United States President Barack Obama will have a lot of homework to do. The people of Africa are expecting him to be more understanding and sympathetic to their cause. They consider him one of their own because his father was born in Africa.
One of the issues he would have to address urgently is the United States Africa Command (Africom), a unified combatant command of the US Department of Defence responsible for military operations in Africa.
Africom was mooted in 2007 but came into full operation in October 2008. Its headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany.
Its mission looks simple. “United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy,” the Africom website says.
Africom is being sold as a humanitarian guard in the global war against terror, but Byran Hunt says “the real objective is the procurement and control of Africa’s oil and its global delivery system.”
US foreign policy towards Africa according to Letitia Lawson seems to be largely defined by “international terrorism, the increasing importance of African oil to American energy needs, and the dramatic expansion and improvement of Sino-African relations”.
Alexander von Peleske said the United States already gets 18 percent of its oil from Africa. This should increase to 25 percent by 2015 according to the African Oil Policy Initiative Group report.
Though Assistant Secretary of Defence for African Affairs Theresa Whelan said Africom’s mission would be “diplomatic, economic and humanitarian aid, aimed at prevention of conflict, rather than at military intervention,” African leaders are sceptical about this.
Wafula Okumu, a research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, told the United States congress that there was growing resistance and hostility towards Africom. Only one out of the 53 African countries- Liberia- was willing to host Africom’s headquarters.
This is the sad reality that Obama will have to face.
African leaders are against Africom because they think that the command is meant to benefit the United States and not their countries. In Nigeria there is growing resentment from the locals that they are not benefiting from the oil.
The United States has not helped because of its double standards. Though an icon of democracy, it has supported repressive regimes in Africa as long as they worked in its interests. It has also fuelled conflicts in order to access resources of African countries.
African leaders perceive the war on terror as a ruse to interfere with their administrations should they oppose US foreign policy. There is also a feeling that the money that the US is spending on Africom could have been better utilised if it had been ploughed into other projects that directly benefit African countries.
The US congress has approved $500 million for the Trans- Saharan Counter-terrorism Initiative over the next six years. The US government has invested more than $500 million in Africom itself. The command had a budget of $50 million in 2007. This rose to $75.5 million last year. This year Africom has applied for $392 million.