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U.S. Militarizing Africa (Again)

The Pentagon's new AFRICOM is all about securing oil resources, countering terrorism, and rolling back Chinese influence.
 
 
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In February 2007, President Bush announced that the United States would create a new military command for Africa, to be known as the Africa Command or AFRICOM, to protect U.S. national security interests on the African continent. Previously, control over U.S. military operations in Africa was divided between three different commands: European Command, which oversaw North Africa and most of sub-Saharan Africa; Central Command, which had responsibility for Egypt and the Horn of Africa; and Pacific Command, which administered the Indian Ocean and Madagascar.

The new command set up shop in Stuttgart, Germany in October 2007, as a sub-command of the European Command, and is scheduled to become a separate, fully independent command in October 2008. The Pentagon intends to establish a headquarters -- or set of regional headquarters -- on the African continent. But Liberia is the only country that has publicly offered to host AFRICOM, and the issue remains unresolved. The Pentagon claims that AFRICOM is all about integrating coordination and "building partner capacity." But the new structure is really about securing oil resources, countering terrorism, and rolling back Chinese influence. Given AFRICOM's emphasis on defense over diplomacy, resistance to the initiative is possible not only from civic movements but even the U.S. State Department.

Real Reasons for AFRICOM

Professional military officers have made it clear that the new Africa Command has three main purposes. First and foremost, the new command's main mission is to protect American access to Africa's oil and other resources, preferably by enhancing the ability of African allies to guard these resources themselves on behalf of the United States. But, to prepare for the day that Washington decides to try to use American troops in a desperate bid to keep them flowing, the United States is also acquiring access to local African military bases and dramatically expanding its naval presence off Africa's coastline, especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region. Imports from Africa are expected to reach 25% by 2015, making Africa one of the largest future suppliers of U.S. oil -- larger even than the Persian Gulf.

The new command will also expand and intensify counter-terrorism operations in Africa and will make the continent a central battlefield in the Global War on Terror. Through AFRICOM, the Pentagon will intensify and extend U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa as well as its involvement in counter-insurgency warfare and other internal security operations in African countries. American troops are already engaged in combat operations in Somalia -- where air and naval strikes aimed at alleged al-Qaeda members instead killed dozens of Somali civilians in January and June 2007 -- and U.S. troops were engaged in combat-support operations in Mali in September 2007.

Finally, the new command is designed to counter China's efforts to increase its influence and its access to African oil and other raw materials. The creation of AFRICOM is one element of a broad effort to develop a "grand strategy" on the part of the United States to compete with, and eventually restrain China's activities. It is also intended to demonstrate to Beijing that Washington will match China's actions, thus serving as a warning to Chinese leaders that they should restrain themselves or face possible consequences to their relationship with America as well as to their interests in Africa.

Operations

AFRICOM will take over the implementation of a growing and truly frightening array of military, security cooperation, and security assistance programs conducted either by the State Department or by the Defense Department (DoD). Through these programs, the United States provided more than $240 million worth of military equipment and training to African countries in FY 2006 and more than $500 million worth in FY 2007. AFRICOM will also take over operational control of two task forces. The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa -- based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti -- is conducting raids into Somalia; the Joint Task Force Aztec Silence -- based in Sigonella, Italy -- is conducting intelligence, surveillance, and combat-support missions in North and West Africa. To support AFRICOM, the United States is also dramatically expanding its naval presence off Africa's coastlines, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region, and has negotiated agreements with at least 10 African countries to ensure access to local military bases by U.S. troops in times of crisis.

This expansion of U.S. military operations in Africa is cause for serious alarm. The Bush administration has clearly given priority to defense above diplomacy -- a power imbalance that is likely to result in further destabilization of the African continent. AFRICOM is a command designed to fulfill a short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive vision of U.S. global interests to expand the War on Terror and to satisfy America's hunger for oil and other resources. Such self-interested goals will be to the detriment of African civilians whose needs and concerns will be overshadowed by special interest groups like oil companies and private military contractors.

Africans are not asking for AFRICOM. In fact, most African civilians, governments, and many regional bodies have voiced a vehement "no" to the presence of an American military force in their backyard. Though there will always be exceptions to the rule, the Department of Defense has said it will not go where it is not welcome. Thus, a stance of opposition from the African Union (AU) would send a clear message to the Bush administration that its flawed command is not acceptable to the people or the nations of Africa.

Opposition Mounts

President Bush recently unveiled his Defense Budget for FY2009 -- a budget that is unsustainable and unnecessary for achieving true global security. Within it lies a line-item of $389 million for AFRICOM's current operations in Stuttgart, Germany. Embedded further is the budget for current U.S. defense engagements in Africa -- all of which will come under the AFRICOM heading. With pressure from the American people, the U.S. Congress can eliminate this ill-conceived Rumsfeld plan from the bloated budget.

It is also imperative that Congress be provided with recommendations for AFRICOM in order to shape the command in the most progressive way possible. Though total elimination of AFRICOM's budget is preferable, Congress can also utilize its power of oversight to ensure that the interests of Africans are upheld. Congress can set specific restrictions on AFRICOM finances to make certain that private defense contractors will never be used to carry out the mission of the command. It can also enact legislation that requires the Pentagon to submit regular reports to Congress on AFRICOM's activities, budget, and how military and civilian partnerships are evolving in the field.

Like Congress, the State Department can play a key role in the movement to oppose AFRICOM. Its duties and oversight are slowly being chipped away by a defense policy that encompasses civilian activities. Although AFRICOM staff argues that the State Department will remain central to African affairs, the inter-agency coordination of AFRICOM is structured to give unprecedented power to the Pentagon. Ambassadors and U.S. Agency for International Development personnel must remain at the head of U.S. foreign operations in Africa. They should feel empowered to demand an increased budget and a clear delineation of the command structure such that diplomatic efforts are not contingent upon the opinions of a military general.

Not only are the activities and structure of the command contentious, but the issue of erecting a headquarters on the continent is particularly alarming, especially to Africans. Liberia offered to host the command in the hopes that AFRICOM will generate jobs and infrastructural development for Liberia's struggling economy. Unfortunately, global examples show that U.S. military bases tend to offer relatively little to the communities where they are built and in fact are liable to increase instability or human rights abuses in the long term. In 2001, the United States constructed a base in Manta, Ecuador as a means of expanding U.S. involvement in the drug war and Plan Columbia. Many local Ecuadorians expressed deep, negative sentiments toward Plan Colombia because of the spillover violence and refugees onto their land. In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the U.S. government has defended repressive dictators in order to maintain its military presence and access to oil, despite the negative impact on the people of the region. If history is any indication, the United States will prioritize its headquarters construction on what is in the strategic best interest of the United States, regardless of the consequences for democracy and human rights in Africa.

Many African governments and regional bodies have noted the potential for further militarization and have voiced objection to a headquarters on the continent. According to Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, "Africa has to avoid the presence of foreign forces on its soil, particularly if any influx of soldiers might affect relations between sister African countries." SADC is comprised of 14 southern African nations and has adopted a regional stance against AFRICOM and foreign military presence. As such, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to shift the rhetoric away from "base" or "headquarters" and toward "lilypad" or "office." Regardless of the language or the final outcome, AFRICOM will have access to several military bases on the continent and will use the surrounding waters to push Bush's defense agenda forward.

Ultimately, peace and democracy in Africa are elements that can be attained if the United States is willing to work in concert with Africans to determine their needs and desires. Washington can assist in boosting education, jobs, and health care on the continent. It can offer debt relief and an elimination of unjust trade policies. A new administration may provide a reprieve from the heavy-handed defense policy of President Bush, but resisting AFRICOM now is the best way to ensure a fair and just U.S. foreign policy. Once AFRICOM is set in place, it will be increasingly difficult to draw it back. Pushing a diplomatic strategy that relies on true partnership with African governments, the African Union (AU), and African Civil Society is the only approach that is truly in the mutual, long-term interests of the American people and the citizens of Africa's many nations.

FPIF analyst Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He is the author of numerous articles and research reports on U.S. military activities in Africa. FPIF Analyst Beth Tuckey is the associate director of Program Development and Policy at Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) in Washington, DC.

 
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