AFRICOM And Modern Day Colonialism: The Precaution Yar’Adua Should Take

In 2002 the US government sought preferential access to Nigerian oil. It proposed that Nigeria leave OPEC and sell all oil to the US, with prices fixed in advance at a discounted rate. Understandably, the Nigerians declined this opportunity. Locking in exclusive oil supplies is becoming commonplace – the Chinese are doing it, so are the Americans. Global demand for oil is soaring, world oil production looks to have peaked (or is close to it), and supply is constrained by instability in the Persian Gulf and West Africa and limited refining capacity. If a country can secure large exclusive supplies at fixed prices, it gains protection, albeit temporary, from rising market prices. This necessitates some form of military involvement, particularly in volatile regions. In February 2007 US President Bush announced the formation of Africa Command (AFRICOM) which “will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to Africa”.

Earlier this month, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives held committee hearings to discuss the future of U.S. relations with Africa. The hearings largely addressed the Department of Defense (DoD), which had recently proposed sweeping changes that would accord greater attention to Africa by establishing a unified U.S. Africa Command, also known as AFRICOM, to oversee all operations of the DoD, the State Department, and USAID . Proponents of the changes argue that AFRICOM would acknowledge the increasing strategic importance of Africa to international security and would enhance the efficiency and harmony of U.S. military, diplomatic, and humanitarian operations on the continent. However, the proposal has been met with controversy and open hostility in Africa: media coverage of AFRICOM has been almost universally negative, and many heads of state have refused to host an AFRICOM staff headquarters. Despite the controversy, most Americans remain unaware of the proposed changes to U.S.-African relations, let alone their implications to the African people.

Currently, responsibility for DoD operations in Africa is divided between three commands, each of which treats African affairs as a secondary responsibility to operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This structure reflects antiquated Cold War foreign policy priorities, in which developing countries were pawns in the larger struggle for power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Diplomatic operations, under the State Department, and humanitarian operations, under USAID, are completely autonomous from DoD operations.

AFRICOM’s creation has a lot to do with US energy interests in Africa. The Gulf of Guinea has large amounts of oil, particularly Nigeria which has become an important oil source for the US. Almost a fifth of crude oil consumed in the US comes from Nigeria, and African crude could reduce US dependence on Middle East supplies. But conflict in the Niger Delta…threatens this supply. Nigerian rebels are waging guerilla war on the government and foreign companies, attacking oil installations and pipelines and kidnapping foreign workers. Last year a rebel offensive shut down 20% of Nigeria’s oil production….China’s increasing interest in Africa, aimed at securing oil, gas and mineral supplies to fuel its burgeoning economy, will also concern the US. In 2006 China agreed a $1.4 billion deal with the Angolan Government to develop Angolan oilfields….”

the US has now come clean about AFRICOM’s role. General Bantz Craddock, in charge of setting up AFRICOM, said the command will assist West African nations (particularly Nigeria, reportedly losing production of 600,000 barrels of oil a day at present) to ‘safeguard’ their oil production against rebel and terrorist attacks. Craddock rejected the idea that US troops would defend production facilities: “It’s not something we are planning. The focus here is to enable countries to improve their security of any type of production – oil, natural gas, minerals.” As history shows, there is a thin line between providing military advisers and sending in conventional forces when, inevitably, local forces are defeated by guerillas. Given Nigeria‘s increasing importance to US energy security, it is unlikely that AFRICOM will idly stand by if guerillas continue to wreck havoc on Nigeria‘s oil production.

The structure of AFRICOM, however, would reflect the centrality of the “war on terror” to twenty-first century foreign policy, particularly the belief that failed states are breeding grounds for terrorist organizations and radical regimes. Thus, in the interest of preventing such conditions from arising, the DoD believes that African economic development and political stability are integral to international security—a belief that the IIJD shares. To that end, the DoD views the integration of State Department and USAID operations into AFRICOM along with the DoD as logical, since all three seek to promote international security. AFRICOM will thus be spearheaded by a four-star general, William E. Ward, who will collaborate with a civilian official from the State Department to ensure that AFRICOM reflects the diverse policy goals of its military and diplomatic operatives. If the DoD’s plans succeed, AFRICOM will be launched in September 2008. Its staff will work closely with their African counterparts to train local troops in stability and anti-terrorism measures. Additionally, AFRICOM’s humanitarian arm will preclude future crises, such as the genocide in Darfur and the AIDS pandemic, and it will promote African integration into the global economy.* All of these operations will comply with the African Union’s regional security strategy, which supports African multilateralism and shuns unilateral foreign intervention in African affairs .

Yet critics argue that AFRICOM’s goals are unattainable, and that its mere existence violates the African Union’s commitment to African sovereignty. They believe that a major component of the “war on terror” is unrivaled American control of energy sources, particularly oil. This idea is particularly troublesome in light of the fact that most of Africa’s oil deposits lie in politically volatile countries, such as Somalia. In these cases, “stabilization” would entail propping up corrupt, totalitarian regimes and excluding the vast majority of the population.** Further, critics claim that AFRICOM would be an extension of, rather than a departure from, U.S. Cold War policy: it would seek to counter the growing influence of China in African affairs, thereby exploiting developing countries in its struggle against an emerging rival.

Third, critics argue that combining military, diplomatic, and humanitarian operations reveals the DoD’s efforts to exert control over African civilians by Westernizing African culture. This amounts to cultural imperialism, which negates the value of African culture and makes the continent a target for Islamic extremists because of its ties to the U.S. Finally, critics contend that humanitarian aid is simply a predecessor for more direct military intervention in Africa, and that the DoD’s authority over AFRICOM makes USAID’s operations even more suspect. To support their claims, the critics point to European missionaries’ role in opening Africa to nineteenth-century colonizers, as well as the U.S.’s history of supporting oppressive regimes, for example the Taliban in Afghanistan and Mobutu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in order to promote its own interests. With these concerns in mind, the African press and most governments have ardently denounced AFRICOM. Without significant African support, AFRICOM’s stated goal of working closely with local governments and people seems unrealistic.

The IIJD recognizes that the African suspicion of an organized, unilateral foreign presence on the continent is consistent with African Union policy and understandable based on colonial history. Further, the African fear of American neo-imperialism will prove justified if the U.S. uses AFRICOM to prop up corrupt regimes, such as that of Somalia, in the name of stability. If USAID efforts are completely absorbed into AFRICOM, aid workers will be associated with the U.S. military in the minds of the community members they purport to help, and the result could prove devastating to the efforts of USAID and other U.S. development organizations. Ultimately, U.S. foreign policy must be a collaborative effort with Africans; thus, AFRICOM must not be implemented without the consent of the people it claims to serve. Moreover, if it truly values economic development and political stability, AFRICOM should empower people through financing civil society, democratic institutions, and judicial reform initiatives. To do otherwise would violate the IIJD’s principle of grassroots, democratic reform and would only engender resentment from the people it claims to help.

In addition to establishing the Pentagon’s supremacy over U.S. civilian departments, AFRICOM is also designed to militarize further the continent whose humanitarian and security problems it purports to address. An A.E.I. analyst proposes that new U.S. bases “will be created in North Africa (possibly Tunisia), West (Ghana, Liberia, or Senegal), East (likely around the current U.S. taskforce in Djibouti), and southern Africa (perhaps Botswana) with a further chapter in Addis Ababa” (A.E.I., July 27, 2007).

U.S. military contingents already cover East Africa from its base in Djibouti, comprising 1,800 troops. Other strategic parts of the continent are within striking range through the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (T.S.C.T.I.) and from Egypt (which is still under Centcom). The 2002 T.S.C.T.I. enables a U.S. military presence in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The initiative was extended in 2004 to cover Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is permanently stationed in the Gulf of Aden. In all, more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers are already on the continent. The number of special services personnel hunting terrorists in different parts of the continent is a matter of conjecture. AFRICOM’s inception this year was preceded by increased U.S. naval activity in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea and establishment of a P-3 Orion aerial surveillance station in Algeria, which made Africa wary of the growing U.S. military presence and Washington‘s future intentions.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
Join the discussion

  • I am shocked to hear that African leaders are complaining that AFRICOM was created w/o their input.How can you expect someone to respect you when you depend on that person.How many African governments can create a national budget w/o a good portion coming in the form of aid?They treat us like children because WE behave and act as such!We give them the chances to want to come back and recolonize us.We Africans are completely blind and oblivious to what is happening to us and the calculations and machinations geared towards us. If that is not the case,how are we just sitting there and not pushing like mad to achieve self sufficiency?Why does Africa need foreign aid?Why are most ex-governors in Nigeria being investigated for fraud?WE AFRICANS are responsible for all the ills that has happened to us.We are ignorant of the workings of the world and very dependent on someone else other than ourselves.We must very critically look at ourselves and how our societies are structured.Unless we act respectfully and maturely and command respect,we are just anothe pawn on the chess game. So AFRICA wake up up up up………

  • what does the u.s. want again in africa? i hope that african leaders are not cowards to let bush lies become realities by creating nightmares for africa? imagine recirculing so called general william, african [american] (slave decendent) as an american agent to help white people recapture his ancessetrial home. Shame on the general; i though he learned from collen powell. Bush made him look like the real black man telling lies on behalf of white people’s future.

    for any reason must american be allow by african leaders. if americans are that creative, they should stay home and create substitute for their greeds that they are looking for in africa. you have the technologies, create all and leave africa alone. the lynch doctrines at work!