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Synthesis/Regeneration 39   (Winter 2006)

Militarization of US Africa Policy, 2000 to 2005

by William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan

In the wake of September 11, and in keeping with its interest in securing access to oil and other key natural resources, the Bush Administration has been rapidly expanding US military involvement in Africa. While most recent increases in US arms sales, aid, and military training in Africa have been justified as part of what the administration refers to as the “Global War on Terrorism” (GWOT), oil has been a major factor in the administration’s strategic calculations from the outset. In his first few months in office, President Bush’s first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, stressed the need to improve relations with oil producing nations like Nigeria and Angola. Similarly, the report of Vice-President Cheney’s Energy Task Force stressed the importance of gaining and maintaining access to African oil resources, which US intelligence assessments expect to increase to as much as 25% of US oil imports by the year 2020.[1]

A look at last year’s Congressional Budget Justification for FY05 Foreign Operations underscores the strong pull of oil interests in Bush administration decision making. The entry on Equatorial Guinea notes that “Over the course of the past five years, US companies have invested approximately $5 billion” in the country’s oil sector. The entry for Sao Tome and Principe is more forward-looking, noting that “In the coming decade, US companies are expected to participate in the development of petroleum resources in Sao Tome’s territorial waters.” Nigeria is cited for its large oil and gas reserves, while the entry on Angola stresses the need to “help ensure US private-sector oil access to a source of 7% of US petroleum imports, a figure likely to rise in the coming years.”

…a major increase in US military exercises and training missions throughout Africa will be used to sustain a regular US presence.

Beyond oil, US military officials have cited “a growing terrorist threat” in northern and sub-Saharan Africa to justify a program of stepped up military engagement in the region. General James Jones, head of the US European command, has suggested the need to create a “family of bases” across Africa. These bases would range from forward operating locations, which would include an airfield and facilities to house 3,000 to 5,000 US military personnel, to “bare-bones” bases that US Special Forces or Marines could “land at and build up as the mission required.”[2]

These new facilities would not be considered “formal” bases like the growing US base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, which has a regular deployment of 1,800 to 2,000 troops. While new basing arrangements are being worked out, a major increase in US military exercises and training missions throughout Africa will be used to sustain a regular US presence.

Military aid, training, and sales on the rise

While the millions of dollars spent on US military aid and sales to Africa pale in comparison to the billions being expended in the Middle East and South Asia, all of the major US bilateral aid and sales programs have increased sharply in recent years. Funding to sub-Saharan Africa under the largest US military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, doubled from $12 million in fiscal year 2000 to a proposed $24 million in the FY 2006 budget proposal, and the number of recipient nations has grown from one to nine.

The Pentagon’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) program has increased by 35% from 2000 to the 2006 proposal, from $8.1 million to $11 million, and from 36 participating nations to 47. Foreign Military Sales, the largest US arms transfer program, more than quadrupled from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2003, from $9.8 million to $40.3 million. Commercial Sales (CS) of arms licensed by the State Department grew from $0.9 million to $3.8 million over the 2000 to 2003 period.

These bilateral programs are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of overall US military aid commitments going forward. The US European Command has requested $125 million over five years for the Pan-Sahel Initiative for training and exercises with Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and other nations in the region. US engagement under the program has gone far beyond traditional training to include involvement in combat operations.

Craig S. Smith of the New York Times offers the following description of the role of US forces in a 2004 operation against the Salafist terrorist organization and its leader, Ammari Saifi:

The United States European Command sent a Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft to sweep the area, relaying Mr. Saifi’s position to forces in the region. Mali chased him out of the country to Niger, which in turn pushed him into Chad, where, with United States Special Forces support of an airlift of fuel and other supplies, 43 of his men were killed or captured.[3]

Other major US military commitments include a proposed $100 million program for military and anti-terrorist training in East Africa and a $200 million pledge to train and restructure Liberia’s military forces. The first $35 million of this amount has been committed to a training program run by Dyncorps, a private military company with a mixed record in operations in the Balkans, Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to programs targeted to specific countries or regions, the ACOTA program (African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance) has received $38 million in funding over the past three years, with the stated goal of training “select African militaries to respond effectively to peace support and humanitarian crises on their continent.” Participants in the program have included Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Botswana. ACOTA is the successor program to ACRI, the African Crisis Response Initiative.

Peacekeeping or warmaking?

Increased US military operations in Africa pose a crucial dilemma. While most programs are justified in terms of anti-terror or peacekeeping missions, some of the same skills and equipment supplied for these purposes can also be applied to internal repression or conflicts with neighboring countries. There are also political and moral issues tied to increasing the role of the US military to the point where it may become the main “face” of American involvement in Africa.

Arms supplied to Nigeria, for example, may be applied to regional peacekeeping, but they could also be used in support of efforts (some directly supported by Western oil companies) to suppress dissent in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Similarly, in the late 1990s, US training for Rwandan armed forces for one purpose—to stabilize and professionalize the country’s armed forces in the wake of the genocide there—was put to use in Rwanda’s intervention in Zaire, which led to the demise of the Mobutu regime and set the stage for a multi-year civil war there in which Rwandan forces were also directly involved.

With periodic calls for US intervention to stop mass murder, from Rwanda in the 1990s to Liberia in recent years to the Sudan currently, the issue of what role the US military should play in Africa going forward needs to be subject to serious debate. Does the existing mix of military sales, training, joint exercises, and the search for informal basing arrangements better position the United States to play a leadership role in fostering effective peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and stability operations on the continent? Or is it strengthening African military forces at the expense of civil society, to the detriment of democracy and accountability? The answers to these questions may be complex, but there is no way to answer them without greater transparency and greater public discussion about US military programs and goals in Africa.

William Hartung is affiliated with the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space and World Policy Institute.

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute and the co-author of Weapons at War 2005, available online at http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/


1. Salih Booker and Ann-Louise Cogan, Africa Policy Outlook 2004, at http://www.africaaction.org.

2. Eric Schmitt, "Threats and Response; Expanding US Presence: Pentagon Seeks New Access Pacts for African Bases," New York Times, July 5, 2003.

3. "US Training African Forces to Uproot Terrorists," New York Times, May 11, 2004.

[22 feb 06]

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