Relocating the AFRICOM to Nigeria: The Geo-Political Dimensions of an Unwanted Necessity

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By Bola Akinterinwa

AFRICOM is the acronym for Africa Command, and also a short form for United States Africa Command, which was created within the framework of the reorganisation of the US Military Command structure in February 2007, under the George W. Bush administration. As explained by the first Commander of the AFRICOM, General William ‘KIP’ Ward, the rationale for establishing the AFRICOM was to enable good governance in Africa without undermining the national sovereignty of any country. What is good governance in this case?

President Bush explained the mission statement of the AFRICOM thus: ‘this new Command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and help to create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa. Africa Command will enhance our efforts to help bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.’ In fact, as President Bush further presents it, ‘Africa is of strategic and economic importance. Our focus is to build the capacity of our African partners to reduce conflict, improve security, defeat terrorists and support US Government activities across Africa to integrate US interagency efforts and assist diplomacy and development efforts.’

Additionally, President Bush made an important statement that should have largely convinced African leaders about the seriousness of purpose and non-imperialist agenda of the United States, when he said his country did not have any intention of establishing a military base in Africa, but, at the same time, admitted that this never meant that there would not be an office in Africa. As he put it: ‘we do not contemplate adding new bases… I know there’s rumour in Ghana… That doesn’t mean we won’t develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa. We haven’t made our minds up. This is a new concept… I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden, America, you know, is bringing all kinds of military to Africa. It’s just simply not true… The whole purpose of AFRICOM is to help leaders deal with African problems (vide ‘’No Plan for Military Base in Africa – George Bush,’’ Nigerian Tribune, 21 February, 2008, p.4).

When Donna Blair resumed duty as US Consul General to Nigeria, she submitted that ‘there is no anti-Americanism in Nigeria. The AFRICOM will further strengthen the existing ties with Nigeria and other African countries. We urge them to receive it positively rather than negatively…We are very concerned about the Niger Delta, but it is a domestic issue for Nigeria. We are willing to assist Nigeria on the crisis based on request.’ Thus, The way the AFRICOM is presented gives the impression that the Command was altruistically created to serve the purposes of Africa, whereas the USA only wants to assist Africa in order to better secure its national development and live in peace. If AFRICOM will be allowed to function on the basis of win-win, without military base, there are no qualms about it, but there are.

AFRICOM: An Unwanted Necessity
AFRICOM formally began its operations on October 1, 2007, with the objective of building its headquarters and having its members of staff within the following one year. There is yet to be an African office for the Command, which is currently located in Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany. On October 1, 2008, the AFRICOM was unified and made an independent Command, combining military and civil functions. Explained differently, even though AFRICOM was headed by a four-star Army General, General William Ward, the deputy commander was a civilian, an ambassador from the State Department. This was unique to the AFRICOM at the time of inception. According to US Ambassador Loftis, the AFRICOM resembles the mission statement of other regional Commands but the ‘difference is that building partnership is first and foremost of the strategies.’

What is noteworthy at this juncture is that, the United States has 11 Combatant Commands, one of which is the AFRICOM. Each Command has its specific mission. According to the US Department of Defence, the ‘US Africa Command, with partners, 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.’ For these purposes, a military base was established in Stuttgart in Germany, which used to ‘house the former Air Force base which served as the facility where over 400,000 US soldiers, who fought the Second World War, withdrawn between 1948-1992, were kept’ (Julianah Taiwo, ‘’Location of US African Command Worries FG,’’ The Guardian, 02 October, 2007, p.9).

However, for various reasons, including domestic pressure from the host State, Germany, the US began to make efforts to relocate the AFRICOM to Africa in the mid-2000s, but the efforts have been to no avail. In Nigeria, for example, the Nigerian military favoured the AFRICOM to be in Nigeria. On 23 October, 2003, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Andrew Owoye Azazi, justified the need for it. As he explained it, ‘I want to believe that wherever the US has some business, they want relative peace to undertake their business. Anywhere you are talking of defence of an environment, it is a cooperative venture. So would it be wrong if you say US troops are interested in Gulf of Guinea because they want to make sure that as we undertake the normal business of oil exploration, there is relative peace in that environment for everybody to partake. So I think it (US troops’ presence) is in the interest of ensuring that there is relative peace in that environment for the business of oil to go on (The Guardian, 24 October, 2007, p.3). In this regard, can it be expected that there will be relative peace in Nigeria with PMB’s call for AFRICOM? Does the call imply the establishment of a military base?

True enough, PMB appealed to the international community during a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Mr Anthony Blinken, on Tuesday, April 27, 2021 for support in the efforts by his government to contain insecurity in Nigeria. His request can be partly commended, but should mostly be condemned for particularly not investigating well the implications before making the request. In spite of this, the plea is still partly commendable because many concerned Nigerians have asked him to seek foreign help, because of the criticality of the struggle against the boko haramic insurrection in the country. Calling on the Washingtonian authorities for possible help from the AFRICOM means that he is now listening to public opinion.

Partly again commendable is the fact that the PMB administration does not have all the required wherewithal to contain the multidimensional insurgency in the country. The need for public safety and national survival makes PMB’s request a desideratum. From this perspective, the proponents of welcoming an AFRICOM may therefore be right. On the contrary, requesting for AFRICOM cannot but be an unwanted necessity, because it is more critically detrimental to national security to the extent that the purpose of requesting for AFRICOM cannot but be defeated in various ways.

AFRICOM as Obstacle to African Personality
First, in conception and design, the AFRICOM is supposed to be an instrument of US foreign and defence policy and, therefore, cannot be subjected to any supranational authority, even in its host country. The land of its location cannot but also have a diplomatic exterritorial status. This is why the AFRICOM has the potential to negate whatever Africa may purport to be. It should be recalled that in April 2007, some top American defence officials visited not only Nigeria, but also South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia to canvass the goodness in the AFRICOM for the whole of Africa. US security support may be good and needed, it necessarily conflicts with the decision of the Maritime Organisation of West Africa and Central Africa to set up a single coast guard to curb various maritime crimes, like the spate of armed banditry and piracy. The AFRICOM necessarily prevents Africa from owning its own home-grown instrument of anti-insecurity, especially in light of the fact that the United States wants to control the Gulf of Guinea, which is also the natural sphere of influence of West and Central African countries.

Second, with AFRICOM, the strategic agenda of the United States is to bring the whole of Africa under one single umbrella, but with the exception of Egypt, which is attached to the US Central Command. The exception of Egypt cannot but be fraught with suspicions and difficulties. Egypt is both an African country by geo-political location and an Arab country by religio-cultural affinities. Egypt cannot be expected to behave like a typical black African country when its security interests run into conflict with those of the Arab world. This is one of the main reasons why Africa has always been divided against itself.

Egypt also poses another problematic at the level of possible permanent representation of Africa at the level of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Following the heated controversial debates in Addis Ababa and the Ezulwini Consensus on candidates to be sponsored by the African Union for the UNSC seats, there were three main contending countries, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. In this regard, contrary to the wishes of the African Union that wanted five Permanent Members on the basis of one representative per one region of Africa, the international community only agreed in principle for Africa to be represented by two countries. By implication, one of the three contending candidates must be withdrawn.

In this case, the United States wanted a Permanent Seat for the Arabian world but which does not constitute a region of the world as defined by the United Nations. Representation in the UNSC is not only determined on the basis of how much of assessed dues is paid and extent of involvement in UN peacekeeping missions, the conditionality of regional representation must also be met. Consequently, in the strategic calculations of the United States, Egypt should be assisted to be an African candidate, leaving Nigeria and South Africa to struggle for the other one seat left. It is against this background that a whole AFRICOM without Egypt should be seen.

Third, complaints by the people in countries playing host to American Military Command have not been complimentary. It is generally observed that ‘America cares more about the prosperity of its people than the suffering of other peoples under tyrannical regimes.’ There should not be any qualms if the US Government seeks to give priority to the protection of its citizens. Only responsible Governments can do that.

However, when seeking to protect the national interest, it must be done on the basis of truth and objectivity of purpose. It must never be done by destroying other people to enable Americans to survive. When there are people who are hostile to Americans living in peace and harmoniously, yes such people should be seriously dealt with and neutralised, but only on the basis of truth as determinant.
For example, the objective of the United States in sending troops to Africa and also to Iraq was to protect its economic interests. The United States invaded Iraq, certainly not because of any possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, but because of the need to have access to its huge crude oil reserves.

Besides, there is the case of South Koreans where the United States has a military base and where the host people do not see the Americans as a protector but as people whose presence on their soil has the potential to provoke a North Korean attack. And true enough again, South Koreans have been publicly demonstrating against US military presence, which is also one major issue militating against a better understanding between the two Koreas. Perhaps one should also ask why Germans also want the relocation of the AFRICOM from their soil? Why the people of Nigeria also kicked against AFRICOM in Nigeria?

Fourth, in Nigeria, no one is left in doubt that the United States has a policy of seeking to mould the whole world in the image of America. However, the US attitudinal modalities have been sending wrong signals. For instance, ‘an American missile destroyed a factory in Sudan after the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The Americans claimed the target was an arms factory owned by terrorists, but the Sudanese authorities said the factory manufactured medicines.’ In this regard, it is also argued that ‘America is not concerned about the death of innocent people when it fires a missile or carries out a bombing raid. It calls the death of innocent people collateral damage, a very callous coinage’ (See “A US Military Command in Africa?”, Nigerian Tribune’s Editorial, Monday, 10 September, 2007, p. 8).

Fifth, location of the AFRICOM in any part of Africa gives the wrong impression that Africans cannot be capable of self-security unless with outside help, and therefore raising the issue of new form of re-colonisation and permanent dependency on developed countries. In fact, many members of the US Congress, concerned organisations and individuals in both the United States and Africa created a campaign platform, called ‘’Resist AFRICOM’’ in August 2006 in order to mobilise public and congressional opposition to AFRICOM, which was considered as imperialistic, paternalistic and an underhand tactics of accessing more of Africa’s oil. Some observers even argued that the AFRICOM is to be used to wage war against terror, but without having due regards for Africa’s needs and dignity.

The proponents of AFRICOM have argued to the contrary: as a result of the establishment of the AFRICOM, the United States has not only increased her funding of International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme and foreign military programmes in Africa, but has also increased funding for the peacekeeping operations in Africa. And true enough, the Department of Defence budgeted US278 million as operation and maintenance funds in the 2010 budget. The sum of US$ 263 million was earmarked for provision of additional manpower, airlift and communications support for the AFRICOM. AFRICOM has the potential to deter not only terror but also military adventurism, and by so doing, also ensuring political stability on a long-term basis. Thus, that AFRICOM has its merits cannot be in dispute.

Sixth, domestic support for the AFRICOM in the United States waned drastically at a point in time. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee in the US Congress ‘believes that traditional US military operations are not an appropriate response to most or many of the challenges facing Africa.’ As a result of this belief, the Appropriation Committee decided in September 2008 to cut AFRICOM’s budget of $390 to only $80 million. This is a pointer to the perception of a decline in importance of the AFRICOM.

Seventh, only Liberia and Morocco offered as at 2008 to play host to the US military base, but there was nothing to suggest that the US wanted to consider their offer. The US appeared to have specific interest in the Gulf of Guinea. Thus, the problem was never non-availability of place of location, even if most African countries were hostile to the establishment of foreign military bases on their soil for various reasons. The problem was the refusal of the targeted host country. The US Department of Defence never wanted Liberia or Morocco or any other, to host the AFRICOM. Nigeria was the targeted country but the Nigerian Federal Executive Council not only rejected the AFRICOM in Nigeria, the Nigerian Senate was also hostile to it.

But perhaps more disturbingly, when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had a tête à tête with his US counterpart at the White House, and declared thereafter at a press briefing that ‘we have discussed on security issues, security within Nigeria, Niger Delta, the Gulf of Guinea and peace and security on the African continent. We shall partner AFRICOM to assist not only Nigeria, but also the African continent to actualise its peace and security initiatives. It is an initiative to have Standby Forces in each of the regional economic groupings in Africa’ (See Constance Ikokwu and Paul Ohia, ‘’Yar’Adua in White House, Ready to Partner US on AFRICOM, ThisDay, 14 December, 2007, p.1).

What is noteworthy here is that Nigerians were vehemently opposed to President Yar’Adua’s intended partnership with AFRICOM. The hostility was to the extent that the Special Assistant to the President on Communications, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, had to make a clarification that President Yar’Adua’s declaration of support did not mean that he wanted its headquarters sited in Nigeria (ThisDay, 18 January 2008). Mr. Adeniyi’s clarification had very little or no impact, as Nigerians asked President Barak Obama to support the African Standby Force rather than sponsoring the AFRICOM. It is against the background of the afore-analysed issues that the request by PMB for AFRICOM should be understood. Apart from the reasons given above as to why AFRICOM is an unwanted necessity, there is also the factor of error of terror.

AFRICOM: Beyond the Error of Terror
Terrorists have always made the error of using terror to seek political interests. The United States is also making the error by believing that counter-terror will be sufficient to neutralise the terrorists without full mobilisation of all proponents of anti-terrorism as a way of life. Terrorism, in whatever ramification it exists is, at best, very barbaric. Consequently, in fighting terrorism, under no circumstance should any anti-terror struggle be couched under socio-political or economico-cultural interests. If the objectives of AFRICOM are, stricto sensu, presented to the world as anti-terror, or grosso modo, as anti-global insecurity, and in this regard, the global community is constructively mobilised to support the struggle, AFRICOM will not have been a subject of controversy, but agents of terrorism would have also learnt how not to be terroristic.

One unofficially declared objective for creating the AFRICOM is to protect the routes of export and import of mineral resources needed by the United States. In its analysis of the ‘’US Military Bases in Africa,’’ The Daily Times (of 12 May 1983, p 8), had it that the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency ‘alleged vulnerability in the event shipment to it (of) some strategic commodities were discontinued.’ In other words, ‘the USA was fifty, and in some cases a hundred percent, dependent on imports of 23 out of 40 commodities considered indispensable for US security… [T]he overwhelming quantity of strategic minerals imported by the USA came from Africa. And since the USA cannot survive without those commodities… the problem of assuring their uninterrupted supply had to become a priority.’ It is against this background that the future establishment of the AFRICOM should also be understood.

The future challenge of the AFRICOM is how Nigeria will be an active participant in the protection of US interest in this case
In fact, in September 1998, the United States called for a new military bilateral relationship. In the words of US Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, Mr. Franklin Kramer, who paid an official visit to Abuja on 27 September, 1998, ‘we also see an opportunity for extensive dialogue and for cooperation of what might be possible in a whole variety of areas, once the transition is completed… [W]e need to look for an expanded relationship that exists across the board in all aspects and overtime, a relationship that will include new military-to-military relationships’’ (National Concord, 28 September, 1998, p.1). Opportunity for extensive dialogue, there will always be. But will be the nature of the dialogue: horizontal or vertical?

Probably in reaction to the US initiative, the Nigerian Senate considered signing a military pact with the United States, with the objective of using the pact to contain future coups d’état. The Senate, considering that democratic governance in Nigeria had been unstable and vulnerable to military incursions, that Nigeria had had eight coups, and believing that there was the need to uphold, protect, maintain and treasure democratic principles, values and structures in Nigeria, the Senate directed that the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should immediately commence negotiation and sign a military pact with the United States of America and any other democratic European nation for the protection of democracy in Nigeria (vide National Concord of July 9, 1999 and Omorodion Omoregbe’s ‘’Military pact with superpowers,’’ The Guardian of 26 July, 1999, p.53).

And true, in the spirit of cooperation, in April 2003, the United States donated two 30-year old warships (SS Kyanwa and SS Ologbo) to Nigeria. The ships are 180-feet Balsam class buoys and are ‘’the first of a total of seven ships to be transferred to Nigeria under the United States security assistance programme’’ (The Guardian, 9 April, 2003, p.37).

In essence, to what extent can the spirit of cooperation between the United States and Nigeria be sustained on the basis of PMB’s call for AFRICOM, which was suspended in January 2008 for ten years because of the unwelcoming reactions of African countries? In 2012, the AFRICOM Commander, General Carter Ham, at a Military and Media Symposium held in Garmisch near Munich, Germany, said the US would no longer establish the headquarters of the AFRICOM in any part of the African continent due to its heavy financial demand (ThisDay, 07 September, 2012, p.12a). In this case, will PMB’s call imply heavy financial demand and a military base in Nigeria? Whatever is the case, Nigeria does not need and does not want any military-based AFRICOM because it unnecessarily subjects Nigeria’s sovereignty into ridicule through dependency. Assistance of the US, through equipment donation and capacity development is what is needed.

The US should support Africa’s Standby Force, rather than sponsoring the AFRICOM and help to fight terror without tying it into establishment of a military base and undermining Nigeria’s sovereignty. PMB’s call for AFRICOM can seriously undermine national sovereignty, and therefore, most unfortunate. AFRICOM cannot solve the problem of intra-governmental corruption responsible for the recidivist boko haramic insurgency in Nigeria.