Monday, October 01, 2007

AFRICOM, A Free Con or Afri.com?

Left: US troops stationed in the Horn of Africa - the US has increased its military interests in Africa

Discussion of the need for an Africa Command began long before the Bush administration. Bill Clinton’s military people talked about it too. But the question is whether this development will be a good thing for the continent.

The US has launched a new command centre for military operations in Africa, in a sign of a clear increase in forcing American interest in Africa. Known as Africom, the initiative was first announced in February and will be based initially in Stuttgart, Germany. Until now responsibility for Africa has been divided among the US military's European, Central and Pacific commands. The Pentagon says Africom will allow the US to have a more integrated and effective approach to the continent.

This is a significant re-ordering of the US military, and an increased interest that can be explained in the concept of resources including oil, its attenuated terrorism paradigm and the instability it breeds in an obfuscation of security; i.e., resource security.

The US now gets over 10% of its oil from Africa and is concerned about competition from China and other emerging powers. Nevertheless, the Pentagon and State department are being careful to stress the aim of the new command is to help struggling states through training and aid, and not to launch new wars.

They point out that over one-third of approximately 400 or so staff will be diplomats and aid specialists rather than uniformed military. The initiative has received mixed reviews in the US. Though many analysts welcome it as an opportunity for a more intense and unified approach to Africa, others warn of what they see as the danger of the militarization of US policy towards the continent. In Africa itself the response has been guarded.

Left: Proliferation of arms instead of an arm of liberation

The administration is mostly trying to define AFRICOM by what it is not. Theresa Whelan, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, says:
“Africa Command is not going to reflect a U.S. intent to engage kinetically in Africa. This is about prevention. This is not about fighting wars.” At another point, Whelan also said “This is not about a scramble for the continent.”

Left: The conquest for resources a nation building tradition

“We are not at war in Africa. Nor do we expect to be at war in Africa. Our embassies and AFRICOM will work in concert to keep it that way,” notes Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.
Despite these reassurances, many African nations view this maneuver with a healthy dose of skepticism. Africans are expressing this view by shutting their doors. AFRICOM is temporarily based in Germany, but commanders hope to make the move to the region by fall 2008. The military seems to be favoring a “lily pad” approach of small bases across West Africa and the Horn region so as to not commit significant troops or lend credence to African concerns of a U.S. occupation. But where are these lily pads going to go?

Zambia has said no. In early September, President Levy Mwanawasa said that within the Southern African Development Community (a network of fourteen nations) “none of us is interested” in hosting the command. The South Africa Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota has refused to meet with U.S. General William “Kip” Ward, who will command AFRICOM. Lekota said recently, “Africa has to avoid the presence of foreign forces on her soil.”

Left: Boots and Coots

But, some countries are viewing AFRICOM as an opportunity. The United States has already secured access agreements with Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Gabon and Namibia. And the United States’ close ally Liberia has aggressively promoted of the Command. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf penned a widely cited and circulated op-ed for AllAfrica.Com that hyped the Command as an opportunity for African nations. She has lobbied hard for AFRICOM to come to Liberia.
The Africom charter specifies that the new command will focus on conflict prevention, rather than intervention. It will work with African states and regional organizations, such as the African Union and Ecowas, in coordination with other donor countries, to improve security capabilities and promote military professionalism and accountable governance.
Speaking in July 2007, at a reception marking the 231st Independence Anniversary of the United States, President Sirleaf said "Liberia, the U.S. historic ally, has stood resolutely with the United States, through good times and bad, and is offering its territory as it has done in the past, for the establishment of AFRICOM headquarters."
The United States is also looking at Sao Tome and Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Djibouti, and Ethiopia as possible locations.

In case none of these options work out, the Navy has a novel (and very expensive) idea to forgo land completely and house AFRICOM on a high-tech joint command and control ship that would circumnavigate the region.

Left: Military ingenuity for oil security

Although the US has been strengthening its security ties with a number of African nations over the last few years many are cautious about being seen to embrace the Americans too warmly - at least in public. That is one reason, perhaps, why the Pentagon has yet to find an African country to host the headquarters for AFRICOM, despite a considerable amount of shopping around.

Therefore, the U.S. is marketing the renewed impetus in Africa as a benevolent project to civilize and embellish the well-being of the natives. Of course if one “gives a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever.” But, what happens when you give a man weapons and military training? Djibouti, Ethiopian, Ugandan and Kenyan armed forces, among others, have been furnished by the U.S. military.

Left: Screening for oil

Africa is viewed as the third front of the war on terrorism. As Rear Admiral Richard Hunt, the Commander of Combined Joint Taskforce-Horn of Africa (or CJT-HOA, explains: “Africa is the new frontier that we need to engage now, or we are going to end up doing it later in a very negative way.”
As part of the CJT-HOA these soldiers are also building schools, digging wells and sanitizing slaughterhouses. Their work is delineated by the four Ps and the three Ds: Prevent conflict, promote regional stability, protect coalition interests and prevail against extremism in East Africa and Yemen through diplomacy, development and defense.

Left: Oil Scheme

Africa, with immense amount of under-tapped oil reserves, vast stretches of ungoverned space, impoverished populations and pandemics of AIDS/HIV and other diseases, is now on Washington’s radar screen. The National Security Strategy for the United States, 2006 says: “Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this administration.” But the most significant way that high priority status is being expressed is through commitments of military aid, training, troops and equipment.

The U.S. base in Djibouti is just one component in a new military machine in Africa. There is also the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI), which Congress funded at $500 million over six years in 2005. There are also increased naval maneuvers in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, and establishment of a P3 Orion aerial surveillance station in Algeria.

The AFRICOM command brings together most of the continent (Egypt will remain under CENTCOM. According to President Bush it “will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa."

Even as these discussions continue, some African nations are receiving significant increases in military aid and weapons sales; most of these increases have gone to oil-rich nations and compliant states where the U.S. military seeks a strategic toehold. The Center for Defense Information recently completed U.S. Arms Exports and Military Assistance in the Global War on Terror, an analysis of increases in military aid since September 11, 2001. The report compares the military aid and weapons sales in the five-year leading up to 2001 and the five years since.
For example: since September 11, Kenya, which the State Department describes as a “frontline state” in the war on terrorism, has received eight times more military aid than in the preceding five years. Djibouti, which has opened its territory to U.S. forces, received forty times more military aid, and an eightfold increase in the value of weapons transfers. Oil-rich Algeria, where the surveillance equipment is based, has received ten times more aid and a warm embrace from Washington. Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States, is slated to receive $1.35 million in Foreign Military Financing for 2008 despite persistent human rights abuses.
Mali is described as an “active partner in the war against terrorism” by the State Department and is a good example of a little military aid going a long way. The desert nation is slated to receive just $250,000 in International Military Education and Training (IMET funding) and no Foreign Military Financing in 2008. But, Mali participates in both the Regional Defense Counter Terrorism Fellowship Program and the Anti-terrorism Assistance program, receiving additional funding through these programs. Aid comes in other forms too. Just this week, a U.S. C-130 military transport plane dropped food aid to Malian soldiers as they pursued armed members of the Tuareg ethnic group. This sort of assistance is not documented or quantified in any ledger or report but — if repeated regularly — could significantly increase the Malian military’s capabilities.
As with the Arab world security and stability become excuses to clamp down on opposition groups and limit freedom of the press, speech and assembly and association as well as other taboo dictatorial regimes don’t approve.

Left: Ethiopian troops on the march

U.S. arms sales to Ethiopia, which has one of Africa’s largest armies, have roughly doubled and military aid has increased two and a half times. But the nation has not received military Humvees since 2002, when it used them against its own people. During protests following the May 2002 elections, the Ethiopian military fired on crowds from the Humvees, killing 85 people. The U.S. sold the Humvees to Ethiopia for counter-terrorism operations. This new military assistance will certainly not serve to enrich democratic institutions in the recipient states.

Left: Beneficiaries?

The formation of AFRICOM as a separate entity from USEUCOM and USCENTCOM – from the point of view of those who seek to use it as a tool for the war against terror (“TWAT”) ultimately, will be used (is being used) as the pre-text for Chicago-style economic reform (aka, free-market shock- therapy). That is, the military is being used to soften up Africa so that corporation can benefit from exploitation of Africa's resources. Moreover, by an intense military presence in Africa competitors such as India, China and Europe can be kept at bay.

This war on terror is a like a little fairy tale. There’s this place called (fill in the blank) Darfur in Sudan, and there are macabre Islamicists in control of the North, while the oil is in the south. The World Bank in consort with Exxon finance a $4 billion Cameroon-Chad oil pipeline that ends up on the southwest edge of Sudan.

Suddenly, small black African tribes in the south that has been oppressed by the North for centuries began receiving arms shipments and launching attacks on their Northern Arabic opponents. How did they get those weapons? A fairy godmother sent it to them?

The Islamic regime responded by arming Arabic tribes, “Janjaweed” taking advantage of and seeding longstanding animosities. A wipe-out campaign begins against the agrarian people of the south. “Genocide in Darfur” headlines began appearing in the Western corporate press, with no mention of how the militarization of situation arose. The nomadic tribes of Darfur were in conflict and competition with the sedentary people, but why now and how? Will the Fair Godmother descend on Darfur and save the day in this fairy tale?

Fast forward, 400,000 dead people later, August 1, 2007. Blackwater and Cofer Black step up and offer to move in and pacify the region, and stop the genocide. Somehow, I doubt their humanitarian motivation, but there is no doubt that the Bush administration would prefer the professionalism of Blackwater over a UN peacekeeping contingent or a peace process. The ongoing war for control of the last of the world’s oil continues.

As a further example of the misdirected and mislabeled war against terror is the malfeasant motivation for US policy in Somalia. Currently, the US obtains about 10 percent of its oil from Africa. However, the Monitor story noted ‘some experts say it may need to rely on the continent for as much as 25 percent by 2010.’ Reportedly, nearly two-thirds of Somalia’s oil fields were allocated to the U.S. oil companies Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips before Somalia’s pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown.” There is not a single area of Africa where the US military or mercenaries are active that does not have an oil reserve or other natural resources of some kind.

Left: War for oil - blood

Various African governments have answered the US 911 call. These African leaders believe in the trickle down economic theory propounded by the neoconservatives - they anxiously, await at the feet of their benefactors for arms or dollars to trickle down. The greatest of whom are Gambia and Liberia, who have declared September 11th a national holiday."

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