US vs China: the African front


Richard Moore

See also:
        21 May 2007   China pledges $20bn for Africa

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US government to set up new military command in Africa
By Lawrence Porter
18 May 2007

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In an ominous development mirroring the explosive expansion of US militarism, 
the Bush administration has designated Africa as a continent of ³strategic 
national concern,² and has initiated a new military policy to coincide with this
new classification.

The Bush administration announced in February the formation of a new military 
command system in Africa, the United States African Command (AFRICOM), couched 
in the usual combination of humanitarian and anti-terrorist terminology.

Last month Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Defense Policy Ryan Henry was 
dispatched to a six-nation African tour to ³clear up misunderstandings² about 
the Pentagon¹s new military program. Several regimes raised concerns that the US
was moving into the region because of the discovery of vast oil reserves in 
parts of the continent and the growing influence of China, seen as both an 
economic and political rival.

After Henry returned from meetings with officials from South Africa, Nigeria, 
Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya, he told the Washington media, ³The goal is 
for AFRICOM not to be a US leadership role on the continent. We would be looking
to complement rather than compete with any leadership efforts currently going 

He added that AFRICOM was not being set up in ³response to Chinese presence² or 
to ³secure resources,² such as oil. ³While some of these may be part of the 
formula,² he acknowledged, the real is reason is that Africa ³is emerging on the
world scene as a strategic Œplayer,¹ and we need to deal with it as a 

To assure the African leaders, Henry said AFRICOM will not result in large-scale
deployment of troops on the continent or a major increase in Pentagon spending 
there. However, to anyone familiar with diplomatic language, ³strategic player² 
means that, in the view of the Bush administration, it is well worth waging wars
in Africa in the defense of US interests.

West Africa, including Nigeria, presently supplies 12 percent of US crude oil 
imports. By 2015, it is estimated this share will rise to 25 percent, a greater 
proportion than Saudi Arabia.

China is the second largest importer of oil after the US, to fuel its rapid 
economic expansion. According to China¹s General Administration of Customs, the 
Asian nation imported nearly 11 percent more oil during the first four months of
2007 than during the same period in 2006, with the bulk of the increase coming 
from Africa. In 2006 China consumed 320 million tons of crude oil, with 7 
percent of its imports coming from the Sudan.

China imports 25 percent of its crude oil from Africa and is looking for ways to
increase the supply from the continent. Since 2000 there has been a five-fold 
increase in trade between China and Africa‹now totaling $5.5 billion a year‹and 
China is now the continent¹s third largest trading partner, following the US and
France and eclipsing Great Britain.

Sub-Saharan Africa includes eight oil-producing countries: Nigeria, Angola, 
Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameron, Chad, the Democratic 
Republic of Congo and Sudan.

Nigeria is the largest producer of oil in Africa and has the 11th largest 
reserves in the world. It is presently producing 2.45 million barrels a day, 42 
percent of which goes to the US. The three largest oil companies in the country 
include two US firms, ExxonMobil and Chevron, and the British-Dutch Shell.

Angola is the second-largest African oil producer and is expected to reach 2 
million barrels a day by 2008.

Sudan is also rich in oil, and China has more influence there than any other 
country. China controls 40 percent of Sudan¹s oil although Chevron spent $1.2 
billion there and discovered oilfields in the south and at one point estimated 
that Sudan might prove to have more oil than Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Mandy Turner of the Guardian characterized both the US and China as key players 
in a new ³scramble for Africa.² ³The new entrant to the scramble is China,² she 
wrote. ³Africa offers the natural resources vital to fuel its rapidly growing 
economy,² including copper and cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo and 
Zambia, iron ore and platinum from South Africa, and to Cameroon, Gabon and the 
Republic of the Congo for timber. For oil, it has been striking deals with 
Nigeria, Angola, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea.²

The military, security and oil

With the end of the Cold War, when the major concern of the US was the struggle 
against the Soviet Union, requiring alliances with nominally independent Third 
World regimes, after 1991 the US felt able to pursue a more openly 
colonial-style policy of hegemonic control through the use of the military. The 
9/11 terrorist attacks have served as a useful pretext for this shift in US 
operations in Africa.

Despite the pretense that fighting terrorists and preventing humanitarian 
disasters will be the main purpose of US military operations in Africa, a report
published by the National Intelligence Council, which bills itself as the US 
intelligence Community¹s center for mid-term and long-term strategy thinking, 
makes it clear that US aims in the region are geopolitical in nature, with 
control of oil resources a primary concern.

Entitled ³External Relations and Africa,² the report says, ³Military engagement 
has shifted from direct support of proxy regimes or movements during the Cold 
War,² (as when the Belgium government, with the help of the CIA, overthrew and 
murdered Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba), ³to a combination of 
capacity-building and, especially post-9/11, direct American military 
involvement in basing areas such as Djibouti.²

In the section, ³Future Trends in External Engagement with Africa,² one of the 
prime reasons given for direct military engagement is ³the increasing importance
of the oil sector in especially but not exclusively US policy calculations on 

³Importantly,² the report continues, ³most of Africa¹s oil producers are not 
OPEC members‹notably Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville and 

An ominous warning of future US military operations in Africa came last month 
when Ethiopian troops, backed by the US, carried out a bloodbath in Somalia, 
leveling large parts of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the capital city,
Mogadishu. (See ³Massacre in Mogadishu‹war crime made in the USA²) Over a 
thousand people have died since US war planes bombed towns in southern Somalia 
and 350,000 to half a million people have fled the city, living in camps.

While officially there are no American troops involved in this conflict, CIA 
personnel and military special forces have been involved in the training of 
Ethiopian troops. One of the first objectives of the Ethiopian forces was to 
reoccupy the American embassy. (See ³Ethiopian troops occupy Mogadishu²)

Somalia is just one strategic flashpoint. J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson 
Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University and 
an advocate of US domination of Africa, commented in an editorial in the 
National Interest online that the decision of the Bush administration to 
establish the command center ³represents the administration¹s single most 
purposeful step towards assigning Africa its due priority.² (See ³The Africa 
Command Rises‹Finally²)

³The move,² states Pham, could represent ³a significant long-term engagement² 
that would ³anchor the continent firmly in America¹s orbit² (emphasis added). He
went on to cite the 2002 National Security Strategy document where the Bush 
administration stated it has the right to carry out preemptive strikes against 
any country to defend its interests, ³Africa,² states the report, ³holds growing
geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this Administration.²

Presently the US controls three regional commands in Africa, which share 
responsibility for US interests in the continent. The largest area is controlled
by the European Command, which oversees North Africa, West Africa including the 
Gulf of Guinea, and central and southern Africa. The Central Command is 
responsible for the Horn of Africa‹countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea,
Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Egypt. The Pacific Command includes Madagascar, the 
Seychelles islands and the Indian Ocean area off the African coast.

AFRICOM will initially operate out of the Stuttgart, Germany-based European 
Command center before it moves to a permanent base in Africa. The US has been 
careful not to spell out its plans, stating only that it will deal with 
peacekeeping, humanitarian aid missions, military training and support of 
African partner countries.

The US has claimed that it does not plan to engage large numbers of troops in 
the region, similar to its operations in Iraq. However, the presence of US 
troops will further the militarization of the continent with the possibility 
that another conflagration could develop over resources, like that in Iraq, with
wider and more ominous implications.

See Also:
Hu rejects accusations that China has colonial ambitions in Africa
[15 February 2007]
US backs Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia
[28 December 2006]

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