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No African free fire
Beware turning Africa into a shooting gallery

 The United States is in Somalia and many other African countries with special-forces advisers, millions in military aid--and drones.
AP Photo/Ali Bashi, File
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Date published: 10/4/2012

DEMOCRACY is beginning to blossom along Africa's northern rim. Ravaged nations to the south, including genocide-wracked Rwanda, are emerging as economic stars. Even with a generous collection of failed states stuck in reverse, Africa offers much to applaud in a continent that is finally emerging from its history as a proxy battleground for the Cold War.

That's why it is so disconcerting to detect the winds of war that may once more turn Africa into a big-power battleground, this time through the lens of the war on terrorism.

The Washington Post reported this week that the White House is actively looking at ways to deal with the threat posed by al-Qaida's affiliate in North Africa. For the first time, reveals the Post, the United States is considering whether to prepare for unilateral strikes.

President Obama is right to deal with the terrorist threat in Africa. AQIM, an al-Qaida offshoot with roots in the insurgency in Algeria, already has revealed its brutal agenda in Mali. The group has imposed its primitive notions of justice and displayed its insensitivity to African heritage in cities such as Gao and Timbuktu in the northern half of that West African nation.

Terrorist ties--though perhaps flimsy--to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans at the Benghazi consulate in Libya are another reason for concern.

Yet as America considers pulling out the drones for African assaults as "a last resort," according to the Post, the question arises: Will this ramped-up militarization cloud the economic and social relationship to Africa that the United States has been far too slow to cultivate?

To its credit, the United States emerged as a leader in the fight against AIDS in Africa--one of the truly impressive and underappreciated legacies of the George W. Bush administration. Yet from the bustling economic corridors of Nairobi to the desolate displaced-persons settlements of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it's the Chinese, more than the Americans, who are likely to extend an economic hand up.

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