Yesterday the President of Botswana visited the US, and asked what all those of us following current events in Africa are asking:
President Festus Mogae has re-iterated the need for Africa to know the full details of the proposed US Africa Command (AFRICOM) before it commits itself.
So far the US has defined AFRICOM by what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Of course everyone knows what it is about, oil, and terrorism (defined as opposition to US oil interests) and China. However, these are clearly colonial intentions. The US cannot openly admit them, even though these are routinely the reasons given for the creation of AFRICOM in the US press.
The American Enterprise Institute held a forum titled: AFRICOM: Implications for African Security and U.S.-African Relations, on September 20th. Theresa Whelan of the U.S. Department of Defense was there repeating her usual remarks about what AFRICOM is not. According to Henry Ekwuruke:
The United States’ new African military command structure – Africom – will neither base nor deploy U.S. forces on the African continent, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, Teresa Whelan said Thursday . . . “we will have no bases… and we will not be deploying U.S. forces on the African continent.” However, Africom as a command structure “will have a presence… in the form of staff officers” throughout Africa, she added. Nevertheless, “no more than 20 percent of the entire command will actually be physically present on the African continent.”
And in another account:
Speaking at a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Whelan also worked to allay fears and dispel rumors that AFRICOM represents an American militarization of Africa and a possible usurpation of power from African leaders. She said critics are wrong in their assertion that AFRICOM is an attempt to further expand the war on terror in Africa, secure oil reserves, or hedge against Chinese influence there. “That is patently untrue,” she said.
In fact, the US cannot find a single African country willing to host AFRICOM. As upyernose points out:
there are 46 countries in africa, more than in any other continent in the world. and that number bumps up to 53 if you include the disputed western sahara and island nations like cape verde, são tomé and príncipe, madagascar, the comoros, the seychelles, and mauritius. together that’s about 25% of the total number of nations on earth. and yet, even among some of the poorest countries of the world who would surely reap economic benefits from a large first world military base, we could find not a single taker.
53 countries and no takers is truly remarkable. Of course there are a number of small bases in a number of countries, plus Djibouti, but no African country is willing to host AFRICOM headquarters so far. So for now the headquarters remains in Germany. But as Defense News points out, they haven’t stopped looking for an African host. The same article cites oil and terrorism as reasons for the command. And it quotes a Heritage Foundation fellow saying the headquarters must be based in Africa. The article also says the command will be divided into 5 regional teams:
One team will have responsibility for a northern strip from Mauritania to Libya; another will operate in a block of east African nations -— Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania; and a third will carry out activities in a large southern block that includes South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola, according to the briefing documents. A fourth team would concentrate on a group of central African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Congo; the fifth regional team would focus on a western block that would cover Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger and Western Sahara, according to the briefing documents.
This does not stop the militarization of US foreign policy that AFRICOM represents, it continues it. And it does not stop the destructive arms policies of the US, which has been pouring arms into Africa throughout the Bush presidency, just as in the bad old days of the Cold War.
As Frida Berrigan points out in The New Military Frontier: Africa –
Even as these discussions continue, some African nations are receiving significant increases in military aid and weapons sales; most of these increases have gone to oil-rich nations and compliant states where the U.S. military seeks a strategic toehold. The Center for Defense Information recently completed “U.S. Arms Exports and Military Assistance in the “Global War on Terror;” an analysis of increases in military aid since September 11, 2001. The report compares the military aid and weapons sales in the five-year leading up to 2001 and the five years since.
For example (among the African countries receiving this military assistance): since September 11, Kenya, which the State Department describes as a “frontline state” in the war on terrorism, has received eight times more military aid than in the preceding five years.
Djibouti, which has opened its territory to U.S. forces, received forty times more military aid, and an eightfold increase in the value of weapons transfers.
Oil-rich Algeria, where the surveillance equipment is based, has received ten times more aid and a warm embrace from Washington.
Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States, is slated to receive $1.35 million in Foreign Military Financing for 2008 despite persistent human rights abuses.
Mali is described as an “active partner in the war against terrorism” by the State Department and is a good example of a little military aid going a long way . . .
U.S. arms sales to Ethiopia, which has one of Africa’s largest armies, have roughly doubled and military aid has increased two and a half times.
The data clearly shows that the United States is sending unprecedented levels of military assistance to countries that it simultaneously criticizes for lack of respect for human rights and, in some cases, for questionable democratic processes. As a foreign policy, this is confusing, short-sighted and potentially very dangerous. Once weapons are delivered to a country, it becomes increasingly difficult to control how they are used and difficult to prevent them from being illicitly diverted anywhere in the world. While these countries are currently considered important to U.S. efforts in the “war on terror” now, political and military instability makes their continued allegiance to the United States questionable. Arming such countries with U.S. weaponry has troubling pitfalls: U.S. origin weapons could be used against the United States, its allies, or its interests. Selling arms for short-term political gains undermines long-term U.S national security and strategic interests.
This is NOT development aid. Many of these arms will go into the contraband pipeline, and help fund more drugs, human traffiking, child soldiers, and terrorism. These arms will decrease security, increase human rights abuses, and in the long run will earn the US more enemies than friends.
2/2008 – You can read my article reviewing the documentary trail on the Origins of AFRICOM over at the African Loft.