AFRICOM in the Guardian and the Gulf of Guinea

There was good coverage in the Guardian last week with a piece by Mmanaledi Mataboge who was apart of a South African group of journalists who were invited to the AFRICOM base in Germany as part of what I call a wine and dine affair, Mataboge fondly termed a “media charm offensive,” and what was officially titled a “public relations event”. Some highlights:

In every discussion the message is delivered on point, and comes in no uncertain terms: the US is “in Africa by invitation; we don’t impose ourselves on the continent” and “we believe in partnership instead of a unilateral action”.

Mataboge rightly calls this statement out:

Back home, though, nobody seems to be buying what Africom is selling. If the South African government had a choice, US troops would not be camping anywhere in Africa.

“We are opposed to militarisation of African politics through the establishment of military bases in Africa as part of the US’s Africom initiative,” reads an ANC paper presented by its international relations subcommittee at last December’s Mangaung congress. “We have to play an active role in African networks campaigning against Africom.”

At its policy conference in June last year the ANC resolved to lobby African countries in opposing Africom, calling on the US and military organisations like Nato to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of fellow African countries. It noted that the Africom programme is more than just the building of American bases on the continent but rather the involvement of US and Nato military on African soil, either through the prosecution of the so-called “war on terror” or through “promotion of democratisation”.

Which, of course, is why we are all here. The US government wants us to see it their way.

Originally the media group was told that AFRICOM has no plans to permanently move their base:

Another official stresses that Africom is comfortable being headquartered in Germany: “If you move Africom to the continent I think it would regionally and continentally send the wrong message. We’re not looking at any place in Africa for location. We’re very effective here. Travelling to Africa is not so bad.”

A bit later they got a different story:

“I don’t think there are long-term plans for a military base in Africa, but there are talks,” says one official. “It’s really more about access. It’s a long distance from here. We really need to have partners who can invite us to operate from their country.”

Ummmm….

After base tours and many meetings, most of which were on the record, Mataboge leaves unconvinced:

We leave Stuttgart on Friday with lots of information and only a handful of quotes that we can attribute to an actual name. Despite that, it’s obvious the Americans are doing their best to be seen as the good guys. But the jury is still out on whether African politicians will buy into it.

Regardless of whether or not AFRICOM is “officially” looking into establishing a permanent central command on the African continent, they are certainly making moves. Last week 550 Marines were deployed to Southern Spain. This week there are reports that the US is upping their anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Guinea, which hugs the coast of West Africa. Analysts are speculating ties between piracy and funding of groups like Al Qaeda In the Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Openness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). If these connections are true, this leaves AFRICOM plenty of excuse to continue their mounting presence. Moreover, in addition to the new drone base in Niger, troops in Mali, and the folks in Spain, AFRICOM is positioned to move in from both up and below.

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