June 2009


Steve Song has created this elegant graphic of the various broadband cables that are under construction to serve the African continent.

African undersea cables by Steve Song

African undersea cables by Steve Song (click to enlarge)

I admire graphics that are elegant, clear, and easy to understand, and I think this is a particularly fine example. Song also provides more information on the undersea cables, including ownership, cost, schedules, and capacity.

chart of broadband projects

chart of broadband projects (click to enlarge)

This means there will be a lot more internet access in Africa coming soon. Although, as you can see, these projects just bring broadband to the coast. More work will be necessary to increase broadband access inland.

From FP Passport:

This great map by Steve Song shows where things will be in a few years with line thickness representing bandwith size. The TEAMS cable (green on map above) is one of three international fiber optic cables expected to reach East Africa this year.

The next (red on map) is constructed by SEACOM, a private company in partnership with a number of African companies. It has already landed, to less fanfare because the Kenyan government has a stake in TEAMS, and is supposed to be ready by the end of June, connecting East Africa to Europe and Asia. The third, the East African Marine Cable System (EASSy) is sponsored by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector wing of the World Bank and is scheduled to be finished in 2010 (blue on map).

On the other side of the continent, Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) a cable from Europe all the way down the West African coast to South Africa is underway (pdf) and projected to go online in 2011 (orange on map). Several others are also supposed to go online by that time, immensely increasing Africa’s bandwith access. Song has an interactive version of his map in which one can view any combination of the different cables or each alone to get a better look.

When the cables go online, they will replace satellite connections as the main source of internet access in Africa, increasing speed, reliability and reducing cost. This should improve productivity and allow increased access with the lower price. In Kenya, the internet company Access Kenya has already pledged that the new cables will double internet speed for its users, and companies are scrambling buy access to the broadband and to finalize internal fiber optic cables. Neighboring landlocked states like Uganda and Rwanda are seeking to do the same.

As interconnectivity between African countries increases, economic benefits are expected, especially in Kenya, which has a fast developing IT sector. Other potential impacts include education and access to media.

________

Added June 27: BRINGING BROADBAND INLAND

The big question remaining is how to get affordable broadband inland from the coast. And there may be a solution:

Weather balloons may soon provide the first affordable broadband Internet access to the one-billion-strong African mass market.

Accountant Timothy Anyasi and petroleum engineer Collins Nwani, both Nigerian-born serial entrepreneurs based in the U.S., have secured exclusive rights to market a type of near-space technology — developed by American telecommunications company Space Data — throughout the African continent.

In her June 17 article, Weather Balloons to Serve Up Web Access in Africa, Deborah Nason tells us more:

Anyasi and Nwani decided to move ahead with their marketing plans after Space Data secured a contract with the United States military in 2007 to field-test the technology in Iraq and Afghanistan. The partners will operate through a consortium that is now in the formation stages, which they call Spaceloon.

The technology raises hydrogen-filled weather balloons, serving in effect as satellite substitutes, to an altitude between 80,000 and 100,000 feet. As individual users contact the balloons via modem, the balloons bridge them to a nearby Earth-bound network operations center (NOC), which in turn connects to various Internet gateways.

“Network operation centers are located close to a fiber optic cable — say, in Lagos or Accra — and a signal is sent back and forth to the [balloon] in near space,” Anyasi says.

By tapping into countries with fiber optic technology, Spaceloon intends to buy cheap access in the oceanfront capital cities of Africa for resale wirelessly to the interior.

Spaceloon will concentrate its initial efforts in four countries, which run roughly east to west on a similar latitude — from westernmost Sierra Leone to Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria. The company is seeking subsidies from the governments to prove the concept, followed by plans for a massive rollout as soon as possible.

Transmission speed will depend on the customer’s line of sight and the amount of bandwidth purchased, though Anyasi says download speeds should match or exceed those of satellite Internet solutions. Corporate customers, for example, can pay for a dedicated daily balloon that will deliver speeds up to 10 Mbit/s. Families, on the other hand, could opt for a budget-friendly plan of about 300 kbit/s. That’s not super fast, but it would be the first affordable option ever available to some African residents.

Anyasi says bandwidth can be extended: “In busy times, we can simply send up more balloons.”

The balloons come down every 24 hours due to the limitations of battery life — and to keep them from floating into territories that don’t subscribe to the service. “You’re looking at a wide geographic area — there’s a wide jet stream at near space — and that allows balloons to keep on floating without stop,” Anyasi explains. “It’s cheap to bring them down, as balloons cost only about $50, and since they are equipped with a GPS, it is easy to locate them and reuse them.”

Spaceloon will be the first ISP option available to the African mass market (outside the largest cities) without huge up-front costs. Currently, customers wishing fixed-line Internet access must either purchase a VSAT for as much as $10,000 or procure a personal wireless tower and roof-mounted dish for about $1,000.

Spaceloon customers would need only buy a locally made satellite dish for about $10, a regular modem, and connection to the service. Monthly pricing will be at least half the cost of all current options, according to Anyasi.

The impact on Africa’s Internet industry could be enormous.

Besides providing Internet access to previously unserved markets in city outskirts and rural regions, the technology would allow mobile phone operators to offer wireless modems to their customers. (Currently there are about 320 million mobile phone users in Africa.) To this end, Spaceloon is in discussions with large wireless providers Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and Vodafone, which each have a large business presence in a number of African countries.

The concept is simple, but the implications are massive. As Anyasi says, “Anyone, anywhere can get [wireless] Internet access. All you need is access to the sky and you have reception.”

The comments on the article are also interesting, especially this answer to a query by Timothy Anyasi:

I will answer your questions point for point and perhaps we can move on to solving the immeditate needs.

Telecommunication is not a cheap enterprise especially in Africa. You really have no idea what it cost to run a single cell tower in Africa. So I will share that info with you.

  • First you need to shell out $200,000 http://tinyurl.com/myrwcs minimun to build a tall enough cell tower ( enough to buy 4,000 balloons – 6,000 with mass production. enough balloons for 11yrs daily launch of a single balloon)
  • Secondly – Electricity infrastracture is very poor so cell towers need there own $5,000 power generators, that needs to be fueled and maintained. I will not go into the environmental impact of burning fossil fuel. Compare this with our rechargable batteries and we will be using solar panels in the near future.
  • Thirdly – security personnel need to be posted to each cell tower to protect the generators. if the generators are stolen, so goes the service.
  • finally – I think you also need transportation to haul gas and personnel to these cell towers
You made mention of how much the access point cost. Hello? all internet service providers have access points.
Also our devices will not be stolen for 3 reasons
  1. there is no market for it ( same reason cell relayers are hardly stolen)
  2. We pay people to return if found
  3. we set what time, location they land and have gps to know exactly where they landed. This means we are usually the first to get to it.
Any object at 80,000ft has a coverage area of a little more than size of New Jersey.
Payloads are assembled parts, so usually all parts do not fail at once. But on average, a payload on average runs for at least a few years
with a few hundred balloons, we got the whole continent well served, compared to 20,000+ cell towers
We work within the jet stream in near space, if the current is eastbound we launch from the west. get the picture?
NOC does not have to be in the foot print of a particular balloon. We create a network mesh in the sky and do relays.
Also hydrogen is cheap and pretty safe to transport and can be stored in tanks at launch locations. we pay farmers to help us launch the payloads.
Number of NOC depends on demand pattern and spread of our subscribers.
bandwidth capability of each balloon depends on number of users within it’s footprint. We use higher payload for denser areas.
We monitor, the coverage area of each balloon from the NOC and since the wind speed is fairly consistent and predictable there is only a slow drift and we launch new balloons once we notice a gap in coverage, is about to happen. Also we can steer a balloon in a desire direction.
On the issue of failure, more than $80m has been invested to get this technology to where it is right now. And the US military definately will not buy into this if it was some crap. All technology must go from small scale to large, so why is this any different? And let us know how to raise the $100b to run fiber optics through half of Africa. until then, we will make do with a $100m solution.
Lastly, please do not preach to me, how ignorance is cheaper than education. We are interested in bridging the digital divide. Obama won simply becuase there was internet in the US. remove the internet and there is no Obama. So what is your point?
Btw thanks for your questions.

The Bush administration lied the US and the world into war in Iraq, and lied into opening a second front of its GWOT in the Sahara that continues going strong today. The Bush administration went bananas over the banana theory that terrorists would spread out into over north Africa from Afghanistan, west across the map in the pattern of a bunch of bananas. So far the Obama administration seems to be buying right in and continuing the fiction. (Remember the domino theory and what it did for the US and southeast Asia?) Since 2003 there has been a huge amount of US military action in north Africa in and around the Sahara. In 2004:

U.S. military commanders were describing terrorists as “swarming” across the Sahel and the region as a “Swamp of Terror.” The area was, in the words of European Command’s deputy commander General Charles F. Wald, a “terrorist infestation” that “we need to drain.” Stewart M. Powell, writing in Air Force Magazine, claimed that the Sahara “is now a magnet for terrorists.”

In the africom.mil picture gallery there are plenty of pictures of US military activity in north Africa. Here are two recent examples:

CAP DRAA, Morocco - Marine radio operators from the ground combat element of Task Force African Lion observe the smoke-filled battlefield of the final training exercise as they relay information from the commanders to the units in the field May 29, 2009. The annually scheduled, combined U.S. -Moroccan exercise, AFRICAN LION, is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation's tactics, techniques and procedures and is scheduled to run until June 4. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Rocco DeFilippis)

CAP DRAA, Morocco - Marine radio operators from the ground combat element of Task Force African Lion observe the smoke-filled battlefield of the final training exercise as they relay information from the commanders to the units in the field May 29, 2009. The annually scheduled, combined U.S. -Moroccan exercise, AFRICAN LION, is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation's tactics, techniques and procedures and is scheduled to run until June 4. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Rocco DeFilippis)

MALI - Malian commandos advance with a member of the U.S. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) during training rehearsals May 13, 2009, at a military training area north of Bamako, Mali. Building on specialized skills previously acquired during joint exercises such as Flintlock, which is Special Operations Command-Africa's premier Special Operations Forces exercise in the Trans-Saharan region, the "Warrior-Ambassadors" of the 3rd SFG (A) were continuing their Africa-focused security forces assistance mission to enhance African Partner Nation capabilities to help achieve regional cooperation and security. The 3rd SFG (A) is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

MALI - Malian commandos advance with a member of the U.S. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) during training rehearsals May 13, 2009, at a military training area north of Bamako, Mali. Building on specialized skills previously acquired during joint exercises such as Flintlock, which is Special Operations Command-Africa's premier Special Operations Forces exercise in the Trans-Saharan region, the "Warrior-Ambassadors" of the 3rd SFG (A) were continuing their Africa-focused security forces assistance mission to enhance African Partner Nation capabilities to help achieve regional cooperation and security. The 3rd SFG (A) is based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo by Max R. Blumenfeld, JSOTF-TS PAO)

In December 2008 the New York Times described:

… a five-year, $500 million partnership between the State and Defense Departments includes Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, and Libya is on the verge of joining.

This effort is aimed at a small force, maybe 200 fighters, they call Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

The GWOT activity in Africa was begun by EUCOM, the European Command, long before AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, was even announced as a plan. There were no terrorist incidents in north Africa, unless you count the Algerian government actions in the dirty war against their own people, which were estimated to have left 200,000 dead. Algeria was worried about being cut off from arms supplies, and the US interest in fighting terror came along just at the right time. Jeremy Keenan described the creation of the Saharan war on terror in a 2006 article:

The “why” has much to do with Washington’s “banana theory” of terrorism, so named because of the banana-shaped route Washington believed the dislodged terrorists from Afghanistan were taking into Africa and across the Sahelian countries of Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to link up with Islamist militants in the Maghreb. Hard evidence for this theory was lacking. There was little or no Islamic extremism in the Sahel, no indigenous cases of terrorism, and no firm evidence that “terrorists” from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the Middle East were taking this route.

Washington appears to have based its notion on some unpublished sources and Algerian press reports on the banditry and smuggling activities of the outlaw Mokhtar ben Mokhtar. It also misconstrued the Tablighi Jama`at movement, whose 200 or so members in Mali are nicknamed “the Pakistanis” because the sect’s headquarters are in Pakistan. Finally, local government agents told U.S. officials what they wanted to hear.

Notwithstanding the lack of evidence, Washington saw a Saharan Front as the linchpin for the militarization of Africa

Washington’s interest in the Sahel and the flimsiness of its intelligence were extremely propitious for Algeria’s own designs. As western countries became aware of the Algerian army’s role in its “dirty war” of the 1990s against Islamic extremists, they became increasingly reluctant to sell it arms for fear of Islamist reprisals and criticism from human rights groups. As a result, Algeria’s army became progressively under-equipped and increasingly preoccupied with acquiring modern, high-tech weapon systems, notably night vision devices, sophisticated radar systems, an integrated surveillance system, tactical communications equipment, and certain lethal weapon systems. Whereas the Clinton administration kept its distance, the Bush administration invited Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as one of its first guests to Washington. Bouteflika told his American counterpart that Algeria wanted specific equipment to maintain peace, security, and stability.

September 11 was a golden opportunity for both regimes, especially Algeria, which sold its “expertise” in counter-terrorism to Washington on the basis of its long “war” against Islamists through the 1990s that left 200,000 people dead.

The two governments created terrorism together. It started with:

… the hostage-taking of 32 tourists in the Algerian Sahara. The United States attributed their capture in March 2003 to Algeria’s Islamist “terrorist” organization, the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC). The presumed mastermind of the plot was the GSPC’s second-in-command, who goes by many aliases, including El Para after his stint as a parachutist in the Algerian army.

The GSPC held the hostages in two groups approximately 300 kilometers apart in the Algerian Sahara. An Algerian army assault liberated one of the groups. The captors took the other group to northern Mali and finally released the hostages following the alleged ransom payment of five million Euros. The hostage-taking confirmed U.S. suspicions. Even before the hostages were released, the Bush administration was branding the Sahara as a terror zone and El Para as a top al-Qaida operative and “bin Laden’s man in the Sahel.”

By the end of January, Algerian and Malian forces, reportedly with U.S. support, were said to have driven the GSPC from northern Mali. Then, in a series of engagements, a combined military operation of Niger and Algerian forces, supported by U.S. satellite surveillance, chased El Para‘s men across the Tamesna, Aïr, and Tenere regions of Niger into the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. There, thanks to the support of U.S. aerial reconnaissance, Chadian forces engaged the GSPC in early March in a battle lasting three days, reportedly killing 43 GSPC. El Para managed to escape the carnage but fell into the hands of a Chadian rebel movement. This group held him hostage until October 2004 when he was returned to Algeria, allegedly with the help of Libya. In June 2005, an Algerian court convicted him in absentia of “creating an armed terrorist group and spreading terror among the population.” It sentenced El Para to life imprisonment.

Within a year, the United States and its allies had transformed the Sahara-Sahel region into a second front in the global “war on terror.” Prior to the hostage-taking in March 2003, no act of terror, in the conventional meaning of the term, had occurred in this vast region. Yet, by the following year, U.S. military commanders were describing terrorists as “swarming” across the Sahel and the region as a “Swamp of Terror.”

But the incidents used to justify the launch of this new front in the “war on terror” were either fiction, in that they simply did not happen, or fabricated by U.S. and Algerian military intelligence services. El Para was not “Bin Laden’s man in the Sahara,” but an agent of Algeria’s counter-terrorist organization, the Direction des Renseignements et de la Sécurité. Many Algerians believe him to have been trained as a Green Beret at Fort Bragg in the 1990s. Almost every Algerian statement issued during the course of the hostage drama has now been proven to be false. No combined military force chased El Para and his men across the Sahel. El Para was not even with his men as they stumbled around the Aïr Mountains in search of a guide and having themselves photographed by tourists. As for the much-lauded battle in Chad, there is no evidence that it happened. Leaders of the Chadian rebel movement say it never occurred, while nomads, after two years of scratching around in the area, have still not found a single cartridge case or other material evidence.

They were able to fabricate this war because:

First, the Algerian and U.S. military intelligence services channeled a stream of disinformation to an industry of terrorism “experts,” conservative ideologues, and compliant journalists who produced a barrage of articles. Second, if a story is to be fabricated, it helps if the location is far away and remote. The Sahara is the perfect place: larger than the United States and effectively closed to public access.

The Bush administration fabricated an entire front in the “war on terror” for its own political purposes. Its obsession with secrecy is not for reasons of national security but to conceal falsehood.

And this is still going on. President Obama has continued to support many of Bush’s secrecy policies that continue to conceal falsehoods. Obama has embraced AFRICOM, and made Gen. James Jones his National Security advisor. Gen. Jones was Commander of the US European Command during the first Bush administration and played an enthusiastic and crucial role in initiating the lie based second front of the GWOT in north Africa.

If there is oil in Uganda, there must be bad people there who need the Pentagon to bring them democracy, a colleague observed. And indeed this is in part correct, there are some very bad people there. The Lords Resistance Army has plagued Uganda for 20 years, committing murders and atrocities, and kidnapping children to be child soldiers and sex slaves. The map below shows the historical areas in which the LRA operated. Much of the time the problem was ignored. But it has been a huge problem, creating hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, especially children.

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance Army, map created by Mark Dingemanse for Wikimedia.

Ugandan districts affected by Lords Resistance Army, map created by Mark Dingemanse for Wikimedia.

The US has not taken much notice of this until very recently. The Ugandan Army has stepped up its battle against the LRA in recent years, and the LRA has moved and expanded its operations into the DRC, as well as Sudan and the Central African Republic. In December 2008, the US Africa Command, AFRICOM, helped plan and arm a badly botched raid on the LRA, including contributing $1 million worth of fuel. Without the money for fuel, the raid could not have taken place. No effort was made to warn or defend the civilian population. The raid failed, the raiders came up empty handed, but the LRA attacked the civilian population in reprisal. It carried on a reign of terror throughout areas of the DRC that went on for weeks and months. Hundreds have been killed and maimed, children were kidnapped, and are still being kidnapped, and hundreds of thousands displaced. I wrote about it earlier, with links to accounts of what happened, Stability operations cause 900 civilian deaths, 100,000 displaced, miss target and Botched raid. Here is a map of LRA attacks outside Uganda, mostly in the DRC:

Map of LRA attacks in the DRC,  Number of villages attacked: 74,  Attacked once: 47, Attacked twice: 9, Attacked three times: 5, Attacked eight times: 1 (Duru)

Map of LRA attacks in the DRC, December 2007 - January 2009. Total number of villages attacked: 74, Attacked once: 47, Attacked twice: 9, Attacked three times: 5, Attacked eight times: 1 (Duru)

Now there are oil discoveries in the neighborhood. With the oil discoveries there is a lot more US interest in doing something about the LRA.

US Senate wants Obama to crush LRA for good

The East African, June 1 2009
Republicans as well as Demo-crats are pressing President Barack Obama to help the Ugandan military destroy the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Legislation introduced last week in the US Senate would require the Obama administration to move towards “eliminating the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army.”

The proposal calls for military and other forms of US support for multilateral efforts to “apprehend or otherwise remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield and to disarm and demobilise Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.”

Introduced by key members of both major US political parties, the legislation would also provide $20 million in the coming year for humanitarian aid to civilians in Central Africa affected by LRA actions and for efforts to promote recovery and reconciliation in northern Uganda.

“The introduction of this Bill demonstrates the growing consensus on the need for greater US leadership to disarm top LRA leaders and permanently end this violence,” said Democratic Congressman James McGovern.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce said the bill “rightly targets” LRA leader Joseph Kony.

“Kony’s removal is essential to peace in the region,” Royce declared.

It is fashionable to blame conflict in Africa on poverty and other environmental factors,” Royce wrote in a blog he posts on his congressional website.

“But sometimes just getting rid of one person does make a big difference. History is full of captivating leaders with bad ideas who do great damage. It’s a lesson I learned from West Africa, where Liberian president Charles Taylor, ran a gangster regime that brought havoc to neighbouring Sierra Leone. After his hard-fought removal, the region is peaceful. Kony’s removal won’t guarantee peace — but it will make it possible.”

That approach is being endorsed by Human Rights Watch and 21 other non-governmental organisations in the US that are jointly backing the legislation known officially as the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act.

Thousands of young Americans have also taken up the cause of pushing the US government to help put an end to the atrocities that Kony’s forces have inflicted on civilians in Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic as well as in Uganda.

This co-ordinated campaign by the US president’s political allies is likely to influence the Obama administration thinking. It increases the likelihood that the US Africa Command (Africom) will be ordered to help plan and execute a new Uganda-led offensive against the LRA.

Senator Russell Feingold said in introducing the anti-LRA legislation that the earlier “botched operation does not mean that we should just give up on the goal of ending the massacres and the threat to regional stability posed by this small rebel group.

Moreover, given that the US provided assistance and support for this operation at the request of the regional governments, we have a responsibility to help see this rebel war to its end.”

The LRA is an entirely appropriate target for the Ugandan government. I think everybody would be glad to see the last of the LRA. However, the presence of oil in Uganda and probably the DRC, plus the multitude of other minerals in the DRC makes any incursions there more complex. I doubt the Pentagon’s Africa Command will improve the democracy situation. You can see some some of the problem in this map of the DRC. It includes mineral resources, and the areas where both Rwanda and Uganda operate inside the DRC, ostensibly to go after the various militias originating in their countries, that now include the LRA. Though both Uganda and Rwanda rake in big profits from minerals mined in the DRC.

DRC map, coltan, minerals, and areas of Ugandan and Rwandan activity marked

DRC map, coltan, minerals, with areas of Ugandan and Rwandan military activity marked

[Added March 3, 2010:  For more, and more detailed maps of the location of coltan and other minerals in the DRC, see this post:  Trading Congo Contraband – Maps – 3T Minerals, Coltan, Gold.]

There is also the possibility of major oil finds in northwestern Kenya, bordering on northern Uganda and southeastern Sudan. So the LRA is very much in the way, wherever it is holed up or active. This more than any humanitarian concern is making it more urgent and important to get rid of them. AFRICOM is still wearing its humanitarian makeup in Northern Uganda. If you look at the map of Northern Uganda at the top of this post, Pader, Gulu, and Lira are all featured in the photos at the africom.mil photo gallery photos from Uganda. The one following is of US soldiers grading the road for a bridge crossing that will, among other things, help get goods to market at Lira. I so not wish to minimize the value of this and similar projects. They are a boon and blessing for the local people, until and unless they may be used against the local people. But humanitarian assistance is not the reason for AFRICOM. It would be better for development and democracy if such projects were funded and undertaken by civilian agencies. And the funding for these projects is peanuts compared to the military spending.

AROMA, Uganda - Local residents of Aroma, Uganda look on as service members from the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-11, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, grade the area surrounding the Walela Cultvert Bridge on May 5, 2009. This was the final construction phase of a bridge that connects the main Lira road to the Aroma sub-county. Funded by Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, the Walela Bridge was constructed by 25 U.S. Navy construction engineers in partnership with their counterparts from the Uganda People’s Defense force. It will improve the lives of more than 60,000 people from three villages by enhancing their transportation ability, providing them with year-round access to the Lira market, and aiding in the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies. (Photo by Technical Sergeant Dawn Price, CJTF-HOA)

AROMA, Uganda - Local residents of Aroma, Uganda look on as service members from the U.S. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-11, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, grade the area surrounding the Walela Cultvert Bridge on May 5, 2009. This was the final construction phase of a bridge that connects the main Lira road to the Aroma sub-county. Funded by Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, the Walela Bridge was constructed by 25 U.S. Navy construction engineers in partnership with their counterparts from the Uganda People’s Defense force. It will improve the lives of more than 60,000 people from three villages by enhancing their transportation ability, providing them with year-round access to the Lira market, and aiding in the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies. (Photo by Technical Sergeant Dawn Price, CJTF-HOA)

There is another danger from US militarism in Uganda’s path. Back in February Charles Onyango Obbo wrote in Uganda’s Daily Monitor:

Iraq war could end up on Museveni’s doorsteps

Two weeks ago The Sunday Times (of London) magazine had a striking photograph of Ugandan guards in Iraq. But even more telling was the short text that accompanied it. It reported that while Britain and America are planning on withdrawing their troops from Iraq, “the Ugandans are coming”.

The Ugandans, said The Sunday Times, were ‘desperate’ to be sent to Iraq, and already almost 10,000 of them are working as private security guards in Iraq, risking their lives to guard various American installations. We know this already, but then it gets quite interesting. It describes the war in Iraq as the ‘most privatised’ in history.

Over the last five years, America has dished out contracts worth about $100 billion. More and more of the 230,000 private-sector jobs related to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it said, have been outsourced to the Third World, what it called “the military equivalent of installing call centres in India”.

It discussed why American and British contractors moved into Uganda to hire guards for Iraq (we speak English, have surplus veterans from our many wars) but, ultimately they came because Uganda “is cheap”. Since the first lot of guards was sent in 2005, the paper reports, competition has driven wages down from $1,300 a month to around $600 today.

To understand how cheap our lives are, the $6000 compares with the $15,000 a British and American guard could make.
It would take a Ugandan two years to earn what a Brit or American makes in a month
. It becomes very ironical: The Uganda government backs Zimbabwe President Robert Zimbabwe in his insane drive to destroy his once prosperous country, and Kampala officials and security officers own the firms that have a monopoly on exporting Ugandan guards to Iraq. However, most of the chaps who train the Ugandan Iraq guards are white instructors from Zimbabwe. Some of them, probably, were officers in the white supremacist army against which Mugabe and his guerrillas fought!

The story of Ugandan Iraq guards, however, is just in the first chapter of its telling. Even at $600 (before the Ugandan firm deducts its njawulo), these guards are already making more than they possibly could at home. Now that the American presence is winding down, by the end of next year, there might be little work for Third World guards in Iraq. If there is, the salaries could be so low, it would no longer be worth it.

When these 10,000 guards return home, then the reckoning will start. Their story might be much like that of the African veterans of World War II. The unintended effect of that war was that when the Africans returned home, they were inspired to join the struggle for independence. Their fear of the colonialist had gone. They had killed the mzungu in war, seen them wail in pain, and flee hot battles, and their allies. They realised that; ‘Hey, these guys are just like us’, and decided that there was nothing special that gave them the right to colonise us.

The Ugandans who are serving in Iraq have seen even a more dramatic humbling of the world’s sole superpower, America. If America can be brought to its knees by a rag tag bunch of dissidents, the UPDF – a comparatively rudimentary and unsophisticated force (its notable bush credentials notwithstanding) – must look very ordinary to them now.

President Yoweri Museveni is a not a fool, one reason he has been able to cling to power as long as he has. He realises that the guards are probably better trained than the average UPDF soldier. And, farther, that having so many people with their skills who are not intimidated by the UPDF returning home and not being within the control of the security services, is dangerous.

Just like the government has done with many LRA former rebels, it will incorporate the guards into the UPDF. That, however, has its risks. Even when they were badly treated, the Uganda guards in Iraq lived better, were paid more and more promptly, than many rank and file UPDF soldiers, some of whom still live in manyattas, and make do with tired sandals for boots. They could spread discontent, and that is hazardous. Also, UPDF cannot possibly absorb 10,000 guards, some of whom might not necessarily have the “correct” political and ethnic profile for the army.

The best option, therefore, would to create a Reserve Foreign Force in which all the former guards are placed, and get a trusted general who is on kateebe, to head it. That will partially solve the problem of control, but it won’t help in ensuring loyalty to the “Museveni way”, as the bulk of the Iraqi guards are unlikely to ever be dyed-in-the-wool NRM cadres.

The private need by the regime to reward insiders by letting them corner the Iraqi guards supply contracts could one day clash with its public need to keep power by monopolising the means and skills of war. Will the Museveni government avoid the fate of the British colonialists after WW II? Only time will tell.

Charles Onyango Obbo is an astute observer and journalist. As he points out, we only know the opening chapters of this story. The comments that follow the original text at the link are worth reading as well, and lend credence to Obbo’s observations. The oil discoveries, and competition for oil money will further complicate the tale. The presence of AFRICOM, which is already on quite friendly terms with Museveni, and the US habit of picking favorites and interfering with domestic politics, as it has been doing in Kenya and Somalia, is likely to play a part in the unfolding story.

________

Map links:
LRA in Northern Uganda
LRA attacks in the DRC
DRC, coltan, and military activity

________

Added June 20:

It looks like Uganda is in for a bunch more partnering with AFRICOM. Obama just appointed/nominated the ambassador to Uganda, from the White House:

Jerry P. Lanier, Nominee for Ambassador to the Republic of Uganda

Jerry P. Lanier is a career diplomat with 26 years of service in the Department of State. He is currently the Foreign Policy Advisor for U.S. Africa Command headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.
Prior to that, he was the Director of the Office of Regional and Security Affairs in the Africa Bureau at the State Department. Mr. Lanier has also served in the Philippines, Kenya, Thailand, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Ghana. At State he has served as the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, country officer for the Republic of Korea, Legislative Management Officer for Africa, Deputy Director for the Office of West African Affairs, and Deputy Director for the Office Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh Affairs. He received his B.A. at Pembroke State University, his M.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and served three years as lecturer in the history department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Mr. Lanier’s employment history looks like he has experience interfering with the internal affairs of other nations.

Huge deposits of oil have been identified in Uganda along the shore of Lake Albert:
Uganda’s oil reserves rival Saudi Arabia’s, says US expert

map of Uganda showing the Bunyoro kingdom in green

map of Uganda showing the Bunyoro kingdom in green, located along the side of Lake Albert, where much of the oil is located

Uganda along lake Albert.  The white line in the lake is the border between Uganda and DRC.  On the Unganda side you can see the places Tonyo, Hoima, and Butiaba marked on the map.  These are of particular interest to the oil business.

Uganda along lake Albert, the white line in the lake is the border between Uganda and DRC. On the Uganda side you can see the places Tonyo, Hoima, and Butiaba marked on the map. These are locations of oil discoveries.

The southern portion of Lake Albert in Uganda including most of oil Block 3A (map added 4/2010)

These are the oil blocks around Lake Albert, with Uganda on the east/right, and the DRC on the west/left.

These are the oil blocks around Lake Albert, with Uganda on the east/right, and the DRC on the west/left

KAMPALA, UGANDA - Uganda’s oil reserves could be as much as that of the Gulf countries, a senior official at the US Department of Energy has said.

Based on the test flow results encountered at the wells so far drilled and other oil numbers, Ms. Sally Kornfeld, a senior analyst in the office of fossil energy went ahead to talk about Uganda’s oil reservoirs in the same sentence as Saudi Arabia.”You are blessed with amazing reservoirs. Your reservoirs are incredible. I am amazed by what I have seen, you might rival Saudi Arabia,” Kornfeld told a visiting delegation from Uganda in Washington DC.

The group of Ugandans was in Washington on an international visitor programme and looked at the efficient use of natural energy resources.

The group comprised Ministry of Energy officials, a Member of Parliament, members from the civil society and one journalist.

At present, Uganda has four oil prospectors on the ground including Heritage Oil, Tullow Oil, Tower Oil and Dominion Oil.

Of the four prospectors, Tullow and Heritage have registered success at wells in two blocks in the Albertine basin, which lies in the upper-most part of the western arm of the Great Rift Valley.

According to data so far aggregated since the first discovery was made by Australian prospector Hardman Resources (now taken over by Tullow) in June 2006, Uganda has established reserves at 3.5 million barrels of oil per day.

Experts in oil exploration say this could be just a tip of the iceberg.

In April last year, Tullow embarked on what it termed as a major drilling campaign in the Butiaba area around Lake Albert targeting an overall reserve potential in excess of a billion barrels.

The Butiaba campaign was preceded by successes in two drilling campaigns in the Kaiso-Tonya area and the Kingfisher field and all these have been 100% successes so far.

The Butiaba campaign has thrown up successes but the two biggest so far have been the Buffalo-Giraffe wells – described as “one of the largest recent onshore oil discoveries in Africa“.

“Combined with our other finds in the region, we have now clearly exceeded the thresholds for basin development,” the chief executive of Tullow commented then.

The Giraffe-1 exploration well, which is located in the Butiaba region, came up with over 38 metres of net oil pay within an 89-metre gross oil bearing interval.

The data from the Giraffe discovery indicate a net reservoir thickness of 38 metres, the largest encountered in the area to date.

The Buffalo-1 exploration well in Block 1 encountered 15 metres of net gas pay and over 28 metres of net oil pay.

The gas and oil columns encountered are 48 metres and 75 metres respectively with the potential to be even larger.

As Kornfeld marveled at Uganda’s oil finds, she was quick to add that for the country to benefit from the oil and gas resources but also avoid the pitfalls of oil producing countries like Nigeria, it is extremely important to set up strong governance structures.

Kornfeld and the other United States officials said they are ready to help Uganda’s nascent oil and gas sector with anything including the key environmental issues that are crucial to the efficient management of oil and gas.

Anything you might want us to help you with we will and we have a lot of expertise in environmental issues relating to oil and gas,” Kornfeld said.

And in a quote from the article written a year ago, with the oil blocks pictured above:

“The Albert Basin now looks increasingly like it has the elements to make it a world-class petroleum basin. The flow rates, even constrained by available completion and test facilities, far exceeded our expectations,” Tony Buckingham says.

It is certainly true the the US has a lot of experience, and one might say expertise, in environmental issues relating to oil and gas. Unfortunately much of that expertise and experience is involved in circumventing and evading environmental law and responsible environmental management.

Then, as Ms. Kornfeld said, there is the issue of avoiding the pitfalls of other oil producing countries like Nigeria. In general, the US has supported the policies and governments in Nigeria that have engineered these pitfalls, into seemingly bottomless pits, working along with the US based oil corporations operating in Nigeria. So although they might know what to avoid in order to be socially and environmentally responsible, there is no indication that the US government or the oil corporations have any intention of acting in socially or environmentally responsible ways. Uganda does not have much history of environmentalism it can point to with pride either. So far the US response to African oil issues has been almost entirely military, hence AFRICOM, the US Africa Command.

The Uganda government may be strong in the sense of using muscle to insure compliance. It employs muscle internally against dissent, and externally to assist in exploiting the resources of its neighbors, particularly in the DRC. However its democratic history is weak, and employment of any form of participatory democracy in decision making is sadly lacking. The US has been an enthusiastic supporter of Uganda’s “strength”. Mahmood Mamdani points out that Museveni has been a US proxy in Rwanda, and is still a US proxy in the DRC. AMISOM soldiers from Uganda are in Somalia acting as US proxies, and the underlying issue there too is oil.

Musevenis name means son of a man of the seventh, meaning from the Seventh Battalion of the Kings Africa Rifles. That seems ironically appropriate, as Uganda is acting as a US proxy in the DRC, Somalia, and Ugandan mercenaries have played a prominent role in Iraq. US proxy warriors in Africa have been referred to as Bush’s Africa Rifles, now Obama’s Africa Rifles, not too different from the colonial proxy war tradition of the King’s Africa Rifles.

Museveni has shown no interest in allowing any democratic opposition to his presidency. In May he declared: I see no successor in NRM.

He may have ruled Uganda for the past twenty three years but President Yoweri Museveni is still hesitant to hand over power, not even to members of the National Resistance Movement, of which he is the leader.

On Thursday the president told NRM Members of Parliament that while he would be “happy” to hand over power, he saw “nobody” ready to take on the daunting responsibility of leading Uganda.

So the Uganda government will continue to run along lines that Museveni sees as in his/Uganda’s interest. I don’t know if this is the “strong governance structures” to which Kornfeld refers. It may well be. She and her cronies may see this as the most convenient way for the US to access Ugandan oil. But it cannot be described as democratic, or in any way resembling participatory democracy. Unless people who live where the resources are can benefit from those resources, and have some say in how they are disposed, there will be conflict. And problems are already brewing. In April 2009 Uganda Bunyoro Kingdom Threatens Lawsuit over Oil Exploration:

Cultural leaders of Uganda’s Bunyoro kingdom, located on the Ugandan side of the oil-rich Albertine rift, have threatened legal action against the central government over oil exploration and production activities there, a kingdom official said Monday, but the government has promised talks to resolve the issue.

Yolamu Nsamba, the principal private secretary of the king of Bunyoro, said the government has breached the pre-independence agreement of 1955, which provides that Bunyoro is entitled to substantial amounts of revenue from mineral exploration in its kingdom.

“For years now, the central government has been dealing with oil exploration companies secretly yet the law has never been changed,” he said, adding that kingdom officials have already informed the central government of its intentions.

A government official told Dow Jones Newswires separately Monday that the central government would soon start talks with kingdom officials to resolve the issue. Uganda is expected to embark on an early oil production scheme in the first quarter of 2010.

The 1955 agreement was signed between the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and the U.K. protectorate government and stipulates that in the event of mineral development taking place in Bunyoro, a substantial part of the mineral royalties and revenue from mining leases would be paid to the native government of Bunyoro Kitara.

Bunyoro remains influential in Uganda although its cultural leaders are prohibited from engaging in national politics.

It will be interesting to see how Bunyoro fares in maintaining some control over its riches. And there are troubles with the neighbors too. In May 2009 Uganda beefs up marine surveillance on its waters.

Uganda has stepped up security on its waterways and is quietly revamping its marine police in anticipation of tensions with its neighbours over the country’s natural resources.

Apparently, the discovery of high-value natural resources such as oil and gas under and near Uganda’s lakes and the need to protect fisheries resources are the imperative behind moves to improve security on the country’s waters.

The Police Marine Unit has acquired four specialised boats at a cost of $8.6 million to be paid over a period of five years.

The acquisitions and keen interest in marine security come in the wake of an incident in August 2007, when Congolese troops on the disputed Rukwanzi island in Lake Albert shot and killed oil prospectors who were carrying out surveys on the Ugandan side of the lake.

Officials say terror threats have also underscored the need for improving security on the country’s lakes because Uganda’s main Entebbe airport — the kind of key infrastructure usually targeted by terrorists — is located on a peninsula in Lake Victoria.

Much as the boats are up and running and have recently been seen around Migingo island, over which Kenya and Uganda are squabbling, questions are being raised over the capacity of the police to take on and maintain such infrastructure both financially and technically.

Uganda is landlocked, so issues of how and where the oil will be refined and transported are still up in the air. Tullow, Heritage Face Tough Choices on Uganda Oil Devt.

After remarkable exploration success in Uganda, Tullow Oil PLC (TLW.LN) and Heritage Oil Ltd. (HOIL.LN) face tough choices over how to develop the oil they’ve discovered.

Both companies face immense infrastructure challenges bringing the oil from its remote region to world markets. They have to walk a fine line between their commercial goals and the sometimes conflicting ambitions of the Ugandan government. Tullow and Heritage also have to handle overtures from much larger rivals that want in on the substantial quantities of oil they have discovered.

“Lake Albert is a multibillion-barrel basin,” with great potential to expand reserves even further once problems with licenses on the Congolese side of the lake are resolved and exploration begins there, said Paul Atherton, chief financial officer of Heritage.

Tullow and Heritage have long talked of exporting the Lake Albert oil to world markets via Kenya, initially by rail to the port of Mombassa and eventually through a large enough pipeline to carry the 150,000 barrels of oil per day the basin is thought to be capable of producing.

The government has clashed recently with Tullow over the pipeline, said an official at the energy and minerals ministry.

And Uganda’s energy minister recently said no unrefined oil should be exported from Uganda and instead the country should build a refinery to process all domestic crude and supply oil products to the whole region.

As talks on the development move slowly forward, one voice that has been heard little so far is that of the local communities, said Dickens Kamugisha, chief executive of the African Institute for Energy Governance, a non-governmental organization based in the Ugandan capital.

Local people are worried about the problems caused in Nigeria, Angola and Chad by the exploitation of oil resources and unchecked flows of petrodollars to governments with a reputation for corruption, he said. “The process has been secretive,” with insufficient public discussion over the competing development plans and no publication of the production-sharing contracts between the Ugandan government and the companies, he said.

Tullow and Heritage stressed that they have maintained good relationships with local communities. Tullow said it has shown local people around their drill sites to explain what they are doing and both companies are contributing to local development by funding schools, health clinics and even lifeboat training on the lake. Employment of local people “would be an integral part of any development plan,” along the lines of work the company has done in Ghana, said McDade.

Kamugisha acknowledged the local work of the companies, but expressed concern about the lack of transparency from the government. He said he wants the Ugandan government to follow the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and declare all oil revenues openly in order to prevent corruption. Both Tullow and Heritage said they are happy to disclose the terms of their contracts — which they described as containing good terms for Uganda — if the government allows it.

Whether this is enough is unclear. A dispute is already brewing over who controls rights to minerals in the Lake Albert area and how revenues will be distributed between the government and leaders of the Bunyoro Kingdom — the ethnic grouping that occupies districts on the lake’s eastern shore . Local communities “say they have been completely left out of the process and are not satisfied,” said Kamugisha.

It looks like some rough roads ahead.

__________

Note:
h/t to b real whose research identified many of the links above
Bunyoro map from Face Music – History of Uganda
Oil blocks pictured above blocks from this article .

__________

October 15 2011:

For more on this topic see:
If Uganda Has Oil It Must Need The Pentagon’s Democracy including the documents in the comments.

For more on the first attempt of the Pentagon to go after Kony and the LRA see:
Stability operations cause 900 civilian deaths, 100,000 displaced, miss target
and
Botched raid.

Will U.S. economic interests trump the rule of law, democracy and accountability in Africa?

Benin on the map, bordering Nigeria to the east, bordering Togo, and near Ghana to the west

Benin on the map, bordering Nigeria to the east, bordering Togo, and near Ghana to the west

COTONOU, Benin - Beninese stevedores and U.S. Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion offload an incoming military vehicle during Exercise SHARED ACCORD June 3, 2009. The exercise is a scheduled, combined U.S.-Benin military exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation's tactics, techniques and procedures. Humanitarian and civil affairs projects are also scheduled to run concurrent with the exercise. The exercise concludes on June 25. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Major Keith Nunn)

COTONOU, Benin - Beninese stevedores and U.S. Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion offload an incoming military vehicle during Exercise SHARED ACCORD June 3, 2009. The exercise is a scheduled, combined U.S.-Benin military exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation's tactics, techniques and procedures. Humanitarian and civil affairs projects are also scheduled to run concurrent with the exercise. The exercise concludes on June 25. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Major Keith Nunn)

In March 2008 the Navy executed its first sea basing exercise in West Africa in Liberia. I wrote about it in Sea basing begins off the coast of Liberia.
The exercise was:

designed to evaluate the progress of the seabasing model.
“This sea-basing portion is designed to take future operational concepts and execute them using today’s platforms,” said Michael Harvey, prepositioning officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. “We are taking equipment that was originally designed for ship-to-shore movement and we are using it as a ship-to-ship connecter.”

The current exercise in Benin looks like an expanded continuation of that model.

Exercise Shared Accord 2009
June 05, 2009
Marine Corps News

COTONOU, Benin – Approximately 400 U.S. military personnel have begun arriving in Bembereke, Benin to take part in Exercise SHARED ACCORD 09.

Exercise SHARED ACCORD is a scheduled, combined U.S.-Benin exercise focusing on the conduct of small unit infantry and staff training with the Beninese military and is designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of each nation’s tactics, techniques and procedures.

Infantry Marines from New Orleans-based 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division will work with their Beninese counterparts to focus on individual and crew-served weapons proficiency and small unit training tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as company- and battalion- level staff training in order to build our partner nation’s capacity to conduct peacekeeping operations.

Medical and dental personnel from 4th Marine Logistics Group and U.S. Air Force Reserve Command’s 459th Aerospace Medical Squadron will provide various medical related humanitarian assistance efforts for the local population in the towns of Sinende, Guessou-Sud and Gamia.

During the exercise, Marine engineers from 6th Engineer Support Battalion will participate in a humanitarian and civic assistance project at a school in the village of Konarou.

In addition to the infantry training, medical and dental assistance, and school construction project, SHARED ACCORD will feature soldiers from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion who will provide veterinary assistance to several villages in the vicinity of Bembereke.

Exercise SHARED ACCORD is a U.S. Africa Command-sponsored, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Africa-planned exercise that supports U.S. Africa Command’s Theater Strategic Objectives. The exercise is scheduled to conclude on June 25. All U.S. forces will return to their home bases at the end of the exercise.

In this exercise the US is demonstrating that the work of government, building schools, public health, agricultural extension services, are best done by the military. Is this the message we wish to send? or the example we wish to display? Since US foreign policy is increasingly military policy, particularly in Africa, perhaps this is the intentional message, a message that supports and encourages undemocratic military governments with military to military partnerships.

At the top of this post is a question posed by Africa Action’s Gerald LeMelle. The US Africa Command inspired his list of critically important questions. None of these questions has been answered directly so far. The implied answers, implied by recent US actions in African countries, paint a grim and depressing picture.

  • Who does the United States intend to stabilize by introducing more military equipment and approving more arms sales into the region?
  • How does the United States decide when to use force in “stabilizing” a conflict?
  • If people are protesting unfair corporate practices near the grounds of an oil company, will the United States use force, or encourage the use of force by African military units, to protect these corporate assets?
  • Will U.S. soldiers be accountable in any way to African governments or their citizens?
  • To what degree will the United States employ mercenaries and other contractors in Africa?
  • Will U.S. economic interests trump the rule of law, democracy and accountability in Africa

I have previously quoted some of the sources quoted here, but the words bear repeating, especially since the plans and exercises for sea basing appear to be going forward. No country in Africa, aside from Liberia, has welcomed a US Africa Command headquarters. Djibouti has a base now, the CJTF-HOA, although originally that was supposed to be temporary. The Gulf of Guinea has large oil resources, relatively convenient to the United States. A mobile military base might be just what the Pentagon would like to help “stabilize” countries so their resources can be extracted. “Interoperability” produces proxy warriors. Nigeria, with its huge oil reserves, and history of ruthless resource exploitation, is right next to Benin. Many in the US military and government have spoken of Nigeria as a “failed state” in need of “stability operations.” In July 2007 Nick Turse wrote in Planet Pentagon:

The Pentagon is now considering — and planning for — future “sea-basing.” No longer just a ship, a fleet, or “prepositioned material” stationed on the world’s oceans, sea-bases will be “a hybrid system-of-systems consisting of concepts of operations, ships, forces, offensive and defensive weapons, aircraft, communications and logistics.” The notion of such bases is increasingly popular within the military due to the fact that they “will help to assure access to areas where U.S. military forces may be denied access to support [land] facilities.” After all, as a report by the Defense Science Board pointed out, “[S]eabases are sovereign [and] not subject to alliance vagaries.” Imagine a future where the people of countries at odds with U.S. policies suddenly find America’s “massive seaborne platforms” floating just outside their territorial waters.

The Liberian exercise brought ashore about 58K worth of assistance, pennies compared to the cost of the exercise.  I have not seen any costs listed for the Benin operation.   A recent contract for just transporting naval lighterage equipment within the US came to $6.3 million, just a percentage of a $405.6 million cumulative contract. The difference in dollars for money spent on the “humanitarian” window dressing, compared to money spent on Naval equipment and operations, tells us the relative importance of these features of the current mission.

This is something that no one among us has the power to do with our sovereignty. It amounts to the attempted robbery of the nation by the force of arms. In a fundamental matter such as this, that has serious implications on our status as an independent nation, that could even mean life or death to Ghanaians, as we have seen in the bombs that continue to fall on marriage ceremonies in Afghanistan, the minimum expectation ought to have been an open democratic national debate and not secretive and conspiratorial manoeuvres.

TAKORADI, Ghana - A traditional fishing boat sails in the Gulf of Guinea near the fishing village of Takoradi, west of Ghana's capital, Accra, on March 2, 2009. U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, met with local fishermen to discuss ways that maritime security programs can protect fishing stocks, which are a vital source of food in West Africa. Inset: Nana Ekow Akon, chief of the Takoradi fishing community, speaks with U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, on March 2, 2009. Yates visited West Africa to discuss international cooperation in illegal fishing, counter-narcotics and illicit trafficking. (Photos by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

TAKORADI, Ghana - A traditional fishing boat sails in the Gulf of Guinea near the fishing village of Takoradi, west of Ghana's capital, Accra, on March 2, 2009. U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, met with local fishermen to discuss ways that maritime security programs can protect fishing stocks, which are a vital source of food in West Africa. Inset: Nana Ekow Akon, chief of the Takoradi fishing community, speaks with U.S. Africa Command's civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary C. Yates, on March 2, 2009. Yates visited West Africa to discuss international cooperation in illegal fishing, counter-narcotics and illicit trafficking. (Photos by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

Nana Akyea Mensah writes in US Military Base In Ghana in response to a feature article on GhanaWeb by Asare Otchere-Darko, Obama’s Visit – What’s In It For Us And U.S.? Otchere-Darko’s article describes and implies that Kufuor did a deal with Bush and General Ward, bringing the Africa Command into Ghana without informing the Ghanaian people.

… in August 2007 Major-General Ward, who was later confirmed as AFRICOM’s first commander, visited Accra. He held discussions with President Kufuor on “ways of strengthening military cooperation.” His high-powered secret meetings with the President, Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff triggered huge speculation. Much was made of Maj Gen J B Danquah’s public statement about the visit when he said Maj Gen Ward had ‘done enough to resolve’ Ghana’s concerns about AFRICOM, adding, “I have had the chance to hear [Ward] explain what is the reasoning behind the command, and it’s all about partnership.”

This passage is preceded by:

At the moment the Americans say they are happy to keep the U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Germany, to coordinate all U.S. military and security interests throughout the African continent. But any reasonable assessment must conclude that this can be nothing but a temporary address and arrangement. Ghana should welcome that it is thus the target of America’s desire – and we should make the most of this, using it for our own advantage. After all, the process has already started.

The U.S. and Ghanaian militaries have cooperated in numerous joint training exercises, including the African Crisis Response Initiative, an international activity in which the U.S. facilitates the development of an interoperable peacekeeping capacity among African nations. And the head of AFRICOM has already reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to assisting the Ghana Armed Forces “to become more robust”. There is also the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. Beyond that, Ghana and the U.S. have an active bilateral International Military Education and Training program. In 2007, Kwesi Pratt Jnr, the Managing Editor of The Insight newspaper and the energy behind the pressure group Socialist Forum, warned Ghanaians against what he saw to be the looming danger of a U.S. military base in Ghana. He cited, inter alia, the erection of the huge American Embassy complex in Cantonments as evidence of this.

And Otchere-Darko follows it with this:

General T. Hobbins, head of the U.S. Air Forces Europe, has held discussions with his counterparts here on the possibility of establishing “lily pads”, landing and rapid airlift facilities in otherwise deserted terrain in certain strategic sites in Africa. Tamale Airport has come up as one of the “forward operating sites” targeted. That airport is said to have a runway capacity of accommodating massive U.S. C-3 cargo planes and troop transports.

Ghana is also already the site of a U.S.-European Command-funded Exercise Reception Facility that was established to facilitate troop deployments for exercises or crisis response within the region. The direct link to our oil is only too apparent: the Facility came out of Ghana’s partnership with the United States on what is termed a Fuel Hub Initiative. It may sound like a mere gas station for the troops. But the choice of stable, imminently oil-rich Ghana as a Fuel Hub reflects a greater strategic interest in the country than as merely a filling station.

The Americans have not been shy in establishing a clear economic link alongside their military cooperation.

There are already lily pads and a robust American military presence in Ghana, which I have written about previously in this blog.

Kwesi Pratt was one of the first to raise the alarm about oil and US military bases in Africa. In a 2007 interview he said:

Kwesi Pratt: I am very alarmed after reading what is called the Cheney Report. When Bush came to power, he set up a committee chaired by Dick Cheney his Vice President to assess America’s energy requirements up to the year 2015. The Cheney Report actually says that by the year 2015, twenty percent of American oil requirements will be supplied by West Africa and therefore it is important to maintain a foothold in West Africa in order to ensure that oil supplies from West Africa to the United States of America will not be interrupted.

Consequently, the United States is planning to establish military bases across West Africa including Ghana. And I am very worried that at a time when we are celebrating our national independence we are going to tolerate the establishment of foreign military bases, especially American military bases on our soil. The great Osageyfo Dr. Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, and all of them emphasized that Africa ought to be free from foreign military bases and weapons of mass destruction. We cannot allow that dream to die.

That is why, it is important for us to resist all attempts to establish foreign military bases on African soil especially forces of the United States, must be prevented from establishing on African soil. Clearly because they are not on African soil to protect our interests, they are on African soil to facilitate the exploitation of our resources for the benefit of the tiny minority that controls the wealth of the American people and who are sitting on top of this world exploiting the Chicanos, exploiting the African Americans and exploiting all of the other independent and healthy forces in the United States on America. We have to resist all attempts to build U.S. military bases in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa.

Nana Akyea Mensah writes:

I feel greatly incensed by the casual manner Mr. Ochere-Darko breaks this news as though it is simply a matter of business, and not even making any attempt to explain the basis of the conspiracy that he confesses in the article. What does this mean? According to Asare Ochere Darko, even though the NPP government did not allow Ghanaians to have a say in whether or not they want a US military base on our soil, it is too late for the Atta-Mills government to say “No”! In other words, without any national debate, whether we like it or not the process has already been started and they cannot be reversed, so we are as good as being already occupied by a foreign power!

Is this supposed to mean that the NPP government was simply throwing dust into our eyes whilst plotting secretly to undermine our national independence and sell us to the Americans? Fortunately for Ghana and Africa, the elections did not go their way. From the article under discussion, it seems to me that with Obama and Atta-Mills in power, the same special interests behind the establishment of the military base in Ghana, the military industrial complex of the USA, are acting as ventriloquists, using their local stooges, to revive their diabolic plot, and rope the two newcomers into the deal. Who else could fit better in the role of selling Ghana to the imperialists more than the very right hand man of Nana Addo Danquah Akufo Addo, the great Asare Ochere-Darko, himself? If you should ask me what it was that worried me most in the article, I believe I would put my finger on the following seven words written by Mr. Ochere-Darko: “After all, the process has already started.” Most of us are still dazed by the question. What this man is virtually telling Ghanaians is that for months, the NPP has been secretly plotting with foreign powers to establish military bases on our lands without letting out a word about it to the Ghanaian public.

The picture above is of Mary Carlin Yates, AFRICOM’s top civilian employee, promising that AFRICOM can help protect Ghana’s fishing rights, and help protect against drugs. But money for these programs was cut from the Pentagon’s budget. As Daniel Volman informs us in AFRICOM from Bush to Obama:

AFRICAN COASTAL AND BORDER SECURITY PROGRAM (ACBS) – provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit activities … No dedicated funding was requested for FY 2008 [or in 2007]

With this in mind, I cannot help thinking that Ms. Yates is, in the very best interpretation, being misleading.

Ms. Yates said in Washington on May 12th:

She disclosed that of the four major target areas of its mission-statement, which explicitly are, reducing conflict, improving security, defeating violent extremism and supporting crisis response. The three words that highlight the Command’s activities are “sustained security engagement”.

“When I was U.S. Ambassador in Ghana, we had a robust military-to-military program. We started the State Partnership Program. What we want to do is to find the African partners who are looking to build peace and stability in their nations and in their regions – partnering with those African standby forces as they build their goal is to come online with battalions for each of the five geographic areas by 2010”.

Five battalions do not mean more peace. Just like lots of police in a neighborhood are an indication of crime and violence, lots of soldiers in a country or region are a sign of war and conflict. If it is not there already, they will bring it.

Open and democratic debate is the currency of democracy. It is sadly lacking in many places that call themselves democracies, including being far too lacking in the United States. Mr. Ochere-Darko says:

But we must not ignore America’s interest. After all, whatever his connection to the African continent, Obama is President of America – and acts in the interest of its people at home above all else.

And so far, in terms of policies, Obama has shown himself to be a willing and enthusiastic supporter of the entrenced elites, what Kwesi Pratt calls the tiny minority that controls the wealth of the American people. Obama has allowed a certain amount of democracy theater in his political manueverings so far. But he has carefully closed off any areas of debate he does not wish to entertain. And President Obama seems to be continuing all the same military imperialist programs initiated by Mr. Bush.

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of President Obama. I made my own small contributions to his campaign. He is wildly and justifiably popular in Ghana and Africa. This should not blind us to what is going on. And it should not stop us from exercising our democratic responsibility to speak out and say what we see.

ADDED June 8th:
For a broader sampling of Ghanaian opinion, read the comment threads on these three posts, listed below, from GhanaWeb. As Nana Akyea Mensah says:

We had an interesting discussion on Ghanaweb yesterday, and as usual an overwhelming consensus was a clear and mighty “NO TO AFRICOM!”

US Military Base In Ghana

Obama’s Visit – What’s In It For Us And U.S.?

Ghanaians Discuss AFRICOM & Obama’s Visit

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