President Obama’s trip to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa is an ongoing PR campaign to boost American interests in the continent. Specifically, the Obama’s weeklong soiree will touch three countries that are significant in AFRICOM’s quest for influence and clout.
AFRICOM has long searched for a permanent home in the continent, but has yet to receive a host offer. Though the mission is currently based in Stuggart, Germany, and officials claim they have no desire to move the base, recent events such as the newly established drone base in Niger would suggest otherwise.
The Obama’s first stop is Senegal, a West African nation which strategically sits reasonable distance from Europe, North Africa, the Sahel, a region which American officials have touted as a terrorist hot spot , and the Gulf of Guinea, which recently has been the recipient of US counter-narcotics efforts. The nation has been friendly to AFRICOM in the past, hosting conferences and highly publicized military meetings and events over the past few years.
Next, they will travel to South Africa, which has been quite resistant to AFRICOM. The nation has repeatedly criticized AFRICOM’s efforts to set up home-base in the continent, and as pledged not to host US troops. And lastly, the Obamas will head to northeast to Tanzania, who has not offered to host a US base, but has been very open to AFRICOM and opportunities for “partnership.”
So what does this mean for the US and for Africa?
First, it means a continued insistence on the mythical homogeneity of the African continent, and as long as the US continues to treat the continent as a country, people will suffer.
Second, anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Guinea could be read as a shifting focus on the War on Drugs. Long deemed a failure in North and South America, US narcotics enforcement, in order to maintain their jobs and reputation, must now shift their gaze elsewhere.
Third, it means AFRICOM is here to stay. The Obama’s trip ought not be read as a good-faith family vacation, but as an olive branch to nations which the US has deemed exploitable for American interests. In the next few years we can expect to see a continuation of the military’s lily-pad effort, as well as increased “humanitarian” partnerships with USAID and local governments. These partnernings deserve ongoing critique and questioning from people on both ends, and an increased resistance to the American militarization of the African continent.