Media coverage of President Barack Obama’s much-touted East Africa trip in July devoted ample space to his diplomatic “balancing act” of promoting U.S. interests alongside expressed concerns for democracy and human rights. Touring Kenya and Ethiopia, and then addressing the African Union in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Obama chided African leaders for failing to heed term limits and democratic norms.
Meanwhile, the visit unleashed a whirlwind of financial deals, with Obama announcing $1 billion raised for African businesses.
The backdrop to Obama’s visit was a heightened focus on competition with China. China has outstripped the U.S. when it comes to trade with Africa, prompting Obama to speak about China’s perceived intentions.
Yet missing from much of the reporting on Obama’s visit and U.S.-China tensions is the largely hidden story of the U.S. military buildup on the continent. Notwithstanding oblique references to spending on “security,” the true picture of Obama’s Africa policy is one of a massive increase in military spending and an expanded footprint encompassing virtually every African nation.
For the backstory on these crucial developments, readers must turn to Nick Turse’s excellent new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Turse, of Tom Dispatch, is a tenacious journalist, and his dogged pursuit of answers from U.S. military officials–or through other means, when faced with the inevitable stonewalling–has uncovered crucial details on U.S. military policy, from the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and beyond.
Turse’s book comprises a series of articles over the span of several years and is a rich compilation of on-the-ground reporting, military PR spin and the unearthed documents that belie it. As Turse says, “It seemed like AFRICOM had something to hide.” He was right–because of Turse’s research, we now have a much clearer picture of its frightening scale and scope, the havoc wreaked by these operations and, importantly, the price it has exacted from ordinary Africans.