African foray

Published : Apr 06, 2007 00:00 IST

Ugandan soldiers of the African Union peacekeeping mission, trained by U.S.-NATO forces, on their way to Mogadishu. If the U.S.-led military intervention succeeds in bringing peace to Somalia, then the American oil industry will be able to cash in on a bonanza.-STUART PRICE/AFP

Ugandan soldiers of the African Union peacekeeping mission, trained by U.S.-NATO forces, on their way to Mogadishu. If the U.S.-led military intervention succeeds in bringing peace to Somalia, then the American oil industry will be able to cash in on a bonanza.-STUART PRICE/AFP

The Bush administration's new military initiatives in Africa are widely seen as being motivated primarily by the greed for oil.

AS part of its efforts to prevent the precipitous decline of Empire, the administration of President George W. Bush announced in early February the decision to create a United States military command for Africa, "Africom". Bush said that Africom would be a fully functional unit by the end of 2008. He said that the Africa command "will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa". The announcement comes after the American-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December.

The invasion toppled the government led by the Islamic Courts Union and left a trail of chaos and bitterness in a country that was on the verge of being united and at peace. There are credible reports of U.S. troops participating in special operations inside Somalia after a gap of more than a decade. The Americans provided the Ethiopian army with satellite pictures of Somali militia positions, and American planes bombed parts of southern Somalia. Seventy civilians were killed and more than a hundred wounded. More than 1,500 American troops have been based in nearby Djibouti since 2002. They played a key role in the planning and execution of the invasion of Somalia. Last year, the Bush administration announced that it was going to expand its Camp Lemonier military base in Djibouti from its present 88 acres to more than 600 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectares). Djibouti is the smallest country in the strategic Horn of Africa.

Somalia is once again in ferment thanks to the U.S.-sponsored invasion. Scenes reminiscent of the early 1990s are once again being played out on the streets of the capital Mogadishu. Somali insurgents dragged the bodies of two occupation soldiers onto the streets and set fire to them. With its ill-advised intervention in Somalia, the Bush administration has given a fillip to the militant Islamists in the region.

The Bush administration has also been interested in bringing about "regime change" in some other African countries. Sudan and Zimbabwe are high on its list. The subterfuge of "humanitarian intervention" could be resorted to in the ongoing bid for regime change. The American preoccupation with Darfur is a case in point. Darfur, which is the size of France, is known to have vast oil and gas reserves. Late last year, Sudan warned the United Nations against a "hostile invasion of Darfur". Neighbouring Chad is already exporting huge quantities of oil to the West. The U.S. is also unhappy that the oil from southern Sudan is flowing to China, India and other emerging nations. It has been backing the secessionist movements in southern Sudan.

It is, therefore, not much of a surprise that most observers of the African scene view the new military initiative of the Bush administration in the African continent as being motivated primarily by the greed for oil. Four major U.S. oil companies have exclusive concessions in Somalia. If the U.S.-led military intervention succeeds in bringing peace to Somalia, then the American oil industry will be able to cash in on a bonanza. Geologists and oil industry sources are confident that the country has huge oil and gas reserves.

Senior American officials have expressed the hope that the Gulf of Guinea on the West African coast would be able to meet a quarter of the U.S.'s oil needs within a decade. Many of the oil-producing countries in the Gulf of Guinea are afflicted with the kind of "instability" Africom wants to address. In Nigeria, oil production has been adversely affected because of the activities of separatist guerillas in the Niger Delta. A spokesman for the guerillas criticised the creation of Africom, saying that "oil is the key concern of the U.S. in establishing the African command". Other countries in the region are also facing a politically uncertain future and their beleaguered governments could always ask the Americans to bail them out.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, continues to insist that the sole aim of Africom is to counter terrorism. There are very few takers for this stance even in the U.S. One critic, Nicol Lee of Trans-Africa, a leading African-American think tank focussing on U.S. foreign policy in Africa, has described the American move as "nothing short of a sovereignty and resource grab". Lee said that the new Bush plan "is an expansion of a policy that has brought destruction and terror to the peoples of the Middle East [West Asia]".

The neoconservative-dominated American administration has always given top priority to the control of resources. Vice-President Dick Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group recommended in 2001 that the administration should "make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy". In 2002, the Bush administration released "the West Point Doctrine", which made it clear that Washington would under no circumstances tolerate the rise of economic or military competitors in the African continent or elsewhere.

Washington has been concerned by the deep inroads Chinese diplomacy and business have made into the African continent. Most of Sudan's oil now flows to China. Besides, China has invested massively in the economic infrastructure of many African countries. Chinese companies are busy prospecting for oil, gas, copper, coltan and other minerals all over Africa. Beijing, in comparison with Washington, has been generous in doling out aid. Chinese President Hu Jintao, during his recent tour of the continent, wrote off the debts that many of the countries owed to his country. Other countries such as India, South Korea and Malaysia are also interested in having a meaningful stake in the exploitation of Africa's vast mineral resources.

Before the formation of Africom was announced, the U.S. already had substantial military involvement in Africa. The U.S. supplies the Egyptian army with over $1 billion worth of military equipment annually. Two U.S. battalions are also stationed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula as part of the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. U.S. troops have also helped train anti-terrorism forces in Algeria, Chad, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and other African countries. The U.S. has spent more than $500 million on the Trans-Sahel Counterterrorism Initiative, which includes most of the countries mentioned above.

The goal of the U.S. administration, according to reports, is to set up a ring of permanent military bases on the continent that would "lock down" Africa's oil and mineral wealth from the Gulf of Guinea in the west to the Maghreb in the north to the Red Sea in the east. One of the proposed U.S. naval bases could be in the small West African island state of Sao Tome. Sao Tome, along with Nigeria, controls huge off-shore oil reserves. Washington installed a friendly ruler in Sao Tome after a stage-managed coup in 2002.

Though the quiescent leaders in the region have not yet bothered to react to the creation of Africom, many influential commentators on the continent have reacted adversely to the announcement by the Bush administration. Gamal Nkrumah (son of Ghana's first President, Kwame Nkrumah), writing in the Egyptian Al Ahram Weekly, was scathing in his reaction. He wrote that the "despicable idea" of setting up Africom was similar to the "Iran-Contra" policy, which the Reagan administration devised in the 1980s to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government in Nicaragua. He went on to say that if the African continent allowed the American plan to succeed, then the "evil minds" behind the "Contra" adventure would be allowed to run African affairs. U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and his Deputy John Negroponte played important roles in the "Contra" scandal and in subsequent crackdowns against left-wing guerillas in Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico in the 1980s and the 1990s.

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