US: AFRICOM’s campaign for a foothold in Southern Africa

US Military in the region

By Felix Njini, Southern Times, April 10, 2012

Windhoek – Washington’s “hunt” for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group, is a sideshow masking America’s intention to fulfil a long-held dream to gain a foothold in the DRC’s minerals sector.

An analysis of America’s Africa policy shows that it is premised on an axis of three strategic interests: securing minerals, off-setting Chinese economic and political influence, and moving its African Command (AFRICOM) from Stuttgart in Germany to the continent.

The “humanitarian” card is the pivot, with Washington’s propaganda machinery being deployed to justify America’s increasingly bellicose attitude towards the continent.

At the centre of America’s strategic interests are oil in East Africa and the vast mineral potential in the DRC, which would by implication give the US a significant foothold in Southern Africa.

Analysts say the LRA has been reduced to a rag-tag unit and does not warrant the kind of military and financial resources the US is dedicating, along with France and Britain who have been silently active in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. The US already has more than 2 000 troops at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti to combat “terrorism and piracy”. America also has agreements with Gabon, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia for use of local military bases, dubbed “lily pads”, as and when required.

The “hunt” for Kony has given the US an opening to penetrate the DRC as the LRA leader is said to operate fluidly across the borders with Uganda and Rwanda.

Crucially, both Rwanda and Uganda were central players in the last war in the DRC.

And now a Bill has been introduced in the US Congress to garner support to expand the forces which are “pursuing” Kony.

The Bill calls for “enhancing mobility, intelligence and logistical capabilities for partner forces engaged in efforts … to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony”; and to expand “physical access and telecommunications infrastructure to facilitate the timely flow of information and access for humanitarian and protection actors”.

Minerals’ Achilles Heel

The DRC represents the “big prize” in Africa, with an estimated mapped mineral endowment worth US$24 trillion.

The minerals include cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, tantalum, niobium, gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, tin and iron ore; all of which are central to America’s twin industrial and military expansion interests.

America’s interest in strategic minerals in the region has been detailed over the years.

A 1982 US Congressional Budget office report “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral”) concludes that cobalt alloys are critical to aerospace and weapons industries and that 64 percent of global supply is in DRC’s copper heartland of Katanga, which stretches into northern Zambia.

Cobalt has not been mined in the US since 1971 and despite being the world’s largest consumer of the mineral, America is 100 percent reliant on imports.

“At present, the US produces no cobalt. Thus, aside from cobalt stockpiles and the recycling of used materials, the US is completely dependent on imports.

“This gives rise to two kinds of vulnerability. The first is essentially military in nature; the possible need to wage a war in the absence of foreign supplies of cobalt.

“The second is economic: the effect on the economy of a disruption in foreign supply with an attendant sudden increase in price,” the report says.

President Barack Obama, then still a Senator, in 2006 acknowledged the DRC’s importance to America’s long-term interests.

And not everyone has been fooled by the “humanitarian” card.

Writes Nile Bowie for the Canada-based Gobal Research: “The concept of US intervention into the DRC, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Uganda under the pretext of disarming the LRA is an ultimately fraudulent purpose.”

Bowie says the LRA, which has been around for some 20 years, is weak “with approximately 400 soldiers”.

He adds that not a single verified LRA attack has been reported in Uganda since 2006.

Bowie says that while Kony is indeed a villain, the LRA threat is overstated and “wholly misrepresented in recent pro-intervention US legislation”.

“An increasing US presence in the region exists only to curtail the increasing economic presence of China in one of the most resource and mineral-rich regions,” Bowie says.

He points out that it is in fact Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni who should be blamed for the LRA’s existence after “a campaign of genocide against the Acholi people”.

Most LRA members have been drawn from the Acholi.

Quoting figures from the Red Cross, Bowie says Museveni has displaced more than 1.5 million Acholi and killed at least 300 000.

A 1992 Amnesty International report accuses Museveni of “exerting a campaign of state sponsored terror onto the Acholi people”.

“The US is currently mobilising public opinion in favour of a greater US presence in Africa, under the pretext of capturing Kony, quelling Islamist terrorism and putting an end to long-standing humanitarian issues,” Bowie says.

“The further consolidation of US presence in the region is part of a larger programme to expand AFRICOM through a proposed archipelago of military bases in the region.

“The push into Africa has more to do with destabilising the deeply troubled DRC and capturing its strategic reserves of cobalt, tantalum, gold and diamonds… The ostensible role of the first African-American US President is to export the theatresque war on terror directly to the African continent, in a campaign to exploit established tribal tensions along tribal, ethnic and religious lines.”

Security for whom?

Since 2006, Washington has made a concerted push to permanently house AFRICOM in Africa.

The US believes 2012 is the year that dream becomes a reality.

In 2010 Peter Pham, a neoconservative African policy “expert” and US military advisor, said Africa was a “neglected stepchild” of Washington’s foreign policy.

“Myself, and a few other academics had been kicking around the idea of a combatant command for Africa since the late 1990s, without much success.

“When the (George W) Bush administration suddenly saw these ungoverned spaces as a cause for concern, I thought, if you are looking for ungoverned areas, porous borders and weak states, then look no further than Africa.

That created a buzz,” Pham said.

The following year, Pham told the US Congress: “This natural wealth makes Africa an inviting target for the attentions of the People’s Republic of China, whose dynamic economy, averaging nine percent growth per annum over the last two decades, has an almost insatiable thirst for oil as well as a need for other natural resources to sustain it.

“It seems AFRICOM is off to a strong start as the opposition to China in Africa.

“The litmus test will be who Obama selects as his Africa person and whether he tries to weaken Congo President Joseph Kabila in favour of backing Nkunda’s death squads, naturally in the name of ‘restoring democracy’.”

And then in July last year, as reported by The Southern Times, a US Congressional Research Service paper for members and committees said AFRICOM would have an African home in 2012.

The paper (“AFRICOM: US Strategic Interests and the Role of the US Military on Africa”) was presented by Lauren Ploch, an American “expert” on African Affairs.

She said, “A decision on AFRICOM’s final headquarters location has been postponed to 2012 to allow the command to gain greater understanding of its long-term operational requirements.”

The “humanitarian” card has already been used to deploy military in Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, East Africa and the Horn of Africa in the last year alone.

All eyes are now on the DRC.

However, Lysias Dodd Gilbert and Christopher Isike – doctoral candidates at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa – have said the “humanitarian” card is too small to conceal resource greed.

In a research paper titled “USAFRICOM: Security for Whom?”, which they co-authored with Ufo Okeke Uzodike (Associate Professor of International Relations and head of the School of Politics at KwaZulu Natal University), they said: “Can a military command of an imperial power be truly as benign and contributive (socially and economically) as suggested by the American declarations about AFRICOM?

“Why did Africa suddenly become an area of ‘vital interest’ to the US deserving the creation of a full-fledged military command?

“Was AFRICOM established for the development, and alleviation of vulnerabilities and human security challenges in Africa or was it created for the pursuit of US hegemonic and state centric security interests?

“A cursory understanding of the imperialistic and hegemonic inclinations of the US explains vividly the reasons why AFRICOM was established.

“Put simply, AFRICOM was introduced to further America’s national security objectives …

“(T)he US has demonstrated increased readiness to use its power unilaterally in pursuit of its national interests as evidenced by its invasion of Iraq despite non-endorsement by the UN.

“…. AFRICOM was unilaterally created for the furtherance and consolidation of US strate-centric security interests but packaged in human security paraphernalia for the twin purpose of credibility and acceptability by African statesmen.”

The Host

So which African country will host AFRICOM?

The sudden and inordinate interest in East Africa and the DRC could provide a clue.

The AU cannot bar member states or regional groupings from hosting AFRICOM, Colonel Tanki Mothae, director of the Organ on Security at the SADC Secretariat in Botswana told The Southern Times.

He said though SADC had effectively slammed the door on AFRICOM, the US was negotiating with some African countries to hose the military base.

“In SADC we are not ready to host AFRICOM but I know that there is some consultation and negotiations all over Africa for a base for AFRICOM.

“But in the SADC region, we haven’t had any information of a country willing to play host,” Col Mothae said.

“Whatever happens depends on the individual countries’ or some might chose to agree at regional level and if they wish to share the information with their African counterparts, they can but they are not compelled to.”

Disdain for AFRICOM is not shared by all African countries.

“As you know, Africa is Africa, there are … individual interests everywhere,” Col Mothae said. America is likely to use existing bilateral military training programmes it has with African countries to get a home for AFRICOM.

The US has a Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa; International Military Education and Training with virtually all African countries including several in SADC; and the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Programme.


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