Do You Know About the US Drones in Africa?

Obama needs to be mindful of doing more harm to the continent while protecting American interests.

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Critics claim that oil and competition with China are driving the administration's military interest in Africa. According to IMF finance reports, trade between African nations and China increased 40 percent in the past decade, compared with 14 percent with the United States and the rest of the world. Somalia -- in the Horn of Africa -- has been a key focus of Chinese agricultural investments as China attempts to deal with future food insecurity.

China also bids on oil-drilling rights, competing with Western corporations. According to the Guardian, Somalia's oil reserves are comparable to Kuwait's and could "eclipse Nigeria's reserves and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation."

The rationale, therefore, that America's interest in Africa has more to do with China could carry weight. Obama's decision to shift U.S. military attention to Asia has been a telling one. The Department of Defense has announced that 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in Asia by 2020, the Economist reports, along with "a range of other 'investments' to ensure that despite China's fast-growing military might, America would still be able to 'rapidly project military power if needed.' "

Containing Chinese Activities

If there is a covert American strategy with respect to Chinese activity in Africa, it is one of containment. U.S. oil imports from Africa already exceed those of the Middle East, and China has been aggressively outbidding U.S. companies for contracts. PetroChina -- China's national oil company -- announced that its oil production surpassed ExxonMobil's last year. This is due, in part, to China's oil extractions in the Sudan.  

America has a dual interest in curbing terrorist activity as well as protecting oil, gas, gold and other natural resources. Perhaps both can be justified as matters of "national security," but as drone wars wage with little congressional oversight and increasing civilian casualties, more scrutiny is necessary.

The greatest threat for African nations is a neocolonialism masquerading as American diplomacy. Attacks against elusive al-Qaida operatives decimate countries already ravaged by centuries of European colonial rule. And though Africa's resources enrich foreign corporations and an elite political class, World Bank reports show that sub-Saharan Africa's gross national per capita income is only $1,125 -- proving that the people remain impoverished.

Obama's challenge is complicated. He must guard U.S. national security and promote the country's economic interests while operating in a political apparatus that historically has not taken into account the needs of Africans. Western interests have too long dominated international affairs, and a U.S. president -- Kenyan heritage aside -- may find it difficult to change the status quo.

More important, Obama's African drone wars may leave a blueprint that future presidents use to justify unbridled intervention in African affairs. This is the greatest risk of all. The "Bush Doctrine" could become permanently codified, and Obama will have been its most effective ambassador. The president's recent nomination of John Brennan as CIA director -- an architect of drone warfare under George W. Bush -- proves that the status quo is secure.

Carol Williams of the Los Angeles Times considers the broader implications of Obama's drone wars. "Imagine if North Korea or Iran or Venezuela deployed thousands of unmanned surveillance aircraft in search of earthbound enemies," she writes. The benefit of drones, and the rationale behind Obama's use of them, is clear: They are highly effective at gathering intelligence, and they avoid the use of ground troops, which invariably lead to military casualties. But drones offer an equally disturbing alternative: virtual warfare, unjustifiable civilian deaths, little to no accountability and the danger of being adopted by the very enemies we fight.