November 2010

In the Congressional hearing on his appointment as Combatant Commander for the US Africa Command, General Ham opened his testimony with a list of the old familiar stereotypes of Africa and Africans:

General Ham at confirmation hearing Nov. 18, 2010

“Africa is important to U.S. interests. These interests include concerns over violent extremist activities, piracy, illicit trafficking, Africa’s many humanitarian crises, armed conflicts, and more general challenges such as the effect of HIV/AIDS. U.S. Africa Command, as the military component of a U.S. whole-of-government approach, has a role in addressing each of these issues. The key remains that Africa’s future is up to Africans.”

The last sentence is there to shift the blame to Africans if any of AFRICOM’s activities fail or have unfortunate consequences, such as the deaths of more than 1000 people, and the displacement of more than 100,000 that resulted from Operation Lightning Thunder. The constant shelling of Bakara market in Somalia and the continuing murder of civilians by AMISOM troops in Somalia, funded primarily by the US, is another ongoing disaster, but the “key remains that Africa’s future is up to Africans”, no matter how much AFRICOM interferes.  (see Africa Comments for updates on Somalia) And since most of the problems Africa faces will be exacerbated by increased militarization, there are likely to be many more disasters that will need to be shrugged off.

At no time during the entire confirmation hearing was the word oil mentioned.  You can find the transcript at  The United States gets at least 15% of its oil imports from Africa, that is expected to increase to 25% in the next five years. Oil was the primary reason the Africa Command was proposed initially by the Heritage Foundation. When Africans see the word oil omitted from discussions of AFRICOM, they know the words are disingenuous.

Senator Burris made the only reference to the resources of the African continent that have prompted the the current scramble for Africa by European and Asian nations, and even some in Latin America:

“And General Ham, we are also going to compete as well with China as they move into these various countries with their assistance. Africa has — it is the future for all of our existing countries, because the resources are there. And we have to look to how we can build our relationships with those African countries in spite of the terrorism and in spite of the conflicts that exist. We need to have a better presence on the continent.”

There was no further reference to Africa’s resources in the hearing.

The Washington Post did a bit of More War Now! drum beating in its writeup of the hearing:

“Al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups in Yemen and Africa have increasingly targeted Western interests, with al-Shabab in Somalia luring Somali-Americans home for terror training in hopes of sending them back to the U.S. to wage attacks.

Militants regularly travel back and forth between Yemen and Somalia.

Much of the U.S. military has been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, but as those wars wind down and troops become available Ham said more should be trained in African languages and cultures.

“The extremist threat that’s emerging from East Africa is probably the greatest concern that Africa Command will face in the near future,” Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, during a hearing on his nomination.

Senators called the challenges facing Africa Command staggering and said it was imperative the command get what it needs to counter terror threats, including personnel, funding, equipment, as well as intelligence and surveillance assistance.

Ham said that he also wants to work with the Pentagon’s Southern Command to try and stem the illicit drug trafficking that routes narcotics from South America through West Africa and into Europe. He suggested the military could help stem the flow of drugs through maritime operations along Africa’s coast.”

We all know that the War On Drugs has been a failure and disaster since it began.  Bringing it to West Africa is not reassuring.  It has already done so much for Columbia and Mexico.  That is progress we can do without.

Returning to General Ham’s opening remarks they describe Africa as a place of violence, extremism (read terrorism) piracy, illicit trafficking, humanitarian crises, armed conflicts, and disease.  This brought to mind some thoughts I wrote about back in September 2007.

Today Africa has many successes throughout the continent. Unfortunately, one rarely hears of these successes. Rather one hears of war, famine, and disaster. Africans are portrayed as helpless, people whose survival, and whose success, is entirely dependent on the generosity of the developed world.  This narrative is constantly reinforced by celebrity condescension  or the constant humanitarian ad campaigns that portray suffering children. Humanitarian ads pop up constantly on television, magazines, the internet, reinforcing the picture of helpless suffering in Africa.

Uzodinma Iweala wrote in the Washington Post about “humanitarian” campaigns:


“Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent’s corrupt leaders, warlords, “tribal” conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like “Can Bono Save Africa?” or “Will Brangelina Save Africa?” The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and “civilization.”

Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.”
In advertising itself as a humanitarian agency, dispensing aid with guns, AFRICOM is riding on the back of these condescending perceptions.


But there is a much nastier side to the perceptions enabling Africom, its exploitation of terror and those it calls terrorists. And a large part of this exploitation is taking advantage of traditional racist fear in the US. Racism is an important piece of American political history and discourse, though these days the language of racism is often carefully coded

This is NOT to say that AFRICOM is about racism. I don’t think that is true at all. I think it is about oil and other resources, and that it is about terrorism only insofar as exploiting terrorism is useful to coopting the oil and resources. But AFRICOM is carried along by the tide of American racial fears and perceptions.

Regarding the humanitarian narrative, aside from stereotypes and gratuitous insults, what worries me is the macro aspect of the condescension. By painting Africans as people unable to help themselves, the humanitarian narrative, and the media attention it gets, make it much easier for the US, using AFRICOM, to engage in imperial acquisition by calling it humanitarian aid and development. “They”, Africans, are helpless and dangerous, so “we” need guns to help them. Africom presents a new and lethal round of western exploitation.   By partnering with African militaries in every country it operates, AFRICOM reinforces the source of some of the worst terrorism waged against African populations, their own militaries.   All the training and “professionalizing” won’t change that.  And it will make it far more difficult for African governments and their citizens to clean up the resulting mess.

Gone at last is the fig leaf of humanitarianism … American diplomacy in Africa is less about serving the good of African people than it is about securing the interests of private American capital. Nowhere has this been more flagrantly clear than on the lips of Michael Battle, the US ambassador to the AU. (Jason Hickel)

U.S. Ambassador to the African Union Michael Battle (speaking) and Chairman of the African Union Jean Ping Briefing at the Washington FPC on ''Forging a Dynamic Partnership Between Africa and the U.S.''

Jason Hickel attended a speech by Michael Battle, USAU, US ambassador to the AU, at the University of Virginia. Hickel writes:

… the two primary objectives of the USAU rose quickly to the surface: security and trade.

In terms of security, Battle confirmed America’s dedication to working with the AU and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to militarise the continent’s coastlines. While he claimed that the goals of this mission include responding to increased maritime piracy and breaking cartels that traffic illegally in drugs and humans, he made it clear that the primary military objective is to protect US oil interests in the Gulf of Guinea, suppress local resistance movements like MEND in Nigeria, and secure a favourable climate for returns on investment for American corporations. When pressed, Battle justified his call for militarisation by invoking the vague and poorly substantiated spectre of ‘terrorism’.

In terms of trade, Battle spoke excitedly about the partnership between the US, the AU, and the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) to integrate and liberalise the continent’s national economies. Battle’s explicit vision is to facilitate the efforts of US corporations such as Chevron, Delta, and GE (which he mentioned explicitly by name) to expand investments across multiple African nations by ‘harmonizing trade rules’ and ‘simplifying regulations’.

He praised the AU for developing ‘free trade’ across the continent at a faster rate than the EU was able to accomplish over a similar period of time, and hailed USAU’s vision for an Africa that is increasingly open for business to American companies.

One student asked him why he focused so much on capital investment and economic liberalisation, but never once discussed fairer labour standards or protective environmental policies or regulatory mechanisms designed to benefit the poor. Indeed, any astute observer of African affairs understands that poverty and instability arise not from too much regulation and too little foreign direct investment, but from too little regulation and foreign direct investment that plunders and exploits without meaningfully benefiting the public. What Africa needs is not investment for its own sake, but investment within a framework that will protect workers and the environment and ensure that common people receive a just share of the resources that are their birthright. But Battle refused to answer the question

Battle was entirely prepared to defend his role as facilitator of American military intervention in the service of private American capital. And this without even the usual claims to altruism: he didn’t even gesture to the pressing problems of poverty, inequality, and exploitation in Africa.

Hickel points out that the African Union gets a lot of its funding from the US and USAID. The AU:

… has been thoroughly co-opted by the US government and multinational capital.

Read the entire article to get the full import of the acquisitive views of USAU Battle: The US, the AU and the new scramble for Africa.

In terms of security, Battle confirmed America’s dedication to working with the AU and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) to militarise the continent’s coastlines. While he claimed that the goals of this mission include responding to increased maritime piracy and breaking cartels that traffic illegally in drugs and humans, he made it clear that the primary military objective is to protect US oil interests in the Gulf of Guinea, suppress local resistance movements like MEND in Nigeria, and secure a favourable climate for returns on investment for American corporations. When pressed, Battle justified his call for militarisation by invoking the vague and poorly substantiated spectre of ‘terrorism’.

Roger Pociask has been doing a superb job of following developments with AFRICOM, and with how it is understood by Africans in relation to how it represents itself. AFRICOM, the US Africa Command is the main engine of US foreign policy in Africa. It has far greater funding and personnel than the State Department. State does have the ACOTA program, but that is also a military program employing military contractors, mercenaries as a part of training African proxies.

More from Roger Pociask who provides us with an African perspective:

The U.S. must therefore come clean and clear, if it wants to be taken serious by Africans. The U.S. needs to disclose fully its interests in Africa through AFRICOM and not assume the people of Africa are unaware of the possibilities of any hidden agenda.”
Selorm Kofi Dake
(Presentation to the School of Global Studies University of Sussex on the 26th January 2010)

And AFRICOM continues its efforts at explaining itself, with different messages for different audiences:

A quote from General “Kip” Ward July 2010:
U.S. Africa Command …“is about one thing and it’s about pursuit of American interest. And if anyone thinks that what Kip Ward does, having worn this uniform for 39 years is about anything else than that, then you’re probably smoking something that you ought not be smoking.” (video here) (and here)

Contrast that with this:

Now, the needs, concerns and priorities of the African nations are not only our lone priority, they are our number one priority. With the establishment of the command, we are now in a position to do that. We are totally focused on what matters to them.”
Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations
January 20, 2010 from: The official blog of AFCEA International and SIGNAL Magazine

Or this tweet:

Feb 12, 2010 “In global world, US interests & African interests strong overlap. Obvsly US mil promotes US interests. Wrldwide.” Vince Crawley, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Africa Command.

Of as Roger Pociask points out regarding one speech given by General Ward:

Sir, you have not shed any light on the real issues at hand. No one is fooled by your rhetoric. Maybe mentioning the word “Oil” one time in your speech would be a start…

And from the Department of Defense we get a fairly clear indication of the direction of DoD policy in Africa including increased funding for bases: (PDF):

Establish AFRICOM as a viable Combatant Command by providing additional manpower, airlift, and communications support ($263 million)

The GDP initiatives generally require robust Military Construction funding to reflect changes in the Department’s footprint overseas. The FY 2010 Base budget request includes $1.8 billion for GDP, a significant increase over previous years that is primarily due to the following:

• Replacing or upgrading of facilities at enduring U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) locations ($451 million)

Another highly relevent quote collected by Roger Pociask. As he points out, this is a:

Typical African View of AFRICOM: A Quote from a South African Political Scientist

The threat of Africom, the United States superior military command set specifically to deal with Africa is real and must never be taken lightly by all reasoning Africans.”
“African leaders can ignore that Americanisation of the continent at their own peril
and formations such as the Sadc standby brigade might look small but are the way to go and will in the long run; develop into serious military forces able to contain any situation on the continent. Hence there will be no need to involve Africom.” (original reprinted here)

Representing the views of many Africans, Selorm Kofi Dake has summed up the situation eloquently:


let us ask ourselves why a great nation like America seems to be more interested in Africa’s security, than ourselves as Africans. Is it for the sheer love of our continent or it is for a strategic purpose? Is it in our interest, in their interest or both?

Today, Africa has a combined GDP of about US $ 1.5 trillion (World Bank, 2008 GDP Estimates). Nevertheless, our contribution by volume to world trade is less than 5% and most of the goods exported from Africa remain raw, unprocessed commodities such as Cocoa, diamond, gold, bauxite, timber, vegetables and fruits. Africa remains highly endowed with natural resources which hardly get processed into finished products which explain our weak position in the world today. Also, a staggering 33 out of the 53 countries in Africa are classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by UN.

Again, Africa, as chronicled by David Lamb, the renowned American Journalist who travelled across Africa in the 80s, holds the following economic potential: 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power supply; the bulk of the world’s diamonds and chromium; 30 percent of uranium in the non-communist world; 50 percent of the world gold; 90 percent of cobalt; 50 percent of phosphate; 40 percent of its platinum; 7.5 percent of its coal; 8 percent of its known petroleum reserves,12 percent of its natural gas; 3 percent of its iron ores; 70 percent of the World’s cocoa; 60 % of its coffee; and 50% of its oil palm

These discoveries led David Lamb to conclude, arguably “there is not another continent blessed with such abundance and diversity”. I therefore, very much agree with an observer who said “Africa is not poor, it is only poorly managed”. President Obama, addressing Africa from the floor of the Ghanaian parliament in July 2009 rightly said “Africa needs strong institutions, not strong men”. Africa needs therefore to develop the institutions that will create the basis for sustainable socio-economic development.

Once again, all of a sudden, Africa has become the center stage for the great powers in the world to flex their economic and military muscles. In a fashion akin to that of the 1884 scramble for Africa, the continent is now inundated by competing interests from China, USA, Russia and the EU. Chinese flow of FDI into Africa has overtaken World Bank investments and rivaled that of US. The gold of South Africa and the former Gold Coast, the diamonds of Botswana, Liberia, Namibia and Sierra Leone; the timber and uranium of the Congo; the oil reserves of Sudan, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Angola and lately Ghana; the Cocoa of the Ivory Coast and Ghana have witnessed increased attention by investors from these very powerful countries. The irony of the situation is that whiles this inward flow of FDI on the surface looks promising for us in Africa; unfortunately, they seldom come on a win-win basis.

It is incontrovertible that Africom creates synergy and harmonises US Military Operations in Africa. All-Africa Students Union is aware the Africa Partnership Station (APS) of Africom (Ghanaweb, 21st January 2010) is already in the implementation phase in many regions of Africa. This position is well understood by us. However, the reception and response from many African citizens to AFRICOM have been that of suspicion and mistrust as is reflected by the on-going campaign against Africom by many members of civil society. These fears are not far-fetched, knowing clearly the role played by the CIA in the overthrow of the likes of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, the support for dictators like Mobutu Sesekou and the indifference of US towards deviants like the late Idi Amin and Jonas Savimbi. Africans are also reminded of the failure of the UN (of which US plays the most significant role) to protect the life of Patrice Lumumba – the first democratically elected leader of the Congo- and to avert or mitigate the Rwandan genocide and nip the Liberian civil war in the bud. Again, let us not forget Liberia was a creation of the US government for freed African slaves, a situation which therefore imposed a moral obligation on America’s conscience to act when it was most needed.

As much as Africom, as argued by the US government, seeks to help establish and promote peace in Africa, it cannot be divulged from America’s awakened interest in protecting its own interest in Africa, especially the rich oil and gas reserves the continent holds. The US must therefore come clean and clear, if it wants to be taken serious by Africans. The US needs to disclose fully its interests in Africa through Africom and not assume the people of Africa are unaware of the possibilities of any hidden agenda. Though Africom undoubtedly can build the capacities of any AU Stand-by force to respond effectively to the threats of terrorism and conflicts on the continent, let us ponder over the question “Whose war are we fighting, what price are we to pay and for how long?”.

The US is like the big-brother in the comity of nations which has imposed on itself the task of policing the world. It is exceptionally a great nation, which many of us admire. Also, history is replete with the intervention of US in many wars across the globe. We know over 57,000 gallant US military personnel sacrificed their lives to save what is today South Korea. We know thousands more sacrificed their lives to end the World War II. But we also know of America’s failure in the Vietnam, of its inability to stop rogue North Korea from acquiring nuclear power and its prolonged, protracted on-going war in Iraq and Afghanistan. As President Harry Truman once observed, “what price should America pay to defend its freedom?”. Whatever the answer may be, history has taught us that militarization is definitely not the answer and not so even in Africa.

The All-Africa Students Union stands opposed to any attempts whatsoever to establish any military base in any part of Africa. We belief the militarization of Africa will not only pose danger to our peace but also create conditions of fear and rivalry amongst our people. As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah once said “Africa is not an extension of any other colony”. We do not want to be drawn into the conflict of powers which seek to out-maneuver one another in pursuit of “super-powership”. To the contrary, Africa needs democratization, not militarization, more than ever now!

“The decisiveness of the short period of colonialism and its negative consequences for Africa spring mainly from the fact that Africa lost power. Power is the ultimate determinant in human society, being basic to the relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one’s interests and if necessary to impose one’s will by any means available. In relations between peoples, the question of power determines maneuverability in bargaining, the extent to which people survive as a physical and cultural entity. When one society finds itself forced to relinquish power entirely to another society, that in itself is a form of underdevelopment”, Rodney, Walter (1972).

On the way forward, All-Africa Students Union asserts the need for Africa to regain power, one that is of the people, for the people and by the people. AASU does not blame other countries for Africa’s current woes, but so are we not oblivious to the dangers of interference, of not controlling our own destiny and spearheading our own initiatives. However, we still regard the UN as the most credible international institution to partner Africa to meet the challenges of the 21st century. The unilateralism and the imposition of foreign crafted policies will never save Africa, unless there is ownership from the African people themselves.


The All-Africa Students Union reaffirms her belief that the creation of equal opportunities for all Africans to realise their full potential, the consolidation of democratic institutions such as independent electoral commissions; a vibrant and responsible media; a functional and independent judiciary that upholds the rule of law; the guarantee of universal adult suffrage and the ability of the greatest majority of citizens to elect and change their own governments at will as the best guarantees for security and sustainable development in Africa. AASU also calls for the redemption of the ideals of the founding fathers of African political independence- a strong and united Africa- without which we remain vulnerable to the vagaries of the politics of our world.

In the words of Kwame Nkrumah, may Africa continue to march Forward Ever, Backwards Never in the face of all these challenges!

Thank you for your attention.

By Selorm Kofi Dake

(Presentation to the School of Global Studies University of Sussex on the 26th January 2010, read the entire presentation here)

Roger Pociask Has done an excellent job of recording the contradictory and confusing statements coming from AFRICOM in its attempts to explain and define itself. Much of the material here was featured in his October and November postings.

Africom to install a base camp in Uganda
On 18 October, United States Africa Command (Africom) issued a call for declarations of interest in installing and operating a military camp in Uganda. (…)

This was published in the Indian Ocean Newsletter #1296, Nov. 6, 2010. The rest of the article requires a subscription. It would certainly be interesting to know more, but I couldn’t find anything so far in the searches I’ve done.

The only official US Africa Command base in Africa so far is in Djibouti. Even without official bases, AFRICOM is quite active throughout Africa. It is operating out of the embassies in over a dozen countries and continues to militarize US diplomacy. It has a constant rotating presence in even more African countries.

Back in 2008 there was some talk of Tan-Tan in Morocco becoming a base for AFRICOM. There was quite a bit of buzz, such as the article quoted below:

TAN-TAN, Morocco (June 5, 2010) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus addresses Sailors and Marines in Tan-Tan, Morocco. The Marines are participating in an exercise with the Moroccan militaries. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. O'Brien/Released)

From 2008:
AFRICOM Base In Tan-Tan Confirmed

The project to establish AFRICOM headquarters in Morocco, namely in the outskirts of Tan Tan, was not cancelled; it became surreptitious. Morocco is still willing to host AFRICOM and the U.S. is serious in its consideration of Morocco, if not as a full-fledged home to the African command, as a regional command to a portion of the African area of operation (AO).

Seabees and Red Horse squadron personnel, highly mobile civil engineering response forces supporting, respectively, the US Navy and Marine Corps and the US Air Force contingency and special operations worldwide, have been deploying to the Tan Tan area to build the infrastructure for the base AFRICOM will be using.

I remain skeptical that AFRICOM will use the base as a headquarters. AFRICOM headquarters will remain in Stuttgart, Germany

Tan-Tan, on the western edge of Morocco

Roger Pociask has been following the rationale and rationalizations for AFRICOM. He includes a video in this post:

AFRICOM & Tan-Tan, Morroco – Another Strange Coincidence?

Alternate Title of Post:

What the heck is “exercise related construction” ?

(Sounds Like another AFRICOM Word Game to Me!)

A few years ago, rumors circulated swiftly about construction of an AFRICOM base or facility in the remote desert town of Tan-Tan, Morroco.

AFRICOM vehemently denied the rumors of any such construction.

“Every year, the Moroccan press prints articles suggesting that African Lion (an annual U.S. military exercise in Africa) means the U.S. military wants to establish a permanent base in Morocco. The most cited location is Tan Tan. None of these press reports are accurate.” AFRICOM PAO Blog

On Sept 28, 2010, U.S. Africa Command’s Commander, General “Kip” Ward participated in a panel discussion in Atlanta, Georgia about investment in North Africa. A fellow participant was Mbarka Bouaida, a member of the parliament of Morocco.

You guessed it. Her hometown is Tan-Tan, Morroco. What a strange coincidence?

Of course, AFRICOM has not had any credibility problems, right? Yeah, right…

AFRICOM has built something there.. and for some reason they just really like Tan-Tan, that’s for sure!

A panel discussion in Atlanta, Georgia about investment in North Africa with General Ward and Mbarka Bouaida, Sept 28, 2010