By Alade Fawole
President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent request for the US government to consider relocating the command headquarters of its Africa Command (AFRICOM), currently based in Stuttgart, Germany to Africa, is truly regrettable. President Buhari reportedly made this request at a virtual meeting he held with US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, on Tuesday, April 27. After reviewing the dire security situation facing Nigeria and other neighbouring countries, President Buhari then concluded that “… considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM Headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the theatre of operations.”
Although Nigeria was not specifically mentioned as the country being proposed to play host to AFRICOM’s headquarters, it is reasonable to assume that President Buhari most probably had Nigeria in mind, since he is neither elected nor mandated to speak for or behalf of any other sovereign country or even the African.
To be candid, asking for foreign help in the face of our daunting security challenges, as the government has been advised to do by well-meaning Nigerians, is not the same thing as literally begging the US to relocate its AFRICOM headquarters to Africa. We need to be specific in the type of the technical assistance we require without begging to be re-colonized.
First, US troops never fight for any country, only for America’s national interests! Second, the US has no history of solving problems in any country or region, and examples abound – Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Niger, Chad, Somalia, to mention a few. In Mali for example, the same Special Forces that the US trained for counter-insurgency operations later overthrew the government of that country in 2012.
Third, the US already has scores of known and clandestine AFRICOM military bases all over the continent anyway, so the headquarters only coordinates and gives directives to the operations of the troops on the ground. Nick Turse, who for several years, has closely monitored US military activities in Africa, has asserted that “the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil of secrecy about much of the Command’s activities and mission locations, consistently downplaying the size, scale and scope of its efforts.”
Apart from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti which is well known, AFRICOM’s clandestine activities and war-fighting have been going on for many years in several countries around Nigeria – Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger Republic, Chad; so what additional benefits will our hosting the headquarters confer? What benefits have accrued to Africa since President Bush junior declared America’s unilateral Global War on Terror (GWOT) and by it deployed thousands of troops on the continent, from Pan-Sahel Initiative, to the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative, to Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans-Sahara (OEF-TS)? AFRICOM is only the permanent one. Truth be told, all these military initiatives are directed at achieving a single purpose: keeping America safe. Any other activity is merely tangential or incidental to the central mission.
A casual look at AFRICOM’s Mission Statement shows clearly that it “counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthens security forces and responds to crises in order to advance US national interests and promote regional security, stability and prosperity.” (Emphasis mine). It is clear that its objective is primarily the advancement and defence of US interests, i.e., merely another instrument of US foreign policy. No one can blame America for this, but Africans need not become starry-eyed that US military presence on our soil would ever serve our national interest.
In what ways have America’s serial military initiatives mentioned above and AFRICOM ever benefited Africa? America’s involvement in Africa since the early 1960s —— Congo, South Africa in support of apartheid, Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Somalia —— have never benefited Africans. They accomplish their national objective, they pack and go, leaving the countries to bear the brunt of their destructive activities, for America is never interested in nation-building. Iraq, Afghanistan are recent emblematic cases.
America’s formal military intrusion into Nigeria first came with the MPRI counter-insurgency training programme under President Olusegun Obasanjo. It was on the strength of opposition to it that then army chief, General Victor Malu, lost his commission, for it was never intended to benefit Nigeria. President Jonathan had to terminate it as it became obvious that America was simply using it to spy on Nigeria. I wrote in article titled “Nigeria, ‘Shine Your Eyes’: America is not Your Friend!” (Nigerian Tribune, December 2014) that US military officials in the so-called training team might have been implicated in the unprecedented spate of mutinies in the Nigerian Army during the period. I believed then that this allegation was not far-fetched, after all, “it was the same Malian army that the US also trained that in similar counter-insurgency methods that eventually overthrew the democratically elected government of Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012 towards the tail end of its tenure, and threw that hapless country into the crisis from which it has yet to recover.”
Has anything changed in America’s interests in Africa to warrant us begging Washington to recolonize us?
Why is Nigeria, the country that had risked so much for Africa, stood stoutly and proudly and inspired other African states against US military presence, now the one practically begging for America’s military occupation of the continent? President Buhari’s request vitiates Nigeria’s self-sacrificial defence of African interests since its independence, and calls into question its leadership role. Let us not forget that the original decision not allow AFRICOM to be based anywhere in Africa was predicated upon reasoned analysis by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in consultation with other critical stakeholders at the time. Repudiating that logically derived position now that Nigerian government seems helpless in the face of unrelenting domestic and geopolitical insecurities is unfortunate and retrogressive. I doubt if the decision is a product of consultations as the earlier one was, and therefore appears rather whimsical and a jittery reaction to the government’s inept handling of our domestic challenges.
The pertinent question now is: will the other countries which had followed Nigeria’s lead by not accepting AFRICOM to be based on their soil continue to repose sufficient confidence in its leadership on important African issues?
Frankly speaking, the federal government should perish the thought. We can ask for foreign assistance from wherever we can get them without pretending that only the US has the magic wand against geopolitical insurgencies plaguing West-Central Africa.
Apart from its symbolic value of demonstrating that Africans have formally and enthusiastically accepted AFRICOM, there is little that relocating of its headquarters to an Africa country would add to the operational capabilities and efficiency of US forces that have been operating both overtly and clandestinely unhindered across the continent for decades. Vast improvements in the efficiency of the mechanisms of intelligence gathering, modern communications and logistics, have made geographical distances no longer a hindrance. For example, the distance of command headquarters was no hindrance to US Special Forces troops who swooped in on Nigerian territory to rescue an American citizen who had been abducted in Niger Republic and transported across the border.