Ethiopian News and Views.

Africom and the new scramble for Africa

Posted 25th December 2007

By Jean Damu

The recent unveiling of Africom by the Bush administration is the clearest indicator yet of the military establishment’s continued ascendancy over the State Department in formulation and implementation of foreign policy, a trajectory that began soon after the conclusion of World War II.

The great contradiction within this trajectory is that as modern military establishments become more technological and exert greater political influence, they become less relevant to modern warfare as can be seen in Iraq, where a $3 million tank proves to be tactically worthless against a $15 IED (improvised explosive devise).

The creation of Africom also reflects contemporary concerns in Washington about the United States’ sustained access to, what many believe to be, dwindling global supplies of oil. Africom is a vital link in the huge military apparatus that provides “national security”.

Significantly, Cindy Courville, Washington’s ambassador to the African Union, formerly presided over the Africa desk at the Pentagon.

Furthermore, the long-running discussion within the Pentagon focused on Africa, most notably within the Army, suggests Africom, among other things, will be used to promote policies of “imperialist assimilation”, is predicated upon there being little if any resistance from the Congressional Black Caucus, and ultimately envisions reconfiguring the map of Africa in the interests of the U.S.

But during a recent television interview, newly minted four-star General William “Kip” Ward, the commanding officer of the Africa Command, said none of this. He placated the willingly naive interviewer, Charlie Rose, with the standard public information office nonsense.

General Ward, a man who creates the appearance of someone profoundly ignorant of anything having to do with Africa, portrayed Africom as little more than a Rotary International with guns.

Africom’s role, he said, will include working with national armies to “professionalize” their security forces, it will help keep the region free of weapons of mass destruction, will promote governance that is humane, managerially competent and accountable, will aid in providing information and warning, and will help to maintain an un-threatened natural environment.

The only problem being, these missions already are being carried out through various military organizations, most notably the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at Fort McNair and various regional alliances, such as the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative and the African Contingency Operations Training Program.

In addition to this, by the end of 2007 the U.S. will have conducted joint military training exercises with 46 of the 53 countries of Africa.

The Pentagon also operates a military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa (from which U.S. Army personnel were dispatched earlier this year to aid in the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia). It maintains an extensive military presence in Uganda. From there, various military adventures are launched in all directions including into Central Africa and Sudan. It was from Uganda that the U.S. aided in the destabilization of Rwanda, which resulted in the 1994 genocide.

It is these numerous military relationships, designed to shape African militaries into reflections and appendages of the Pentagon, from which notions of imperialist assimilation flow.

This strategy is relevant to Africa in general because colonialism left most sub-Saharan African nations with relatively weak or undeveloped modern social structures in terms of national businesses and student and trade union class sectors of the populations.

The military therefore became the dominant social institution under independence and is seen by the outside world as the class with the most political power, if it chooses to exercises it.

So why Africom and why now?

Two reasons mostly.

In February of 2007, while it apparently escaped the attention of the mainstream media, oil imports to the U.S. from sub-Saharan Africa surpassed imports from the Middle East. Therefore, major branches of the Pentagon, whose role is often to act as security guards watching over oil deliveries to the U.S., would have to be reconfigured to focus on Africa, which is now a region of vital importance to national security.

The second issue of fundamental concern to the U.S. is the rise of China as a global economic power, rampaging through Africa, consolidating oil and trade agreements there at a pace heretofore unseen and at prices unseen, allowing some African countries to shed themselves of the draconian International Monetary Fund dictates.

It has long been commonly believed the U.S. would never allow the rise of a true competitor, which it now appears China will certainly become. Economic forecasters predict China’s economy will surpass the U.S. by 2040. Africom must be seen as a major countermeasure designed to impede China’s developing relationships with African countries.

However, if there is one single reason, almost equal in weight to all the others, that can be said to explain Africom’s existence — it has to be the problematic Nigeria, the most prolific provider of Africa’s oil to the U.S., but also what the Defense Department considers to be the world’s largest failed state.

Nigeria is the keystone of the oil-producing countries that border the Gulf of Guinea, which the U.S. now considers to be its private lake. It is that vast expanse of the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa that contains some of the world’s largest reservoirs of oil and natural gas.

Nineteen African countries, most of them oil producers, stretching from Liberia in the north to Angola in the south, either border or have immediate access to the Gulf of Guinea. In 2004, California’s Chevron Corporation completed an oil pipeline that stretches from southern Chad through Cameroon to the Gulf of Guinea, a distance of 1070 kilometers.

“The Gulf of Guinea offshore is one of the most prolific hydrocarbon provinces in the world, with oil and gas discoveries of more than 10 billion barrels and tremendous potential beyond that,” said Dr. Edmund Daukoru, then president of OPEC and currently Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, speaking at a conference attended by 1200 oil industry executives and technicians last year.

The clear relationship between the creation of Africom and access to oil, natural gas, and other minerals necessary to the energy industry lends credence to the belief by many political analysts that the U.S. is in the midst of a one hundred year, and counting, war for energy.

Quiet in regard to these developments is the Congressional Black Caucus, that forum some in the Pentagon consider the most powerful grouping of Black politicians in the world. In a 1994 research paper written for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces titled “Congressional Black Caucus and American Foreign Policy”, U.S. Army Colonel Renard Marable noted that the CBC is often criticized for only getting involved in foreign affairs when a crisis arises, as in Haiti and Somalia.

The one exception to this norm is the CBC’s involvement with South Africa, but this exception exists largely because of a common language, Marable noted.

In more recent times, New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, and California Congresswoman Barbara Lee have been outspoken on Darfur, but as has been noted extensively elsewhere, suspicions abound as to the true nature of the Darfur issue and to the motives of U.S. policy in Sudan. Col. Marable also noted the CBC has never employed a foreign policy specialist to advise the caucus as a whole.

Apparently as a result of not having a sustained focus on foreign policy, specifically as it relates to Africa, with the exception of Payne, who made a brief and tepid statement of qualified criticism of Africom to Voice of America radio, CBC members have not, either individually or as a group, supported the large number of African nations that have rejected and criticized Africom’s formation.

Finally, and closely connected to the issues of Darfur and Sudan as well as much of the rest of the African continent, is the notion of military planners that many of Africa’s problems can be solved by redrawing the map of Africa.

For years, some African scholars, educated in the U.S. and with close ties to the U.S. military, such as the Brookings Institution’s Francis M. Deng, a Sudanese, have long argued that many of the nations of Africa need to be reconfigured along more logical geographic and ethnic lines.

This flies in the face of long-held common wisdom and rejects one of the fundamental underpinnings of the original Organization of African Unity, predecessor of the current African Union. That wisdom held that the national borders at the time of independence were to be inviolate.

With the granting of independence to Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, however, the deep thinkers at the Pentagon and its related think tanks took heart. This was the first time since the dawn of African independence in 1957 that a new state had been torn from an old state. Would there, could there be more to come?

In 2005 another opportunity developed when the U.S. helped broker the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan that provides for a referendum to determine whether southern Sudan, which geographically contains the majority of Sudan’s oil, shall secede from Khartoum.

Though the referendum is not scheduled to be held until 2011, already the U.S. extends to the government of southern Sudan privileges and economic benefits it withholds from the Khartoum government, a policy certain to encourage secession from the north.

If southern Sudan should follow the path of secession, as now seems likely, it is difficult to see how Sudan could not but react militarily to protect its control over the lifeblood of the Sudanese nation, the oilfields.

This then is typical of the long-range objectives of Africom, to use military power, whether U.S. or “assimilated” African militaries’, to help enforce the “democratic” restructuring of Africa, as may take place in Sudan and elsewhere, or to help bolster, by force if necessary, such vital oil producing “failed states” as Nigeria — all in the name of national security.

Source:  Tehran Times

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