Militarizing Africa and African Studies and the U.S. Africanist Response


By David Wiley

[First published as: Wiley, David. (2012). “Militarizing Africa and African Studies and the U.S. Africanist Response.” African Studies Review, 24(2) September, pp. 147-161.]

There was an ironic and troubling confluence in the 1958-64 years when simultaneously the majority of African nations won their independence, the Soviet Sputnik went up and shocked Americans that they were not technologically number one in space, the Cold War exploded to new levels of conflict, and African studies – with its centers, faculty, students, fellowships, and language programs – was founded. In the emerging competitions of the Cold War, the U.S., USSR, and other Eastern and Western bloc nations quickly began to intervene on multiple continents.

In this commentary, I seek to examine why, in the midst of U.S. Cold War interventions in Africa, the African studies scholarly community developed a policy to reject military and intelligence funding for two decades in spite of pressures from the government and senior university administrators to take the funds. I begin by describing briefly the Cold War policies that precipitated the Africanist position and how that African activism has changed in recent decades. Then I seek to explain the character and scale of the little understood explosion of U.S. military planning for Africa since 9/11 [1] then pose the question about what should be the response of Africanists now in light of the rapidly changing situation in Africa and African studies that has emerged after the 1998 East African bombings and the subsequent military, intelligence, and funding surges following September 11, 2001.

Scholars and U.S. Foreign Policy

We know little about the responses of foreign area scholars in the USSR, China, and other Eastern Bloc countries to their governments’ policies and interventions in what was termed the “Third World.” In the West, a number of scholars with expertise on particular countries and world regions were part of government policy-making and supported the new policies; however, a significant number of scholar experts took issue with the interventionist policies of the big powers. For instance, significant numbers of U.S. scholars opposed U.S. policy in Southeast Asia (especially wars in Vietnam and Cambodia)and, in 1968, formed the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars and issued several monographs and a Bulletin, today published as Critical Asian Issues.

For Latin America, some scholars mobilized against the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Panama as a hemisphere-wide military academy to “control internal subversion” and opposed the U.S.-backed interventions and coups d’état in Costa Rica (1948), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1950s-60s), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973), and the Contras in Nicaragua (1970s and ’80s). In 1967 a group of students formed the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) to work for freedom from “oppression and injustice” and for “a relationship with the United States based on mutual respect, free from economic and political subordination.” A group of activists, journalists, and scholars continues to publish the bimonthly NACLA Report on the Americas.

For the Middle East, a significant group of U.S. scholars opposed a number of U.S. policies to undercut Arab nationalism and to arm and protect Israel. In 1971 a group of scholar-activists formed the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) and they continue to publish Middle East Report.

For Africa, scholars organizing to oppose U.S. policies did not emerge actively until the 1970s. The issues of whether scholars supported U.S. Cold War policies in Africa and should collaborate with U.S. security agencies broke into the open at the 1969 annual meeting of the African Studies Association (ASA) in Montreal. The association was confronted with charges of excluding African American academics from leadership and of ASA leaders having close ties with the U.S. intelligence and military agencies when they supported minority regimes in southern Africa. In the ASA, these racial and political conflicts resulted in the formation of the separate African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA). This split, and the complex politics of race in this country that it exemplified,complicated creating a unified voice among Africanist scholars on U.S. Africa policy. The increasing flow of scholars in the U.S. from African diaspora communities has become a vital addition to scholarship and political attention to the continent, but it, too, has added complexity to developing a unified strategy of advocacy.

Throughout this period, a significant number of Africanists – affiliated with both ASA and AHSA – cooperated with lobbying organizations including the American Committee on Africa, TransAfrica, and the Washington Office on Africa. They used their knowledge and legitimacy as scholars to seek to influence U.S. policy and public opinion with papers, conferences, seminars, and testimony in Congress. The Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS) was formed in 1978, with co-chairs from ASA and AHSA for at least a decade, seeking to mobilize action against the CIA support for the war in Angola and the constructive engagement policies toward South Africa. Inside the ASA, a new Committee on Current Issues brought representatives of African liberation movements to speak at annual meetings and founded the ASA journal ISSUE to host debates on U.S. Africa policy. On campuses across the country, films on southern Africa were shown, literature was distributed, petitions were signed, campaigns for divestment from companies operating under the apartheid regime were directed at boards of trustees, and a “Coke Boycott” was mounted. On many campuses, student organizations were in the lead, but frequently faculty were active participants as well. This activism was part of a larger movement that clearly made a contribution to reversing the Reagan constructive engagement policy and, eventually, ending apartheid and supporting the path toward political democracy in South Africa.

U.S. Cold War and Africa

Initially in Africa, the U.S. and other Western powers voiced strong pro-independence and pro-development rhetoric. President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary for Africa, G. Mennen Williams (1961-66), gained fame across Africa for speeches extolling the U.S. as the “first new nation” that had broken free of British colonialism and calling for “Africa for the Africans” in supporting African nationalism and development assistance. However, inside the Department of State (DOS), CIA, and National Security Council (NSC), a hard-line Cold War policy had taken root to oppose African socialist, pan-Africanist, and other “left-leaning” African leaders who were or might become labeled as clients of the Soviet Union or China. In pursuing those policies, the U.S. supported coups and backed dictators ,assassinations, civil war, and racist rule in various parts of the continent. Foreign aid also existed in modest amounts and supported important food security, gender, education, and health projects, but over the decades it was reduced and incorporated security issues.

By 1969-70, U.S. policy under Nixon and Kissinger tilted further toward South Africa and the other minority regimes in the region, a policy formalized in the National Security Studies Memorandum #39 of 1969. It called for the U.S. to “straddle the racial conflict” and not be doctrinaire about enforcing sanctions or restrictions on U.S. interests. Specifically, the Nixon-Kissinger option was to accept that South Africa is and should be the dominant power of the region and that white rule across southern Africa was “here to stay.” Three hundred U.S. corporations were operating in South Africa, and many banks, financial institutions, and NGOs were giving active support to the minority regimes of southern Africa.

In the mid-1970s Africanists learned that the U.S. was providing Portugal with planes, weapons, land mines, herbicides, and napalm to use against the liberation movements and later was actively supporting Jonas Savimbi in the civil war and the South African invasion of Angola. To oppose these, scholars mounted a lobbying campaign with petitions and letters to Washington.

During these Cold War years, the Eastern and Western Blocs were busy competing forAfrican loyalties in the rest of Africa with military and foreign aid. The U.S. was specifically involved in supporting the coup against Kwame Nkrumah, assassinating Patrice Lumumba, installing General Mobutu in Congo (Zaire), supporting military and Islamist regimes in Sudan and Somalia, backing the installation of Idi Amin in Uganda,and other interventions. The deep tragedies and wounds from those Cold War initiatives will require centuries to heal. The inestimable costs can be counted in the millions of lives lost, the millions of families displaced from their homes, the gross social and personal insecurity, the sexual violence, the lost potential for development, the building of huge inventories of arms, the militarization of these societies, and the heightening of political and class conflicts.

The Responses of the Title VI Africa Centers, AASP, and ASA

Discussion of these policy issues arose on campuses and in the ASA during the Cold War years of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many among the Africanist scholarly community who had spent long periods of research and residence in Africa, where they had built partnerships and friendships with colleagues, sought to walk a fine line between (1) maintaining relationships with African hosts and partners in research and development, (2) ensuring continuing research access to African peoples and countries without accusations of being “U.S. spies,” and (3) influencing American government institutions and, in some cases, attempting to assist them to better understand this long-stereotyped continent and peoples. As recipients of federal funding to be “National Resource Centers,” the dozen Africa Title VI centers were required to serve as resources in African language and area studies for all the U.S. users in education, business, NGOs, and state and federal government.

In 1982 Africa Assistant Secretary Chester Crocker defended the Reagan administration’s “constructive engagement” policy with South Africa at a plenary session of the ASA annual meeting where the audience’s reception was hostile. In the same period, perhaps in an effort to undercut the growing hostility of the Africanist community to U.S.interventions, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) approached four Title VI African centers to explore their willingness to receive large annual budget supplements in exchange for being on call to develop reports and provide other undefined scholarly services. The funding appeared to be at least double that of center budgets at that time and to have no contractual requirements. The directors of the four centers consulted and agreed not to accept the funding until they had deliberated with the other Title VI centers. The center directors concluded jointly that it was not in Africanists’ interests to take the funds and link with the DIA, which could compromise their collaborations and linkages in Africa and provide legitimacy for those policies.

Ironically, the effect of the DIA’s offer of this loosely defined largesse was to instigate a unified refusal by Africanist scholars of all funding from any military or intelligence agency. Having voted in 1982 not to apply for or accept military or intelligence funding for African studies, in 2008 the directors of the 11 Title VI National Resource Centers for Africa revised and reaffirmed their position:

[We]…reaffirm our previously stated position to oppose the application for and acceptance of military and intelligence funding of area and language programs, projects,and research in African studies….We believe that the long-term interests of the people of the U.S. are best served by this separation between academic and military and defense establishments. Indeed, in the climate of the post-Cold War years in Africa and the security concerns after 9/11/2001, we believe that it is a patriotic policy to make this separation. This separation ensures that U.S. students and faculty researchers can maintain close ties with African researchers and affiliation with and access to African institutions without question or bias. Such separation, we believe, can produce the knowledge and understanding of Africa that serves the broad interests of the people of the United States as well as our partners in Africa. We continue to welcome, in our classes, language training, and programs where we promote knowledge about Africa, all students and visitors from all private and public organizations and all agencies of the U.S.government.

The Association of African Studies Programs, with its circa sixty higher education institution members, also voted to reject military and intelligence funding for African studies. In 1993 they stated their conviction that “scholars and programs conducting research in Africa, teaching about Africa, and conducting exchange programs with Africa should not accept research, fellowship, travel, programmatic, and other funding from military and intelligence agencies or their contractual representatives – for work in the United States or abroad.” The Board of Directors of the African Studies Association concurred, and that consensus policy has remained the norm of this scholarly community for almost three decades.

With some exceptions, almost all the centers and programs have observed the consensus and have informed students in African studies of this position in reference to the National Security Education Program or other security-related fellowships. Some Africanists have paid a serious price for keeping the agreement. One African center director was fired by his university president for taking this stance, many were pressured by their university administrations to take the funding, and some faculty and administrators had their career mobility truncated for holding firm to this position.

8/7/1998 and 9/11/2001 Change Everything

In the early 1990s, the U.S. government gave little attention to security issues in Africa. Indeed, by 1995 the Defense Department asserted that American security and economic interests in Africa were limited:

At present we have no permanent or significant military presence anywhere in Africa: We have no bases; we station no combat forces; and we home-port no ships….ultimately we see very little traditional strategic interest in Africa. (Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense [Public Affairs] 1995)

This inattention to Africa was dramatically shaken in August 1998 when the turbulence in the Middle East spilled into Africa as al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 212 Kenyans and Tanzanians and twelve Americans and injuring about another five thousand people. Suddenly, the CIA, DOD, and NSC were galvanized into planning for the U.S. to deal with terrorism in Africa.

This was accentuated, of course, by the September 11, 2011, attack that “changed everything” in the world of U.S. security, including in Africa. Globally, since 9/11 the U.S. has built an ever larger security apparatus, almost doubling its military and intelligence budgets to mount what President Bush immediately announced as the Global War on Terror (now renamed by the Obama administration Overseas Contingency Operations). The U.S. now spends more on its military than all other nations combined, including maintaining abroad more than a half million U.S. soldiers (each costing annually more than $500,000 to maintain), intelligence agents, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors. There are about 702 bases in 130 countries, in addition to the thousands of bases in the U.S. To that must be added the explosion of Homeland Security funding at $71 billion annually, with thirteen hundred government facilities in fifty states, including more than two thousand contractors, some attending to Africa and African immigrants. All told, more than 850,000 people have been granted “Top Secret” security clearance (Priest &Arkin 2011a).

The human costs of the U.S. Global War on Terror have mounted during the two longest wars in American history – in Iraq, with more than four thousand U.S. and 151,000-650,000 civilian deaths, and in Afghanistan, where at least three thousand Coalition soldiers and 13,700 civilians have died. And the blowback from these wars has now spread into the Horn, Maghreb, and Sahelian Africa in a continent that desperately needs peace and stability to develop (Milanovic 2005).


Expanding AFRICOM and the Whole-of-Government Approach in Africa post-9/11

In 2003, five years before the founding of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the DOD Commander of EUCOM (then in charge of Africa) announced plans to expand the DOD “presence in the Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa through new basing agreements and training exercises” and with a “family of bases . . .with an airfield nearby, that could house up to a brigade, or 3,000 to 5,000 troops [and]could be robustly used for a significant military presence” (Schmitt 2003). Many of these plans were dropped when Africans objected to new U.S. bases and troops in Africa.

In 2007 DOD Secretary Donald Rumsfeld developed new plans for expanding the U.S.military role in Africa and in U.S. policy-making. To avoid enlarging the number of U.S.operating bases, he proposed a “lily pad” strategy with informal agreements with African and other countries to give U.S. forces temporary access to airfields and bases when needed. The new AFRICOM, unlike any other U.S. continental command, would also establish a thorough integration of military, intelligence, foreign policy, and homeland security – what has become known under the Obama administration as the “whole-of-government” approach (Obama 2010; Clinton 2010). Recently, AFRICOM looked back on its formation and described it in these terms:

As the Defense Department was embracing a counterinsurgency strategy that recognized the need for “whole-of-government” solutions in Iraq and then Afghanistan, U.S. Africa Command was busy putting the model into practice on the African continent. AFRICOM stood up five years ago as a new model of inter-agency cooperation: a U.S. combatant command representing a cross-section of military, diplomatic and other U.S. government capability able to bring all elements of national power to regional challenges. (Miles 2012)

AFRICOM’s organizational structure reflects this new coordinating role for the military: two deputies reporting to the AFRICOM Commander – one for Military Operations and another for Civil-Military Activities. The Civil Military Deputy, an official from the DOS, has responsibilities not only for AFRICOM’s humanitarian, preventive health, and HIV/AIDS assistance plans, but also for AFRICOM activities related to the DOS and USAID programs of security assistance, security sector reform, and foreign military training and professional development. A DOS Foreign Policy Advisor also reports directly to the AFRICOM Commander.

Supporting these top staff at AFRICOM are “senior-level members from the departments of State, Agriculture, Energy, Commerce, Justice and Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, USAID, and the intelligence community, all with reach-back to additional resources and expertise in the United States.” In 2009, one senior DOS officer estimated that there were about seven military employees working on U.S. Africa policy and programs for each one DOS or USAID employee and that many of the more experienced Africa specialists in DOS were being seconded to AFRICOM Headquarters in Stuttgart. Similarly, the number of military attachés has grown in U.S. embassies across Africa where, according to some observers, in many embassies they outnumber the State Department consular and diplomatic officers and representatives of other U.S. agencies. In addition, AFRICOM has more deeply hidden assets on the continent – hundreds of civilian contractors in roles including security personnel (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), pilots for electronic surveillance planes, maintenance crews (for drone aircraft at the three new sitesin Ethiopia, Seychelles, and Djibouti), the Special Operations Command, and various other military and intelligence personnel.

Neither the founding of AFRICOM, plans for new bases in Africa, nor the locating of its headquarters on the African continent were received well in the U.S. or in Africa. As a result, when AFRICOM was announced in 2007 as slated for a 2008 “standup,” the command made every possible effort to emphasize a broader focus but beginning with security. According to Maj. Gen. Mike Snodgrass (2008), “United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. Government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure Africanenvironment in support of U.S. foreign policy.” More recently, Gen. Carter F. Ham, AFRICOM Commander, indicated that the command’s immediate focus was on “the greatest threats to America, Americans and American interests….Countering threats posed by al-Qaida affiliates in east and northwest Africa remains my No. 1 priority,” including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Somalia-based al Shabaab, and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

AFRICOM and the supporting U.S. military and intelligence agencies have initiated an incredible number of major projects and programs to implement these new policies. These include (1) establishing Camp Lemonier at Djibouti as the base for AFRICOM and allied military units in Africa as well as the circa two thousand personnel at headquarters in Stuttgart and bases in Molesworth (U.K.) and MacDill AFB (Fla.); (2) establishing the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) in Stuttgart for accessing social science and cultural studies, as well as supporting the Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team to assist the various U.S. troop units with cultural knowledge; (3) creating an AFRICOM liaison unit at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia, along with an embedded privately contracted DOS security advisor; (4) building a CIA operations base in Somalia with a prison, planes, and a counter-terrorism training program for Somali intelligence agents for targeted “combat” operations against members of al-Shabaab (Scahill 2011); (5) establishing bases in Seychelles, Djibouti, and Ethiopia for operating drones for surveillance and attack operations; (6) expanding intelligence operations across Africa with small electronic surveillance planes operated by private contractors; (7) expanding U.S. Special Operations teams in some African countries for operations against alleged terrorists, based on a 2010 secret directive by Gen. David Petraeus authorizing operations across national borders without U.S. or African government permission (Mazzetti 2010); (8) training hundreds of African military officers and politicians at conferences and seminars in the U.S. (especially at the Africa Center for Security Studies at the National Defense University) headquarters in Germany, and in at least forty African countries for counter-terrorism, maritime, communications, and other training and equipping operations; (9) mounting the AFRICOM-led operation in Libya to oust Qaddafi and in Somalia against al-Shabaab; (10) providing one hundred U.S. troops to work with Central African armies to capture Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army; and (11) increasing by three thousand the U.S. Army personnel stationed in Africa to support special operations forces in Central Africa, Mali, and Somalia.

In addition to these activities led by AFRICOM and DOD, the State Department continues to administer several military programs, including in FY 2011 providing US$19 million in Foreign Military Financing to sixteen African countries, US$4 million for the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program, and US$16 million in International Military Education and Training (IMET) to forty-two African countries.

ACOTA mission in Sierra Leone.

ACOTA mission in Sierra Leone.

Ironically, one of the IMET trainees who visited the U.S. for multiple military training sessions was Capt. Amadou Sanogo, leader of the antidemocratic coup in Mali in March 2012. This verified the concerns of the Congress that the U.S. “may not be adequately assessing long-term risks associated with providing training and military equipment for counter-terrorism purposes to countries with poor records of human rights, rule of law,and accountability” (Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa 2009). USAID has been pressed into anti-terrorist work as well, administering training programs for African police.

Militarization of Studies of Africa in the U.S.

With this expansion of security jobs and organizations for the Global War on Terror, the DOD has provided an unprecedented surge of funding for studying Africa and African languages in the DOD, in intelligence agencies, and in military-focused higher education institutions. There is a new focus on understanding the “culture” of peoples in the battlefield (Air Force Culture & Language Center 2010), and African area studies are found at West Point and the four service academies, at eighteen other military higher education institutions, and in other DOD programs (e.g., Foreign Military Studies Office, Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management, Center for Contemporary Conflict, and the Defense Language Institute).Some of these hire Africanist faculty and provide them with research funds; organize courses, seminars, and conferences; and award the M.A. and other advanced degrees.

Three additional DOD-sponsored programs fund the study of Africa and are aimed at scholars in civilian higher education institutions. The DOD’s twenty-year-old National Security Education Program (NSEP) is a set of programs with a US$20 million budget in FY 2011 and an aim “to equip Americans with proficiencies in less commonly taught languages and cultures critical to national security… for employment in the national security community.” The Minerva Research Initiative is a US$75 million program of the DOD and National Science Foundation which seeks to access “the knowledge, ideas, and creativity of the nation’s universities…to improve DOD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.” The Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programs, first mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, are embedding social scientists in military units in Africa in modified arrangements to help these units understand and relate to local peoples. A burgeoning anthropological literature examines and critiques these programs (see Alabroet al. 2009).

The U.S. military has growing resources to reach out both to African and Western scholars. For example, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University boasts of having 4,400 “community members.” These include “African heads of states … as well as senior military leaders, ambassadors, diplomats, academic professionals,… and many others,” now linked through twenty-nine “community chapters” in Africa (Africa Center for Strategic Studies 2012). These are in addition to the literally thousands of African officers and officials hosted at AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart and other bases in Europe and the U.S. that are convened in military seminars, training exercises, “familiarization” tours, ceremonies, and other events.

Clearly these costly military academic, training, and networking activities, with extensive travel and convened at upscale hotels, are aimed to systematically overcome the massive African rejection – now with few exceptions – of hosting AFRICOM’s headquarters and U.S. bases on the continent. These functions also build the personal relations and social networks with African military officers and other officials that will help garner support for U.S. “lily pad” uses of facilities.

The Dilemma for Scholars

The cross-agency, whole-of-government collaboration of U.S. government agencies that has occurred in AFRICOM during the past few years undoubtedly is important and functional in some ways. However, scholars and NGOs now face a dilemma. In past decades, numerous Africanist faculty and graduate students have cooperated with the U.S. Information Agency’s university exchange and partnership programs and especially with Department of Education and Fulbright international programs, believing that there was a separation of most U.S. cultural affairs functions from military and, especially, intelligence operations – both in fact and in the perceptions of their African collaborators. Now the whole-of-government approach and the increased proportion of government resources for military area studies and foreign policy have blurred the boundaries between security and non-security functions and programs. This confirms what many Africans believed already,that almost anyone from the U.S. potentially is a spy, whether scholar, missionary, USAID official, or NGO employee.[3]

The increased visibility of AFRICOM in U.S. cultural and humanitarian assistance programs on the continent also is a source of controversy. In a major AFRICOM public relations effort, U.S. soldiers frequently now are photographed dispensing assistance in Africa, reinforcing the images and patterns of dependency which have bedeviled the continent. AFRICOM regularly publicizes its “community service projects” with photos of soldiers – not USAID, African government, or U.S. or African NGO personnel – issuing bed nets to rural Ethiopian women or providing immunizations and other health care. Many of these activities are purely for publicity for the U.S. military, such as U.S. sailors painting classrooms in a Muslim school in Tanzania and then playing soccer with its students.

Some genuine humanitarian and health assistance programs are being carried out by AFRICOM, such as Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA), which clears unexploded landmines, and HIV/ AIDS prevention programs for African military personnel. And AFRICOM assistance can be immensely helpful in operations to stop the pirating that has emerged from the disorder of a militarized Somalia or to remove unexploded ordnance. However, those programs that are token and primarily of publicity value belie a U.S. commitment to support development in Africa at a time when U.S. and other Western governments have failed to fully fund their pledges to African countries for Millennium Development Programs as well as to United Nations health and refugee assistance programs.

Conclusion: Responding to the Militarization of Africa and African Studies

This increasing training and resources for the African militaries and police continue the almost two centuries of militarization of the continent begun by the colonial powers and magnified by the Cold War interventions and weapons stocks. The post-9/11 focus on terrorism diverts resources – African and donor – from addressing the very problems of health, sustenance, order, and governance that underlie the political turbulence, rebellion,and religious fundamentalist conflict. And in the new mode of dealing with terrorists primarily through combat, so much of what we know about African societies is being discarded – the willingness to negotiate and compromise and to incorporate difference, the pragmatism, and the longing for democracy, good governance, and development.

The criticism of AFRICOM by so many African writers testifies to the depth of the rejection of the U.S. effort to place AFRICOM and its national security vision of the world above other priorities in Africa, even with a steady stream of public relations efforts to “sell” AFRICOM and U.S. security programs as initiatives in support of civil society, peace, and development.

As spending has surged for U.S. military-funded activities in the U.S. and Africa, other federal departments have deeply cut support for African and other area studies dedicated to building scholarly and development partnerships within Africa and to provide the U.S. government and its military with balanced and verified knowledge about Africa that is not biased by the demands of military and intelligence agencies.

Most striking were the unexpected and deep cuts in 2011 of the U.S. Department of Education Title VI programs eliminating 46 percent of the funding to Title VI area studies centers (including 11 Africa centers). Many universities that house these centers are making serious cuts themselves as they see the federal government backing away from its fifty years of support for these programs and expanding investment instead in area and language studies programs controlled by the military. The hallmark dissertation research funding for our most language-proficient graduate students and faculty, the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad and Faculty Research Abroad programs, were suspended in 2011. The 2012 Summer Cooperative African Language Institute was also canceled. These cuts in Title VI programs have hurt African studies deeply and decreased their capacity to service civilian, education, and government needs to which they are committed.

State Department foreign affiliation grants have been reduced, and the National Endowment for the Humanities expects FY 2013 funding to be at 1975 levels. And private foundations (Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Carnegie, and others) have cut spending on U.S. scholarships and programs about Africa. (An exception is the Gates Foundation, whose grants go to narrowly defined programs seeking high-tech solutions in health and agriculture.)

Funding for the study of Africa in U.S. security agencies now exceeds that of American universities probably by a factor of fifty, perhaps more, even though the much less well-resourced non-military university Title VI African studies centers have offered about five times as many African languages as the DLI and Foreign Service Institute programs combined. The less commonly taught African language classes and the dictionaries, videos, and target reference grammars needed by learners will not continue to flow if Title VI funds evaporate.

In this time of austerity, especially at public universities, there is a growing sense that civilian agency funding is collapsing and military and intelligence funding increasingly is the “only game in town.” As a result, two university African centers and linguists in two other universities that have Title VI Africa centers (with the dissent of their African center faculty), have taken funding for African language instruction programs from the DOD’s NSEP. Communications with the centers by the author indicate that the eight other centers have not changed their policy, including centers at Boston University, the University of Kansas, Michigan State University, Ohio University, UC-Berkeley, the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, and Yale.

Now, for the first time in twenty-nine years, as U.S. military activities expand all across Africa – much of it hidden from public view and inaccessible to African and U.S. researchers – Africanist scholars can no longer say to their African hosts that the U.S. Africanist community stands together in not taking military or intelligence funding that could affect their choice of research topics, how their results will be used, and how they and their students will be viewed in Africa.

Now, looking back at the results of two centuries of militarizing Africa, scholars must decide, as they did in the Cold War years, whose funds they will take for their own research and their institution’s programs. Those decisions must be made with the knowledge of how the foreign policies during the last fifty years of the rich nations contributed to and sometimes created the violence and deaths, social malaise, frustration, hopelessness, and anger in Africa that have eventuated in armed theft and piracy, sexual violence, religious radicalism, and terrorism.

Even more crucial for scholars is the decision about how to participate (or not) in the public debate and advocate for U.S. Africa policies that truly are in the long-term interests of the United States – and of African peoples – and that avoid the pitfall that the former CIA station chief in Angola, John Stockwell (1984), warned of thirty-five years ago: of going “in search of enemies” in Africa.


I wish to thank Christine Root, who made major contributions to the substance and the form of this article.


1. See the full statements of these associations at

2. Personal communication with the author, August 15, 2009.

3. I had the personal experience in the 1980s of being denied access by a Kenyan government mapping office in Kisumu to maps of the shoreline areas of Lake Victoria for research with the Kenya Marine Fisheries Institute because I might be an American spy. Now, as U.S. intelligence operations in Africa increase, we can expect that some CIA and military personnel, as well as private intelligence contractors, will be claiming (for cover)to be civilians, scholars, or representatives of NGOs such as the Red Cross (see Naylor 2011).


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Scahill, Jeremy. 2011. “The CIA’s Secret Sites in Somalia.” The Nation, July 12.

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David Wiley is a professor of sociology and African studies at Michigan State University. His research has focused on militarization, religion, class, housing, and environment in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa. He served as director of the African studies centers at Michigan State University (1977-2008) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1972-76) and is a past president of the African Studies Association (1998-99). He was the vice-chairperson of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and co-chair of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, and has chaired committees of the American Sociological Association, the National Science Foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Higher Education Forum of the U.S./South Africa Bi-national Commission. E-mail: