Posted by Vince Crawley on January 12, 2010 in Vince Crawley’s Africa Blog at http://vincecrawley.wordpress.com.
A commentary by a South African political scientist has been getting wide circulation online the past few days. I’m posting it below in its entirety, in italics, with some of my own commentary.
Africom – Latest U.S. Bid to Recolonise Continent
January 7, 2010 by Tichaona Nhamoyebonde
African revolutionaries now have to sleep with one eye open because the United States of America is not stopping at anything in its bid to establish Africom, a highly-equipped US army that will be permanently resident in Africa to oversee the country’s imperialist interests.
[U.S. Africa Command was established October 1, 2007, and assumed responsibility for all U.S. military activity in Africa on October 1, 2008, in a Pentagon ceremony attended by African diplomats posted to Washington, D.C. A follow-up ceremony October 17, 2008, in Stuttgart, Germany, was attended by representatives of the African Union (for example, see this transcript: http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=2215〈=. Thus, the command is well established and resident in Germany.]
Towards the end of last year, the US government intensified its efforts to bring a permanent army to settle in Africa, dubbed the African Command (Africom) as a latest tool for the subtle recolonisation of Africa.
[What actually happened was that the headquarters of U.S. Army Africa, subordinate to U.S. Africa Command, formally began its mission in late 2009. U.S. Army Africa is based in Vicenza, Italy, and its first major exercise was Natural Fire, based in northern Uganda.]
Just before end of last year, General William E. Garret, Commander US Army for Africa, met with defence attaches from all African embassies in Washington to lure them into selling the idea of an American army based in Africa to their governments.
[Just to clarify, Major General William B. Garrett III is commander of U.S. Army Africa, an Army-only headquarters based in Italy. His boss is General William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany. There also is a U.S. Air Forces Africa, based in Ramstein, Germany; U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, , based in Naples, Italy; and U.S. Marine Forces Europe, based in Stuttgart. These all are planning headquarters with staff officers, not combat troops.]
Latest reports from the White House this January indicate that 75 percent of the army’s establishment work has been done through a military unit based in Stuttgart, Germany, and that what is left is to get an African country to host the army and get things moving.
[The White House source of this is not clear, nor is it clear what the 75 percent refers to. U.S. AFRICOM is fully established. The manning, half military and half civilian, has not reached 100 percent, but is well over 75 percent. The rest of the sentence suggests that we need to have our staff based in an African country to be effective. That’s not accurate, with the Internet, satellite communications and the like, we are quite effective from Germany. U.S. AFRICOM is not looking for a host country in Africa. We have a base with about 2,000 personnel in Djibouti, and that is our only base. As President Obama said in Ghana in July 2009, AFRICOM “is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security in America, in Africa, and the world. (For a good overview of U.S. policy in Africa, see his whole speech at http://www.africom.mil/getArticle.asp?art=3205&lang=.]
Liberia and Morocco have offered to host Africom while the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has closed out any possibility of any of its member states hosting the US army.
[Liberia is the only country to have publicly offered to host U.S. AFRICOM. That was back in 2007 when there was much discussion on AFRICOM’s location. Approximately seven other African nations privately expressed some degree of interest in hosting the command. However, the decision was made in late 2007 for AFRICOM to remain in Germany indefinitely. The command has a mission to view Africa from a continental perspective, which would be particularly challenging if the command were based in a specific country. This is not unprecedented — our U.S. Pacific Command is based in Hawaii, our U.S. Southern Command (for Latin America) is based in Miami, Florida.]
Other individual countries have remained quiet.
Liberia has longstanding ties with the US due to its slave history while errant Morocco, which is not a member of the African Union and does not hold elections, might want the US army to assist it to suppress any future democratic uprising.
[Liberia’s complicated history is related more to freed slaves and free African-Americans. It also became a destination for men and women who were aboard interdicted slave ships in the 1800s, when the trans-Atlantic slave trade became illegal. U.S. Navy ships took part in these interdictions, though never in large numbers. (For more on Liberia, see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/6618.htm). Morocco, a kingdom, is not the only country in Africa that does not hold elections for its head of state. However, the 2007 parliamentary elections were judged by international observers to be free and fair (see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5431.htm). Morocco holds a special place in U.S. foreign policy in that it was the first country in the world to seek diplomatic relations with the United States, back in 1777, when the U.S. was a rebel colony whose future independence was far from certain. Every year, Morocco hosts a military exercise with the U.S. Marine Corps, called African Lion. And every year, the Moroccan press prints articles suggesting that African Lion 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.]
SADC’s refusal is a small victory for the people of Africa in their struggle for total independence but the rest of the regional blocs in Africa are yet to come up with a common position. This is worrying.
[As befitting sovereign nations, the U.S. has different relationships with different regional blocs. For U.S. AFRICOM, the most significant regional organizations are the five regional Standby Brigades of the African Standby Force. We work most closely with the ECOWAS-based brigade, even having a liaison officer assigned to ECOWAS. The U.S. military recently provided support for an EASBRIG exercise in East Africa.]
The US itself wanted a more strategic country than Morocco and Liberia since the army will be the epicentre of influencing, articulating and safeguarding US foreign and economic policies. The other danger is that Africom will open up Africa as a battleground between America and anti-US terrorist groups.
[Under the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. military is subordinate to civilian leadership. AFRICOM does nothing in an African nation that is not approved by the U.S. ambassador in that nation. Secretary of State Clinton seems to me to be a very strong-willed diplomat who would not let herself be pushed around by the military.]
Africom is a smokescreen behind which America wants to hide its means to secure Africa’s oil and other natural resources, nothing more.
[Nothing more? Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of reasoning might suggest that Africa has no strategic importance other than its oil and natural resources. A military headquarters also isn’t a very logical “smokescreen” for a hidden agenda.]
African leaders must not forget that military might has been used by America and Europe again and again as the only effective way of accomplishing their agenda in ensuring that governments in each country are run by people who toe their line.
[There are many governments around the globe that do not agree with the United States, to include close allies and partners who disagree with aspects of U.S. policies. Some of the countries most opposed to the U.S. entry into Iraq, for example, were European powers that host U.S. military forces.]
By virtue of its being resident in Africa, Africom will ensure that America has its tentacles easily reaching every African country and influencing every event to the American advantage.
[It’s not clear how being based in any one African country, or even half a dozen African countries, would allow tentacles to reach every African country.]
By hosting the army, Africa will have sub-contracted its military independence to America and will have accepted the process that starts its recolonisation through an army that can subdue any attempts by Africa to show its own military prowess.
[There are limits to military power. A survey of recent headlines will show that the U.S. military has its hands more than full with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where both countries had militaries much weaker than the best African armies, in relatively open desert terrain. I haven’t seen any studies, but I imagine that attempts to invade a modern African country would entail extraordinary costs in time, money and human lives.]
The major question is: Who will remove Africom once it is established? By what means?
By its origin Africom will be technically and financially superior to any African country’s army and will dictate the pace for regime change in any country at will and also give depth, direction and impetus to the US natural resource exploitation scheme.
There is no doubt that as soon as the army gets operational in Africa, all the gains of independence will be reversed.
[In the two examples I cited above, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. government, U.S. President, U.S. Congress and U.S. public all are searching for ways to disengage effectively and leave behind stable governments. A U.S. military force trying to operate in Africa, if opposed by the local people, would meet such intense local opposition and international public condemnation that the mission would have no conceivable chance of success. It simply wouldn’t be worth the cost. The price of oil would skyrocket. Business trade would halt. And the U.S. government would be obligated to spend billions of dollars. Would it not be better to seek long-term stability and prosperous, reliable trading partners?]
If the current leadership in Africa succumbs to the whims of the US and accept the operation of this army in Africa, they will go down in the annals of history as that generation of politicians who accepted the evil to prevail.
Even William Shakespeare would turn and twist in his grave and say: “I told you guys that it takes good men to do nothing for evil to prevail.”
[Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 is among my favorites. It speaks to the awesome power of restraint, of demonstrating strength by choosing not to abuse power:
“They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.”]
We must not forget that Africans, who are still smarting from colonialism-induced humiliation, subjugation, brutality and inferiority complex, do not need to be taken back to another form of colonialism, albeit subtle.
[We are in general agreement here, though I’m not certain that I’d say Africans suffer from an inferiority complex. Perceptions of colonialism can be powerful. Even if colonialism, thankfully, no longer exists in its classic form, powerful nations can be seen as intimidating or even unstoppable. Still, African nations and regional organizations, as well as the African Union, have shown increasing collective political will and political maturity. I believe they are able to enter into partnerships with other nations in such a way that they are able to protect their sovereignty and national interests, while cooperating with partner nations on shared interests.]
Africom has been controversial on the continent ever since former US president George W. Bush first announced it in February 2007.
[That’s true. But the controversy has significantly diminished now that the command is better understood. U.S. AFRICOM’s leaders have spent the past two years meeting with leadership across Africa to explain what we do .]
African leaders must not forget that under the Barack Obama administration, US policy towards Africa and the rest of the developing world has not changed an inch. It remains militaristic and materialistic.
[U.S. policy in Africa is not led by the military. The Department of State’s Africa Bureau was established in 1958. AFRICOM arrived on the scene half a century later. Go to the Websites of the dozens of U.S. Embassies across Africa, and you will see robust civil sector programs that dwarf anything being attempted by our U.S. military. See for example http://southafrica.usembassy.gov/, I just looked there and saw an announcement for an additional $120 million in antiretroviral funding — that’s nearly half the entire annual operating budget for U.S. AFRICOM. For the priorities of U.S. policy in Africa, see http://www.state.gov/p/af/rls/rm/2009/117326.htm. The priorities include: Providing security assistance programs that sustain a peaceful, African-led continent; promoting democratic systems and practices; supporting sustainable, market-led economic growth; and promoting health and social development. The take-away from President Obama’s July 2009 speech in Ghana is, “Africa’s future is up to Africans.”]
Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations argue that the major objective of Africom is to professionalise security forces in key countries across Africa.
However, both administrations do not attempt to address the impact of the setting up of Africom on minority parties, governments and strong leaders considered errant or whether the US will not use Africom to promote friendly dictators.
[Broadly speaking, U.S. Africa Command is most active in countries that share U.S. interests and goals, countries that often are regional, even global, leaders, or else long-time partners. The U.S. military has been working at this level in Africa for well over a decade. Our Department of State and U.S. Embassies determine the level of military engagement with each nation, and the process is watched over the U.S. Congress, which exercises its authority via control of annual funding. This is where the U.S. government is highly transparent. For example, the State Department’s annual foreign operations budget can be found at this link: http://www.state.gov/f/releases/iab/fy2010cbj/pdf/index.htm. Page 17 (xvii) of Volume One (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/123415.pdf) includes the following language with regard to U.S. diplomatic (nonmilitary) funding in Africa:
(From the U.S. Department of State)”Africa: The United States remains committed to doubling assistance to sub-Saharan Africa between 2004 and 2010 to $8.7 billion. The continued increases in funding for critical programs in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the overall trend of general increases in foreign assistance budget levels for the continent, clearly underscore an important message: Africa matters. The FY 2010 request places a priority on interventions critical to achieving sustainable progress and transformation in key African countries. Under the FY 2010 budget for Africa resources will be concentrated in countries critical to the continent’s stability, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan. In addition, the request includes additional funds to address evolving needs in Somalia and Zimbabwe. Together, these key countries account for nearly half of the total request for the region. Recognizing that current investments in the region are heavily concentrated in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other immediate health threats, the FY 2010 request also calls for significant increases in funding for democracy and governance, education, and economic growth. In particular, responding to growing food security concerns on the continent, the proposed budget substantially increases funding for agriculture. These resources complement the major U.S. investments in the health sector and the Millennium Challenge Corporation programs and help to ensure that these collective U.S. efforts lead to balanced and sustained long-term development progress throughout the region.”
Note the emphasis on non-military programs.]
(Back to the commentary by Tichaona Nhamoyebonde:)
Training and weapons programmes and arms transfers from Ukraine to Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Ethiopia and the transitional government in Somalia, clearly indicate the use of military might to maintain influence in governments in Africa, remains a priority of US foreign policy.
Ukraine’s current leadership was put into power by the US under the Orange Revolution and is being given a free role to supply weaponry in African conflicts.
[Ukraine’s largely peaceful Orange Revolution was far too complex to have been orchestrated by any outside power, and there were, in any case, competing outside powers. See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3211.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Revolution.]
African leaders must show solidarity and block every move by America to set up its bases in the motherland unless they want to see a new round of colonisation.
Kwame Nkrumah, Robert Mugabe, Sam Nujoma, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Kenneth Kaunda, Augustino Neto and Samora Machel, among others, will have fought liberation wars for nothing, if Africom is allowed a base in Africa.
[A remarkable list of names.]
Thousands of Africans who died in colonial prisons and in war fronts during the liberation struggles, will have shed their blood for nothing if Africa is recolonised.
[Thousands of Americans also died in our struggle against colonialism more than two centuries ago, so I well understand the sentiment and honor their sacrifice.]
Why should the current crop of African leaders accept systematic recolonisation when they have learnt a lot from colonialism, apartheid and racism? Why should the current crop of African leaders fail to stand measure for measure against the US administration and tell it straight in the face that Africa does not need a foreign army since the AU is working out its own army.
[Agreed. That’s why AFRICOM doesn’t want to set up any more bases in Africa, and why we work closely in support of the African Union.]
African leaders do not need prophets from Mars to know that US’s fascination with oil, the war on terrorism and the military will now be centred on Africa, after that escapade in Iraq.
Tichaona Nhamoyebonde is a political scientist based in Cape Town, South Africa
[To learn more about what the U.S. military does in Africa, see www.africom.mil or www.facebook.com/africom]
Vince Crawley, a former journalist, is deputy public affairs officer and a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). See also http://vincecrawley.wordpress.com & http://twitter.com/VinceCrawley.