Africa Again

Monday, 16 July 2012

It’s ironic, but unimportant, that the white man’s burden now weighs heavily on the shoulders of Barack Obama. What matters is that Africa is about to become another province in “Baseworld”, the American empire controlled by a network of numerous garrisons strategically situated across the planet.

Chalmers Johnson, the late scholar of East Asian development, introduced “Baseworld” to the public imagination in his “Blowback” trilogy, an account of expanding imperial ambition and hubris.

When he began his investigation in 2005, America’s far-flung web of military bases already officially totalled a staggering 737 outposts. The 38 large and medium-sized facilities – mostly air and naval bases – numbered about the same as needed by Britain at its imperial zenith in 1898 and the Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD.

There were some notable omissions from the tally like Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo and the $5 billion military and espionage installations in the UK camouflaged by the RAF. “If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one – possibly not even the Pentagon – knows the exact number for sure.” All this real estate easily makes the Pentagon one of the world’s largest landlords. The cost of sustaining the octopus dwarves the gross domestic product of most nations.

Less than a decade ago, the US had virtually no military presence in Africa. Now says Nick Turse at TomDispatch.com, “U.S. special operations forces, regular troops, private contractors, and drones are spreading across the continent with remarkable (if little noticed) rapidity.” The centre of attraction in the new scramble for Africa is a Trojan horse called African Command.

Established in October 2008, Africom co-ordinates all US military activity in the “heart of darkness”. Its stated mission is to promote mutual security and democracy but its fact sheet says it “conducts sustained security engagement… to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of US foreign policy”. That policy, candidly admitted, is about preserving the free flow of African resources to the global market, protecting American lives and promoting American interests.

Africans, with every reason to be suspicious, have refused to quarter African Command on home soil and it has been stabled in Stuttgart, Germany. Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, is the only official U.S. base on the continent but Africom is weaving its spell. Military planners invoke images of Marco Polo, the Queen of Sheba and a new Spice Road. More prosaically, says Turse, they’re constructing a superhighway “on which trucks and ships shuttle fuel, food, and military equipment through a growing maritime and ground transportation infrastructure to a network of supply depots, tiny camps, and airfields meant to service a fast-growing U.S. military presence in Africa”.

There’s a US military footprint now in some 40 of Africa’s 54 nations as the mythological “war on terror is recycle” in earnest. Leaving aside conventional training exercises and military aid, infiltration is only limited by imagination; most Hollywood themes of the genre remain relevant as private corporations, mercenaries, arms dealers, drug-cartels, suicide-bombers and every available Islamic rebel group find a place in this intelligence-insulting script.

Take for instance Kony 2012, the web video about Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It put child-soldiers in the spotlight, got 70 million hits in 5 days and raised $5 million in 48 hours for aid group Invisible Children. Journalist Nile Bowie says although the LRA was a spent force and its threat wholly misrepresented, the video prompted pro-intervention legislation in Congress. When an estimated 6 million people died in the Congo Wars (1996-2003) Obama, then a senator authored a bill calling for the protection of natural resources not people. Congo – with the second lowest per capita income in Africa – has $24 trillion in untapped mineral wealth.

US State Department advisor Dr J Peter Pham did not mince words when he said Africom’s objective was “protecting access to hydrocarbons and other strategic resources which Africa has in abundance… and ensuring that no other interested third parties, such as China, India, Japan, or Russia, obtain monopolies or preferential treatment”. The hypocrisy is transparent.

The London Guardian, which had cheered the fall of Tripoli, citing Tony Blair for support, recently published a piece by Daniel Glazebrook in its “comment is free” column. It was headed: “The imperial agenda of US’s ‘Africa Command’ marches on”. With mission accomplished in Libya, Africom now has few obstacles to its military ambitions on the continent. The thought of Gaddafi as a dedicated pan-Africanist resistant to the role of Africa and Africans as subordinate suppliers of raw materials and cheap labour shocked. Many of the respondents were seriously defensive about what they had already been trained to think about Africa and Africans.

It’s understandable. There has been little reporting of the social transformation under Gadaffi, the diversion of oil revenues to health, education and social infrastructure. The launch of Africa’s first free communication satellite saving Africans billions of dollars yearly does not make headlines here. Gadaffi’s stand against racism and his dream of a continent in command of its own destiny remains outside popular discourse and the stereotype of the genocidal dictator prevails. Most chillingly there is no outrage or shame about his depraved execution at the hands of brave and God-fearing freedom fighters.

Glazebrook says, “Now he has gone, Africom is stepping up its work… Africom is designed to ensure that in the coming colonial wars against Africa, it will be Africans who do the fighting and dying, not Westerners”. It’s also worth remembering that useful governments will be here to stay. Democracy is about to become as meaningless as it is in the West where voting is now irrelevant.

Africans would be wise not to underestimate the danger with the drones circling above.

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