The hegemony of the United States on its foreign policy remains profound on the African continent, where heavy militarization of the continent still occurs. The country militarizing the continent out of proportion and for its own imperialistic goals is the United States of America's priority. They seem to be unrelenting in the proliferation of more military bases under the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) strategy.
US military operations in Africa are run under the auspices of AFRICOM, with several US military bases dotted across the continent. AFRICOM is responsible for US military relations with African countries and it was created with the purported intention of bringing “peace and security to the people of Africa and [promoting] [the US and Africa’s] common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.” Another ground justifying the creation of AFRICOM is “weak states...can pose as great a danger to [US] national interests as strong states.”
AFRICOM came to life in February 2007 and became wholly operational in November 2008. Since then, AFRICOM has acted more as an appendage of American neo-colonialism rooted in a never-ending, new form of imperialism. The pretext employed by AFRICOM for its legitimacy on African soil is fighting terrorism – the “war on terror”. The understanding by American congressmen that there is a synergy between weak states (under development), and terrorism necessitated the complete justification of AFRICOM’s existence.
The Reasons behind AFRICOM’s existence
The US is forcefully asserting its perspective on the “war on terror” on African countries. Some countries on the continent are buying the idea – allowing the US military on the continent in order to fight terrorism. Transparency is something that has always eluded American politics when it comes to foreign policy and whenever the US is present in a foreign land under the guises of saving that land, one thing always comes out – the US is a liar. It is more invested in ulterior motives.
The presence of the US military in Africa under the tag of AFRICOM can be viewed from a geopolitical lens. The optics paint a gloomy and ominous picture. China’s influence in Africa has multiplied exponentially, much to the discomfort of the US. In order to tackle that growing influence, it was befitting to station their military units in Africa permanently so as to assert their will on African politics, and knowing very well that in any event, no African country can mount a rising against the United States.
China’s imprint on the continent is gigantic. The continent’s trade with China has leaped from $3 billion dollars annually (1995) to around $100 billion (2008). China has sponsored massive developmental projects in Africa, with the most notable being Zambia, Angola, and the DRC in terms of loans. Chinese trade with Africa has eclipsed that with the US, and it is an obvious case that the US will not let this go by as they also have their vested interests on the continent. The new scramble for Africa means military force has to be applied inevitably so that African countries keep in line with the whims of the US. Ultimately, it is Africa that loses at the hands of both China and America.
Then add oil to the whole mix. Since 2001, Africa’s oil was touted as the answer to the enormous energy demands of America. At one point, George Bush highlighted Africa’s oil as a strategic interest for the United States. The interest in Africa’s natural resources is not only confined to oil but extends to DRC’s resources as well – diamonds, gold, tin, cobalt, tungsten. Aggravating the issue also is how China already receives a third of its oil supplies from Africa, with unflinching loyalty from Sudan and Angola. The US has advocated for Africa’s oil to be sold on the open market but in truth, the US desires to control that whole process, for its benefit of course – just as they did to Iraqi oil.
AFRICOM has clandestinely managed to penetrate African militaries, infusing its influence on African militaries. This has been accomplished through the military to military partnerships. These partnerships, in most of the cases, involve African militaries ceding operational command to AFRICOM. AFRICOM, which is America’s sixth regional military command established after World War 2, also assists other US agencies (such as the Department of State and USAID) in fulfilling its aims on the continent. This means partaking directly in military activities on the continent. The US Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, falls within AFRICOM’s sphere of activity (it is the crown jewel of US bases in Africa).
Perhaps the most infamous instance regarding AFRICOM’S presence on the continent dates back to 2011 when Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated. AFRICOM imposed and controlled the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya. In Libya, AFRICOM provided proximal air support to the rebel forces and blocked the negotiations by the African Union for a political settlement in order to end the conflict.
AFRICOM caused the deaths of thousands by blocking the initiative for a settlement. Worse still, AFRICOM was actively involved in the destruction of armored vehicles. At that time, a statement was released portraying the command’s activities in Libya as benign – that the command “stopped the advance of the Libyan army on defenseless civilians in Benghazi, put into place a no-fly zone over Libya, and established a sea embargo against the Gadhafi regime.”
The command is also actively setting up forward bases. These are different from normal bases in that weapons, ammunition and other types of equipment are stored at these bases, and permission is often granted for the host countries to use the bases under certain conditions. A forward deployment base in Senegal would look like a Senegalese base (at face value) which the USA equips under the guise of strengthening the Senegalese military. Weapons are kept ready for the US to use if it deems fit. These bases are also termed “lily pads.”
The Further Damage To The Continent by AFRICOM
The approach to fighting terrorism in Africa has not yielded positive results except for further fuelling extremism. Instead of continuing to arm AFRICOM and building more air bases and naval bases on the continent, the US should look into promoting negotiations rather than violence at all times. It is also to the detriment of the American taxpayer.
More bases are being constructed in Kenya, Somalia, Tunisia, Mali, Libya, Niger, and Benin. “Contingency locations” continue being constructed. Since 9/11, there has been a sprawling network of US bases on the continent and at the same time, extremism has also increased.
US politicians continue to defend the existence of AFRICOM on the basis that it stems from the rise of extremism in Africa but militarizing the continent will not work. The over-emphasis on a military approach is now tired. It is now time for new solutions. Not every problem in Africa should be tackled by imposing the US military on the continent. That is not the way to tackle unemployment, poverty, and under-development.
It is clear how AFRICOM serves American interests – “being the puppet master behind fragile African governments”. AFRICOM suggests threats to Africa and then militarizes those countries to remove such threats.
The Air Force recently completed 21 construction projects in Kenya, Tunisia, Niger, and Djibouti and currently has seven others underway in Niger and Djibouti. America is unrelenting in destroying the African continent by excessively arming it.
Africa Should Stand Up
AFRICOM is here to stay. The United States will not stop on the agenda of arming Africa in order to secure its interests on the continent. It is now up to mature pan-African leadership to refuse to ally with the US in such sinister machinations and instead unshackle Africa from the tentacles of the West’s never-ending imperialism.