I always enjoyed the way philosophers of old would name their treatise with "On", such as "On the Philosophy of Natural History" or "On Liberty." Given the vast importance of this topic, I thought it deserved to be accompanied by at least some pomp and circumstance...
Senegal is seen as the centerpoint of the West African region for a few reasons. All of West Africa was formerly under control by the French, which means it was underdeveloped and the people were lazy, but the wine was good. Oh wait, that's France!
Actually, the reason Senegal is the focal point is because you rarely hear about it in the news. It has never been mired in a modern history civil war. It has a stable democracy - including a peaceful transition after the defeat of a major political party. And, more important, it's not Nigeria.
Traditionally, all of Africa has served as sort of a pillaging ground for developed nations. Europeans pillaged natural resources in the 1700's and 1800's and - heck! - the United States pillaged 10's of millions of people during that little period known as slavery. After World War II, some of the European nations lost their appetite for colonizing the world and in the mid-1960's, the French gave up control of this region. Hold that thought for a moment, while I turn my attention to the U.S. role.
I had an opportunity to meet with the U.S. ambassador and several dozen U.S. citizens in a "town hall" format meeting this week. None of these people have real jobs; they are all here working as missionaries or serving in some other "non-governmental organization" doling out alms to the less fortunate. In all the time these people have been here, they haven't made one iota of a difference. I'm sure they can point to many instances of meaningful assistance, but from a macro-political/macro-economic view, they haven't had any impact whatsoever.
From a military strategic perspective, the United States has never had a major presence in Senegal. There are very few natural resources worth fighting for in this country. There is no oil, no gold, no diamonds - just a giant fibrous plant called the baobab. So, what's changed and what is the U.S. role?
Well, when the French left the region in the 1960's, the vacuum of power in many areas was sucked up by the Muslims. Which means the money that started flowing into the region after the French left was Arab money. New roads, infrastructure, etc. were being developed and the only thing these new benefactors asked for in return was THEIR SOUL (que soundtrack for deep, dark villianous laughter). For example, the major thoroughfare near my residence was widened and re-paved, but the Muslims were allowed to build a giant mosque on a nice swath of waterfront land that previously served as a major launch for traditional fishing boats.
So, the U.S. finally took notice that it was losing the war over the hearts and minds of an entire region and decided to do something about it. It was going to build a giant, waterfront embassy about a half mile away from that new mosque. We secured the rights to build our version of a waterfront temple on a couple of cliffside acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Well, technically, it was cliffside hectarage, but Americans don't know what a hectare is and (without the help of one of the fine readers of this publication, I wouldn't have spelled it correctly either), so I'll continue to refer to it as acreage.
Then, the Army Corps of Engineers came in and determined it was unsafe to build on this couple of cliffside acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. So, now we the world's most expensive softball diamond and children's playground facility in all of West Africa!
Never mind that all around this region, there is new construction on every other plot of cliffside acreage. A massive new shopping mall was developed next to a massive new Radisson Blu hotel next to a massive new artistic monument. The U.S. of A. picked the one place on the entire coastline that could not be built upon.
In true U.S. fashion, we would not sit idly by and become the laughingstock of West Africa. No, it was time to turn to Plan B. We usurped the region formerly known as "Club Med" in a very tony beachside neighborhood, tore down the entire facility and have now broken ground on a new facility that will cover enough space to host Super Bowl VXIII. The new embassy building is expected to be complete in spring 2013 (yes, it's that big) and will employ 525 employees including a new U.S. Marine Security Guard quarters.
And why are we doing this? Unfortunately, parts of West Africa have recently become a training ground for Islamic terrorists. Forget Pakistan and Afghanistan - regions that have been at war since I've been alive - and welcome to the peaceful side of West Africa. The deserts of Mali are where the secret wars are being fought, and you can expect U.S. military troops to die here.
On the U.S. role in West Africa? In the paraphrased words of Bob Yamate, newly appointed Deputy Chief at the embassy, "We just completed construction on a new school building in a rural area. That school has the emblem of the United States indelibly etched into the building. That's the type of goodwill that will last longer than anything else we can do over here."
Hopefully, we're not too late to the party.