Terror threat raises US interest in Africa
President Bush arrives in Uganda Friday, one of several countries with which the US hopes to reach antiterrorism agreements.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — As he's swept across the continent, visiting a slave house in Senegal, a factory in South Africa, and a safari lodge in Botswana, President Bush has emphasized what America can do for Africa. He's hyped his $15 billion pledge for AIDS and promised to open American markets to African products.
But the president's five-day, five-nation tour is also about what Africa can do for America, particularly regarding terrorism. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have increased the global significance of Africa, with its poverty, failed states, mineral wealth, and 250 million Muslims, making the continent a potential haven and source of funding for groups like Al Qaeda.
Since 1998, there have been four attacks in Africa, including one late last year in Kenya, believed to have been organized by Al Qaeda or associated groups, costing almost 300 lives. Countries like Sudan and Somalia are reported to have sheltered the terror organization's members, while diamonds from places like Liberia and Sierra Leone may have been used to fund its operations. And just last month, five men with alleged ties to Al Qaeda were arrested in Malawi.
Mr. Bush has pledged $100 million to help East African countries improve their counterterrorism efforts, including border security - most of those arrested in recent terror attacks are non-Africans. Since late last year, the US has had 1,800 troops in Djibouti conducting counterterrorism operations.
Friday Bush will travel to Uganda, a key American ally in East Africa, much of which has been under a terror warning since the beginning of the year because of reported Al Qaeda presence there. Uganda was one of the few countries on the continent to publicly support the war in Iraq, and according to The New York Times, the US is seeking military refueling agreements there and with several other African countries, including Senegal and Mali.
Analysts say the president's new emphasis on peace in places like the Sudan and Liberia marks an important shift. Three years ago, Bush said he did not see what strategic interest Africa had to the US. Today, he is considering sending troops to the tumultuous West African nation of Liberia. According to an April report put out by Global Witness, a nongovernmental organization based in London, Al Qaeda purchased diamonds in Liberia and Sierra Leone to fund its operations.
Administration statements that the stability of Liberia is important to the war on terror represent "a recognition that failed states are a big part of the problem," says Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Many African observers, however, say an effective antiterrorism agenda in Africa must also tackle the poverty and instability that create a breeding ground for radicalism. There is a danger, says Greg Mills, director of the South African Institute of International Relations, that the continent's long-term development needs could be overwhelmed by its short-term military needs.
"The war on terror has to focus on the conditions that give rise to terrorism, which is underdevelopment, poverty, and the inability of the state to meet these needs," says Mr. Mills. "It has to address the same sort of root causes which allow Al Qaeda to operate and also give rise to some of Africa's local paramilitaries."
In East Africa, where American and British terror warnings have seriously depressed already struggling but economically vital tourist industries, some say the US should do something to compensate them. Ministers in Kenya have called for monetary compensation, saying the warnings are costing the country $1 million a day.
Many in Kenya feel snubbed because the president dropped the country from his itinerary because of security concerns after a November attack on a hotel in the seaside resort of Mombasa killed 13Kenyans and Israeli tourists.
"We feel that as a country we have been punished because of America, we have been attacked because of our perceived alignment with the United States and Israel," says Maria Nzomo, director of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi. "We have suffered so much and Bush doesn't seen to appreciate it."
Observers like Ms. Nzomo and Mills hope Bush's trip will lead to a more sustained involvement by the American government in Africa. But not everyone is convinced that the administration's action will keep pace with its rhetoric. [Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to Maria Nzomo as Mr. Nzomo.]
"I would say it's too early to say whether these have been substantive change in terms of Africa policy," says Mr. Benjamin. "We haven't really seen the kind of sustained engagement in conflict resolution in Africa now that we saw in the last administration."
January 1976 - Five men are arrested near the Nairobi, Kenya, airport as they prepare to fire missiles from shoulder-held launchers at an Israeli airliner. The suspects were taken to Israel for trial and sentenced to long prison terms.
December 1980 - A bomb blast wrecks the Jewish-owned Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi, killing 15 people and wounding over 80. It was claimed by a shadowy Arab group in retaliation for Kenya allowing Israeli troops to refuel in Nairobi during their raid on Uganda's Entebbe airport to rescue hostages from a hijacked aircraft.
August 1998 - Truck bombs explode at the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. The bombs kill 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injure thousands. All but 10 of the deaths are in Nairobi, where damage is the worst.
August 1998 - The US military launches strikes against what President Clinton said were Sudanese terrorist bases behind the bombings of the US Embassies. The owner of the El-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, denies any affiliation with Osama bin Laden's network.
May 2002 - US officials arrest a suspected Al Qaeda operative accused of firing a surface-to-air missile at a US aircraft in Saudi Arabia.
November 2002 - Three suicide car bombers kill 13 people at a Kenyan hotel used by Israelis, and shoulder-launched missiles were fired at an Israeli airliner leaving Nairobi's airport, missing the plane.
June 2003 - Five suspects accused of funneling money to Mr. Osama bin Laden's terror organization are arrested in Malawi as part of a joint US-Malawian operation. The suspects had been on the CIA's watchlist since the 1998 embassy bombings.
2003 - The US has obtained or is seeking base or refueling agreements with Djibouti, Mali, Uganda, and Senegal.