2011 - African Migration, Global
Inequalities, and Human Rights: Connecting the Dots.
Current African Issues Paper for Nordic Africa Institute.
August 1, 2010 - Oped in Providence Journal U.S.-Africa 'reset' requires honesty about America's wrongs
President Obama has inspired hope in Africa and around the world.
Africans who heed his call to build the future, however, must still
reckon with the stubborn fact that the United States can be an
obstacle as well as a partner.
Spring, 2010 - Foreword to issue of Articulate -
End "Aid," Invest in Global Public Goods
Let us agree that the "aid paradigm" is fundamentally flawed, in that it is based on
a model of the rich "helping" the poor. But the paradigm advanced by free-market
fundamentalism, that poor countries and poor people can and should lift themselves
up by their bootstraps, without benefit of support from the wider society, is also
April, 2010 - Zimbabwe: Demystifying Sanctions and Strengthening Solidarity,
by Briggs Bomba and William Minter
In the case of Zimbabwe today, both supporters and opponents of
sanctions exaggerate their importance. The international community,
both global and regional, has other tools as well.
October, 2009 - Africa: Climate Change and Natural Resources,
by William Minter and Anita Wheeler
Africa will suffer consequences out of all
proportion to its contribution to global warming, which is
primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions from wealthy
countries. But Africa can also make significant contributions to
mitigating (i.e. limiting) climate change, by stopping tropical
deforestation and ending gas flaring from oil production.
March, 2009 - Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa,
by Daniel Volman and William Minter, for Foreign Policy in Focus
html | pdf (283K)
Will de facto U.S. security policy toward the continent focus
on anti-terrorism and access to natural resources and prioritize
bilateral military relations with African countries? Or will the
United States give priority to enhancing multilateral capacity to
respond to Africa's own urgent security needs? If the first option is
taken, it will undermine rather than advance both U.S. and African
February, 2009 - Inclusive Human Security: U. S. National Security Policy, Africa,
and the African Diaspora, edited for TransAfrica Forum html (150K) | pdf (2.8M)
Fundamentally, it is necessary not only to present a new foreign policy
face to the world, but to shape an international agenda that shows more
and more Americans how our own security depends on that of others. The
old civil rights adage that "none of us are free until all of us are free" has
its corollary in an inclusive human security framework: "None of us can
be secure until all of us are secure. "
April, 2008 - Migration and Global Justice, pamphlet written for American Friends
html | pdf (379K)
"As the global economy drives global inequality, movement across borders
inevitably increases. If legal ways are closed, people trying to survive and
to support their families will cross fences or set sail on dangerous seas
regardless of the risks. "
December, 2007 - "The Armored Bubble: Military Memoirs from Apartheid's
Warriors," pp. 147-152 in African Studies Review
html | pdf (70K)
"The books reviewed in this essay are a small sample of one genre of war
literature: detailed accounts of battle from the perspective of those among
South Africa's military veterans who have no question that they were fighting
a just cause in defense of their country. "
Jan 31, 2007 - Oped in Providence Journal
"Don't replay Iraq in Horn of Africa"
"Somalia is not Iraq, of course. ... But the similarities are nevertheless substantial. The United States and Ethiopia cut short efforts at reconciliation ... They disregarded Somali and wider African opinion in an effort to kill alleged terrorists. And while chalking up military "victories," they aggravated long-term problems."
Jul 8, 2005 -
"Invisible Hierarchies: Africa, Race, and Continuities in the World Order" (pdf)
"The failure to acknowledge race as a fundamental feature of today’s unequal world order remains a striking weakness of radical as well as conventional analyses of that order. Current global and national socioeconomic hierarchies are not mere residues of a bygone era of primitive accumulation. Just as it should be inconceivable to address the past, present, and future of American society without giving central attention to the role of African American struggles, so analyzing and addressing 21st-century structures of global inequality requires giving central attention to Africa."
In Science & Society, July, 2005
Jul 8, 2002 -
"Aid—Let's Get Real"
"There is an urgent need to pay for such global public needs as the battles against AIDS and poverty by increasing the flow of real resources from rich to poor. But the old rationales and the old aid system will not do. ... For a real partnership, the concept of "aid" should be replaced by a common obligation to finance international public investment for common needs."
In The Nation, July 8, 2002, with Salih Booker.
Nov 3, 1992 - Oped in Christian Science Monitor
"Savimbi Should Accept That Democracy Worked in Angola"
"Just one month after Angolans peacefully thronged polling stations in their first multiparty election
ever, the conflict-battered Southern African country is on the brink of all-out war. ... The international
community, including the US, has been unanimous, in urging Savimbi to accept the election results, but Savimbi and his close-knit group of top officers remain both unpredictable and militarily potent. The new conflict, which appears to the starting, will be hard to contain."
April, 1988 - "When Sanctions Worked: The Case of Rhodesia Reconsidered", with Elizabeth Schimdt, in
African Affairs html (97K) | pdf (3.4M)
"Sanctions, while not the only factor in bringing majority rule to Rhodesia, made a significant
long-term contribution to that result. ... Moreover, more strongly enforced sanctions could have
been even more effective. If Rhodesia's petroleum lifeline had been severed and if South Africa
had not served as a back door to international trade, ... the country could not have survived
for more than a matter of months."
"Action against Apartheid,"
in Bruce Douglas, ed., Reflections on Protest: Student Presence in
"But the government usually seems to be a very distant and unresponsive target
[for anti-apartheid protests]. Therefore exposure of U.S.A. business involvement in
Southern Africa - by demonstrations, withdrawal campaigns, etc. - is at least equally
The Somalia Crossroads
Piracy and an insurgency tempt Washington to get it wrong again.
William Minter and Daniel Volman, In These Times July 2009
In October 2008, Human Rights Watch rated Somalia the most ignored tragedy in the world.
Almost 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced, and an additional half million are refugees.
Two decades of instability, including a U.S.-backed intervention by Ethiopian troops in
December 2006, have failed to put Somalia on the map.
If the American public has thought about Somalia at all this decade, it was as the setting of the
popular 2001 movie Blackhawk Down, based on the October 1993 battle in Mogadishu between
U.S. troops and Somali militia, rather than as a real place where Washington's policies were
fueling conflict and prolonging suffering.
It took the drama of high seas piracy to bring Somalia back into the media spotlight. The
hijacking of a Saudi supertanker in November was followed by the capture and sensational
rescue of U.S. merchant ship Captain Richard Phillips in April.
"Kill the Pirates," screamed a Washington Post op-ed by Reagan-era hawk Fred C. Ikl‚. On Fox
News, George W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, called for attacking the
pirates' bases on land to "really end this problem once and for all."
After Navy sharpshooters rescued Captain Phillips, killing three pirates in the action, the media
clamor abated. Once again, the debate on Somalia retreated to inside-the-beltway obscurity. (You
can view the spike in public attention by searching for "Somalia" on Google Trends at
But for Somalis, the crisis continues. So does the danger that Washington may be tempted into
military intervention that would be damaging for Somalis, for U.S. relations with Africa and for
U.S. security. That risk exists, despite commendable caution thus far by Obama administration
policymakers, who are aware of the potential for military actions to backfire.
Memo To Obama Re: Somalia
* Take a long-term perspective, stressing that stability and prosperity in Somalia are in the
interest of both Somalis and Americans.
* Solicit a wide range of opinions from Somalis in Somalia and in the diaspora, particularly
* Continue to engage with the African Union, the United Nations and other relevant actors to
maximize diplomatic options for reducing conflict in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region.
* Provide adequate funding for humanitarian relief in Somalia and among Somali refugees.
* Provide adequate funding and logistical support for the African Union peacekeeping force, and
for a United Nations peacekeeping force, should they be approved.
* Be panicked into a military response, even if pirate attacks escalate or groups linked to al
Qaeda gain ground in Somalia.
* Attack Somali pirate bases or suspected terrorists in Somalia with U.S. military forces, either
with commandos or with air attacks.
* Send U.S. troops, advisers or military trainers into Somalia.
* Encourage or condone military action in Somalia by Ethiopia, Kenya or other interested parties.
* Demonize opponents and rule out diplomatic options, even for insurgents formally labeled as
terrorists or countries supporting them.
* Endorse favorites among Somali politicians or neighboring states.
The pirate problem
Piracy alone is unlikely to provoke such intervention, even if U.S. citizens are captured again.
(Most captives have been from developing countries especially the Philippines, which supplies
about a third of merchant seamen worldwide.) Even after the bloody rescue of Captain Phillips,
Somali pirates did not change their policy of holding out for ransom rather than threatening the
lives of hostages. For the shipping companies, ransoms are a minor expense compared to the
much larger costs associated with worldwide economic downturn.
Top U.S. naval commanders have clearly voiced agreement with the consensus among diplomats
that military options are limited. Speaking to a conference in Bahrain on Gulf security in
December 2008, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, was skeptical
about attacking pirate bases on land. "I see people looking for an easy military solution to a
problem that demands a non-kinetic [non-combat] solution," Gortney said. The high risks of
collateral damage, he added, "cannot be overestimated."
In January the Navy set up Combined Task Force 151, a multilateral naval command directed
against piracy in the region, headed by the Turkish navy since May. Outlining U.S.
counter-piracy policy in April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed multilateral measures,
including collaboration with the United Nation's Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of
Somalia. And witnesses at congressional hearings on April 30, including Captain Phillips and
representatives of the U.S. Department of Defense and Coast Guard, called for incremental
measures to improve security.
Some pirates have claimed they act as a de facto coast guard, protecting Somalia from illegal
fishing and dumping of toxic wastes. Those problems are real, and some of those initially
recruited as pirates were fishermen whose livelihood was damaged. But most pirates declare
openly that their primary motives are financial.
What is indisputable is that the lack of a functioning government in Somalia has fostered an
environment in which weapons are easily available and piracy is among the few profitable career
paths open to youth. On May 5, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Theresa Whelan told
Congress, "The root causes of Somali piracy lie in the poverty and instability that continue to
plague that troubled country, and addressing these root causes will be a lengthy, complicated and
The military option
Yet, Somalia's chronic instability could provide an opportunity for hawks to prevail. Obama's
new emphasis on diplomacy coexists uneasily with the revival of enthusiasm for
counterinsurgency doctrine in the Pentagon that has resulted from the U.S. military's challenges
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This situation is uncomfortably reminiscent of the 1960s, when "the best and the brightest" of
John F. Kennedy's New Frontier team similarly embraced counterinsurgency as the key to
winning Cold War conflicts in developing countries such as Vietnam. In Afghanistan and
Pakistan, where the counterinsurgency mindset holds sway among American military
commanders, it is likely that U.S. hopes for military victory will prove just as illusory as in
Vietnam in the 1960s.
Compared to Afghanistan, Somalia is a sideshow for U.S. military strategists. But the fact that
some anti-government insurgents in Somalia have links with al Qaeda makes it possible to slot
the conflict there into the global-war-on-terror framework, even if the Obama administration has
renounced that label as misleading.
The new administration, moreover, has inherited a newly formalized military command for
Africa, AFRICOM, which has developed its own institutional momentum. Writing in the Boston
Globe on April 15, former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania Charles Stith called for the
administration to boldly use the new capacity for intervention in Africa. "While AFRICOM has
met some resistance," Stith wrote, "this latest hostage-taking involving an American might be
just the opportunity to jump-start conversations about how AFRICOM might be more effectively
However, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, who took office in May, told
the BBC on May 16, "I think there would be no case of the U.S. re-engaging on the ground with
troops [in Somalia]." But four days later Carson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
that the United States was committing $10 million on the ground in Somalia. Earlier, on May 3,
AFRICOM's deputy for military operations, Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller, said that
AFRICOM would be able to provide U.S. military trainers for Somalia if Washington decided to
provide such training.
The current Somali government was established in January, under moderate Islamist Sheikh
Sharif Sheikh Ahmad, after the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the resignation of unpopular
President Abdullahi Yusuf. The government enjoys virtually unanimous support from major
international bodies, including the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations. It has
also gained the backing of a wide range of Somalis, who were disillusioned with the hard-line
Islamist insurgents who had garnered support by opposing Ethiopia.
But after a new insurgent offensive in May, the Somali government again stood on the brink of
military defeat. Foreign fighters with links to al Qaeda had reinforced the insurgent ranks,
reportedly receiving supplies from Eritrea. Defeat of government forces, or their continued
weakness, could strengthen arguments that U.S. military action is needed to counter terrorism.
"There is little the U.S. can do to shape the outcome of the current fighting," says Ken
Menkhaus, a U.S. expert on Somalia. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
on May 20, he warned that U.S. military intervention would likely weaken, rather than
strengthen, an inclusive Somali government and would thus play into the hands of insurgents.
Many in the U.S. military understand that reality well. "When the United States embraces a
government in Somalia, we delegitimize it," a senior U.S. defense official told Reuters in late
To understand why the United States has so few options in Somalia, one only needs to glance at
the historical record. Somalis have good reason to distrust the outcome of U.S. intervention, even
if it is bundled with pledges of respect for Somali sovereignty and the authority of a multilateral
mandate. For decades, Somalis have experienced the bungled interventions alternating with
neglect of outside powers.
Somalis are historically united by language, culture and religion. But since independence in
1960, struggle for control of the post-colonial state has torn the country apart. When outsiders
tried to promote reconciliation, they often wound up deepening political divisions by favoring
power-hungry leaders and failing to involve a cross-section of Somali civil society.
Somali-American scholar Abdi Samatar, professor of geography and global studies at the
University of Minnesota, notes a parallel between the Cold War and the current "war on
terrorism" periods. In both eras, the nationalist thrust for Somali unity has run up against
divisions between both Somali elites and outside forces that have backed different internal
factions. Outside involvement has thus reinforced divisions and stoked conflict inside the
After independence, Somalia was a parliamentary democracy until 1969, when Muhammed Siad
Barre seized power in a military coup. Siad Barre initially enjoyed some legitimacy because of
widespread disgust with the corruption and factionalism of the parliamentary period. He also
won support with popular initiatives, such as the expansion of education in the Somali language.
Internationally, Siad Barre aligned himself with the Soviet Union. But after his forces invaded
Ethiopia in 1977, in a bid to absorb the Somali-speaking section of that country, he turned to the
United States as his new patron. Somalis have not forgotten that Washington gave military
support to the dictator as he stepped up repression and violence to stay in power.
Since Siad Barre was ousted in 1991 by clan warlords, Somalis have at times appealed for
international help. But they have also suffered greatly from erratic outside involvement.
For a short period in 1992, Algerian diplomat Mohamed Sahnoun, leading the first U.N. mission
to Somalia, skillfully built momentum for reconciliation among Somalis. But he was forced to
resign when he ran afoul of the U.N. bureaucracy.
Between May 1992 and March 1995 there were two rounds of U.N. peacekeeping, overlapping
and badly coordinated with two U.S. military missions (the first to secure famine relief deliveries
from December 1992 to May 1993, and the second to provide support for the United Nations
from May 1993 to March 1994). The U.S. forces and the second U.N. mission, which was
commanded by U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, paid little attention to diplomacy. Howe chose
friends and made enemies among Somali's warlords, actively targeting General Mohamed Farah
The result was the Blackhawk Down debacle in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers and more than
1,000 Somalis died in Mogadishu. That was followed by the gradual retreat of both the United
States and the United Nations from anything more than marginal humanitarian engagement with
Somalia for a time, at least.
On June 8, 2006, the New York Times reported that the CIA had been funding a coalition of
Somali warlords in exchange for the warlords' promise to hunt down suspected terrorists. The
CIA saw the emerging Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which aimed to build Somali unity based on
Islam, as a dangerous alternative even though it was a broad coalition involving moderate as well
as hard-line factions. Then led by current president Sheikh Sharif and by Sheikh Hassan Aweys
(now one of the leaders of the anti-government insurgents), the ICU quickly won popular support
and defeated the CIA-backed warlord alliance. For the rest of 2006, the Somali capital saw its
most prolonged period of relative peace in more than 15 years.
The interlude came to an end when Ethiopian troops, backed by the United States, invaded in
December 2006. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the fighting, and more than 300,000 were
displaced. The U.S. military provided intelligence to Ethiopia in support of the invasion. It also
used military facilities in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya to launch air raids and missile strikes
against al Qaeda suspects at several sites in Somalia in 2007 and 2008. The air attacks killed
several dozen Somali civilians and injured hundreds more, and they made U.S. backing for the
invasion highly visible.
Ethiopia withdrew its troops in December 2008. A small African Union military mission
currently protects Somalia's besieged government.
Kenyan journalist and former U.N. official Salim Lone summed up the consensus view among
African and international analysts: "Instead of engaging with the Islamists to secure peace, the
United States has plunged a poor country into greater misery."
The current crisis
At this writing in early June 2009, the situation in Somalia remains volatile. On May 26, the U.N.
Security Council unanimously reconfirmed the mandate of the African Union peacekeepers. The
African Union, for its part, called on the Security Council to go even further and impose
sanctions against Eritrea.
But insurgents denounce both Sheikh Sharif's coalition government and the African Union as
tools of anti-Islamic Western powers. The military situation on the ground remains highly
uncertain. The United Nations reported that more than 67,000 people had been newly displaced
by the fighting in Mogadishu in May.
Scenarios projected for the next few months range from complete collapse of the internationally
backed government, on the one extreme, to significant weakening of the insurgent forces through
defections, on the other. What is certain is that outside forces, including the United States, will
need flexibility and patience as well as good intentions to avoid mistakes that could make the
situation much worse. Unfortunately, there is no sure formula for getting it right.
The Obama administration currently tilts toward diplomacy and pragmatism. On April 11, the
Washington Post reported that some in the U.S. military are "frustrated by what they see as a
failure to act" and are advocating air strikes against insurgent training camps.
But on April 13, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, speaking at the Marine Corps War College
in the midst of the pirate hostage crisis, stressed that "there is no purely military solution" to
The appointment of Johnnie Carson as assistant secretary of state for African affairs significantly
increases the chances that cooler heads will prevail. A career foreign service officer who served
as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania in the 1960s, Carson is undoubtedly the person with the
widest range of Africa experience ever to hold the assistant secretary post. He is respected in
Washington and Africa's diplomatic community. And he has good contacts with activists as well,
dating back to his work as a staff member of the House Africa Subcommittee in 1979-1982,
when it was a leading player in the anti-apartheid movement. Under his leadership, the State
Department's Africa Bureau will undoubtedly have a stronger voice in policy.
Yet one cannot rule out the possibility that events could precipitate U.S. military actions that
heighten, rather than dampen, conflict in Somalia. The capacity is there. Combined Joint Task
Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), which oversees as many as 2,000 American service
members, has operated out of Djibouti since 2002, becoming part of AFRICOM in October 2008.
The CJTF-HOA has coordinated U.S. military actions in Somalia and the region, such as the air
attacks in 2007 and 2008, and includes special forces with the capacity for commando raids.
The United States has close military ties with Ethiopia and Kenya, both traditional enemies of
Somalia. If Somali insurgents were implicated in future terrorist-style attacks on neighboring
countries, the pressure for a U.S. military response would grow.
Even if U.S. forces are not involved in combat, multilateral security efforts could go wrong,
indirectly implicating the United States. For example, Human Rights Watch has documented
abuses by Somali police trained under a U.N.-sponsored program that started in 2007.
Reinforcing government security forces without mechanisms to ensure accountability can easily
fuel justified Somali resentment of outsiders. Even if more U.S. engagement were seen as a way
to fix such problems, it would be a mistake for U.S. "support" to edge into training or advising
either government or multilateral forces on the ground in Somalia.
The crisis in Somalia well illustrates the fundamental alternatives for U.S. security policy toward
the continent. Will a focus on anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency fuel conflict or reinforce
oppressive regimes? Or will Washington give priority to building multilateral capacity to respond
to Africa's urgent security needs?
Counter-insurgency thinking has little relevance in solving the diverse conflicts that Africa faces
in Darfur and Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Niger Delta. It is even more
irrelevant to the structural problems Africa shares with the rest of the world, such as poverty,
global warming, pandemic disease and violence against women.
The election of a son of Africa to the U.S. presidency has raised African hopes for a new era in
U.S. engagement with Africa. When Barack Obama makes his first visit as president to
sub-Saharan Africa in July, he will be greeted with excitement and high expectations.
If his administration is to meet those expectations, both Washington and African states must
reject counterproductive military options. Instead, they must take on the far broader goal of
ensuring inclusive human security. That requires decisive steps to end openly violent conflicts.
But it also demands the will and resources to meet needs in health and education, create jobs and
foster accountable governments.
These are formidable challenges, but Africans are eager for change. Americans should insist that
our government first do no harm.