Plans to base the much-talked-about United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Africa have been dropped for now. The U.S. government acknowledged defeat in its all-out campaign to convince any African ally to welcome the installation on its territory. AFRICOM will begin operations this October in Germany instead.
The corporate media has been relatively silent about this setback to the so-called war on terror. Only a few months ago, news reports highlighted America’s desire to establish AFRICOM somewhere on the continent as one of the main reasons for President Bush’s Africa tour. In February, Bush visited five African nations, all considered allies, hoping to persuade one to accept AFRICOM. With the sole exception of Liberia, Bush was met with a resounding “no” throughout his trip. Even a proposal to locate five smaller regional offices to coordinate with AFRICOM in Germany is on hold as the U.S. military still seeks hosts.
AFRICOM will coordinate American military activities across the African continent, except Egypt. The Bush administration deemed Africa an area of “strategic concern” and initiated plans for AFRICOM in 2006. Aware of the apprehension this would generate, Washington attempted to present AFRICOM as a “partnership” with African allies, which also would coordinate relief work and humanitarian activities. As the Financial Times explained, American military engineers have built projects from chicken coops to clinics, hoping to win trust on a continent where suspicion of U.S. military motives often runs high. Even American non-governmental organizations opposed Washington’s plans, rejecting any role for the U.S. military in aid distribution and development projects.
The real agenda of AFRICOM is twofold: securing oil resources and “fighting terrorism.” That is why U.S. military activities are focused on the Gulf of Guinea in western Africa which in the next few years will supply one-quarter of America’s oil, and the East African coast, strategically located near the Iraqi and Afghani war zones and other so-called areas of strategic interest, such as the Red Sea.
U.S. Navy instructors, for example, have been training soldiers in Cameroon how to defend oil drilling rigs in the area, many operated by Exxon and Chevron, against what Washington calls “pirates” and “terrorists.”
A third factor underlining U.S. policy in Africa is China’s rapidly expanding economic and political presence across the continent. Especially worrisome to the Bush administration is China’s African partnerships in oil exploration and extraction.
African opposition to AFRICOM has been nearly universal, whether relayed behind closed doors in diplomatic meetings or expressed publicly, because it is viewed as a threat to African sovereignty. Last year’s invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, one of Washington’s closest allies in Africa, was regarded by many observers as an illustration of AFRICOM’s true purpose, as the U.S. provided strategic and material assistance to the Ethiopian military from the nearby American command base in Djibouti.
Many African leaders fear the remilitarization of the continent after decades of conflict during the Cold War. As retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Opande of the Kenyan army told the Washington Post, “AFRICOM was seen as a massive infusion of military might onto a continent that was quite proud of having removed foreign powers from its soil.”
So, stung by rejection, the U.S. military quietly announced in May that AFRICOM will begin operations on another continent. At least for the time being, Africans successfully have kept a major foreign military command headquarters off their soil. And, instead of relying on outside military interference, the African Union will create its own peacekeeping force, called the Africa Standby Force. Plans for a “Gulf of Guinea Guard Force” also are being discussed by West African nations.
Despite this rebuff, the U.S. military remains engaged in various campaigns across Africa, all coordinated from the far-away Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, “for the foreseeable future,” in the words from the AFRICOM website .