What U.S. Imperialism is Up to in Africa While No One’s Watching

Eileen Whitehead
What U.S. imperialism is up to in Africa while no one’s watchingA U.S. soldier loads ammunition cans for a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back of a Marine CH53 at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. | Jason Straziuso / AP

It is almost impossible to find out any news of what is happening in Africa. It’s as though the continent is completely off the media’s radar, yet what is happening there will have consequences for the whole world. The reason why this region is subjected to so much political meddling needs to be understood.

The Horn of Africa consists of eight countries: Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia. These countries are victims of international interventions and interference that is causing extreme destabilization in the region, from Djibouti and Eritrea to Somalia and Ethiopia. Western imperialists continue to support dictators and block any attempt at independence, while the Western-backed Gulf States are transforming the region into a battlefield against not only Iran but each other.

At the end of the Cold War, principal power groups in the U.S.—driven by hegemonic ambitions and impulses—set out to shape and consolidate a unipolar world that would operate under their “guidance.” Their scheme involved segregating the world into spheres of influence that would be controlled through handpicked surrogates or “anchor” states. The primary causes of the global and regional crises that prevail today can be put down to this misguided policy perspective and the distress we see in the Horn of Africa is testimony to this state of affairs.

This region is of geopolitical importance—hence the U.S. interference. The Republic of Djibouti is located on the African shore of the Red Sea, at the southern entrance of the important waterway which passes through the Suez Canal in Egypt. This tiny state is nestled between Ethiopia with more than 110 million people, Somalia with more than 15 million, and Eritrea with more than six million.

Although one of the world’s smallest countries, Djibouti currently hosts more U.S. military personnel than any other African nation. Roughly 4,000 U.S. military personnel on the continent are temporarily deployed to Djibouti and have been there for years. Camp Lemonnier there is the only permanent U.S. base in Africa and serves as a key outpost for surveillance and combat operations against al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the region. It is interesting to note here that the U.S. has made no objections to Sudan providing troops in support of the murderous Saudi intercession in Yemen.

Though Djibouti is a point of particular concentration, the U.S. has a military presence in virtually every African nation. According to June 2021 figures from the Pentagon, most nations have at least a handful of active-duty personnel temporarily deployed to them. The U.S. strategy in Africa is mainly to equip African forces and help allies like France abroad to build those nations’ security capacities and stabilize the region.

The strategy doesn’t appear to be working.

The country with the second most U.S. military personnel deployed to it is Niger, with roughly 800, followed by Somalia, Djibouti’s neighbor, with roughly 400 U.S. military personnel, and Cameroon hosts 100 U.S. military personnel.

Some of the key ramifications of the U.S.’s misguided policy are:

  • infringement on the sovereignty of peoples and nations;
  • flagrant breach of international law;
  • interference in internal affairs of other countries;
  • a resort to intimidation and the logic of force;
  • inducing paralysis of regional and international forums to render them susceptible to domination;
  • invoking crises, conflicts, and polarization in order to manage the resulting chaotic situation;
  • increasing attitudinal and cultural norms of demonization, condemnation, sanctions, punishment.

Add to these global policies other deleterious regional and domestic policies such as ethnic polarity, corruption, fundamentalist extremism, and terrorism. We see the immense damage in the Horn of Africa both collectively as a region and in each country.

The U.S. government’s political posturing toward Africa has a history of turning into fatal consequences for African peoples. A decade ago, several of the same individuals who now hold positions in the Biden administration were accomplices in the U.S.-led NATO decimation of Libya.

This was “rationalized” under the guise of protecting “pro-democracy” activists from the supposed threat of massacre by Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi, but it was actually because Libya posed a threat to its geostrategic interests. The United States and its NATO allies killed and maimed thousands of Libyans, with U.S. leaders (like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) taking special satisfaction in the sadistic video recording of Gaddafi’s murder.

The United States and its EU-NATO allies have no genuine concern for the African lives in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, or anywhere else. Their only concerns are solely reflective of their geopolitical interests. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, these are:

  • to control or have undue influence over the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a chokepoint critical to securing global energy;
  • to challenge the robust presence of China; and
  • to impose U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the only country left in Africa that has evaded its control—Eritrea.

Africa is underdeveloped and destabilized because of centuries of European colonialism and decades of U.S. and Western European neo-colonialism, not for internal and domestic factors alone, as the propaganda tries to make us believe.

As it did against Libya, U.S. imperialism is spreading disinformation and misinformation to exploit and distort the complexity, historical context, and political realities in the Horn of Africa to create the pretext for more direct intervention. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on May 23, 2021, stated in a press statement:

“Should those responsible for undermining a resolution of the crisis in Tigray (Ethiopia) fail to reverse course, they should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community. We call on other governments to join us in taking these actions.”

Professor Amina Mama, director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program at the University of California, Davis, in a recent interview, said that “militarization, violent conflict, civil wars, military rule—and all the invidious and pervasive political, social, cultural, and economic effects of military institutions, discourses, and practices—are significant obstacles to Africa’s progress towards democratization, development, and gender justice.”

There needs to be a just peace with genuine security demands and a strategy to demilitarize the region. Cultures need to be developed that transform the destructive legacies of militarism currently permeating African societies at so many levels. This is impossible while U.S. bases criss-cross the continent.