The Western media is fond of painting Africa with a broad, stark brush — for one thing, all of Africa is bundled together as though it is a single lumpy nation, rather than an entire continent with incredible cultural, political, social, and ecological diversity. For another, the version of ‘Africa’ the West sees is often one of suffering: Hunger, political corruption, disease, civil wars, genocide, poverty, dictatorship.
This is not, of course, the ‘real’ Africa. One might as well look at the United States and depict it solely as a nation with an incredibly high maternal mortality rate, widespread corruption and brutality in its police forces, severe hunger (especially among children), considerable problems with immigration policy and asylum seekers, increasingly regressive social policies, and cascading environmental disasters. Those characterisations of the U.S. are all completely accurate, but they’re not the only thing about the United States — so it’s telling that the West by and large accepts a similar treatment of African nations.
One nation has been dominating Western headlines of late, now that memories of the Ebola outbreak are starting to fade: Nigeria. The nation has been struggling with a burbling outbreak of terrorism, borderline civil war, and violence for several years courtesy of Boko Haram and the forces mustering against it in an attempt to defend their own communities. Though the Nigerian government has deployed troops to some regions to regain ground in the back and forth struggle with Boko Haram, it’s having trouble keeping up, and some Western nations, including the U.S., have offered military support to the Nigerian government to assist it with the Boko Haram problem.
On the surface, this might seem like a purely natural act of humanitarian aid. The United Nations, and NATO, provide military support across the world to help troubled nations stabilise, with the goal of deploying troops, addressing pressing civil emergencies, and then withdrawing to let governments reestablish themselves. When it comes to Nigeria, the U.S. government is facing evidence of multiple Boko Haram-driven massacres of entire communities, in horrific and chilling testimony to the fact that the organisation’s extremist attitudes are well-entrenched. The U.S. is living with the legacy of the Clinton years and accusations that the Clinton Administration was slow to act in Rwanda — the Obama Administration definitely doesn’t want to make the same mistake.
But we are operating in a different era, one where terrorism and the United States have a more complicated, conflicted, and tense relationship. Bush’s War on Terror swept across Iraq and Afghanistan on the grounds that both nations had unstable, dictatiorial governments and they needed Western intervention to save them from themselves. Moreover, the administration argued that Iraq and Afghanistan also posed national security threats to the United States, justifying invasions on the grounds that the US needed to defend itself. Thus began years of war and a troubling legacy as the United States insisted that fighting terrorism took priority over autonomy, cultural awareness, or any sense of justice.
As we face the situation in Nigeria, I fear that we may be looking at a similar series of circumstances. Though the Obama Administration is not as hawkish as the Bush Administration, nor is it facing the pressure of an imperative to do something via an angry Congress and vocal public, it’s still heavily involved with anti-terrorism activities. It has to be, because that’s the new reality for the United States. It also has a much more aggressive foreign policy mandate, one that specifically focuses on tackling situations like the ongoing Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria — it’s worth noting, as well, that Nigeria has natural resources the United States wants, and thus the nation has a vested personal interest in ensuring ongoing political stability in the region.
Which puts Nigeria in the crosshairs for being the next victim of the war on terrorism — whatever we want to call it these days — because once deployed, troops do not necessarily leave. As evidenced in other troop deployments, Great White Saviours don’t necessarily offer sunshine and kittens to the communities they invade. In fact, evidence shows that rape and abuse of civilians are common problems with ‘peacekeepers,’ along with torture of suspected terrorists and, of course, efforts to destabilise governments and install administrations that meet with our own personal agenda. That’s certainly not what’s best for Nigeria, though it may benefit the United States in some ways.
It would be an odd turn of events to see the United States arrive in Nigeria to provide ‘support’ only to have the UN intervene to protect Nigeria from U.S. forces — and an unlikely one, too, as the UN certainly hasn’t moved to act in other cases where the U.S. has very clearly contravened international law and overstretched its mandates. ‘Team America: World Police’ may be a phrase that inspires some laughter, but it’s how the United States behaves, and few international agencies are willing to bring the country to heel. The United States is deft at justifying its ‘police actions’ and interventions overseas — we had to bomb Afghanistan to respond to the 11 September attacks, we had to invade Iraq to protect the nation from total political collapse, and perhaps we need to stage troops to Nigeria to support the government while it gets Boko Haram under control? But what happens then? Are we going to face another endless war where troops never leave because there’s always a reason to extend a deployment?
Image: Harmattan, Kipp Jones, Flickr