US Drones Over Africa

Drones Over Africa

Farirai Machivenyika and Mabasa Sasa

The US wants a drone base established in Africa to complement the activities of the 3 500 troops that it will deploy to the continent this year.

The troops – to be deployed to 35 African countries ‑ will come from the 2nd Brigade’s Heavy Combat Team of the First Infantry Division, according to the Pentagon, America’s apex military headquarters.

Indications are that the drone base will most likely be in Niger, while another possible site is Burkina Faso.

The US already has a permanent military base in Djibouti, and it has been revealed that The Seychelles – a SADC member state – already gave America facilities to launch Reaper drones from its territory for attacks on Somalia as far back as 2009, along with Ethiopia.

The Seychelles left SADC in 2004, applied to rejoin in 2008 and was by 2009 allegedly hosting the American military, with that country’s President, James Michel, reportedly even wanting to hold “some kind of appropriate ceremony … for the first flights”.

But American military proliferation in Africa extends far beyond The Seychelles, however. And this despite public claims by all continental leaders, except Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, that they will never host the US military.

A fortnight ago, the US signed a Status-of-Forces Agreement with Niger, which provides the foundation for establishment of Northwest Africa’s proposed drone base.

Seth Jones, a former Pentagon advisor has said the agreement “would provide a US foothold, a launching pad, in the region”.

“The US and France are moving to create an intelligence hub in Niger that could include a base, near Mali’s border, for American drones that could monitor al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali’s vast desert north…” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The publication adds that the US is looking at establishing more bases in other parts of Africa.

As a component of US Army “Africa regionally aligned force concept”, American military personnel will this year cultivate stronger ties with all countries on the continent – except for Eritrea, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

These three represent the only remaining countries without some sort of solid agreement to co-operate directly with the US military, though there are indications that overtures are being made to bring these into the fold of “co-operating” nations.

Conquering the Last Frontier

The Army Times news service quoted Major-General David Hogg saying Africa represented the “last frontier” for the US Army.

And much of  that frontier, it seems, has already been conquered.

Apart from the ties with The Seychelles, Niger and Ethiopia, African countries are queuing up to curry US favour.

Another SADC member, Tanzania, will this year have “more than 20 engagements” with the US military, up from three in 2010.

America’s Maj-Gen Rob Baker, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), said: “It’s pretty significant that they are trying to develop a military relationship with the US,” adding that Dar es Salaam has traditionally been aligned to China and North Korea.

CJTF-HOA is based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and oversees American military interests in Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, The Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. It has 1 800 troops.

The US military routinely has engagements with a phalanx of African countries, through exercises such as “African Lion”, “Flintlock”, “Alas Accord” and “Phoenix Express”.

There were at least 12 major operations in Africa in 2012, including:

·        “Cutlass Express” in the Somali Basin region;
·        “Africa Endeavour 2012” in Cameroon;
·     “Obangame Express 2012” in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea;
·       “Southern Accord 2012” in Botswana;
·       “Western Accord 2012” in Senegal

Furthermore, US National Guard units are often sent to countries such as South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Tunisia, Nigeria and Liberia on “exchanges”.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) commander, Gen Carter Ham, has said he has been to 42 African countries, including to Botswana late last year.

In addition, the US is establishing what it calls “lily pads”, which are non-permanent bases from which its air force can land, take off and refuel.

Apart from such facilities in The Seychelles and Ethiopia, others are housed in Kenya, the Central African Republic, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, while reports indicate a lily pad is being planned for South Sudan.

Add to this the significant military ties that the US already has with Algeria, Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Sao Tome, Sierra Leona, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, and just about the entire continent is ready for AFRICOM’s long-delayed arrival.

Further, AFRICOM has military liaison officers at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia and the ECOWAS HQ in Nigeria, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, and the International Peace Support Training Centre in Kenya.

Why Now?

The question to ask is why has the US suddenly increased its interest in securing a military foothold in Africa?

Until 2007, there was no US military structure focused on Africa. AFRICOM was created in February 2007 by former president George W Bush, but African countries refused to host the structure, with only Liberia saying it was amenable to the idea.

But since then, African leaders appear to have softened to the idea and it now appears only to be a matter of time before AFRICOM finds its home on the continent.

A cocktail of factors could be behind this; primarily the fear of offending the US while also currying its favour, economic pressures, and US “diplomacy”.

In the case of The Seychelles, it has been said: “The dependence of the country on foreign currency is total. Unable to think of any form of development or at least self-centred to a diversification of sources of economic input to the government authorities the defense of luxury tourism becomes vital, at the cost of accelerating the transfer of islands and islets to individuals and give way for the US militarisation of the archipelago.”

The US on its part is eager to secure its interests.

A Congressional Research Service report notes: “In spite of conflict in the Niger Delta and other oil producing areas, the potential for deep water drilling in the Gulf of Guinea is high, and analysts estimate that Africa may supply as much as 25 percent of all US oil imports by 2015.”

The report quotes a US Defence Department official saying: “…a key mission for US forces (in Africa) would be to ensure that Nigeria’s oil fields … are secure.”

Africa is now a vital oil producer, and there is contestation for access to this resource.

Dr J Peter Pham, an advisor to the US State and Defence departments, says the American military’s primary objectives centre on “protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance”.

He has said: “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.

“China is currently importing approximately 2.6 million barrels of crude per day, about half of its consumption … roughly a third of its imports come from African sources … perhaps no other foreign region rivals Africa as the object of Beijing’s sustained strategic interest in recent years..”

William Engdahl adds that US military activities in Africa are a direct response to the inroads China has made in its economic relations with the continent.

“Alarm bells went off in Washington in October 2006 when the then Chinese President Hu Jintao hosted an historic Beijing summit, the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC), which brought nearly fifty African heads of state and ministers to the Chinese capital.”

China’s trade with Africa reached US$166 billion in 2011, according to statistics from Beijing, and African exports to China – primarily resources to fuel industries in the Southeast Asian country – rose to US$93b from US$5.6b over the past decade.

Author Patrick Henningsen says the “convenient excuse” for American military presence in Africa in the short term will be to “stop the spread of Islamic extremist, but as history has witnessed, this is merely a superficial justification for a comprehensive military and economic colonisation of the region over the next two decades”.

He says, “Ironic that it would be America’s first ‘black’ President who would reside over the takeover of Africa. Expect more US bases to come in the near future, as well as more violent civil wars popping up regularly in the region.”

Award-winning investigative writer John Pilger believes “a full-scale invasion of Africa is under way”.

“Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century, the US African Command has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments. Last year, AFRICOM staged Operation African Endeavour, with the armed forces of 34 African nations taking part, commanded by the US military.”

Attorney Mark Fancher, who writes on American military activities in Africa, says, “Africans are well advised to react to the presence of US soldiers in their countries as they would to termites in their own homes.

There might be no immediate observable harm, but over time the structure will be irreparably damaged and may even collapse.”

The Resist AFRICOM movement concludes its take on the matter saying: “Though US interests will be protected and emboldened (through deployments) in the face of growing investments from China, the continent will be bled dry, poverty will increase, and it will become even more dependent on the United States.”

Africa and the New Colonialism of the Continent