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Thursday, September 21, 2006

DoD focuses on African continent

UPI: The Defense Department is developing a significant military presence in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Defense Department will face a significant series of challenges there, including poverty, rising Islamic militancy and a public increasingly skeptical of America and its reach.

Stars and Stripes reported Sept. 18 that according to U.S. military leaders, the military's intention is to help African governments -- particularly in the Horn of Africa and along the continent's eastern seaboard -- combat poverty and repression, which give rise to fundamentalism.

Tanzania, the site of a 1998 al-Qaida bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, is one of the poorest nations in the world. Tanzania's 37 million people eke out a subsistence living in an economy that largely relies on tourism, agriculture and trade with the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. The AIDS epidemic has infected more than 10 percent of the population, more than half of whom live on less than 50 cents per day.

Moses Kulaba, who works with a local development agency called Agenda Participation 2000, said: "The language the fundamentalists use is rather harsh: 'Jihad. Kill.' That type of language is foreign and too hard for most Tanzanians. It creates wariness. But the vocabulary of the Americans is also foreign -- 'Islamic fundamentalism, Islamo-fascism,' etc. The definitions need to be used in a context that defines something for the people here. The feeling is that most believe Tanzania was collateral damage in the 1998 attack. The issue of terrorism to them is blown out of proportion; for most Tanzanians, what matters is daily survival, basic needs."

Richard Shaba, of the German-funded Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Dar es Salaam, warned against oversimplifying ideological issues, cautioning: "Don't encourage young people to look at the only two blocs. They might see similarities. There is a central government here that is working, not like in Somalia. It's a fact that fundamentalist forces are trying, exploiting elements of some people here. But it has not yet gained deep roots in Tanzania."

Kajubi Mukajanga, a policy analyst at the Hakielimu foundation in Dar es Salaam, said: "Many people have reached the state now where they think things will happen anyway. There isn't conspicuous anti-American feeling, nor is there a feeling that America is a savior on its way.

"The local media influence here is underappreciated. There are papers that are dangerously influential and those who read them unquestionably. In some papers on both sides, everything is set up as Muslim versus Christian, and issues are raised in a manner which reinforces bigotry, racial and religious disharmony.

"For the young man on the street, the American face that he sees and knows is now the American face in Baghdad, in Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay. One of the best avenues for showing the American heart is being open. I understand the security concerns, but what has happened, why are the Americans so closed? Transparency will show the people. For many young people, the soft part in their hearts for America where everyone used to want to go is gone. But it can be brought back."

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