April 2008

SAS Drakensberg – Image: SA Navy

The United States Navy is attempting to ring fence Africa, and appears to be thinking about the same in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The U.S. Navy has the waters surrounding the African continent covered.

Last week, the seafaring service wrapped up a tour by the Navy’s 6th Fleet Southeast Africa Task Force, a three-nation mission with visits to Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion.

The task force, led this year by the landing ship dock USS Ashland, mirrors in scope to another U.S. Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet-led initiative dubbed Africa Partnership Station. That effort works with 14 West and Central African countries to teach similar maritime security initiatives.

The Southeast Africa Task Force is about two years behind APS in terms of planning, carrying out missions and providing a “persistent presence” in African coastal waters.

The Navy is experimenting with sea basing in the Gulf of Guinea to float outside any country of interest to the US.

And, south of the United States:

Fourth Fleet to sail again in Latin America
It’s official: The Pentagon formally announced Thursday that it is reestablishing an administrative entity called the Fourth Fleet — to oversee Navy vessels that sail the Caribbean, Central and South America.

There is not much funding as yet. Interestingly, the language is pretty much the same as the official language describing US Naval activities around Africa:

… missions ranging from humanitarian relief to stopping drug trafficking to training with other navies …

But the world is not standing still. India, South Africa, and Brazil are getting together to cooperate in Naval exercises.

From India’s viewpoint:

India also remains somewhat nervous about the large U.S. military presence in the Indian Ocean to India’s west–in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. India’s Maritime Doctrine observes that “the unfolding events consequent to the war in Afghanistan has brought the threats emanating on our Western shores into sharper focus. The growing US and western presence and deployment of naval forces, the battle for oil dominance and its control in the littoral and hinterland … are factors that are likely to have a long-term impact on the overall security environment in the [Indian Ocean region].”

India is systematically targeting states that will bring India specific and tangible security and economic benefits.

India has joined together with South Africa and Brazil to form IBSA:

New Delhi, Apr 28 India is all set to expand its defence cooperation with more countries, with the forthcoming tri-lateral naval exercises between South Africa, Brazil and India next month.

The inaugural IBSA (Indian-Brazil-South Africa) maritime exercise will take place off Simonstown May 2-16. This is part of a package of measures announced after the second IBSA summit of the heads of state of the three countries in Pretoria, in October last year.

According to sources in the ministry of defence (MoD), “The tri-lateral naval exercise, first of its kind, we are looking forward to our interaction with other navies. The significance of such an exercise is the exposure the navy will get from not only the Indian Indian Ocean Rim Navies but the Brazilian Navy too.”
The three IBSA countries have strongly divergent opinions on regional security, security, influence and profits in the military industry. “Therefore, trilateral cooperation in this area will facilitate military cooperation trilaterally.”

Bush/Cheney have severely weakened the US. Trying to rule the world with an iron fist, even with occasional bits of velvet on, won’t work. The world has other ideas. The IBSA countries all enjoy friendly relations with the US. Yet obviously they see a need for military alliances that do not include the US.

The US can cause, and in many places already is causing enormous suffering, without much in the way of positive results. Other approaches to US needs and wants are certainly possible, probably more effective, and unfortunately unlikely anytime soon. And of course, if anyone is actually interested in democracy, strengthening political and diplomatic institutions is the way to go, not increased militarism.

David Isenberg wrote in his Dogs of War column Friday discussing whether or not PMCs are cost effective.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it countless times: Governments and corporations turn to private military contractors because it is more cost-effective than using regular military forces. But is it true?

But whether it’s true that contractors are cost effective is at best an open question, the answer to which depends, in part, on what you mean by cost.

While outsourcing can be effective, doing things in-house is often easier and quicker. You avoid the expense and hassle of haggling, and retain operational reliability and control, which is especially important to the military.

Then there is the fact that outsourcing works best when there’s genuine competition among suppliers. …

The Bush/Cheney administration has greatly reduced competition:

An analysis showed that fewer than half of all “contract actions” -­ new contracts and payments against existing contracts -­ were now subject to full and open competition. Just 48 percent were competitive in 2005, down from 79 percent in 2001.

Many academics who examine the issue of the relative cost of private versus public point to the politics behind the ways one can measure cost. What you include or exclude can be a complicated, and highly political, exercise. Economists disagree on how to answer the question at least in part because they use different variables when measuring cost.

… What little cost-benefit analysis there has been to date has focused on narrow economic cost comparisons and generally avoided addressing equally important political factors, such as avoiding tough choices concerning military needs, reserve call-ups and the human consequences of war.

As Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, wrote, “Excessive use of private contractors erodes checks and balances, and it substitutes market transactions, controlled by the executive branch, for traditional political mechanisms of accountability. When it comes to Iraq, we’ve yet to see the evidence of a large practical gain in return; instead, use of contractors may have helped to make an ill-advised venture possible.”

And related to the “human consequences of war”, one big question is who pays which costs? The military budget, and the government’s operating budget are hardly the only ones affected. Many employees of the PMC corporations are finding that their immediate employer is a shell incorporated outside the US to avoid US laws, such as medical coverage for the PMC employees. Quite a number of PMC employees are third country nationals, and as individuals, may have to carry a lot of the cost of their participation. The other cost may be to their countries of origin. What needs or expectations will they bring back? And how will their training in Iraq affect their participation in society and government at home?

Outsourcing is a way of cost shifting rather than cost saving. I see it every day. The young Spanish speaking woman who cleans our offices daily is our colleague. She does a superb job. Yet the contractor she works for pays her minimum wage and no benefits. My employer “saves” money by not paying permanent employees salaries and benefits to do the cleaning. The costs are shifted onto the individual at the bottom of the pay scale who is least able to bear these costs. And of course, the costs come back to government, which must deal with the emergency situations this cost shifting generates. Walmart is famous for these cost shifting “savings”, but its size makes it visible, it is hardly alone.

As Isenberg says, it depends on what you mean by cost.

GULF OF GUINEA (March 18, 2008) Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Kait, executive officer of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) teaches procedures for underway replenishment to Lt. Nsikan Friday and Lt. Mohamed Olanrewaju Zubair of the Nigerian Navy.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class RJ Stratchko, 080318-N-8933S-016)

US Navy ships continue to ply the Gulf of Guinea. In mid April HSV Swift docked in Nigeria and conducted joint training with the Nigerian Navy. It was written up in the Vanguard:

The exercise to be conducted at the Western Naval Command’s area of responsibility, will focus on the Automatic Identification System aimed at enhancing Nigerian Navy’s capability to monitor vessel traffic in Nigerian waters.

The French Navy has been visiting Nigeria as well:

Abuja, Nigeria (April 16) – A French navy frigate is due in Nigeria Saturday on a five-day visit, just as a US warship arrived in the African nation for a week-long ‘transiting’ visit, PANA reported. The French warship – AVISO NAVY LIEUTENANT LE HENAFF – will arrive the commercial city of Lagos 26 April, and will conduct joint training exercises with the Nigerian Navy (NN).

Earlier on Monday, US warship HSV SWIFT arrived Nigeria for a visit tagged “transiting the Gulf of Guinea.” The ship has already commenced a joint training exercise with the NN.

MEND’s response has been to escalate their activities:

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, (MEND) has warned oil companies working along the coastal region of Nigeria to be ready for war, just as it said the military was not in a position to protect them.

“MEND will offer materials such as explosives to communities that have now realised that it is better to destroy oil facilities in their territory since they do not benefit them in the first place.

And they made their intentions and opinions quite clear:

“On Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 2230 hours, commandos from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), sabotaged a major Shell Petroleum Company pipeline at Adamakiri in Rivers State of Nigeria. That pipeline crosses from the Cawthorn channel to Bonny,” the group said in an e-mail signed by Jomo Gbomo and sent to journalists.

The group also said it provided logistics to the group that attacked a Chevron facility in Delta State on Thursday.

Regarding the Naval visits MEND said in the statement signed by Jomo Gbomo:

“Today’s attack was prompted by the continuous injustice in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria where the root issues have not been addressed …

Then finally, to show our way of saying “welcome” to the US Naval warship, USS Swift which is transiting the Gulf of Guinea.

“Mr president, your warships do not intimidate us. Instead they only embolden our resolve in fighting the Goliaths of the world that support injustice.

“We have nothing to loose because he that is down need fear no fall. Our waters and farms have been polluted by oil companies with double standards. Our girls are raped by soldiers of the Nigerian army with impunity and protesting youths are assaulted and killed daily. Even journalists from your country can not visit the region to report the truth without being arrested and embarrassed.

In an rational world the parties involved would be attempting to work towards a political solution. As Adam Wolfe writes in his blog, in a post titled AFRICOM cannot MEND the Delta:

Now some might try to make the argument that MEND is really just made up of “dead-enders” and greater US cooperation in patrolling the area would bring stability to the region. But wouldn’t a political solution to the Delta region be better than an intensification of the asymmetrical warfare between a larger patrol force (trained by the US) and MEND?

And asymmetrical warfare is what AFRICOM is setting up to engage.

Africa climate projections from the Economist

Today the twelth annual United Nations Conference on Trade and Development convened in Accra. The theme is Addressing the opportunities and challenges of globalization for development.

At a press briefing on his arrival, the UN Secretary-General noted that the current food crisis that threatened the world, had dire consequences, especially for the developing world, adding that, the conference would take a serious look at the situation and how best to deal with it.

He said another issue that needed to be examined was the current trend of trade liberalisation and its impact on developing countries.

Speaker of Parliament, Mr Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi Hughes … said trade, democracy and development were linked in the modern era of globalisation, but noted that “for a number of years now, the inputs of the Legislature, which is the microcosm of the people, have been left out during global discussions on trade and development”. Mr. Hughes said the trend was slowly, but hopefully changing, and representatives from the Legislature were now being involved in some of these discussions.

Unfortunately, leaving out legislatures and other organizations that gather and express the views of broad cross sections of people has been the practice in far too many countries.

I hope that the conferees at UNCTAD will pay attention to the conversations and conclusions of the IAASTD, International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. IAASTD concluded a three year study in South Africa last week.

“The question of how to feed the world could hardly be more urgent,” said Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the British environment and agriculture department.

The findings of the three-year IAASTD indicate that modern agriculture will have to change radically from the dominant corporate model if the world is to avoid social breakdown and environmental collapse, he explained. “Agriculture has a footprint on all of the big environmental issues…climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, water quality, etc.”

The IAASTD brought together more than 400 scientists who examined all current knowledge about agricultural practices and science to find ways to double food production in the next 25 to 50 years and do so sustainably, while helping to lift the poor out of poverty. They concluded that the way to meet these challenges is through combining local and traditional know-how with formal knowledge.

The effort produced five regional assessments and a synthesis report, as well as an executive summary for decision makers.

Representatives from 30 governments of developed and developing countries, the biotechnology and pesticide industry and a wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Greenpeace and Oxfam, were involved. Public sessions were also held to gather input from producer and consumer groups, as well as others within the private sector.

However, last year the two biggest biotech and pesticide companies, Syngenta and BASF, along with their industry association — Crop Life International — abandoned the assessment process. This was on the grounds that the final draft of the synthesis report was overly cautious about the potential risks of genetically modified crops, and sceptical of the benefits.

“It’s unfortunate that they backed out … I don’t think they are used to working with a wide variety of participants as equals” …

Graphic: yellow is demand, green supply.

Asia Times just published the article The rise of the new energy world order by Michael T Klare. Klare writes:

The combination of rising demand, the emergence of powerful new energy consumers, and the contraction of the global energy supply is demolishing the energy-abundant world we are familiar with and creating in its place a new world order. Think of it as rising powers/shrinking planet.

This new world order will be characterized by fierce international competition for dwindling stocks of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, as well as by a tidal shift in power and wealth from energy-deficit states like China, Japan and the United States to energy-surplus states like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In the process, the lives of everyone will be affected in one way or another – with poor and middle-class consumers in the energy-deficit states experiencing the harshest effects. That’s most of us and our children, in case you hadn’t quite taken it in.

Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:

  • Intense competition between older and newer economic powers for available supplies of energy.

Until very recently, the mature industrial powers of Europe, Asia and North America consumed the lion’s share of energy and left the dregs for the developing world. . . . But that ratio is changing . . .
. . .
In this new stage of energy competition, the advantages long enjoyed by Western energy majors has been eroded by vigorous, state-backed upstarts from the developing world.

  • The insufficiency of primary energy supplies.

By all accounts, the global supply of oil will expand for perhaps another half decade before reaching a peak and beginning to decline, while supplies of natural gas, coal and uranium will probably grow for another decade or two before peaking and commencing their own inevitable declines. In the meantime, global supplies of these existing fuels will prove incapable of reaching the elevated levels demanded.
. . .
. . . So expect global energy shortages and high prices to be a constant source of hardship.

  • The painfully slow development of energy alternatives.

. . . alternatives, which now contribute only a tiny percentage of the world’s net fuel supply, are simply not being developed fast enough to avert the multifaceted global energy catastrophe that lies ahead.
. . .
In global warming terms, the implications are nothing short of catastrophic: Rising reliance on coal (especially in China, India and the United States) means that global emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise by 59% over the next quarter-century, from 26.9 billion metric tons to 42.9 billion tons. The meaning of this is simple. If these figures hold, there is no hope of averting the worst effects of climate change.

When it comes to global energy supplies, the implications are nearly as dire. To meet soaring energy demand, we would need a massive influx of alternative fuels, which would mean equally massive investment – in the trillions of dollars – to ensure that the newest possibilities move rapidly from laboratory to full-scale commercial production; but that, sad to say, is not in the cards.

Instead, the major energy firms (backed by lavish US government subsidies and tax breaks) are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes . . .

  • A steady migration of power and wealth from energy-deficit to energy-surplus nations:

In the case of oil and natural gas, the major energy-surplus states can be counted on two hands. Ten oil-rich states possess 82.2% of the world’s proven reserves. In order of importance, they are: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan and Nigeria. The possession of natural gas is even more concentrated. Three countries – Russia, Iran and Qatar – harbor an astonishing 55.8% of the world supply. All of these countries are in an enviable position to cash in on the dramatic rise in global energy prices and to extract from potential customers whatever political concessions they deem important.

The transfer of wealth alone is already mind-boggling.
. . .
Russia is now the world’s leading supplier of natural gas, the second largest supplier of oil and a major producer of coal and uranium. Though many of these assets were briefly privatized during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, President Vladimir Putin has brought most of them back under state control – in some cases by exceedingly questionable legal means.

  • A growing risk of conflict.

Will energy-deficit states launch campaigns to wrest the oil and gas reserves of surplus states from their control – the George W Bush administration’s war in Iraq might already be thought of as one such attempt or to eliminate competitors among their deficit-state rivals?

The high costs and risks of modern warfare are well known and there is a widespread perception that energy problems can best be solved through economic means, not military ones. Nevertheless, the major powers are employing military means in their efforts to gain advantage in the global struggle for energy, and no one should be deluded on the subject.
. . .
One conspicuous use of military means in the pursuit of energy is obviously the regular transfer of arms and military-support services by the major energy-importing states to their principal suppliers. Both the United States and China, for example, have stepped up their deliveries of arms and equipment to oil-producing states like Angola, Nigeria and Sudan in Africa and, in the Caspian Sea basin, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The United States has placed particular emphasis on suppressing the armed insurgency in the vital Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where most of the country’s oil is produced; Beijing has emphasized arms aid to Sudan, where Chinese-led oil operations are threatened by insurgencies in both the South and Darfur.
. . .

In this new world order, energy will govern our lives in new ways and on a daily basis.
It will determine when, and for what purposes, we use our cars; how high (or low) we turn our thermostats; when, where, or even if, we travel; increasingly, what foods we eat (given that the price of producing and distributing many meats and vegetables is profoundly affected by the cost of oil or the allure of growing corn for ethanol); for some of us, where to live; for others, what businesses we engage in; for all of us, when and under what circumstances we go to war or avoid foreign entanglements that could end in war.

This leads to a final observation: the most pressing decision facing the next president and Congress may be how best to accelerate the transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to a system based on climate-friendly energy alternatives.

I recommend you read the entire article. This is the world we are living in. Voting, and how we vote in each and every election where we can vote is critical. These facts do not bode well for democracy anywhere.

It is hard to avoid seeing the female anatomical metaphor in the AFRICOM logo. And right in the middle is Target Africa. When I thought about it in the phallic context of US military hardware, and the rapacious interest in African oil and resources, the opening lines of a song from the Heptones kept running through my head:

I hold the handle baby, you hold the blade
Don’t try to fight me baby or you’ll need first aid”

The Heptones sang in sweet sweet harmonies and rhythms that could easily deceive the listener into thinking this was a love song. Just listening makes you start to wind. But the lyrics were brutal, with the threat of violence and forced acquiesence. If you don’t go along you’ll get hurt. (The Heptones also sang it as I’ve got the handle on 20 Golden Hits or Nightfood, both still available, and sweet listening. There is no Heptones version on Youtube as yet.)

The AFRICOM logo implies the same message. AFRICOM holds the handle, Africa, the blade. The Pentagon tries to pour sweet deceiving syrup over its message:

According to the Pentagon, AFRICOM has been created in recognition of Africa’s global importance and is intended to allow the United States to bolster African security, enhance strategic cooperation, build partnerships, and support humanitarian missions.

History repeats itself, the true message is brutal:
. . . the military bias will, as in the past, contribute to human rights abuses and ongoing conflict rather than promoting security based on African needs.

In the 1980s Reagan and Brezhnev saw Africa as a place where they might play their cold war power games with little or no risk, resulting in arms races and proxy wars. Their rivalries displaced millions of Africans, resulting in burned homes, sadistic punishments, including dismemberment, and mass murder. The results of those policies continue to the present. Increased militarization is the problem, not the answer.

Whoever created the logo must have realized what it looks like. I’ve played around a bit with art and design, and I don’t think it is possible to do that and miss the connection. A casual observer might miss it, but I don’t think it is possible for the artist to miss the implications. Whether subliminal or conscious, like b real said – it speaks volumes about their intentions.

There is a biographical article about Botswana’s new president in Mmegi, At long last Khama will face his son(Mogae Legacy). It says of Khama:

The ‘Khama Agenda’ consists of three major parts: to decimate his enemies within the party and consolidate his power, to replicate the same on a national level and ultimately leave a legacy worthy of the expectation that surrounded his ascendance to the national stage.
. . .
Ian Khama’s (presidency will be) a much more authoritarian, paranoia-riddled and anti-democratic era.

Khama ascended to the presidency by means of Botswana’s practice of automatic succession. He was Vice President, President Mogae retired, and Khama became president. He has never run for office, and never won a democratic election.

The Mmegi article says of Khama:

“He has done on and off training in very challenging areas of the military. He has had some training with almost all the major intelligence organizations. The BDF, at least at the intelligence level is much closer to the Americans and Israelis so Ian would have done a number of programs in the intelligence arms of those countries” explains the source.

Military men love loyalists and Khama has surrounded himself with loyalists . . .

A Botswana Directorate of Intelligence and Security was recently legislated, and is largely seen as the work of Ian Khama.

However critics . . . noted that it gave too much power to the president and everyone else appointed by the president, the Minister, the Commanders of BDF and Commissioner of Police, and yet possessed no oversight provision.

Also according to the article, Khama is very much obsessed with intelligence, and wants to know what is going on with everyone everywhere. It is apparent he has already used intelligence gathering to help him consolidate his power within the party, and also the nation.

At the same time BDF officers started cropping up in senior positions in the public service. There has been more overt appointments like Isaac Kgosi’s appointment as Senior private Secretary to the Vice President. Part of the core Khama contingent that Khama brought from the BDF Kgosi occupies a special position in Khama’s books.

“At the government enclave, word has it that Kgosi is in reality more powerful even than the PSP himself. As the man who has access to the nerve centre of government, he has much more power than officials care to admit. To the public and everybody, he is the only bridge to the Vice President – the man seen by cynics as the de facto president” wrote Mmegi.

Kgosi is said to be poised to become the Director of that important Directorate of Security and Intelligence.

“Khama is a man who likes to follow everything to its last detail, and that’s why he likes Intelligence. He keeps records of everything that he thinks is important. He has a theory that says, ‘intelligence everywhere’, in other words, if the BCP has a central committee meeting somewhere in Shakawe, if we do not have an officer there we better have an informant there” says an inside source.

Khama is a military man who likes military toys and technology. He values secrecy, “intelligence”, and unquestioning loyalty.

Another Mmegi article, says of Khama:

Khama was a soldier from his teenage years. His major education came from the army. And his history in the party shows a man orientated in the military approach to things. In the army, there is discipline and order that is followed by all. This is the language that Khama understands.
. . .
Khama is a man with a burden. His burden is the expectations surrounding him. For that reason Khama’s failures, when they do occur, stand to be spectacular. That may be an incentive for the opposition too. By choosing to concentrate on opposition-held constituencies Khama is making an assumption that the opposition is not a strong challenger in BDP-held constituencies. This could prove disastrous.

However, a person obsessed with gathering “intelligence”, the means to gather that “intelligence”, free of oversight, and willing to use it for political purposes, can be a formidable anti democratic force.

Khama is a military man and speaks the military language. He has obviously had extensive contact with US military, as well as being trained in the UK. He will be very comfortable with the military leadership running AFRICOM, which will find his friendship, his country, and its strategic resources to be a valuable ally.

Khama is credited as the man behind Thebephatshwa air base. The exact connection between US activities and Thebephatshwa are unclear, but the articles I’ve cited indicate that Khama’s preference for secrecy is part of the reason for that lack of clarity.

With South Africa so clearly opposed to AFRICOM, gradually working towards making Thebephatshwa into a regional hq for US interests should be a very attractive possibility for the military leadership of AFRICOM.

There is nothing in any of this that will help foster democracy. Military language is not the language of democracy. Military structure and heirarchy is not democratic. A democratic government needs to listen to a broad spectrum of society, not just the most loyal and unquestioning followers. If Botswana is going to preserve democracy there will need to be effective opposition to Khama’s initiatives along the way. And Khama shows no ability to compromise, or willingness to yield or lose.

Botswana is on an electrical power tightrope. If the country is very lucky, it may move forward relatively unscathed. But if the power starts going out, business suffers, safety suffers, and the people become unhappy. That would be a major test for Botswana’s democracy.

If there is a major democratic upheaval in Botswana, who will AFRICOM support and enable? Will it be a military colleague, or a democratic process it is not designed to encourage or advantage?

Maparangwane BDF (Air Wing) Base (from Google Earth Community)
circled above in yellow, closer up below, from Google Maps
Botswana Defence Force Base, approximately 75km from the capital Gaborone. The main runway is astonishingly long for its intended use at 3360 metres. This has led to speculation over it’s true role. Some people say it may serve as a landing and refuelling post for US spyplanes or as an alterante landing location for the space shuttle in the southern hemisphere given it’s relatively close distance to the equator.

BAUMHOLDER, Germany – Jeffrey Morrison, the U.S. Army’s 21st Theater Sustainment Command director of logistics (right), explains the process of loading vehicles onto rail cars to Botswanan officers (left to right) Captain Kabo Moswenyane, Lieutenant Gaopale Swereki and Major Ompatile Modisenyane, in Baumholder, Germany, on March 5, 2008. The purpose of the visit was to help the Botswanan officers learn about rail operations and bolster relations with the U.S. military. The Botswanan officers also received briefings on the military police, the Distribution Management Center and the use of American military jargon. They also traveled to other Army and Air Force installations in the area. (U.S. Army photo by Sergeant Phillip Valentine)

It is obvious from the photo and caption above, taken from africom.mil, that Botswana enjoys a close working relationship with the US military.

Botswana’s one party democracy has long been a friend of the United States. Although Botswana has publicly questioned the creation of AFRICOM there have been ongoing rumors of agreements between the US and Botswana to host an AFRICOM base. That base may already be in place in the form of the Thebephatshwa Airport/Maparangwane BDF (Air Wing) Base. It is located about halfway between Molepolole and Letlhakeng, north and east of Gaborone. It is also referred to as Molepolole.

You can see it in this photo titled: A large US military base in the middle of Botswana. Taken enroute to WDH at FL350. Photo taken in 2003 by Julian Whitelaw. Click the link above to see the photo.

And Wikipedia has an interactive map of the base, info courtesy of b real, who adds:

where i found out about it was on an AFRICOM thread at the usmc’s small wars council forum & military guys there say it was indeed built by the u.s. before apartheid ended in south africa.

From discussion at Google Earth Community, bbs.keyhole.com:

The base is called Maparangwane (that might be hard for you to get your tounge around). I have been there numerous times. It was probably (these things are usually kept secret) developed with the technical support of the USAF, but in all probability was funded entirely by Botswana’s Government. We aren’t exactly a poor country. If you use the ruler and go 71.37 Kilometres West south west (thats in between west and southwest) fom this airbase you will see the country’s largest diamond mine at Jwaneng (marked by bright blue pools of some sort) – we have three. We are the 2nd largest producer of gem quality stones after Russia.

Anyways I sa with some probablity because it is possible that the ISAF have a sharing agreement with the government and might have footed some of the bill, but the country could easily afford to design and build such a thing.

. . .
The Eagle project. French influence, not US. Fighter, transport and chopper squadrons on base as well as a training squadron with PC-7 aircraft. The fighters are former canadian CF-5 A and B Freedom Fighters, which were sold to the BDF Air Arm after having been refurbished for the original 419 Squadron of the Canadian Armed Forces at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta Canada. After 419 was shut down in the mid 90s, they were sold and delivered via AN-124 air transport to the base were they were formed into 28 Squadron BDF AA. Transports are former USAF C-130 B versions, also refurbished. Choppers are 412s. Occasionally you might see a Global Express on the field. Botswana has spend considerable funds in the last 10 years on hardware from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, UK, USA and Canada as well as from SA. Chinese technology and Indian expertise is present throughout the country. For such a small country they have accumulated an impressive arsenal. Although Thebe Phatswa (which is the actual base name) is the main air force base, the HQ is actually located just outside Gaborone and mostly Army. FOLs include Francistown and Maun. The foreign military in Botswana include mostly spec ops training elements from the UK US and a variety of african nations, not always with the knowledge of the BDF. Expats still run a large portion of tech intensive hardware and conduct training on various bases and in the field.
. . .

AFB Molepolole (USAF and BDF) 04/26/06 11:54 AM (google earth community)
The Botswana Defence Force Air Wing is the air force of Botswana.The Air Wing was formed in 1977 and is organisationally part of the Botswana Defence Force.All squadrons are designated with a Z, which has no meaning but is used as a designation for ‘squadron’. The main base is Molepolole and was built mostly by foreign contractors from 1992 being finished around 1996.
this is the main Air base for Botswana’a Air Force. well actually that’s pretentious. The Botswana Defence Force (the Army) has an Air wing, similar to what the UK had before wwII – as there isn’t much need for a peaceful country to have a full air force.

From General Mompati S. Merafhe, the Botswana minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in October 2003, General Merafhe vigorously denies that it is an American airbase:

Regarding the alleged American airbase, let me state for the record that the United States does not own any military base in Botswana. The airbase that is being referred to is the Thebephatshwa Airbase that is wholly owned by the government of Botswana.

The airbase was constructed during my term as commander of the Botswana Defence Force with our own resources and without any assistance from the United States or any other country for that matter.

In fact, during construction, the Americans publicly accused Botswana of excessive military spending and threatened to cut economic aid to Botswana. So, if the Americans built the airbase, how could they then accuse us of excessive military spending on the airbase?

We have done our best to demonstrate that these allegations are false. Among other things, we have used every opportunity to conduct tours of the airbase for military dignitaries visiting Botswana, including military chiefs from the region. The purpose is to demonstrate to the region and indeed the international community that there is nothing sinister or clandestine about the airbase?

I have decided to raise this matter here because my government is seriously concerned about the damage this campaign of disinformation is doing to the image of Botswana in the region and internationally. Fortunately, we take solace in the fact that mud never sticks on a clean surface, it cakes and falls away.

From Scramble in the Netherlands comes this information about the Air Wing of the Botswana Defense Force.

The Botswana Defence Force Air Wing was formed in 1977 as a result of rising tension in the area. All squadrons are designated with a .Z., which has no meaning but is just used as a designation for .squadron.. Main base is Molepolole which was built mostly by foreign contractors from 1992 and was finished round 1996. Other bases used are the International Airport at Gaborone and Francistown.

The backbone of the Air Wing is formed by ex Canadian CF-116s which are locally designated as CF-5. Thirteen ex-Canadian CF-116s (ten single-seaters and three trainers) were ordered in 1996 to replace the Strikemasters, with another three single-seaters and two double-seaters delivered in 2000. For transport the Air Wing uses BN-2A/B, C212, CN235 and C-130Bs. Latest addition to the transport-fleet was an ex-AMARC C-130B to complement the two existing aircraft.

In 2000, three additional AS350BA helicopters were bought for Z21, bringing the total to eight.. The single Italian built AB412 has been replaced by an Bell 412EP in VIP-configuration. Z21 has a total of six Bell 412s of which the Bell412EP is being used by the VIP-Flight. Flying training is done on seven PC-7s. The VIP flight uses besides the Bell412 a Gulfstream and a Be200. In 1993 nine ex US Army/AMARC O-2As were delivered for use in the battle against poaching.

So what is actually going on between the US and Botwana. Your guess is as good as mine. But keep in mind these words from General Ward’s Q&A for his confirmation hearing, PDF: U.S. Africa Command Will Enhance Local Skills, Problem Solving, again, courtesy of b real:

on basing criteria
– – –
Some of the criteria includes: political stability; security factors; access to regional and intercontinental transportation; availability of acceptable infrastructure; quality of life; proximity to the African Union and regional organizations; proximity to USG hubs; adequate Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The transition team has used these criteria to narrow down potential sites. Those potential sites have been briefed to the Dept of State informally and we have begun dialogue on the advantages and disadvantages of those sites.

Botswana meets these criteria. There was also a recent article in Air Force Times about two Air Force generals named to top spots in AFRICOM, which would fit in with air bases.

Brought up from the comments, courtesy of b real, and added April 9:

THE BOTSWANA DEFENCE FORCE: Evolution of a professional African military

. . . No discussion of politics or military affairs in Botswana can avoid a discussion of Seretse Khama Ian Khama. He is the most eminent member of what might be called the ‘first family’ of Botswana. His father, Sir Seretse Khama, was a national hero, prominent in the struggle for full national independence, and founder of the party that has governed the country since independence, serving as the country’s president from its founding in 1966 until his death in office in 1980. When the Defence Force was created in 1977, Ian Khama was appointed its deputy commander with the rank of brigadier. Twelve years later, in 1989, he acceded to the command of the BDF with the rank of lieutenant general, a post he subsequently held for nine years. Khama’s service spanned the formative period of the Defence Force’s evolution, and despite his retirement in 1998 to enter politics, he continues to have a close connection with Botswana’s military. Khama’s current positions of vice-president and party chair of the ruling party are widely believed in Botswana to guarantee his accession to the presidency when the incumbent, Festus Mogae, steps down. However, Khama’s activities over the course of his military and political career have provoked controversy and he is accused of having very authoritarian tendencies. Many among Botswana’s educated elite view a future Khama presidency with some trepidation. . . .

From the US Dept. of State:

The United States has been the largest single contributor to the development of the BDF, and a large segment of its officer corps has received U.S. training.

. . . The United States considers Botswana an advocate of and a model for stability in Africa and has been a major partner in Botswana’s development since its independence.

Botswana, military ties the main issue, not tribe includes the mention that “One knowledgeable [military] source estimated in 2004 that 75 per cent of BDF officers above the rank of major are graduates of US military schools.”

the wikipedia entry on BDF says that “by 1999 approximately 85% of the BDF officers are said to have been trained under this system [IMET].”

It sounds very much as though Botswana is evolving away from democracy, and into a military government. And I am sure the US Department of Defense and AFRICOM are most happy and comfortable with Botswana’s movement into militarism. This provides the US with a happy and willing “partner”, well placed to act as a US surrogate on the African continent. And it puts the US Department of Defense and the Botswana government in the same business, speaking the same language. The less democracy, the more it becomes a military government, the more a few “boys in the back room” can make decisions without any pesky interference from legislatures, or the public at large. This further weakens what democracy is left. So the US can help “partner” away democratic institutions in Botswana.

This is a perfect illustration of why a military command cannot help foster democratic institutions, and economic development. The structure of a military command is a strict heirarchy organized to achieve military ends that require heirarchy and line of authority. In order to have political and economic development, a country must draw from a far wider pool for input, ideas, and investment, and defer to voices across a range of roles and ranks. It would certainly be nice if the US was investing as much money training people for other forms of public service, for all the skills that go into governing and delivering public services, water, sewars, electicity, roads, schools, clinics, hospitals, from local towns and municipalities to national governments, rather than building “defense” forces. The photo op “humanitarian” projects help, but they are no substitute for serious investment in developing civilian governing skills and institutions. Unfortunately, the current US governement does not believe in investing in these at home, and does not appear to believe in the actual practice of democracy.

What will happen if and when the citizens of Botswana become unhappy with losing their democracy to a military government? What role will the US play in that case?

France 24, France’s 24 hour news channel in English featured a segment on Training Liberia’s Future Army. It featured a number of scenes from the training. They said two private companies are conducting the training, but only named one, DynCorp. The narrator said: The US military does not allow instructors from the private companies to speak to the press. Lt. Col. Wyatt, pictured above, spoke for the training. He said, and this is pretty close to verbatim: that information, that training, is available to the public. On request the training can be viewed by the public. The whole process is transparent. We answer – We entertain any requests.

The report also said: this program will soon become part of the US security structure for Africa called AFRICOM.

It certainly sounds as though that “transparency” is carefully filtered. Wyatt corrected himself from saying we answer to we entertain. To say we entertain is to say we allow you to ask questions. There is no promise of an answer.

The APS training the Senegalese Navy, November 2007

What is U.S. Africa Command designed to do?
U.S. Africa Command will better enable the Department of Defense and other elements of the U.S. government to work in concert and with partners to achieve a more stable environment in which political and economic growth can take place . . .

From the report of an international conference held in Accra in October 2007 PDF: Democratization in Africa – What Progress Toward Institutionalization, I looked up what it had to say about Senegal, since General Ward mentioned it.

General Ward, Commander of AFRICOM, testified before Congress in March, PDF Ward Testimony. He mentioned Senegal several times. I wondered if he had Senegal in mind for a West African regional HQ for AFRICOM. So I thought I would look at what he had to say about Senegal, and compare it to what was said in the report on Democratization. From the report on democratization:

The re-emergence of political monopolistic practices—for example in Senegal and Nigeria—can also lead to severe setbacks in democratic fairness and probity, out of proportion to their institutional capabilities.

. . .

When Senegal’s longtime opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, won the presidency in 2000, ending four decades of Socialist Party rule, there were high hopes for a new era of democracy, built on some of the continent’s oldest traditions of pluralism and liberal thought. But increasingly, the aging President Wade drew power and resources into his own hands and those of his family. In the years leading up to Wade’s reelection in 2007, journalists, political activists, singers, and marabouts (Muslim spiritual leaders) who criticized Wade or supported the opposition were subjected to physical intimidation and violence. Critics charge the election was marred by vote-buying, multiple voting, and obstruction of opposition voting.

Despite a lackluster economic performance, Wade was able to mobilize support with corruption—coopting religious figures, civil society leaders, local administrators, military officers, and members of with money, loans, diplomatic passports, and other favors. Now, it is alleged, the octogenarian president is preparing to hand power to his chosen successor—his son. “He has destroyed all the institutions, including political parties. He has taken opposition with him and manipulated the parliament,” a Senegalese democratic activist told me. “People are so poor and Wade controls everything. If you need something, you have to go with him.” The reaction from Europe and the United States (without whose aid Wade’s government could hardly function) has been muted. The activist lamented, “We expected more from the donors,” referring to the defense of principles, not the gift of money. (p.8-9)

. . .

For African leaders, penalizing rural groups or the urban poor is less hazardous than cutting the military budget or divesting state enterprises, which may create large job losses among urban constituencies.

On March 13 General Ward testified to Congress:

IMET funding for Senegal allowed that country to host a regional seminar on Defense Resource Management and conduct a Military Justice Seminar. The IMET program has also contributed to the excellent reputation the Senegalese military has earned during numerous peacekeeping deployments, and continues to contribute to the military’s positive and responsible involvement in civil affairs. Returning Senegalese IMET graduates are immediately assigned to key leadership or staff positions, and their professional attributes make them well-suited to assume leadership positions in international military operations. Sustained support for a robust IMET program is a long-term investment in the future and directly supports long-term U.S. interests.

[[International Military Training and Education (IMET) program brings African military officers to US military academies and schools for training (some say indoctrination.) Top countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa.]]

. . .

A lack of FMF (Foreign Military Financing) funding or inconsistent year-to-year distribution can compromise long range objectives, turn our partners towards other sources, and inhibit peacekeeping operations. Senegal, for example, would not have been able to meet its Darfur commitment without ACOTA equipment and help from France.

Granted, AFRICOM is a military combatant command. Still, I don’t see anything in what General Ward says that indicates plans to help achieve a more stable environment in which political and economic growth can take place. The only thing the AFRICOM activities in Senegal that he describes seem likely to do is to facilitate military government, as he speaks of military leadership and positive involvement in civil affairs. If the US cared about stability, and particularly about positive political and economic growth in Senegal, it seems that some pressure on Wade to support and strengthen democratic institutions might be appropriate, along with some measurements to gauge actions and progress.

Instead, I suspect Wade seems like an extremely convenient tool, or “partner”, for AFRICOM to engage.

The report on Democratization also includes these observations:

Few countries, however, have developed an autonomous domain of civil society that can effectively press politicians for better policies or economic performance. In such countries as Mali, Senegal, Mozambique, Malawi, Benin, Ghana, or even Nigeria, we commonly find that many associations are small, focused in urban areas, reliant on donor funding, or fragmented regionally and ethnically.

. . .

The re-emergence of political monopolistic practices—for example in Senegal and Nigeria—can also lead to severe setbacks in democratic fairness and probity, out of proportion to their institutional capabilities.