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April 16th, 2008

Teach-In AFRICOM

On March 30th, 2008 the Granny Peace Brigade held the second in its series of Teach-Ins offering a careful look at the ever expanding empire of foreign military bases that the Pentagon maintains in 130 countries. Entitled Say “No” to AFRICOM the event was held in observance of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s plan for a regional U.S. military command of Africa, represents a violation of Dr. King’s dream of peace, economic justice and racial harmony.

Four distinguished presenters participated in the forum held at the All Souls Unitarian Church and it was moderated by Granny Peace Brigade member Vinie Burrows, award-winning actor, writer and story-telling griot.
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Photo – Eliza Griffiths

In African tradition she offered a libation to honor Dr. King and then introduced the first speaker, Horace G. Campbell, professor of African American Studies, International Affairs and Political Science at Syracuse University.
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Photo – Eliza Griffiths

Integrating a power-point presentation, Dr. Campbell provided the context in which to develop his arguments against AFRICOM, untangling knots and contradictions in US Africa policy, beginning with 1994 when President Clinton called Rwandan genocide “normal tribal violence” (he later apologized). Discussing genocide, Campbell cited the U.S.’s continuing diplomatic relations with Sudan despite Darfur. He sees the real “terrorism” in Africa as economic and colonial domination perpetrated by European nations for centuries and, more recently, by China and the U.S. That there is widespread resistance on the part of African nations to AFRICOM is “good news” despite the U.S. administration spin that the motivation for this new command is “aid.”

The second speaker was Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, in Washington, D.C.
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Photo – Eliza Griffiths

Ms. Woods provided the background to AFRICOM, a creation of Donald Rumsfeld and established the day before his resignation in December 2006. AFRICOM stipulates that an African country seeking to engage in any way with the U.S. must do so exclusively through AFRICOM. The only country that would not be under the AFRICOM command would be Egypt, recipient of one billion dollars of U.S. foreign aid, second only to Israel.

A major motivation behind AFRICOM arises from US addiction to oil – 24% of U.S. oil imports currently come from Africa, compared with 12% in 2003. Besides oil, the African continent is a source for countless strategic resources including uranium and coltan (Colombo-tantalite ore used in cell phones). Other motives are a foreign policy determined to challenge China and to fight the “war on terrorism.” Identifying problems with the press, Ms. Woods reported that President Bush’s recent seven day trip to Africa included four days in Tanzania where there were large daily protests against AFRICOM that were reported as Muslims rallying against Bush and not as Tanzanians rallying against AFRICOM. Ms. Woods ended her presentation with a call to remembrance of Dr. King asking us to declare eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.

Frida Berrigan, senior program associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, NYC, described the foreign “aid” currently given to African countries and exposed the insidious nature of the administration’s rhetoric.
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Photo – Eliza Griffiths

She underscored the Pentagon’s use of language and coded words that mask the true intent of AFRICOM. President Bush in his March trip to Africa spoke of AFRICOM as a”mission of mercy.”Ms. Berrigan named the various sites in Africa with a military presence – army, navy and air – in contingency installations, and provided examples of the military’s euphemisms such as “kinetic engagement” referring to killing. She cautioned the audience to beware of U.S. Administration’s and media’s language when referring to militarization.

Sonia Sanchez, poet, educator, author of sixteen books and member of the Philadelphia Granny Peace Brigade brought her poet’s voice of warning, pain and longing for peace.
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Photo – Eliza Griffiths

Her words united the content presented by the three previous speakers. She spoke of the need to engage with young people in an intergenerational collaboration and to do pushups for peace as a way of life. Sanchez called out names of people, alive and deceased interspersed with hxosa clicks, who committed their lives to peace and justice. She reminded us that Dr. King said that a riot is “the language of the unheard”, and our task is “to learn how to make the unheard heard, without blowing themselves and the world up.”

A brief question-answer period ensued resulting in some specific actions for participants at the Teach-In re the U.S. Administration. Dr. Campbell said that in relation to the Congo, there should be an apology for the murder of Patrice Lumumba. Lobbying Congressional representatives, the Black Congressional Caucus, and Donald Payne (Dem. NJ) chair of the House subcommittee on Africa were among the suggestions for action. The website: www.resistafricom.org/ was cited for information on Congressional resolutions.
– Nydia Leaf, Phyllis Cunningham, Caroline Chinlund

Four-minute Video Sample of the AFRICOM Teach-In:

 

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