Here’s a question for you: Can a military tiptoe onto a continent? It seems the unlikeliest of images, and yet it’s a reasonable enough description of what the U.S. military has been doing ever since the Pentagon created an Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. It’s been slipping, sneaking, creeping into Africa, deploying ever more forces in ever more ways doing ever more things at ever more facilities in ever more countries — and in a fashion so quiet, so covert, that just about no American has any idea this is going on. One day, when an already destabilizing Africa explodes into various forms of violence, the U.S. military will be in the middle of it and Americans will suddenly wonder how in the world this could have happened.
Over the last few days I feel I have been swimming furiously against the #Kony2012 tide. The campaign launched by Invisible Children encourages Americans to lobby American cultural icons and policy makers into putting pressure on the US government to send troops to Uganda to capture leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Joseph Kony. Without a doubt Kony deserves his place on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Most Wanted list. Under his leadership the LRA have terrorized Northern Uganda, maintaining a culture of institutionalized violence present in Uganda since its inception by the British Empire. Under the guise of spiritual conviction Joseph Kony and the LRA have waged a war that has resulted in the killing and physical mutilation of thousands and performed disgraceful acts of sexual violence including rape and recruiting young girls into sexual slavery. Abducting child soldiers into the LRA has played an important role in leveraging power in Northern Uganda and lawless border regions of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan. So far all collaborative efforts from Ugandan, Congolese, Sudanese and Central African governments and pressure from the UN, ICC and other international bodies have failed to bring Kony to justice.
The destruction of the LRA in Northern Uganda has led the region to be ostracized from relatively growing socio-economic prosperity in the South of Uganda. According to the World Health Organisation (2007) there are still an estimated 900,000 internally displaced Northern Ugandan’s with limited access to food, healthcare, water and sanitation. My maternal family is from Northern Uganda and although we are largely based in Kampala I decided to take a trip to Gulu in 2008 and I remember being taken aback by the sheer number of NGO’s operating in the region. You have NGO’s on every corner scrambling for the space in a similar manner to the way you have a Starbucks and McDonald’s on every corner in London. Behind the veneer of charity, you have real people and real communities who after a generation of civil war are in the process of rehabilitation. Kony and the LRA have not been active in Northern Uganda since 2006 and today the focus in the region is now on resettlement and reconstruction by providing access to education, psychological rehabilitation, training for young adults who were captured by the LRA as children, community reconciliation and emotional and spiritual empowerment. #Kony2012 is not a campaign that supports any of these objectives.
As a piece of neo-colonialist marketing #Kony2012 is brilliant. However, if you are concerned with accuracy and content it is disturbing. Taking Joseph Kony and the LRA outside of a national, geo-political and historical context and excluding Ugandans from the advocacy process will not end the violence of the LRA or prevent future conflicts in Uganda. What the campaign does is simultaneously appeal to the ego and the heart of the international community and gives the impression that lobbying for US military presence in Uganda (despite Kony having fled) will dismantle the LRA – just like that, magic! A Twitter user captured the campaign perfectly when he said he never thought you could blend together the Heart of Darkness and Glee. Yet, traditional responses to the war in Northern Uganda have been military action from Museveni’s government and traditionally this has failed. For example, Museveni’s Operation Iron Fist in March 2002 where he attacked LRA bases in Northern Uganda and Southern Sudan failed, leading to devastating attacks on civilians by the LRA. Recent peace in the region is considered a blessing and according to Professor Samuel Tindifa of Makerere University, requires a regionally specific solution that includes building a politically and ideologically mutually beneficial relationship between the government and the political leadership of the Acholi and Langi communities. A growing US military presence in Uganda is not on the list of needs to make the country a safer and better place. If money should be spent lobbying any government it should be on lobbying the governments of Uganda, South Sudan, DRC and Central African Republic to utilize their intelligence to capture Kony. The leadership of these governments must be held to account instead of sovereignty being outsourced to twitter and facebook enthusiasts who cannot point to Uganda on a map let alone engage with sustainable conflict resolution. The video itself does not mention Museveni which makes me question its viability as an awareness and advocacy tool.
So how many U.S. military bases are there in Africa? It’s a simple question with a simple answer. For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) gave a stock response: one. Camp Lemonnier in the tiny, sun-bleached nation of Djibouti was America’s only acknowledged “base” on the continent. It wasn’t true, of course, because there were camps, compounds, installations, and facilities elsewhere, but the military leaned hard on semantics.
Take a look at the Pentagon’s official list of bases, however, and the number grows. The 2015 report on the Department of Defense’s global property portfolio lists Camp Lemonnier and three other deep-rooted sites on or near the continent:U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 3, a medical research facility in Cairo, Egypt, that was established in 1946; Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, a spacecraft tracking station and airfield located 1,000 miles off the coast of West Africa that has been used by the U.S. since 1957; and warehouses at the airport and seaport in Mombasa, Kenya, that were built in the 1980s.
During an interview, an AFRICOM spokesman once expressed his worry to me that even tabulating how many deployments the command has in Africa would offer a “skewed image” of U.S. efforts. Behind closed doors, however, AFRICOM’s officers speak quite a different language. They have repeatedly asserted that the continent is an American “battlefield” and that — make no bones about it — they are already embroiled in an actual “war.” According to recently released figures from U.S. Africa Command, the scope of that “war” grew dramatically in 2014. In its “posture statement,” AFRICOM reports that it conducted 68 operations last year, up from 55 the year before.
Niger has given permission for U.S. surveillance drones to be stationed on its territory to improve intelligence on al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters in northern Mali and the wider Sahara, a senior government source said.
The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, the source said.
“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.
A spokesperson for the United States’ African Command (AFRICOM) declined to comment.
Who decided in 2007 that a U.S. Africa Command should be set up to begin a process of turning that continent into a web of U.S. bases and other operations? Who decided that every Islamist rebel group in Africa, no matter how local or locally focused, was a threat to the U.S., calling for a military response? Certainly not the American people, who know nothing about this, who were never asked if expanding the U.S. global military mission to Africa was something they favored, who never heard the slightest debate, or even a single peep from Washington on the subject.
Three of the dead were American commandos. The driver, a captain nicknamed “Whiskey Dan,” was the leader of a shadowy team of operatives never profiled in the media and rarely mentioned even in government publications. One of the passengers was from an even more secretive unit whose work is often integral to Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which conducts clandestine kill-and-capture missions overseas. Three of the others weren’t military personnel at all or even Americans. They were Moroccan women alternately described as barmaids or “prostitutes.”
During the past 150 years Africa has been thrust into conflict, divided, enslaved and pillaged for its natural resources Today we see the West and its allies use the guise of ‘humanitarian’ need in Africa in order successfully secure oil contracts as well as other precious rare earth minerals Through the AFRICOM mission the military has and will be used to provide the muscle for land and resource control throughout the continent we are witnessing an accelerated takeover through proxy wars and corrupt business deals this is - Neo-Colonialism
Under President Obama, in fact, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years: last year’s war in Libya; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks, and U.S. commando raids; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders. And this only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.
Africom was established under the George Bush administration, and commenced operations a few weeks before he left office. But it is under Barack Obama that Africom has truly come to life, establishing furtive but powerful bases in countries such as Uganda and Burkina Faso. However, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which hosts several thousand US personnel and is undergoing steady and speedy expansion, is the only base on the continent that Africom officially recognises as such. For its part, Djibouti is already paying the price through a spate of drone crashes.
Drones are becoming a cornerstone of Africom’s strategy, especially for enhancing spy operations across the continent. A dedicated drone base was established in Niger this year, and drones have previously been distributed to countries for “fighting Islamists”. They are just one component of a larger supply of weaponry from Africom – such as fighter planes which, they caution, should arouse the least suspicion possible: “[We] don’t want covert aircraft, just friendly looking aircraft”.
In addition, Africom is currently soliciting contractors to transport “hazardous cargo including ammunitions…smoke grenades, blasting caps, rockets, mines and explosive charges” to various countries, and regularly conducts military-to-military exercises in conjunction with African troops across the continent. As summarised by Nick Turse, who has conducted the most comprehensive investigative journalism on Africom:
“They’re involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands. And that’s just the ABCs of the situation. Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the U.S. military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion – except at U.S. Africa Command. To hear AFRICOM tell it, U.S. military involvement on the continent ranges from the minuscule to the microscopic.”
No one expects Obama to offer anything on this trip that will reverse America’s declining share of the African market. That’s because the U.S. is not in the business of fair and mutually beneficial trade – it’s about the business of imperialism, which is another matter, entirely. The Americans ensure their access to African natural resources through the barrel of a gun. So, while the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians and other economic powerhouses play by the rules of give and take, the U.S. tightens its military grip on the continent through its ever-expanding military command, AFRICOM.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan Africa Newswire, Detroit about the announcement that thousands of US marines may be deployed to Africa for combat missions.
Press TV: First of all, what is the purpose of this global realignment project, especially coupling it with the recent increase of French intervention in some African countries?
Azikiwe: It follows the same pattern that the United States has been engaging in now for some six years with the official formation of the United States Africa Command.
It represented an escalation of US military forces on the continent. They already have monumental training exercises that are taking place in various regions of Africa: joint military exercises, training exercises; in some countries they are even paying the (local) military officers as well as the soldiers.
Also, in some countries like Somalia there are several US allied military on the African continent, which are in fact operating as surrogate military forces that are serving the interests of Washington.
Over 20,000 troops are now in Somalia from Uganda, from Rwanda, from Burundi, Sierra Leone, Djibouti and other states as well. There is also a US military base Camp Lemonnier in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.