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.