Buhari wanting AFRICOM relocated to Africa is a bad move

AFRICOM

In the past week, Nigeria has felt like the Upside Down, the news cycle churning away with horrid stories of militant abductions, violent clashes, displacement, and deaths. Only recently, three students were killed by armed bandits after they were abducted from Kaduna’s Greenfield University, drawing condemnation and sympathy from Nigerians online.

And on April 26, a twitter user documented the news events that happened on that day, all skewing towards horror. Not that Nigeria was a beacon of peace, but lately the country has come under a fog of chilling insecurity, a collapse of security infrastructure if there was ever one in the first place. If the Air Force, via an airstrike, can ”accidentally” kill over 20 army personnel in Maiduguri, then what’s the fate of ordinary citizens?

Against this state-wide unrest and hysteria, President Buhari alongside security stakeholders was in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. In a tweet posted from his official account, President Buhari implored Blinken to consider relocating the headquarters of AFRICOM from Germany to Africa, near the regions dealing with security challenges like West and Central Africa.

Appointed by President Biden and sworn in back in January, Secretary Blinken is a top diplomat who was on his first virtual trip to Africa, visiting Nigeria and Kenya to meet with these countries’ governments to underscore shared goals and promote economic ties. While it’s right for Buhari to be concerned about the security situation in Nigeria, the pockets of violent terrorism, kidnaps and banditry experienced in some regions, asking that AFRICOM be headquartered in Africa is a hugely wrong move.

AFRICOM, which stands for United States Africa Command, is a unified combatant command that oversees and coordinates US activities in Africa, temporarily headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany and established during the George Bush era in 2007. Stating its main objectives as collaborating with African states to combat terrorism, supporting local military operations, and promoting peace, stability and democracy on the continent, AFRICOM projects an air of altruism.

But history has shown that nothing about the US is altruistic. Think the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was largely in service of Big Oil but propagandised as nullifying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In reality, AFRICOM wields itself as an extension of US foreign policy demonstrated in Africa, protecting US corporate interests and assets. Also, AFRICOM has become America’s insidious response to China’s growing influence in Africa and other rising powers.

Africa’s rich resources like oil, minerals and rare metals are mostly the reasons for this geopolitical Game of Thrones initiated by foreign powers, harking back to the Scramble for Africa in the 1880’s. Even before AFRICOM’s creation, US military in Africa was present and proliferating. There are 29 military bases in 15 African countries, Camp Lemonier in Djibouti being one of the first to be established in 2003. Like Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the US military footprint can be found in Sahelian states like Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and Somalia.

It is true that African states are engulfed by conflicts and violent extremism, threatening peace and stability. It also true that Africa’s counter-terrorism efforts, on its own, have come up short due to a lack of military sophistication and intelligence gathering, one that global powers like the US can readily render. Counter-terrorism operations rendered by the US are usually an agreement between Washington and African states. But it is coming at a price that compels African states to sacrifice their sovereignty.

For example, Djibouti as a hotbed of terrorist operations from al-Qaeda and al-Shabab, has also seen countries like France, Italy, Spain, China, Saudi Arabia establishing military bases. The US particularly, which renewed its agreement with Djibouti in 2014 to keep its military operating in the region. AFRICOM would have been headquartered in Africa as soon as it was created if not for the opposition from Thabo Mbeki, the-then South African president as he believed it would compromise the sovereignty of Africa.

With the withdrawal of 12,000 troops from Germany after Trump decided to scale down America’s military presence in the country, AFRICOM could station a central command in other countries in Europe or in the US. And although Mbeki was right about the dangers AFRICOM poses to the African sovereign state, Africa is not as sovereign as many would like to believe despite gaining independence from European colonial powers. Also, US imperialism doesn’t necessarily need onshore locations in Africa to perpetuate itself.

Bretton Woods institutions like The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation perfectly illustrate economic imperialism at the expense of African countries, wherein loans are offered but under the conditions that they deregulate their economies, cut public spending and remove trade barriers and subsidies. Case in point, the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during the Babaginda era, a period that I would refer to as a hostile neoliberal takeover.

That Buhari is openly lobbying for AFRICOM to be relocated to Africa goes to show that his administration doesn’t understand the nuances that come with American imperialism. Or they do and don’t care. After all, his government has embraced Chinese imperialism through infrastructural financing, the Belt and Road initiative that is looking to be China’s ostensibly unrivalled ticket to world domination.

War and conflict have always been the perfect conditions for US intervention in Africa and elsewhere. It is why, during the #ENDSARS protests, there was suddenly counter-pressure online to stop petitions asking the US and UK governments to sanction the Nigerian government. Meddling in other countries’ business is what the US does best, and oftentimes it does this to its advantage.

Maybe Buhari isn’t aware that Blinken served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and was a strong supporter of US intervening in Syria, Libya and Iraq with a fallout of innocent lives lost from airstrikes. It’s not hard to see why this won’t matter when his administration stood behind embattled minister Isa Pantami despite his extremist views.

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