Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 77: North Africa and the Horn in the Vortex of the US War on Terror

Introduction: North Africa and the Horn in the Vortex of the US War on Terror

August 2007

This issue started as an attempt to explore the impacts of the US-declared global ‘War on Terror’ on the region of North Africa. We were joined at ACAS for this purpose by Fouzi Slisli as a special guest co-editor who brought considerable expertise of the region. We wanted to be clear that it was a US conceived war on terror, albeit with many ally and proxy nations drawn in, and we intended to focus on North Africa as a region because of its connections to the Arab and Islamic worlds that have been so much of the focus of this military engagement. The boundaries of North Africa versus the Middle East, and between North and Southern Africa, are themselves problematic and used here only loosely. Boundary issues are in fact indicative of colonial legacies that are themselves central to the story told in this issue. It is in this context that we received several interesting pieces on Somalia and the Horn of Africa, which are of course not in North Africa explicitly, but we decided to include them here because of the parallel dynamics they are experiencing in the new post-9/11 US global order. As such, this issue begins with two essays on Algeria, then moves to an update on Western Sahara and three pieces reflecting on Moroccan politics in the current context, and concludes with three essays on Somalia and the greater Horn of Africa. In each regional context, the new global milieu of post-Iraq invasion US global military projection is being felt in important new ways, while imperial politics as usual continues unabated, if generally intensifying.

In fact, the entire African continent is undergoing a renewed and newly restructured US military and political presence in the wake of the expanding Middle East conflict and the increasingly desperate search for petroleum and other energy resources. As Daniel Volman warned in previous issue of the Bulletin, AFRICOM is now upon us, and with it a growing US presence in Africa, closer ties with oil and natural gas rich nations, burgeoning US naval and military buildup and spending. As of October 2007, the global US military operation officially declares a new region to add to its existing five “commands,” a sixth region specific to Africa. Until now, the Pentagon divided the Western Hemisphere into USNORTHCOM and USSOUTHCOM, and the rest of the world into the US European Command [EUCOM], US Central Command [CENTCOM], and the US Pacific Command [PACOM]. Most of Africa was under EUCOM, northeast Africa from Egypt to Kenya was under CENTCOM, as though it were part of the extended Middle East, and Madagascar, the Seychelles and portions of the African Indian Ocean coasts were under PACOM. With the new AFRICOM, or African Command, the United States has restructured Africa as a region of vital US strategic significance unto itself, with the entire continent except for Egypt, which remains in CENTCOM, under this new command structure.

Our focus in this issue on North Africa and the Horn therefore highlights aspects of a more general trend in Africa. It is no accident that this new structure was ordered by Donald Rumsfeld while he was still Secretary of State, and it reflects his neoconservative vision of extending US hegemony into the future based on economic and political control of strategic fuel and geopolitical resources. New military budgets, bureaucracies and bases will simply increase the imperial network of client and ally states the US has cultivated in Africa since the Second World War. From an oil point of view, the Sudan/Chad nexus, and the Gulf of Guinea reaching to Angola in the south will be the key arenas of concentration, but the apparitional War on Terror provides cover for almost infinite engagements, arms deals, base building, and interventions throughout and via the continent. Africom starts out under the auspices of the European Command, and will go independent in about a year, when it is more fully established. So it is in a FAQ on the EUCOM website that we see the question, “Is this an effort by the United States to gain access to natural resources (e.g. petroleum)?” As the saying goes, “If you have to ask…” The pat official answer on the website follows immediately, “No. Africa is growing in military, strategic and economic importance in global affairs. We are seeking more effective ways to prevent and respond to humanitarian crises, improve cooperative efforts to stem transnational terrorism and sustain enduring efforts that contribute to African unity and bolster security on the continent.”

The issue starts with Fouzi Slisli’s penetrating analysis of Algeria as a model for contemporary US politics and military intervention in the Middle East. He thus establishes Northern Africa as both the progenitor and the recipient of military calculations in the critical theater of the greater Persian Gulf region. Parallel with the incisive historical analysis of Mahmood Mamdani, in his recent Good Muslim, Bad Muslim,[1] Slisli identifies current US strategy in Iraq [and Afghanistan] as based on the Algerian model, in which Islamic factions were used as proxies in a terrible civil war. The US is now arming allies to fight Islamic rivals in a dizzying array of countries throughout the Middle East and northern Africa, in what Slisli tells us is being called the ‘redirection.’ Perhaps the only non-US exponent of this philosophy of modern divide and conquer is Quaddafi, who used it to set some of the current Darfur conflict in motion, but everywhere else, from Afghanistan and Iraq, to Algeria, Morocco and Somalia, the US fingerprint is in direct evidence. What is revealed is a kind of revere blowback in which the Algerian model is imported to Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and other parts of the Middle East, and then flow back into Africa again as this war on terror rages increasingly out of control.

The after-effects of these policies in Algeria are recounted in a short review, in the form of a press release, by Selima Mellah and François Gèze of Algeria Watch, which was founded ten years ago to monitor human rights issues in the wake of state-sponsored violence against the population. Reprinted here with special permission, ACAS Bulletin readers get to peer into the human rights struggle 15 years into the Generals coup d’Etat, which the authors here compare to post-Allende Chile and the Argentina of Videla with the difference that the Algerian Generals, supported by France and other intelligence agencies, stayed in the shadows as they wages a campaign of terror on civil society. On the one hand, their grim appraisal foreshadows what we can expect in a decade or more in Iraq and surrounding areas, and on the other, explains the context in which the US currently finds such a willing ally in its regional war on terror in the current Algerian regime. The question remains, at what pace do movements of mothers and children and other survivors of the disappeared, in the Latin American tradition, emerge from the rubble?

Turning to Morocco, we find another staunch US-ally in the war on terror. We begin our discussion with Western Sahara, where Morocco has been acting as the regional and imperially-sanctioned power against a staunch national Sahrawi resistance that has been compared to the Israel/Palestine conflict by numerous observers and participants alike. Jacob Mundy, co-author of a forthcoming book length discussion on the topic, provides a concise history of the conflict before explaining the manner in which Morocco has shifted its imperial discourse from the rhetoric of the Cold War to that of 9/11 and the specter of “terrorism.” Polisario rebels have been branded as allies of Algeria, al-Qaeda, and even Castro. And now, with Morocco an even closer ally in US global aspirations under the umbrella of its war on whatever and whomever it deems to be terrorist, the long stalled peace negotiations in this refugee-laden conflict are at a low point – further bolstering the inevitable comparisons with Palestine.

James Sater, writing from Morocco, explains that the stated US policy of fighting the global spread of Islamic terrorism by supporting democracy, while not always being fully truthful, is ironically creating conditions in Morocco where civil society grows even stronger and gains a foothold in which to challenge both the US and that of its ally, the Moroccan state. Mohammed Hirchi writes for us about situation within national politics of a moderate Islamic group, the Islamic Party of Justice and Development [PJD]. He too shows that, if US sponsored Moroccan state nationalism and its authoritarian policies continue unabated, this will ironically lend support within civil society for alternative regimes, such as that embodied by the PJD. This could also be the case with less moderate Islamic movements in society, precisely because of the repression they experience in the context of rhetorical openness and democracy – this is the case of Adl wal Ihssan, the Justice and Spirituality Association, which Hirchi touches on and which Fouzi Slisli provides even greater insight into. Because of its largely outlawed status and with its founder in and out of prison, Slisli’s interview this summer with its current leader, Nadia Yassine is groundbreaking. We are privileged to carry his short synopsis here, as it casts light onto a movement that in numerous ways defies the Orientalist tendencies of reduction when it comes to Islamic movements in the context of the US war on terror. Yassine is a woman at the head of an Islamic movement, she is outspoken against government policies, but secular in her outlook of the state, and critical of current electoral politics in Morocco, as she is also of Wahabism as a movement in general. Seen from these various vantage points, Morocco is a nation-state very much in the vortex of the US global war on terror, and very much at the crossroads.

Finally, we turn to Somalia, and its neighbor Ethiopia, for our final three essays. We start with Ramle Bile’s analysis of the US campaign against the Union of Islamic Courts, which it deemed to be linked to al-Qaeda, Hamas and/or Hezbollah. As we saw in the case of North Africa, in the new global war on terror, such accusations make possible military interventions and other gross circumventions of international and local laws. As recounted and historicized in the review essay by Immanuel Wallerstein and reprinted here next, the US went about its post-“Blackhawk Down” invasion of Somalia via its newish regional proxy, Ethiopia. This was accomplished with covert US air support, Ethiopian ground troops, a newly installed Somali leader openly professing civilian carpet bombing, and secret detention and torture prisons in the invading neighbor state. As a result, one more Islamic organization which had stepped into the void of the state to provide security and services for citizens has been removed or displaced from power, without the US and its allies considering the consequences of such action. As a result, much as in Iraq, Palestine and Algeria before them, we are seeing “unexpected” popular resistance, and a return to lawlessness and civil war under the name of democracy. Yet, Western media fail to question any such distant unilateral and externally determined “regime changes” when they are done under the rubric of the war on terror. Finally, Dustin Dehez provides a close reading of events in Somalia from a perspective that the West has too long abandoned Somalis to the violence of small arms and a failed state. Whereas previous authors have suggested various flaws in the US war on terror, Dehez calls the US and its allies in the war on terror to abide by their own commitments and sees in this hope for a more stable future in Somalia and the region. Certainly, this will remain the subject of debate for our readers and the broader world community for some time to come. Our goal in this issue was to provide readers with information and analysis to assist in deciphering important developments and in bringing this perspective to wider audiences in their/our daily lives and work.

As we turn to the analyses of our contributors, let us leave you with the questions presciently raised about terrorism by Eqbal Ahmad in the period prior to 9/11. Ahmad, in Terrorism: Theirs and Ours,[2] exposes the shortsights of official views of terrorism, the most obvious of which is that its definition hinges on which side of a conflict a particular movement is rather than any moral or human rights record – the one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter refrain. Moreover, Ahmad then provides five broad categories of terrorism in his new critical definition, only one of which, political terrorism, get scrutiny in official discourse, while the most violent form, state terrorism is almost entirely overlooked [unless clients go rouge]. As this issue is devoted to the impact of the war on terror in North Africa and the Horn, perhaps the reflections contained herein will challenge readers to reconfigure this terminology, perhaps as the “war we dare not call terror.” Let us know what you think.

1. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.
2. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001 [orig. 1998].

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