Members of a Black anti-imperialist collective say people of African descent have been misinformed about the true nature of the United States’ seemingly benevolent military presence in the motherland, currently manifested through U.S. Africa Command.
As the unified combatant command, known as AFRICOM, enters its 11th year of existence, the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP), a group comprised of grass-roots Black leftist organizations, has launched a campaign to dismantle what has been likened to the militaristic policing tactics used in Black communities throughout the United States.
“The parallels are clear. They treat us like the same people,” said Netfa Freeman, an affiliate of the Institute for Policy Studies in Northwest and member of Pan-African Community Action (PACA), a BAP partner organization.
According to its website, AFRICOM works with interagency and international partners to advance the United States’ policy goals on the African continent by building defense capabilities and defeating perceived threats to global security.
But AFRICOM’s opponents say the intentions are more nefarious. On Oct. 1, the 10th anniversary of AFRICOM’s official launch, BAP announced its “U.S. Out of Africa!: Shut Down AFRICOM” campaign, an effort to combat the U.S. military presence in the continent.
Change.org petitions in English, Spanish, French, German and Arabic, to be delivered to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), demand the complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Africa and the closure of U.S. military bases worldwide. The petition also calls for CBC opposition to AFRICOM and its commitment to holding hearings about the military program’s impact on the African continent.
In the weeks leading up to the campaign, Freeman and other BAP members took to Freeman’s weekly 89.3 (WPFW-FM) radio show “Voices With Vision,” drawing parallels between the U.S. military presence in Africa and policing tactics that keep Black communities across the United States under siege.
“There are national security study memorandums that authorized the sale of small guns to Africa for what experts called assisted genocide,” Freeman told The Informer.
Freeman said AFRICOM and U.S. Africa Central Command, a similar program that oversees Egypt, fulfills the U.S. government’s true intentions of controlling the flow of natural resources in Africa and the growing Chinese presence, primarily by leveraging relationships with African leaders and inciting conflicts that legitimize the U.S. military presence.
“The same thing happens here,” he said. “We see weapons we can’t manufacture coming in [our communities], and a lot of radicalized, but misguided youth get armed. That’s the excuse they use to further militarize spaces [here and in Africa] under the guise of keeping it under control.”
The Bush White House announced the launch of AFRICOM in 2007, dubbing it a means of strengthening cooperation with African countries and promoting common goals of improved health, education, democracy and economic growth on the continent.
The program expanded under the Obama administration. During his 2009 visit to Ghana, President Barack Obama framed U.S. military activity in Africa as a matter of maintaining global security.
For years, AFRICOM has been headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, mostly due to the staunch opposition of then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, a vocal proponent of African economic self-determination, and other political leaders in Nigeria and South Africa.
The 2011 U.S. and NATO-led invasion of Libya, during which Gaddafi was killed, paved the way for AFRICOM’s expansion. Ethiopia and Liberia counted among the African nations that welcomed the possibility of hosting AFRICOM operations.
This year, nearly $264 million had been expected to fund AFRICOM-related operations in 53 of Africa’s 54 nations, according to estimates for the 2018 Operation and Maintenance Overview Fiscal Budget filed in 2017.
Such allocations have financed intricate military operations throughout the continent.
Last month, in coordination with the Somalian government, U.S. troops led the killing of 18 members of al-Shabaab, which officials have labeled an Islamist terrorist organization, in Somalia. Last week, on the day after AFRICOM’s anniversary, an airstrike killed nine more members of that group.
“Many of our people think the military is needed and troops are protecting our people,” said Jaribu Hill of the Black Agenda Report, a progressive online news network. “We have to educate people about the politics of war and the damage it does.”
Hill outlined an organizing strategy that allows BAP members to directly connect with people in Black communities through home visits and town hall meetings.
For Hill, a human rights attorney, rallying support for the campaign requires leaving behind the comforts of social media and educating the ill-informed, whom she described as victims of an anti-African, Jim Crow education system.
She said face-to-face interaction with Black people in communities affected by police violence debunks misconceptions about Africa, learned through media propaganda that aligns people’s interests with the military industrial complex and precludes them from identifying with the struggles of their counterparts across the Atlantic Ocean.
“[U.S. military occupation] has nothing to do with the security and health and wellness of people living in this country and other countries,” Hill said. “It has to do with white supremacy and domination. We have to break down those terms. It would be necessary to have regular, everyday conversations with our people to increase their whole understanding of the military industrial complex.”
Since the campaign started, nearly 500 people have signed the online petition. Organizers said they want to meet their goal of 10,000 signatures by January 2019.
BAP members, part of a collective that also includes Friends of the Congo, a Northwest-based advocacy organization, admitted the high likelihood of the CBC, comprised of nearly 50 Black U.S. lawmakers, ignoring the call to dismantle AFRICOM and challenge U.S. imperialism. In June, the U.S. military budget inched closer to $1 trillion with CBC members’ approval.
While not solely responsible, CBC members have also been on record as throwing their support behind the continuation of the 1033 program, a drug war-era relic under which the Department of Defense has issued excess military equipment to local police forces, used in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and other majority-Black communities.
In 2014, only seven of 41 CBC members voted for an amendment that would halt the 1033 program.
“If we don’t get the CBC on our side, we continue our radical revolutionary work and taking on these issues,” Hill said. “We’re in solidarity with people in other countries and who are victims of imperialism and the military industrial complex.”
Hill said Black congressional representatives will be given a chance to stray from a narrative that has made them opponents of the Black radical left.
“We know the CBC can’t be relied upon,” she said. “We have never had the full support of the Black caucus. They were not there on the issue of reparations, the prison industrial complex, and police brutality. They have been virtually silent; it’s been a long time since they decried the murders of our people.”