Sadia Ali Aden, a human rights advocate and freelance writer, remarked on Obama’s visit by highlighting the instability that the joint military campaign by Kenya, Ethiopia, and the United States against al Shabab in Somalia is having on the region.

“U.S. policy toward the entire region has been ineffective, if not dysfunctional,” Aden said. “Partnership with Ethiopia and Kenya on counter-terrorism causes the U.S. to turn a blind eye on certain human rights violations in both countries.”

As investigative journalist Nick Turse documents extensively in his recent book—Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa—the Obama administration’s military operations on the continent are far more extensive than the Pentagon would like to acknowledge publicly. Moreover, the increasing footprint of the US military in countries like Kenya, Somalia, and Djibouti—justified as part of its global “anti-terrorism” campaign—is likely resulting in more instability, not less.

“In the wake of 9/11, even before AFRICOM was created, the U.S. began ramping up operations across the continent in an effort to bolster the counterterror capabilities of allies and insulate Africa from transnational terror groups, namely globe-trotting Islamic extremists,” writes Turse in the book. “The continent, in other words, was seen as something of a clean slate for experiments in terror prevention.”

Even more troubling, as Turse concludes elsewhere, is that quiet expansion and shadowy use of U.S. military forces in various countries lead him to believe that “the U.S. military is digging in for the long haul in Africa.” This, he says, despite AFRICOM proving repeatedly that it has not “the slightest idea how to tip the scales in its own favor” when it comes to defeating militant groups like Al Qaeda, al Shabab, or Boko Haram. 

And Azikiwe put it this way: “AFRICOM is ostensibly designed to enhance national security for African states, but the opposite has happened.”

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, Francis Njubi Nesbitt, a professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State University, hoped that Obama would use his trip to Kenya and Ethiopia as an opportunity to chart a new course for U.S. relations with the continent:

In his speech on Sunday, Obama stated, “Every country has traditions that are unique. Just because something is a part of your past doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t mean that it defines your future.”

Referring to Kenya’s poor record when it comes to treatment of women and political corruption (though the country’s criminalization of homosexuality was noticeably absent from the speech), the remarks were widely reported as an important and courageous statement by the president.

However, and despite being offered as wisdom to the many proud Kenyans in the large crowd at the Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi who applauded the U.S. president as he spoke, critics of Obama’s policies in Africa and elsewhere may consider it possible that the son born to a Kenyan father—who rose from humble beginnings to become the first black president of the United States—could still afford to follow some of that guidance on behalf of the nation he was elected to lead not once, but twice.

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