News June 28, 2017 at 05:00 pm

Military Chiefs Criticize U.S. Push for Military Presence in Africa Over Aid

Fredrick Ngugi | Contributor

Fredrick Ngugi June 28, 2017 at 05:00 pm

June 28, 2017 at 05:00 pm | News

Malawian and American military officials at a press conference in Malawi. Photo credit: DVIDS

Several African military officials have raised concerns over plans by the United States to increase its military presence in Africa while reducing humanitarian aid to the continent.

These concerns come hot on the heels of a proposed Pentagon budget by the White House for the 2018 financial year, which calls for an additional $52 billion on top of the current $575 billion base budget, according to The New York Times.

If this budget is approved by Congress, it will mean that the United States will be spending more money on military affairs in Africa than on humanitarian and development assistance across the continent.

“We are radically narrowing the definition of why and how Africa matters to U.S. national interests,” said J. Stephen Morrison, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Morrison added that gone are the days when human rights, development, economic growth, and humanitarian relief dominated the American agenda on Africa.

Immediately after he was sworn in as president of the United States, Donald Trump announced his plan to slash funding for humanitarian programs in developing countries, including funds meant to buy antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV.

Experts have warned that these cuts could lead to the deaths of at least 1 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

Trump’s budget also completely eliminates funding for two big think tanks, the Woodrow International Center for Scholars and the United States Institute of Peace, with the current U.S. Secretary of State, Rex W. Tillerson, reiterating the view that the Trump administration does not prioritize diplomacy in Africa.

In April, Mr. Tillerson reportedly backed out of a planned meeting with the newly elected chairman of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, at the last minute with no clear explanation.

Some American military chiefs have also voiced their concerns over the proposed budget cuts in humanitarian funding, warning that the reductions might lead to more conflict in Africa, which will in turn mean more military intervention.

“We are part of a long history of U.S. military leaders who have noted how much more cost-effective it is to prevent a conflict than to end one,” a group of retired American military officers, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a written testimony earlier this month.

While some Africans want the United States to maintain its military presence in some of the troubled regions across Africa, many have warned that a reduction in humanitarian assistance will have a direct effect on the continent’s most vulnerable people.

Although it is not clear how much money the Trump administration plans to send to African militaries, some Pentagon officials say there will be more of it for training programs, joint exercises, and counterterrorism efforts.

“We have statements out of Washington about significant reductions on foreign aid. What I can tell you is that experience has shown us that diplomacy and security must come together,” Gen. Griffin Phiri, the commander of the Malawi Defense Forces, said.

Gen. Phiri was speaking at the African Land Forces Summit, a conference of 126 American Army officers and service members and their counterparts from 40 African nations, which was held in Lilongwe, Malawi, in May.

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