by Mark P. Fancher
The U.S. military’s African Command – AFRICOM – extends its tentacles on the east and west coasts and deep into the interior of the continent. Its mission: “to keep Africa safe for western corporations that need access to the continent’s oil and mineral resources.” All indigenous opposition to imperial policies and interests is deemed “criminal” or “terrorist” – whether along the internationally exploited shores of Somalia or in the oil-rich delta of the Niger River. As African Liberation Day approaches, we must understand that “AFRICOM…is really all about building the capacity of western corporations to hold fast to Africa.”
Freedom Fighters or Criminals? AFRICOM Doesn’t Care.
by Mark P. Fancher
“The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been establishing an extensive high profile presence on Africa’s western coast.”
After U.S. Navy sharpshooters put bullets into the heads of companions of Somalia-born Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, the problem of “piracy” in the waters off the Horn of Africa dominated the news. Muse and other Somalians had allegedly hijacked an American ship and held its captain hostage until the captors were all killed or, in the case of Muse, taken into custody.
These events caused many progressive observers to have concerns comparable to those expressed nearly 40 years ago by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. He said: “By means of press and radio, accounts are given of the capture of ‘terrorists’ by ‘security forces’ …the ‘terrorists’ being usually described as poorly-trained, ill-equipped, demoralized and uncertain of the cause for which they are fighting.” Nkrumah went on to observe: “This refusal to recognize freedom fighters as soldiers is again part of imperialist strategy designed to pour scorn on the armed revolutionary movement, and at the same time to discourage further recruits.”
It is not suggested here that Muse and his companions were freedom fighters, and there are likely many petty criminals among the ranks of those who have captured ships off the coast of Somalia. But the western media has been so relentless in its characterization of all who hijack ships as “pirates” that few people know that one of the first of these groups, known as the “Somalia National Volunteer Coast Guard,” was, according to some reports, established by fishermen who armed themselves and chased away foreign ships that were suspected of engaging in illegal fishing and the dumping of waste in Somali waters.
“One of the first of these groups is known as the ‘Somalia National Volunteer Coast Guard.’”
When U.S. right wing media pundits began urging the U.S. military to conduct full scale operations to clean out the “nests” of pirates in Somalia, there was reason to worry that legitimate freedom fighters would be caught up in the dragnet. Already, the U.S. has engaged in military activities and covert actions that have included complicity in a 2006 regime change in Somalia. There is also a significant U.S. presence at a special military installation in Djibouti. The U.S. search for “pirates,” “terrorists” and other purported “evil-doers” (as Bush used to call them) has not been limited to the Horn of Africa. For some time now, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has also been establishing an extensive high profile presence on Africa’s western coast - specifically in the Gulf of Guinea and the Niger Delta.
Notwithstanding its official mission statements, AFRICOM is proving itself to be a vehicle for the U.S. to use proxy troops drawn from Africa’s armies to keep Africa safe for western corporations that need access to the continent’s oil and mineral resources. It is understandable then why AFRICOM’s directors have been just as interested in West Africa as they are in Somalia. A study by the Nigerian government shows that during 2008, the country lost nearly $28 billion as a result of armed groups having blown up oil pipelines. These organizations have also kidnapped oil company personnel. The government study estimates that about 1,000 lives were lost last year in connection with oil thefts and sabotage.
“AFRICOM is proving itself to be a vehicle for the U.S. to use proxy troops drawn from Africa’s armies to keep Africa safe for western corporations.”
The attacks on the oil industry have not emerged from a vacuum. Oil operations have caused widespread environmental catastrophe, ruining fishing, farming and sources of fresh water for many villages in the Niger Delta. Unemployment in these areas that (according to government estimates) exceeds 80 percent fuels a spirit of rebellion and resistance among the youth that continues to spread. Patrick Aziza, a traditional leader in the Okpe Kingdom in the Niger Delta, has urged rebels to lay down their arms, but he has also acknowledged that their deep-seated frustration is justified. His conclusion is particularly significant because he is also a retired Nigerian army general. Nevertheless, the Nigerian government has begun to chart plans for bolstering the capacity of special military forces to fight the rebels. With so much oil at stake, AFRICOM has not been sitting idly by. It has collaborated in the operation of an “Africa Partnership Station” that has cruised from port to port along Africa’s western coast training African naval personnel to conduct military operations that are helpful to U.S. corporate interests in the region.
AFRICOM has justified its activities by claiming that the region is plagued by crime and terrorism. It has also protested accusations of imperialist military intervention by insisting that the U.S. has been “invited” into the region by Africans themselves. Admiral Robert T. Moeller, a high level AFRICOM official said: “Recognizing (threats of piracy, oil smuggling and other crimes) themselves, the Africans have requested that we provide this kind of assistance.” Also, to calm fears that the U.S. is in Africa to militarize the continent, much has been made of AFRICOM’s humanitarian work. For example, during one mission, the Africa Partnership Station delivered food to AIDS patients and orphans.
“Nkrumah understood four decades ago how easy it is for the underlying causes of armed struggle to be forgotten because of media lies.”
History has proven that for as long as foreign corporate operations create instability and hardship for Africa’s people, it is all but certain that there will be those who will be moved to resist – with arms if necessary. Nkrumah understood four decades ago how easy it is for the underlying causes of armed struggle to be forgotten because of media lies and caricatures of Africans who resist foreign exploitation.
When African Liberation Day arrives later this month, we who wish to ensure African self-determination should heed the call of event organizers and “honor Nkrumah” (see: www.africanliberationday.net) by striving to become as skillful as he was in cutting through the crap. When Moeller says: “It is all about building the capacity of our African partners to be able to attend to their own security needs,” we must instinctively know that, for AFRICOM it is really all about building the capacity of western corporations to hold fast to Africa in leech-like fashion and to suck the continent bone dry of all of its most valuable natural resources.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney, writer and activist. He can be contacted at mfancher(at)Comcast.net.