Western military intervention is bad for Africa. A lesson from Afghanistan

FACE2FACE AFRICA August 30, 2021
U.S. soldiers at Kabul airport. Photo: Reuters

After two decades of war, the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan. Soon after the withdrawal of America-led NATO troops started, the Taliban launched an offensive against the Afghan government. The insurgents swept across the country in an unbelievably quick overtake, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces, trained and equipped by the US and its allies, melted away. 

Like in Afghanistan and the Middle East, military intervention has been a common feature in post-colonial African history. Most African leaders view the US- and NATO – as the protector of democracy and a moral mediator of national conflicts. The United States even has a Mission to African Union to strengthen democratic institutions, promote peace and stability, etc. But with the US-induced chaos in Afghanistan, African countries should become wary of foreign military interference. Africa’s past is an indicator of this.  

In 1992, UN Security Council Resolution 733 and UN Security Council Resolution 746 led to creating the United Nations Operation in Somalia I (UNOSOM I) to provide humanitarian relief and help restore order in Somalia after the dissolution of its central government. United Nations Security Council Resolution 794 was unanimously passed in December 1992, which approved a coalition of United Nations peacekeepers led by the United States. Forming the Unified Task Force (UNITAF), the alliance was tasked with ensuring security until humanitarian efforts would be transferred to the UN. 

In January 2021, the US troops completed their withdrawal from Somalia at a time when the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab extremist group was improving its bomb-making skills and continuing to attack military and civilian targets even in the capital, Mogadishu. The withdrawal came less than a month before Somalia was set to hold a national election. For three decades of foreign interference, Somalia has 500,000 fatalities to show and a legacy of being both a fragile and failed state. This timing of the withdrawal makes one wonder whether the United Nations Security Council worsened the heavy loss of life, destruction to property and threat to regional stability they set out to rectify in 1992.

On the other hand, is Libya that was invaded by a multi-state NATO-led coalition in 2011. The military intervention was to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 in response to the First Libyan Civil War events. American and British naval forces fired over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles. At the same time, the French Air Force, British Royal Air Force, and Royal Canadian Air Force undertook sorties across Libya and a naval blockade by Coalition forces.

Fighting in Libya ended in October 2011 following the death of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya’s new government requested that the mission be extended to the end of the year, but the Security Council unanimously voted to end NATO’s mandate for military action. This withdrawal shows a pattern of US and NATO troops withdrawing from territories in a time of need. Since the end of the war, there has been violence involving various militias and the new state security forces, which have escalated into the Second Libyan Civil War. Libya is now arguably a failed state.

The result in Afghanistan has been a crisis marked by displacement within the country and abroad. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 400,000 people have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the year. Now that the NATO troops have withdrawn and the Taliban is back, all that is left to show is an estimated 147,000 people killed in the Afghanistan war since 2001, with more than 38,000 civilians killed. 

In all this, what is particularly alarming is that NATO had foreseen the return of the Taliban after their departure. According to a US intelligence report, the Afghan government would likely collapse within six months after NATO completed its withdrawal from the country. The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the US was set to complete its troop withdrawal. It is distressing to know that the US withdrew their troops fully aware that anarchy would soon follow.

Upon reflection on Afghanistan’s grim situation, it is more evident than ever that foreign military intervention in Africa is not a viable solution. These military campaigns are carried out under the guise of humanitarianism and saving the civilian population but ultimately worsen the situation. For this reason, foreign military interference in Africa should cease since it does more harm than good.

Furthermore, if the situation is so dire that foreign military interference is justified, the troops and mediators should be from fellow African countries. The reason is that Africans have a better understanding of African politics hence realistic strategies in resolving conflict and promoting democracy. 

An excellent instance is the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) role in ending the South Sudan Civil War. In December 2013, a political power struggle broke out between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, as the president accused Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état. Uganda deployed troops to fight along with the South Sudanese army, which ended in their triumph. Ultimately, the warring parties assented to a peace deal and formed a new unity government in February 2020. The agreement brought an end to the conflict that had killed about 400,000 people and displaced millions.

With contemporary history replete with the failure of foreign military powers to ensure peace in conflicted regions, it is time interventionism came to an end, especially in Africa.

Preta Peace Namasaba is a fellow at African Liberty Writing Fellowship

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 30, 2021


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