Source: Al Jazeera
The American military’s expansion to the continent poses significant challenges to democratization and domestic security
On May 5, President Barack Obama hosted his Djiboutian counterpart, Ismail Omar Guelleh, at the White House. The two leaders signed a 20-year lease agreement for the Djibouti-based Camp Lemonnier, the biggest U.S. military base in Africa. Covering 500 acres, the installation is a crucial launching site for U.S. military operations against militant groups in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. The U.S. agreed to pay an annual fee of $70 million for the site, which now hosts more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel and civilians.
The base is a key part of Pentagon’s plans “to maximize the impact of a relatively small U.S. presence in Africa,” according to the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressional panel that conducts assessments of U.S. defense strategy and priorities. All African countries except Eritrea receive some form of U.S. military assistance, according to data from the U.S. State Department. Most of this assistance is channeled through the department’s International Military Education and Training program, which facilitates professional relationships with African militaries. The Obama administration is looking to invest in “new, effective and efficient small footprint locations and developing innovative approaches to using host nation facilities or allied joint-basing” as part of its focus on security in Africa. A handful of African nations — including Ethiopia, South Sudan, Niger, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Mali, the Seychelles and Burkina Faso — already host U.S. drone sites, shared bases and military surveillance facilities. Also, the U.S. maintains a secretive program training counterterrorism commandos in states that straddle the vast Sahara, whose ungoverned spaces provide a rear base for terrorist groups.
The Pentagon’s military footprint in Africa is indeed small compared with other parts of the world. For example, in 2012, U.S. military aid and arms sales to Africa accounted for a mere 4.25 percent of the global total. (The Near East received 67.7 percent.) These military outlays were just 5.5 percent of the $7.8 billion the U.S. allocated for foreign assistance in the African region, with health care ($5.6 billion) getting the lion’s share. Regardless of the size of the U.S. military footprint in Africa, its expansion of has serious implications for the continent’s security, the consolidation of democracy and the professionalization of its militaries as well as for respect for human rights across the region. Unfortunately, these concerns do not rank high on the Pentagon’s agenda.
U.S. Africa command
The U.S. geographic command responsible for Africa is overseen by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany. In 2009, two years after it was created, AFRICOM had an operating budget of about $400 million and more than 1,000 staffers. Unlike other similar U.S. operations, it is fully integrated with other U.S. agencies in Africa — including USAID and the State, Commerce and Treasury departments. This arrangement informs AFRICOM’s focus on a 3-D approach — defense, diplomacy and development — in the region.
At the core of the U.S. military engagement in Africa is the war against Al-Qaeda affiliates: Somalia’s Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), as well as armed groups such as Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Nigeria’s Boko Haram. To help conduct AFRICOM’s counterterrorism operations in the region, the U.S. has recruited a motley crew of African allies, including those that face direct threats from these groups. Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Ethiopia are key partners in the war against Al-Shabaab, and Niger and Burkina Faso have emerged as critical hosts of U.S. operations against AQIM. But Washington’s strategic calculations and the interests of African leaders who sign on to these arrangements do not always converge with the interests of the majority of African people.