Press Briefing by the Socialist Party on the establishment of an AFRICOM office at the US embassy in Lusaka, 3rd May 2022
Good morning ladies and gentlemen from the press. Today’s Press Briefing focuses on the controversial topic of establishing an AFRICOM office at the US Embassy in Zambia.
To start with, let us look at some content from the recent press statements coming from the US Embassy as well as from our Minister of Defence.
US Embassy Zambia (April 26, 2022): “Building on the foundations of U.S. –Zambia shared security interests, the new Office of Security Cooperation will enhance military to military relations and expand areas of cooperation in force management, modernisation, and professional military education for the Zambian security forces.”
US Embassy Zambia (May 2, 2022): “There is no U.S. military base (or plans for one) in Zambia. An Office of Security Cooperation is not a military base – the new Office of Security Cooperation will be an office at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka and will work hand-in-hand with the Zambia Defence Force to enhance military to military relations and expand areas of cooperation in force management, modernisation, and professional military education for the Zambian security forces.”
Minister of Defence Zambia (May 2, 2022): “We have had a long-standing relationship with US-AFRICOM in the areas of peacekeeping that has predated this administration and has benefited our military. Zambia has no intention whatsoever of establishing or hosting any military bases on Zambian soil.” “… the Ministry of Defence would like to take this opportunity to warn all perpetrators of such misinformation meant to tarnish our existing cordial relationship with our neighbours and strategic partners, to desist from issuing alarming statements which hinge on the security and territorial integrity of our nation.”
Obviously, the US Embassy and our Minister of Defence are worried about the reaction of the Zambian public on. They are therefore trying to clear the air – that there will be no US military base in the country, but a new office for security cooperation. The Minister of Defence goes a step further – threatening those issuing alarming statements!
However, what is lost in all this controversy is why AFRICOM is widely rejected amongst the African masses! What is its mission? What is its history?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is important to understand these facts in order to give context to the current anxieties in the country. Threats and arrogantly formulated press statements are not helpful.
Here is a short history. On 15 October 2003, Nile Gardiner and James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation in the US published a white paper called US Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution. They argued that the US government should create a US Africa Command that would intervene in Africa ‘when vital [US] national interests are threatened’ in the same tradition as was done in Latin America and the Caribbean with the establishment of the US Southern Command in 1963. This became a reality in 2007. President Bush announced on February 6, 2007 the establishment of a Unified Command for U.S. military forces in Africa, known as AFRICOM.
African nations have repeatedly declared their opposition to the hosting of U.S. bases on the African continent and the militarization of their relations with the United States. It was apparent that AFRICOM was going to pursue narrowly defined U.S. interests at the expense of both the sovereignty and welfare of the African nations.
At that time, two African countries, Botswana and Liberia, indicated that they would be pleased to house the headquarters of AFRICOM. However, South Africa voiced opposition to AFRICOM’s move to the continent. Through AU intervention, both Botswana and Liberia backed off.
Regional organizations have been most vocal in their critique of AFRICOM. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was the first to issue a clear message of dissent against the Bush initiative. On August 29, 2007, SADC announced its position “that it is better if the United States were involved with Africa from a distance rather than be present on the continent.” The SADC Defence and Security Ministers further stated “that sister countries of the region should not agree to host AFRICOM and in particular, armed forces, since this would have a negative effect. That recommendation was presented to the Heads of State and this is a SADC position.”
President Levy Mwanawasa reaffirmed Zambia’s stance on October 2, 2007, when he stated “none of us is interested” in hosting the command.
Other key regional organizations made up of nations across Africa declared their condemnation of AFRICOM and its implications for US-African relations. The 25-member Northern African Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) backed SADC’s position on the establishment of U.S. bases and stated that CEN-SAD “flatly refuses the installation of any military command or any foreign armed presence of whatever country on any part of Africa, whatever the reasons and justifications.”
The Arab Magreb Union also voiced strong opposition to the placement of U.S. bases anywhere on the continent.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stated resolutely its opposition to American bases in the region. At the forefront of this effort stood Nigeria, whose leadership unequivocally denounced the possibility of American troops being based in West Africa.
The mood to prevent AFRICOM’s headquarters from being based on the continent remains strong and is widespread amongst the African people. As a result of all this dissent, AFRICOM is currently still based in Stuttgart, Germany.
AFRICOM HAS FOUND CREATIVE WAYS OF OPERATING IN AFRICA –DESPITE THE REJECTION
Despite the rejection of AFRICOM amongst the African masses, the US has found various ways of getting AFRICOM to operate on the continent:
(i) US military bases have continued to proliferate after 2007. In the aftermath of the NATO war on Libya, the Sahel region experienced a number of conflicts, many of them driven by the emergence of forms of militancy, piracy, and smuggling. Using the pretext of these conflicts, and inflamed by NATO’s war, France and the United States intervened militarily across the Sahel. In 2014, France set up the G-5 Sahel, a military arrangement that included Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, and expanded or opened new military bases in Gao, Mali; N’Djamena, Chad; Niamey, Niger; and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The United States, for its part, built an enormous drone base in Agadez, Niger, from which it conducts drone strikes and aerial surveillance across the Sahel and the Sahara Desert. This is one of the many US bases on the African continent. The United States has twenty-nine known military facilities in fifteen countries on the continent, while France has bases in ten countries. No other country from outside the continent has as many military bases in Africa.
The increasing number of foreign military bases on the African continent alarmed the Peace and Security Council of the AU, which raised this as an important issue in its May 2016 meeting: “Council noted with deep concern the existence of foreign military bases and establishment of new ones in some African countries, coupled with the inability of the Member States concerned to effectively monitor the movement of weapons to and from these foreign military bases. In this regard, Council stressed the need for Member States to be always circumspect whenever they enter into agreements that would lead to the establishment of foreign military bases in their countries.”
(ii) AFRICOM has found itself into the AU with an attaché to the Peace and Security Council and staff in the AU Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division, as well as the Peace Support Operations Division. With the entry of AFRICOM into the AU in the name of ‘interoperability’ to link US military forces with AU peacekeepers, the US has begun to shape the AU’s security framework more directly.
(iii) The inability of some African militaries to fight dissidents is providing a chance to AFRICOM. On 27 April 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari asked the US to relocate AFRICOM Headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to the African continent in order to help fight insurgencies. Growing pressure from Islamic and other dissidents and increased instability in Nigeria was the contributing factor to President Buhari’s appeal, though he fell short of suggesting Nigeria as host for AFRICOM. Nigeria’s position is a major shift from its initial stand, which, a decade ago, was against the presence of AFRICOM in Africa.
(iv) Various security cooperation agreements have led to serious surrenders of national sovereignty that have occurred through military exchange and so-called security cooperation. The example of Ghana is quite telling. In 2018, the US Department of Defense proposed that the US and Ghana agree to a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a $20 million deal that would allow the US military to expand its presence in Ghana. In March 2021, widespread unhappiness of this agreement swept large sections of the population into the streets; opposition parties, who worried about the possibility that the US would build a military base in the country, raised their objections in parliament. By April, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said that his government had ‘not offered a military base, and will not offer a military base to the United States of America’. The US Embassy in Accra repeated the statement, saying that the ‘United States has not requested, nor does it plan to establish a military base or bases in Ghana’. The SOFA agreement was signed in May 2018.
It does not require a close reading of the agreement’s text to know that there is in fact the possibility that the US could build a base in the country. Article 5, for instance, states, Ghana hereby provides unimpeded access to and use of Agreed facilities and areas to United States forces, United States contractors, and others as mutually agreed. Such Agreed facilities and areas, or portions thereof, provided by Ghana shall be designated as either for exclusive use by United States forces or to be jointly used by United States forces and Ghana. Ghana shall also provide access to and use of a runway that meets the requirements of United States forces.
Through this article, the US is permitted to create its own military facilities in Ghana. By any definition, this means that it can set up a base. The surrender of Ghana’s sovereignty also comes to light where the SOFA agreement states (Article 6) that the US would ‘be afforded priority in access to and use of Agreed facilities and areas’ and that said use and access by others ‘may be authorised with the express consent of both Ghana and United States forces’. Furthermore, Article 3 says that US troops ‘may possess and carry arms in Ghana while on Official duty’ and that the US troops shall be accorded ‘the privileges, exemptions, and immunities equivalent to those accorded to the administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic mission’. In other words, the US troops can be armed and, if they are accused of a crime, they will not be tried in Ghana’s courts.
In March 2018, Ghana’s minister of defence, Dominic Nitiwul, was challenged on a radio station by Kwesi Pratt of the Socialist Forum Ghana (SFG). Nitiwul said that there was nothing peculiar about this agreement, since other African countries – like Senegal – had signed such agreements. Ghana, said Nitiwul, had signed similar agreements with the US in 1998 and 2007, but these were done in secret because there was no tax waiver. Pratt warned that Ghana would be ‘surrendering sovereignty’ in entering this agreement. The general sentiment in the country was opposed to the base, which is why both the Ghanaian government and the US denied that a base would be built. Pratt was right. The US presence at Kotoka International Airport in Accra became the heart of the US military’s West Africa Logistics Network. By 2018, weekly flights from Ramstein Air Base in Germany landed in Accra with supplies (including arms and ammunition) for the at least 1,800 US Special Forces troops spread out across West Africa. Brigadier General Leonard Kosinski said in 2019 that this weekly flight was ‘basically a bus route’. At the Kotoka airport, the US maintains a Cooperative Security Location. This is a base in all but the name.
REASONS FOR REJECTING THE NEW OFFICE FOR SECURITY COOPERATION
1. The US has provided direct and indirect military support to Zambia for a long time now using the existing embassy facilities and defence attaché. There has been no felt need for a new office within the embassy. The setting up of the new office escalates the role of AFRICOM in Zambia. Such a development has implications for the SADC defence initiatives and raises anxieties in the region.
2. There is a real danger of the country’s military doctrine being hijacked through this form of security cooperation. Zambia’s military doctrine was for a long time a product of the country’s post independence insights gained through international exposure (primarily from the UK, Yugoslavia, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Tanzania and several other countries) as well as the threats that were posed by colonial fascist regimes supported by Europe and the US. Today’s doctrine has to build on this past – but with a clear understanding of the country’s changed geopolitical situation. It will be extremely dangerous and fatal to turn the Zambia military into some extended arm of the American military.
3. The US military operates not only to provide an advantage to the United States and its ruling elites, but it functions – along with the armies of the other NATO nations, including France – as the guarantor of Western corporate interests and the principles of capitalism. Nkrumah came to the same conclusion in 1965, stating that ‘Africa’s raw materials are an important consideration in the military build-up of the NATO countries… Their industries, especially the strategic and nuclear factories, depend largely upon the primary materials that come from the less developed countries’. Reports from the US military routinely sketch out the responsibility of its range of armed forces to ensure a steady stream of raw materials for corporations – especially energy – and to maintain unimpeded movement of goods through shipping channels. Such reports include National Energy Policy (May 2001) from the National Energy Policy Development Group, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States (September 2018) from the Interagency Task Force in Fulfilment of Executive Order 13806. In this sense, the US military – alongside its NATO partners – operates as the gendarme not for the world community, but for the beneficiaries of capitalism. Alongside the US is France, whose military presence in Niger is closely linked to the imperatives of the French energy sector, which requires the uranium mined in Arlit (Niger). One in three French light bulbs are powered by the uranium from this town in Niger, which is garrisoned by French troops.
4. The New Cold War. As Chinese private and public commercial interests have increased on the African continent, and as Chinese firms have consistently outbid Western firms, US pressure to contain China on the continent has increased. The US government’s New Africa Strategy (2019) characterised the situation in competitive terms: ‘Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States’. The European Union followed with a report called Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa (2020), which – while it did not directly mention China – worried about ‘competition for natural resources’. Under this New Cold War, the Zambian military must protect the country’s economic interests and those of our motherland – Africa. More autonomous security cooperation arrangements are – within today’s context of a multipolar world – needed more than ever before.
5. Zambians need to have a say over this increasing military cooperation with any NATO country and Israel. The NATO countries enslaved, colonised and exploited our continent for centuries. They supported the most reactionary forces in Africa – including the racist apartheid regime. They systematically killed progressive African leaders that stood for African dignity and against the underdevelopment of the continent. This is a tragic history that cannot be grossed over quickly. What type of values are therefore our military learning from AFRICOM? The recent military coups in West Africa are associated to former AFRICOM military trainees, what exactly is going wrong and what lessons can Zambians draw from this development? As long as we don’t have convincing answers to these questions, further security cooperation with AFRICOM is unacceptable and dangerous in the long run.