By Ramzy Baroud
There is a real — but largely concealed — conflict taking place throughout the African continent. It involves the United States, a reinvigorated Russia and a rising China, and the outcome is likely to define the future of the continent and its global outlook.
It is easy to pin the blame on US President Donald Trump, his agenda and statements, but the truth is the current US military expansion in Africa is just one more step in the wrong direction. It is part of a strategy that had been implemented a decade ago, during the administration of George W. Bush, and actively pursued by Barack Obama.
In 2007, under the pretext of the “war on terror”, the US consolidated its various military operations in Africa to establish the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). With a starting budget of half a billion dollars, AFRICOM was supposedly launched to engage with African countries in terms of diplomacy and aid. But, over the course of the last 10 years, it has been transformed into a central command for military incursions and interventions.
However, that violent role has rapidly worsened recently. Indeed, there are hidden US operations in Africa being carried out in the name of “counter-terrorism”.
According to a VICE News investigation, US troops are conducting 3,500 exercises and military engagements throughout Africa per year — an average of 10 per day. The US mainstream media rarely discusses this, giving the military ample space to destabilize any of the continent’s 54 countries as it pleases.
“Today’s figure of 3,500 marks an astounding 1,900 percent increase since the command was activated less than a decade ago, and suggests a major expansion of US military activities on the African continent,” VICE reported.
Following the deaths of four US Special Forces soldiers in Niger on October 4, US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis made an ominous declaration to a Senate committee: These numbers are likely to increase as the US is expanding its military activities in Africa.
Mattis, like other defense officials in the previous two administrations, justifies the US military transgressions as part of ongoing counter-terrorism efforts. But such a coded reference has served as a pretense for the US to intervene in, and exploit, a massive region with great economic potential.
The old colonial “Scramble for Africa” is being reinvented by global powers that fully fathom the extent of the untapped economic largesse of the continent. While China, India and Russia are each developing a unique approach to wooing Africa, the US is invested mostly in the military option.
The 2012 coup in Mali, carried out by a US-trained army captain, Amadou Haya Sanogo, is one example.
In a 2013 speech, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned against a “new colonialism in Africa (in which it is) easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave.” While Clinton is correct, she was disingenuously referring to China, not her own country.
China’s increasing influence in Africa is obvious, and Beijing’s practices can be unfair. However, China’s policy towards Africa is far more civil and trade-focused than the military-centered US approach.
The growth in the China-Africa trade figures are, as per a UN News report in 2013, happening at a truly “breathtaking pace”, as they jumped from around $10.5 billion per year in 2000 to $166 billion in 2011. Since then, it has continued at the same impressive pace.
But that growth was coupled with many initiatives, entailing many billions of dollars in Chinese credit to African countries, to develop badly needed infrastructure. More went to finance the “African Talents Program”, which is designed to train 30,000 African professionals in various sectors.
It should come as no surprise, then, that China surpassed the US as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009.
The real colonialism, which Clinton referred to in her speech, is, however, under way in the US’s own perception and behavior towards Africa.
Keeping in mind that Africa has 22 Muslim-majority countries, the US government is divesting from any long-term diplomatic vision in Africa and is instead increasingly thrusting further down the military path.
The US military push does not seem to be part of a comprehensive policy approach, either. It reflects the constant US over-reliance on military solutions to all sorts of problems, including trade and political rivalries.
Compare this to Russia’s strategic approach to Africa. Reigniting old camaraderie with the continent, Russia is following China’s strategy of engagement (or in this case, re-engagement) through development and favorable trade terms.
But, unlike China, Russia has a wide-ranging agenda that includes arms exports, which are replacing US weaponry in various parts of the continent. For Moscow, Africa also has untapped and tremendous potential as a political partner that can bolster Russia’s standing at the UN.
Aware of the evident global competition, some African leaders are now laboring to find new allies outside the traditional Western framework, which has controlled much of Africa since the end of traditional colonialism decades ago.
Wary of Russia’s Africa outreach, the US is fighting back with a military stratagem and little diplomacy. The ongoing US mini-war on the continent will push Africa further into the abyss of violence and corruption, which will bring about untold misery to millions of people.
There is no question that Africa is no longer an exclusive Western “turf”, to be exploited at will. But it will be many years before Africa and its 54 nations are truly free from the stubborn neocolonial mindset, which is grounded in racism, economic exploitation and military interventions.