News 2008


Africom: maybe next time

African countries refuse to let in new us military command. Base to remain in Germany


Matteo Fagotto

04. March 2008

President George W. Bush is wrapping up a week-long tour of five African countries. But not even the success of the US president's visit is enough to get Africa to change its mind about Africom. Created last October, the new US military command has decided to keep its base in Stuttgart, Germany because of the resistance of African nations to the initiative. African leaders have expressed reservations over the current US role in the world and the real aim of their mission. So there will be no new US base in Africa for now. Washington has chalked up the disagreement to a simple lack of communication.

General William Ward at the head of Africom. With Libya, Nigeria, and South Africa leading the way, African governments have listed three main reasons for their opposition to Africom on the continent: they don't want the war against terror imported to Africa, they want to maintain strategic control of petroleum resources, and they don't want the US meddling in the internal affairs of African countries. Thus far only Liberia has offered to host the general command whose principle objective, according to the US, would be to train African forces for peacekeeping missions and rapid response to humanitarian disasters. But African countries are suspicious of US claims that their intentions are entirely altruistic. They fear the US wants greater control of African oil reserves since according to projections twenty-five percent of American oil imports in 2014 will com from the Gulf of Guinea.

The US may also have an eye on competition with China, which has taken the place of the US and Europe in recent years in trade accords on the continent. Africom would also bring the continent into the global war on terror, which has left sub-Saharan Africa relatively untouched with the exception of the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in the late nineties and little else.

Military operations in Africa fell under three separate commands up until last October when Africom brought all African states together under a single command. Washington has been aware of African mistrust for some time. As a result the US hasn't pushed its agenda and decided to let the general command stay in Stuttgart for the time being. Military leaders are hoping that African countries will change their position once they see Africom in full operation. The US claims that their mission will focus on economic development and democratization of the continent, humanitarian aid and troop training, while not denying their interest in controlling the flow of crude oil to the US and clamping down on terrorism. According to General William Ward, head of Africom, the current resistance is due to a misunderstanding, the result of poor communication that led Africom officials to get the wrong message.

US President George Bush and Ghanaian President John Kufuor. African nations have shown an unusual degree of unity and focus in their opposition though there may also be other factors in play, namely the desire of so-called "heavyweight" states (mainly Nigeria and South Africa) to maintain the sphere of influence they have created for themselves with painstaking effort. The arrival on the scene of a superpower with military commands and local bases (though these exist already at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti) might very well throw a wrench in their plans.

African leaders have also expressed concern over the image that America has made for itself over the past eight years. American intervention in the Middle East has created no small amount of confusion in Africa even if African countries have on the whole been far less critical than Europeans of the outgoing American president. The success of Bush's current visit to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Ghana is clear proof. The president has offered hundreds of millions of dollars in aid while pointing to economic development and disease prevention initiatives undertaken in the past few years. Bush has studiously avoided areas of crisis and focused exclusively on so-called success stories. Perhaps Ghanaian Foreign Minister Akwasi Osei-Adjei said it best in a recent statement that confirmed the alliance between his country and the US, but stressed that American troops are not welcome since "Ghana values its sovereignty".