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The groundswell of opposition to AFRICOM from African bloggers

At the tail-end of U.S. President George Bush’s six-day, five-country farewell tour of Africa came the announcement the Pentagon’s plans for a second U.S. military base on the continent of Africa is dead.

While the U.S. military presently houses about 1,500 soldiers in Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, the Pentagon has spent much of the past year searching various locales in Africa for a second base.

This story begins one year ago when the United States military announced the creation of AFRICOM, a separate command structure to oversee all U.S. military operations in Africa (except Egypt). AFRICOM was meant to provide the military with a more efficient approach to Africa because previous responsibility for the continent had fallen under three separate command structures.

People soon realized that AFRICOM stood for more than streamlining responsibilities. Enmeshed in AFRICOM’s DNA from day one is what the Pentagon refers to as “capacity building”: The idea that if the U.S. military can assist African nations build democratic institutions and establish good governance, some of the pockets of poverty and disorder that remain fertile grounds for terrorist groups would disappear. Also, if U.S. soldiers could work with local populations and show their softer side, it may reduce the appeal of extremism and curb Africans’ mistrust of American intentions.

U.S. soldiers training African armies is one thing. So is digging wells and vaccinating cattle for villagers. But rumors persisted that the U.S. also wanted to place a second military base on the continent. Eventually the Pentagon admitted it was searching for real estate that would allow it to better serve local soldiers, provide development work and respond quicker to crisis and contingencies. That’s when the AFRICOM program began running into problems.

For many African bloggers, a second proposed U.S. military base on the continent raised many red flags. Questions from the blogshpere flew: What exactly are U.S. interests in Africa?

For Tristen at Contrary to Authority the answer was simple: The U.S. wanted to extract Africa’s vast oil reserves.

Africa is under a new wave of exploitation, this time, instead of people, rubber and gold, it is Chinese and American interests competing for oil.

This older post from Sokari Ekine at the blog Black Looks raises many concerns Africans had about an AFRICOM base:

The question should not be whether Africa NEEDS Africom but why the US believes it NEEDS to have a military presence in Africa. We should be asking ourselves the following questions. Why does the US feels it needs a military presence in Africa? What will the US military presence consist of in terms of military hardware and numbers of personnel? How does the US intend to operate and in what circumstances will it’s forces be mobilized? In what way will the US military presence dictate or determine the price of Africa’s natural resources and who gets access to them? In what way will the US military presence infringe on the internal affairs of independent African countries and determine their foreign policy towards other AU members? How will the US military presence influence the foreign policy of independent African states towards non AU countries such as China? How will the US enhanced military presence infringe of the rights of African citizens? How will Africom impact on continental migration and the rights of the millions of Africans without citizenship and the rights of refugees?

The blog Katch Up outlines how President George Bush first moved U.S. policy towards Africa from dealing with mostly military matters and began addressing the daily concerns of many Africans, like providing functional schools and hospitals. However, when AFRICOM was proposed, Bush supplanted the interests of regular people for the welfare of his military.

Regrettably, over emphasis on militarisation has often had a boomerang effect which has begat the US more enemies that it would wish to have. Amusingly the greatest modern threat to America, terrorism, has its most effective launching pads in former US allies.

This distrust of the US has not whirled past Africa but indeed has acquired roots here, especially if you throw in the humus that is religion, and uniquely Islam. The new policy, whose worth Bush has now come to evaluate, is the latest Yankee detergent for its PR.

China won the heart of Africa with its emphasis on partnership rather than handouts. Well, handouts do feature still but partnership in trade and investment has given Beijing inroads in record time.

Between January and October 2007, Beijing made an incredible 30% jump to trail EU and US as the biggest trading partner with Africa. The time that these three have taken to position themselves as such tells you why the US is repackaging itself.

After Bush’s announcement in Accra, Ghana, the international media made it sound like he backed down from his plan in the face of criticism from African governments. In the end, only Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia invited the Americans to set up a base in her country. (During the Cold War, the U.S. military and the CIA ran a large communications station in Liberia.)

For African bloggers, however, it wasn’t just the governments who stood up for African rights, but Africans themselves. AfricanLoft, which sponsored more than a few debates on AFRICOM, asked its readers to weigh in on Bush’s statement.

It is a triumph for Africa that African countries held fast, writes Xcroc, who blogs at Crossed Crocodiles, but he warns:

However, AFRICOM can still do most all of what Bush has in mind without an HQ on the continent. Still, it shows they did not plan, and they did not take their target into account, and at least this far, they failed.

The Bush intention with AFRICOM has been to use mercenaries, to train African militaries to act as surrogate. And by “partnering” and training, get to know their strengths and weaknesses, in case of fighting with, or against them in the future. They don’t need an HQ on the continent to do this.

Ayo, the Care Taker at African Loft has this to say:

As much as I like the US, I feel their timing was off. The war on Iraq is an eye-sore and no amount of PR can erase the fact that there isn’t any basis for the war. Also, there wasn’t enough “back-room” consultation before the idea was make public, and this is somewhat strange given how the US is perceived worldwide. Now it’s up to the next administration to make the decision; we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

Bobby writes this:

Perhaps, as I have been saying all along, they are waiting for the country(ies) they want the HQ to be based in to stabilize before they make any announcements.

The sad thing about it is that the people who make the US foreign policies always seem to dismiss the interests of those foreign countries as though it won’t hurt the US in the long term.

Sokari, who blogs at Black Looks (from above), instructed readers at African Path that the fight against AFRICOM is not over. People need to keep the pressure on.

The about turn by the US government can be seen as a small victory for African sovereignty and the continents refusal to be drawn into America's “War on Terror” agenda which is being used as a cover for protecting US commercial interests, such as oil, across the globe. Nonetheless, the Command still exists and can be mobilized at short notice and as this report shows – “AFRICOM heads for the Gulf of Guinea“. The questions I raised above should still raise concerns amongst African citizens and Civil Society organizations should continue to pressurize their respective national governments and the African Union, to address the questions.

Also from African Path, here is a comment from Shaft

Let there be democracy in Africa, and let Africans do business withanyone that is willing to do business with them. What Africa need is not another militaristic institution, but businessmen willing to invest in Africa. Africans with their country and resources and anyon else with their money can raise the African's living standard. I am glad that President George W. Bush finally realized that it is not in the interest of Africa and America to have a militaristic institution stationed in Africa preventing democracy from sprouting and flourishing.

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