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The Obama administration releases a comprehensive new Africa strategy, seeking to boost trade, strengthen peace and bolster institutions, while also expanding a secret network of air bases across Africa

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A US Master Sergeant speaks with troops from the Central African Republic and Uganda, in Obo, Central African Republic. The US seeks to boost trade, strengthen peace and security and bolster democratic institutions across Africa in its new strategy. AP photo

A US Master Sergeant speaks with troops from the Central African Republic and Uganda, in Obo, Central African Republic. The US seeks to boost trade, strengthen peace and security and bolster democratic institutions across Africa in its new strategy. AP photo

U.S. President Barack Obama is set to release a comprehensive new U.S. Africa strategy, seeking to boost trade, strengthen peace and security and bolster democratic institutions while also expanding a secret network of air bases across Africa in order to spy on al-Qaeda and other militant groups.

The blueprint will notably seek to encourage the “stunning” potential of economic growth to lift millions out of poverty in a continent more often associated with famine, poverty and strife, a senior U.S. official told Agence France-Presse.

Obama directed staff to sketch a new strategy in a four-month process to focus on the continent’s multiple challenges, which include famine, drought and instability, but also to exploit emerging growth potential. “This strategy commits the United States to be proactive in the face of the numerous challenges and opportunities that we have identified,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House will focus on four main areas: strengthening democratic institutions, encouraging economic growth, trade and investment, and peace and security.

The renewed focus on Africa comes as China increasingly funnels investment toward the continent, seeking to bolster its diplomatic footprint partly as a way of slaking its growing economy’s thirst for new energy sources. China is bringing “incredibly needed” capital to African economies, and could play a role in bringing lasting peace to Sudan, the official said. Bilateral trade between China and Africa reached over $120 billion in 2011, a jump from less than $20 billion a decade earlier.

‘Spying network expanding in Africa’

The U.S. strategy also highlights the administration’s initiative to reach out to young African leaders from more than 40 countries, and to provide them with professional entrepreneurship training with top U.S. companies.

The new strategy comes as the United States military is expanding a secret network of air bases across Africa in order to spy on al-Qaeda and other such groups, the Washington Post reported.
The surveillance is carried out by small, unmarked turboprop planes with hidden state-of-the-art sensors that fly thousands of kilometers between air bases and bush landing strips across the vast continent, it said. The program, dating back to 2007, underscores the massive expansion of U.S. special forces operations in recent years and the steady militarization of intelligence operations during the decade-long war on al-Qaeda. Bases in Burkina Faso and Mauritania are used to spy on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, while bases in Uganda are used in the hunt for the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal guerrilla movement led by Joseph Kony, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The Washington Post said one of the secret bases was in a secluded hanger in Ouagadougou, capital of the predominantly Muslim country of Burkina Faso in West Africa. It said dozens of service members and contractors were striving to be discreet, but stood out in the city center and were appreciated for the business they brought to bars and restaurants.

In East Africa, U.S. aircraft operating out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Seychelles archipelago spy on Somalia’s al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab militia and have reportedly launched attacks on wanted militants. The fleet of surveillance planes is made up of single-engine Pilatus PC-12s, small passenger and cargo planes manufactured in Switzerland.

June/15/2012

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