Aktualisiert: 5. Juli 2021
If the U.S. government was trying to destroy Burkina Faso, it could hardly have done it any better. This already impoverished, landlocked West African country is simply symptomatic of Franco-America’s Sahel-wide exercise in absurdity.
It goes like this: in the years following the 9/11 attacks there was no Islamist militant threat to speak of in this region. Nevertheless, on account of its hallucinatory fear, racialized mental-mapping and neocon-neo-imperial reflexes, the George W. Bush administration imagined and then induced not just a genuine jihadi rebellion, but an inter-communal implosion clear across the Sahel.
And because Burkina Faso was long considered one of the most stable countries in West Africa — and its conflict currently runs hottest of all — this tortured nation makes for an instructive case study in incompetence and indecency.
The entire concept of the Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) was more bizarre than most people probably remember. At its genesis in 2007, the U.S. military was more than a little bogged down – trust me – failing to fight its way out of an Iraqi-paper bag the Bushies had pulled over their own heads. Plus, the Taliban boys-were-back-in-Afghanistan and ready to lasso old G.W.’s Obama successor into another surge-cum-quagmire.
Africa, especially West Africa, on the other hand, had essentially no Islamist militants to speak of. Burkina Faso actually had the least of all. In late 2013, a State Department report noted that
“there were no recorded terrorist incidents in Burkina Faso, which is not a source for violent extremist organization recruitment efforts or home to radical religious extremists.”
Yet, as if the Pentagon wasn’t losing enough needless and hopeless wars, it opened a new proconsular franchise for the continent. See, according to Bush’s racialized 19th century-colonialist cerebral cartography, he wanted the post-9/11 U.S. military sword to be “ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world.” AFRICOM was then charged with the counterintuitive charter of preventing war in places
“where violent conflict has not yet emerged, where crises have to be prevented.”
Apparently these folks never heard of the phase “violence begets violence,” which is strange for such proud evangelical Christians, since the aphorism’s origins trace back to Matthew 26:52 “‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”
A baker’s dozen-worth of years later, the entire African Sahel is a free-fire zone jumble of jihadi, state-directed, and communal carnage.
Map of Saharan Africa. (CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Here’s the CliffsNotes version of how and why that played out in the current Burkinabe contender for the bloodiest Sahel savagery – highlighting the immense amount of Franco-American accelerant that really burnished the blaze.
The main match was lit in 2009, when Burkina Faso joined the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) – a joint State-Pentagon, but military-skewed, slush fund for training, advising, and equipping local regional security forces to counter negligible, if not nonexistent, terror.
The core problem was philosophical — of America imposing, and Burkinabe political elites willingly applying, a counterterrorism formula that didn’t address, and actually inflamed, the long-neglected nation’s foundational cornucopia of conflict kindling.
By handing scores of millions in Yankee-greenbacks to Burkinabe politicians with proven proclivities for corruption, plus weapons and training to state security forces with a historical knack, mainly, for coups and civil-suppression – Washington all-but ensured that the government’s response to the (initially nonexistent) threat would be both over-militarized and an overreaction.
It’s as if Washington handed the Burkinabe ruling elites a hammer, told them to keep an eye out for jihadi nails, and that if they found some we’d ship over more hammers. Is it really any surprise they promptly whacked away at already hated, and often marginalized Muslims in their midst.
That then caused counterproductive blowback across the entire spectrum of the scantly understood – at least by U.S. policymakers – “perfect storm” of volatility and grievance underpinning and belying the illusion of Burkina Faso as a poster-child of “stability” in the Sahel.
After 9/11, politicians, pundits, and the Pentagon have tended to frame – and fit – every foreign conflict inside their nifty state-democracy versus Islamist-terror model. And, despite mountains of actual academic and scholarly expert research to the contrary, American policymakers somehow decided that the best way to fight terror was with state-terror – when, in fact, time and again it’s proven that force usually adds fuel to the fire.
Consider some stats – a security assistance report card of sorts. Since 2009, Washington has spent more than $69 million on Burkina Faso’s security forces, and in fact, more Burkinabe personnel (13,000+) were trained by American soldiers and contractors than in any other Sahelian state. So what did the American taxpayers get for their money? What was the haul for that hefty investment, you ask? Turns out, less than nada – unless you count a boatload of Burkinabe bodies, most of them innocents.
The number of reported attacks, fatalities, and displaced persons all reached record highs last year – and between 2018 and 2019 alone, conflict-related deaths increased more than seven-fold.
Plus, some good that 11 years-worth of U.S.-training – including classes in “human rights” – did the Burkinabe security forces, since they and the government-backed (and recently armed) ethnic militias have themselves killed half the civilians who’ve perished since the conflict kicked off. Moreover, the military officer who briefly seized power in a 2014 coup happened to attend two U.S.-sponsored counterterrorism training seminars. Well, that’s pretty standard – since no less than eight American-trained African military officers have turned coup-artist since AFRICOM opened for (the fiasco) business.
Crazier still, Burkinabe military and political elites essentially brag about all this extrajudicial killing. Simon Compaoré, the president of the ruling People’s Movement for Progress and a former interior minister, told an interviewer that:
“We’re not shouting this from the rooftops, but it’s what we do. If the jihadists kill five-to-10 soldiers, the morale in the army is going to be very low. We need to make sure their morale doesn’t get destroyed. If we discover there are spies, we need to neutralize them right away.”
Which raises the question: what’s the point of having the Leahy Laws – which prohibit funding and assisting foreign security forces credibly accused of gross violations of human rights – on the books, if the statutes are ignored as soon as they’re inconvenient?
In spite of Burkina Faso’s critical governance and corruption issues, and credible reports of bloody human rights violations by the security forces, Washington even now continues to send millions of dollars in security assistance to the country’s capital, Ouagadougou. Talk about a classic case of “throwing good money at bad!”
Here’s the hard truth that I can’t for the life of me adequately conjure from an air-conditioned American apartment: if the conflict’s casualty rate remains on track, then some 600 more Burkinabe civilians will be slaughtered by Christmas. Naturally, the U.S. government didn’t exactly ask We the People before helping to create then catalyze the conflict, and few Americans know or care where Burkina Faso falls on a damn map. But in the ethical court of criminal complicity, ignorance and apathy are no defense for aiding and abetting mass murder.
This indecency is done in our names – Burkinabe blood is on our hands.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer, the director of the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He co-hosts the podcast “Fortress on a Hill.” His work has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, The Nation, The Hill, Salon, The American Conservative and Mother Jones, among other publications. He served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught history at West Point. He is the author of three books, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War and, most recently, A True History of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.
This article is from AntiWar.com.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
It's hard to understand how Sjursen can outline all the facts and somehow still conclude that it was due to "incompetence," an unintentional "exercise in absurdity" and craziness etc.
The issue of outright US imperial intent is so often sidestepped on the left.
He says right here: "Burkina Faso was long considered one of the most stable countries in West Africa," lists all these (frankly evil) US actions that have derailed that stability, and then suggests the US just sort of blundered in and unintentionally messed everything up.
(maybe having something to do with Sjursen being a "retired US army officer?")
I always think of a nearly two-decade old Glen Ford piece when I read stuff like this:
Glen Ford, BAR executive editor 07 Jul 2003
Barefoot, Sick, Hungy and Afraid: The Real U.S.Policy in Africa What is the real objective of a US foreign policy in Africa which offers military aid, weapons, logistics and training to the armed forces of more than 50 of the 54 nations of the most war torn and impoverished continent on earth? Is it building and strengthening civil societies? Or is the permanent state of insecurity, dependence, endemic violence and poverty which characterizes Africa today just better for business? This story was orginally published in Black Commentator on July 7, 2003 "Our policy with respect to the continent of Africa at best has been a policy that is inconsistent and incoherent," said NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume , in Miami Beach last weekend for the organization’s annual convention. "We've looked away in many instances because Africa was not politically correct or politically cute." Mr. Mfume is wrong. United States policy towards sub-Saharan Africa has been consistent since August of 1960, when President Eisenhower ordered his national security team to arrange the assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba. Congo had been nominally independent from Belgium for only two months, yet Eisenhower, far from looking away from Africa during his last months in office, was already embarked on a relentless policy of continental destabilization, one that has been fundamentally adhered to by every U.S. President that followed. U.S. policy in Africa is anything but “incoherent.” Rather, too many of us have “looked away” from the clear pattern of U.S. behavior and intent – a ferocious, bipartisan determination to arrest African development at every opportunity and by all possible means – including the death of millions. War on African civil society Belgians murdered Prime Minister Lumumba on January 17, 1961, no doubt with the collaboration of Eisenhower’s men. Lumumba presented a danger to European and American domination of post-colonial Africa precisely because he was not a tribal figure, but a thoroughly Congolese politician, a man who sought to harness power through popular structures. As such, Lumumba personified the threat of an awakened African civil society – the prerequisite for true independence and social development. A popular and long held belief among Africans and African Americans is that the prospect of continental (or even global) African “unity” is what terrifies Washington, London and Paris. We wish that were true. However, the neocolonial powers know they have nothing to worry about on that score, having begun the era of “independence” with a clear understanding among themselves that conditions for meaningful unity would not be allowed to develop. African civil society itself would be stunted, hounded, impoverished – rendered so fundamentally insecure that, even should “leaders” of African countries band together under banners of “unity,” few could speak with the voice of the people. Only leaders of intact civil societies can unite with one another to any meaningful effect – all else is bombast, and frightens no one. Tribalism is, indeed, a problem in Africa. For Americans and Europeans, it is an obsession – the game they have played since the Portuguese planted their first outposts at the mouths of African rivers in the 1400s. However, there are limits to the effectiveness of tribal manipulation. Many “tribes” are very large – nations, actually. Setting one tribal group against the other, while suppressing the social development of each, is a tricky business. The colonizer must not to allow the “favored” group to accrue, through privilege, sufficient social space to aspire to nationhood. In that event, the formerly favored group must be crushed by the colonizer’s own military force – a brutish and costly business. These are generalities, and Africa is a big place. Numerous colonial powers at different times employed the full mix of coercion, manipulation, favoritism, and raw (including genocidal) force. After World War Two, and for a host of reasons, the colonial arrangement had become untenable. Europeans would continue to engage in tribal manipulation in the new political environment, while the U.S. preferred bullets and bribes as it assumed overlord status among the imperialists. However, it was clear to the old masters – and especially to Washington – that the formal structures of independence would inevitably lead to the growth of dynamic civil societies that could impede the operations of multinational extraction corporations and agribusiness. Civil societies can become quite raucous and demanding, even in countries in which there are tribal divisions. Therefore, the process of African civil development had to be interrupted, not only in those new states that were economically valuable to Europe and the U.S., but in all of Africa, so that no healthy civil model might emerge. If this could be achieved, there would be no need to fear the actions of assembled heads of African states – an irrelevant gaggle of uniforms and suits, standing in for nations, but representing no coherent social force. Assignment: crush the people To thwart the growth of civil society in newly independent Africa, the imperialists turned to the Strong Men. It is probably more accurate to say that the imperialists invented the African Strong Man. Although both the neocolonial masters and the Strong Men themselves make a great fuss about indigenousness – albeit for somewhat different reasons – these characters arise from the twisted structures of colonialism. Their function is to smother civil society, to render the people helpless. Joseph Desire Mobutu is the model of the African Strong Man. He was an American invention whose career is the purest expression of U.S. policy in Africa. With all due respect to the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume, there was nothing “inconsistent and incoherent” about Mobutu’s nearly four decades of service to the United States. From the day in August, 1960 when Eisenhower ordered the death of Lumumba (Mobutu, Lumumba’s treasonous chief of the army, deposed his Prime Minister the next month and collaborated directly in the murder) to his death from cancer in 1997, U.S. African policy was inextricably bound to the billionaire thief. It can be reasonably said that Mobutuism is U.S. African policy. Mobutu and nine U.S. Presidents (Eisenhower through Clinton) utterly and mercilessly poisoned Africa, sending crippling convulsions through the continent, from which Africa may never recover. With borders on Angola,Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Congo (Brazzaville), and a land mass as large as the U.S. east of the Mississippi, Mobutu’s Zaire was an incubator of never ending war, subversion, disease, corruption and, ultimately, social disruption so horrific as to challenge the Arab and European slave trade in destructive intensity. Mobutu’s reign began in the heyday of European soldiers of fortune, allies of his like “Mad Mike” Hoare. By the time of his death, more than 100 mercenary outfits operated in sub-Saharan Africa, safeguarding multinational corporations from the chaos that Mobutu and his American handlers labored so mightily to foment. So integral have mercenaries become to Africa, a number of Black governments depend on them for their own security, forsaking any real claim to national sovereignty. This, too, is the legacy of U.S. African policy. (American mercenary corporations garner an ever-increasing share of the business.) Millions died in Zaire-Congo and neighboring states as a direct or indirect result of policies hatched in Washington and executed by Mobutu – and this, before the genocidal explosion in Rwanda in 1994, leading to an “African World War” fought on Congolese soil that has so far claimed at least 3 million more lives, belated victims of the policies dutifully carried out by America’s African Strong Man. Bush cultivates more Mobutus For 43 years U.S. governments have empowered Strong Men to do their bidding in Africa. The geography and riches of Congo-Zaire allowed Mobutu to wreak continent-wide havoc on Washington’s behalf, while growing fabulouslyrich. However, many lesser clients have been nurtured by successive U.S. governments, their names and crimes too numerous for this essay. They and Mobutu’s outrages are the logical product of the neocolonialist program. The actors come and go, but the underlying design remains the same: to prevent the emergence of strong civil societies in Black Africa. The Strong Man’s job is to create weak civil societies. Weak and demoralized societies, supporting fragile states hitched to the fortunes of the Strong Man and his circle of pecking persons, pose little threat to foreign capital. The African Strong Man model suits the purposes of European imperialists and the United States, perfectly. Their overarching concern– especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union – is for the multinational mineral and petroleum-extracting corporations – what Europeans and Americans are actually referring to when they speak of their “national interests” on the continent. Representing himself and a small base of supporters/dependents, the Strong Man can be counted on to bully civil society into steadily narrowing spaces, snuffing out all independent social formations, while at the same time stripping the society of the means to protect itself outside of his own, capricious machinery. The nation itself atrophies, or is stillborn, as in Congo. Where nations have not had the chance to take full root or have been deliberately stunted, the Strong Man wraps the thin reeds of sovereignty around himself, denying the people their means of connectedness to one another, except through him. The state is a private apparatus and – from the standpoint of civil society – there appears to be no nation, at all. The people act, accordingly – that is, they do not act as citizens of a nation. Thus, the Strong Man’s most valuable service to the foreign master is to retard and negate nationhood through constant assaults on civil society. What is commonly described as American “neglect” of Africa is nothing of the kind. Over the course of the decades since the end of formal colonialism, the governments of the corporate headquarters countries have arrived at a consensus that a chaotic Africa, barely governed at all, in which civil societies are perpetually insecure, incapable of defending themselves much less the nation, is the least troublesome environment for Western purposes. The extraction corporations in Africa feel most secure when the people of Africa are insecure. In Congo and Liberia-Sierra Leone, this unspoken but operative policy has plunged whole populations into Hell on Earth. African Americans typically criticize the U.S. for failing to treat Black lives as valuable – in other words, Washington is accused of neglecting the carnage in Central and West Africa because of racism. The reality is far worse than that. American policy is designed to place Africans at the extremes of insecurity, in order to foreclose the possibility of civil societies taking root. This policy has always resulted in mass death. Moreover, the U.S. did not simply sit idly by while genocide swept Rwanda and “World War” wracked Congo. Instead, the American government initially thwarted a world response to the Rwandan holocaust, and has prolonged the carnage in Congo through its two client states, Uganda and Rwanda, which have methodically looted the wealth of the northeastern Congo while claiming – falsely, according to a report to the UN Security Council – to be protecting their own borders. Uganda’s list of “proxy” Congolese ethnic armies reaches into every corner of Ituri province, where “combatants…have slaughtered some five thousand civilians in the last year because of their ethnic affiliation,” according to a Human Rights Watch report. “But the combatants are armed and often directed by the governments of the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], Rwanda and Uganda.” (“Ituri: Bloodiest Corner of the Congo ,” July 8.) Zimbabwean officers have also plundered the country, but have been involved in far less killing in their role as protectors of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government. Angola and Namibia also went to the Kinshasa regime’s aid. The United Nations and African countries labored for five years to untangle the mix of belligerents – with only the most pro forma cooperation of the United States. Prolonging “Africa’s World War” Had the U.S. wanted to end or at least scale down “Africa’s World War,” there is no doubt that Washington could have reined in Rwanda and Uganda, who received a steady stream of American military and economic assistance during the conflict. The Congolese (DRC) government, on the other hand, has suffered under severe sanctions from both the U.S. and the European Union. It would have cost Washington far less than a billion dollars in bribes to quarantine “Africa’s World War” – slush money for a super-power, and a fraction of the bribes Washington was willing to pay for favorable votes on Iraq at the UN. Instead, the U.S. provided aid to key combatants. That’s not a lack of policy, nor is it indifference. In the larger scheme of things, Washington believed that prolonging a war that weakened and debased Africa was in its “national interest.” Uganda and Rwanda have reciprocated, shamelessly. “Recently Uganda publicly backed the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, defying the African position to endorse a UN-sanctioned war,” reads the current message of the official State House website of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s government, in Kampala. Rwanda’s Ambassador to the U.S., Zac Nsenga, was even more obsequious when presenting his credentials at the U.S. State Department, May 8 : “The Rwandan Government reaffirms its commitment to join forces with the United States and the free world to combat acts of terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head. The events of the 1994 Genocide and September 11th has taught us that we have to stand together as Nations to defeat these evil acts against humanity. For this very reason President Kagame stood firmly in support of the U.S. led attack on Iraq, not only to root out a terrorist dictator but also to free the people of Iraq.” Three million dead in Congo mean nothing when compared to two eager clients in the heart of Africa, who are more than willing to both defy “theAfrican position” on Iraq and help keep Central Africa chaotic – Mobutu’s old job. As for Charles Taylor, the Liberian Strong Man responsible for the death, dismemberment and displacement of hundreds of thousands in his own country and neighboring Sierra Leone – at the time of this writing, Bush was still playing games over whether Taylor should leave for Nigerian exile before or after an African peace keeping force arrives to secure the capital, Monrovia. Concerned American progressives debate what their positions should be if Bush sends significant U.S. forces to help pacify the country. He will not. If history is any judge, U.S. involvement on the ground in Liberia will be token, if any, and brief – just enough to show the flag. Had Washington desired stability for Liberia and its neighbors Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, it would have eliminated Taylor years ago. He was allowed to live because he served U.S. policy, whether he knew that or not. Eternal warfare is the most effective way to smother civil society. Americans may also one day learn this horrible lesson.