have been unable to attract foreign investment or encourage local investment because of conflicts, and billions of man-hours of labor are lost as refugees flee from war zones.

The World Health Organization estimates that wars cost Africa $15 billion per year.

Meanwhile, the Anti-War Coalition held a protest demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy Tuesday, "against the continuing U.S. presence in Iraq and the sponsorship of the Israeli army."

Banners displayed at the demonstration called President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "racists" and "killers.""

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