The increasing rate of foreign countries with military bases in Africa has been a concern for the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council for a while now. However, many African states are still open to and are actively hosting foreign military bases. Recent reports have stated that the Equatorial Guinea government is undergoing talks with China to establish their first military facility in the Atlantic Ocean, which proved problematic for the United States. This country already calls Djibouti their military home. So, what is the motivation behind these foreign countries, among many others, scrambling to build military bases in Africa?
Africa is the second biggest continent globally. The Horn of Africa has become a hotspot for foreign military occupancy primarily due to its proximity to the Middle East and Asia. As of 2020, approximately 13 foreign countries have a military presence in Africa and a substantial one at that. The United States and France currently have the most troops on the continent with about 7,000 and 7,500 military personnel operating on a rotational deployment basis, respectively, followed by Japan, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, China, India, United Arab Emirates, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.
Contrary to some beliefs, these foreign powers are not establishing their presence forcefully. Instead, African leaders are leasing their territories for financial enrichment. Therefore, many receive monetary compensation from the countries based on their turf. Countries such as Djibouti heavily rely on bilateral agreements that generate income for the government and allow China to establish their first base in Africa less than 10 miles away from the United States naval base, Camp Lemonnier. These bases are highly advantageous as this specific base in Djibouti gives China access to significant travel points, namely the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. Furthermore, some countries receive assistance in handling dire security challenges.
These countries seek to protect their interests while projecting their influence against other global powers. Another reason for their military presence is to oppose threats to international peace and security from terror groups such as al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali, and pirates. The United States, for example, uses its several military bases to conduct drone operations, training, and military exercises. In addition, these bases provide troops with facilities to re-fit and re-arm their warships.
The rise of foreign military bases can be seen as an external environment threat and is a breeding ground for tensions between the countries. China’s attempt to persuade the Equatorial Guinea government has ruffled some American feathers and raised concern. China’s expansion in Djibouti has instilled some fear in the Japanese and Indian camps, further emphasizing how the competition between these entities could, over time, create problems. The AU has called for states to be wary of the growing foreign occupancy rate in their territories. The self-justifying nature of these countries is cause for concern and urgent response from the whole continent.
One would not be wrong in likening the moves made by foreign countries to secure various ports and bases, primarily for their benefit, with the Scramble for Africa. It certainly eerily mirrors how countries more potent than those in Africa in the late 1800s took parts of Africa for their selfish gain and played on the continent’s vulnerability and lack of economic strength. The rate at which these naval facilities are established and the already fully available number is alarming. Africa is still suffering from modern-day imperialism masked as aid or partnership. It will only sink the continent further into the claws of imperialists seeking to expand their interests if nothing is done now to combat that possibility.