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The United States is in Somalia and many other African countries with special-forces advisers, millions in military aid--and drones.
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.
To be sure, Beijing is primarily motivated by its unquenchable thirst for natural resources in Africa. But the result, based in part on perception, is still a concern. A part of the world that appears to be on the verge of an economic buildup, with positive implications for democratic reforms, still views the United States as more of a Hollywood-style source of culture than a true future benefactor.
This may be Africa's century. Parts of the continent are finally shedding their fascination with "Big Man" autocracy in favor of democratically supported regimes. More and more, the Africans themselves are moving to the forefront in dealing with problems within their midst, like the occupation of northern Mali.
This is the time for America to build enriched ties to a part of the world that could become a far more lucrative trading partner for the U.S. More important, this is the opportune time to work with the nations of a continent whose social and economic problems have left them, for the most part, far behind others in the developing world.
Drones and military exercises may well be needed to avoid more outrages like the one in Mali--and to prevent the national instability in which politicized mass murderers thrive. Needed also are business investment and development aid. Africa's realistic dreams of progress should not be sacrificed to another wave of proxy warfare.