In 2007, the George W. Bush administration inaugurated the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) to further the influence of the US and extend its military reach directly into Africa. AFRICOM, however, wasn’t officially established in Africa, with its expanded troop presence and unprecedented use of drones on the continent, until Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
This October 1, the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) hosted a webinar titled “AFRICOM at 13: Building the Popular Movement for Demilitarization and Anti-Imperialism in Africa.” The event featured voices rarely heard in the US, from countries most affected by AFRICOM, including internationally-known activists for liberation and those representing the growing movement on the continent against AFRICOM.
The program started with a film by BAP exposing the imperialist aims of AFRICOM and its yearly price tag of $2 billion in Africa alone.
Guest speakers exposed the other resources required for AFRICOM’s maintenance: the cost of peoples’ sovereignty and right to self-government, in addition to the cost of inflaming humanitarian crises.
This webinar was part of a month-long effort by the Black Alliance for Peace to educate and advocate for these demands: the complete withdrawal of US forces from Africa; the demilitarization of the African continent; the closure of US bases throughout the world; and that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) oppose AFRICOM and support hearings on AFRICOM’s impact on the African continent.
“To dominate and exploit us”
Imani Na Umoja is a member of the Central Committee of the African Party of Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, the largest political party in Guinea-Bissau, which participated in its armed struggle for independence from Portugal. Umoja spoke about AFRICOM’s major role in the recent coups on the continent to ensure resources for US imperialism and deny its peoples’ right to self-determination.
US claims of promoting democracy are the exact opposite in its deeds.
“The agreements are so horrendous it makes me sick, and should make anyone sick,” said Kwesi Pratt Jr., a journalist and general secretary of the Socialist Movement of Ghana. He was referring to the establishment of US bases in Ghana and agreements signed by the government that allow US forces more immunity, freedom of movement and secrecy than its own citizens, diplomats or even the president of the country, “simply by showing their US ID cards.”
Pratt said that the agreements do not allow anyone to question what the US forces bring into or take out of the country. “The US Army can use our resources for free… the agreement was signed to dominate and exploit us.”
Irene Asuwa of the Revolutionary Socialist League of Kenya spoke further on AFRICOM’s domestic cost to her people. “The war on terror is an excuse to kidnap people,” she said, explaining the heightened profiling of Somali peoples in Kenya. “In less than 12 hours they are taken into court and sentenced as terrorists with no lawyer, then taken away.”
Asuwa also spoke about the refugee crisis that was exacerbated by AFRICOM’s insistence that refugee camps be closed. This reality belies the false claim that AFRICOM is involved in solving humanitarian crises on the continent, rather than being one of the major causes of those crises—in spite of the well-polished public relations efforts touted on the organization’s official website.
The speakers helped bring to life what award-winning journalist Nick Turse, who exposed the unreported buildup of AFRICOM in 2008, wrote for the Intercept in February 2020: “Since 9/11, the US military has built a sprawling network of outposts in more than a dozen African countries. … During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month, Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, echoed a line favored by his predecessors that AFRICOM maintains a ‘light and relatively low-cost footprint’ on the continent.
“This ‘light’ footprint consists of a constellation of more than two dozen outposts that stretch from one side of Africa to the other. The 2019 planning documents provide locations for 29 bases located in 15 different countries or territories, with the highest concentrations in the Sahelian states on the west side of the continent, as well as the Horn of Africa in the east.”
That so-called “light footprint” has had the effect of increasing, not decreasing terrorist activity.
US presence promotes terrorism
Turse continues: “Violent extremism and insecurity on the continent has increased exponentially during the very years that the US has been building up its network of bases.”
This buildup includes “persistent counterterrorism operations that include commando raids, combat by US Special Operations forces in at least 13 African countries between 2013 and 2017, and a record number of US airstrikes in Somalia (just over one attack per week in 2019),” he wrote.
The result, according to Turse:
There are now roughly 25 active militant Islamist groups operating in Africa, up from just five in 2010—a jump of 400%—according to the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Militant Islamist activity also hit record levels in 2019. There were 3,471 reported violent events linked to these groups last year, a 1,105% increase since 2009…
The situation has become so grim that US military aims in West Africa have recently been scaled back from a strategy of degrading the strength and reach of terror groups to nothing more than ‘containment.”
This also echoes a 2017 United Nations report called “Journey to Extremism in Africa,” which states that government actions of repression, including increased drone killings, killings of family members, jailings and repression are the main motivation for recruitment into extremist organizations.
Many studies have also correlated the lack of food and basic necessities of life as the greatest cause of internal conflict. The UN report makes that point with a quote from Secretary-General António Guterres: “I am convinced that the creation of open, equitable, inclusive and pluralist societies, based on the full respect of human rights and with economic opportunities for all, represents the most tangible and meaningful alternative to violent extremism.”
In 2018 the UN also reported that it would take just $175 billion per year for 20 years to eradicate poverty, not only on the entire continent of Africa, but the entire world. That’s just 17% of the US yearly military spending of nearly $1 trillion (the total expense is more than the defense budget).
So the money supposedly spent on fighting terrorism—which actually acts as a recruitment agent for folks joining extremist organizations—could be spent to actually end the conditions that create these extremist organizations. And it would have the added benefit of removing the greatest source of terrorism on the continent, the US military.
So why isn’t that happening?
Profits before people
The fact is that AFRICOM’s “war on terror,” in addition to being a vital tool for US imperialism, is also a self-perpetuating money machine for the ruling class—a huge bonanza for the military-industrial complex and the politicians and corporations who directly or indirectly benefit from it.
As Turse stated in his article on AFRICOM expansion, “The US has been building up its network of bases, providing billions of dollars in security assistance to local partners.”
As many of the webinar speakers pointed out, the primary goal of AFRICOM is to ensure the continued theft of resources by the US and its allies and to maintain US military dominance on the continent.
“In 2007 to 2009, a discovery of oil on the Congo and Uganda border of 1.7 billion barrels brought heavy militarization and oil conglomerates and then, in 2012, Obama announces troops [being dispatched] to capture Joseph Kony (leader of a small rebel grouping), although he hadn’t been in Uganda for almost six years,” said Salome Ayuak, a member of BAP and Horn of Africa Pan-Africans for Liberation and Solidarity.
Ayuak also explained that one-third of permanent and semi-permanent AFRICOM bases reside in the Horn of Africa, reflecting the strategic importance of its waterways for trade and oil exploration. “We must look at AFRICOM through a materialist lens to see the long history of its policing in African states,” she stated.
“AFRICOM is linked with the history of exploitation and slavery and is part of NATO. It must [also] be seen as part of British, French and other imperialist countries’ armed forces,” stated Kwesi Pratt Jr.
He mentioned that this history and the military backing of imperialism created the situation where Ghana’s currency drops despite the country’s position as fifth in the world in gold production. The country receives only 3% of the interest and 2% of the revenue produced from gold mining.
Militarism or mutual assistance?
Kambale Musavuli, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and national spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, stated: “The US has been engaged in the DRC since 1885. It was the first country to recognize the Congo as the personal property of King Leopold [Belgian monarch who committed the most horrendous atrocities against the native population, killing more than 10 million, in the exploitation of their labor for rubber production and export]. The US used the relationship built with Leopold to get the uranium from the DRC used to bomb Hiroshima in 1945.”
And in a further example of war crimes and genocide, Musavuli explained the role of the US and its AFRICOM partners in the 1996 and 1998 invasions of the Congo by Rwanda and Uganda—causing the deaths of over 6 million Congolese.
This was followed by a huge extraction of mineral wealth essential for phones and computers. “Most of us have devices that use those minerals,” he noted.
Musavuli also contrasted the approach of US militarism to China’s mutual assistance in the race for cobalt and coltan, minerals primarily found in the Congo. “While the Chinese sent foreign ministers in the middle of the pandemic to forgive loans and discuss needed development programs, two weeks later [US] soldiers showed up to meet local officials and sign military agreements. Then, this past summer, we see a group of American special forces in the Congo after leaving Afghanistan, supposedly going after ISIS… The US today says the DRC has ISIS, when every local person knows we don’t.”
What is to be done? Maybe Kwesi Pratt Jr. of Ghana should answer that:
“All of these atrocities would not be possible if the power was in the hands of working people in Africa. So our task first and foremost is to make sure power resides in the hands of working people, to make sure that the revolutionary forces control power, that neocolonial regimes are defeated, and we move away from neocolonialist capitalism… Only under the banner of socialism can we stop all these enemy forces—we are in danger otherwise.”
Which means that people in the US have to work towards exposing and dismantling AFRICOM, the Pentagon and capitalism in the belly of the beast—which requires principled unity, solidarity and struggle—just as our comrades in Africa are determined to keep pushing forward.
Featured image: Protest against AFRICOM in Accra, Ghana, in 2018. Photo: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images
(Internationalist 360°) by Gloria Verdieu and John Parker