By Kester Onor, The Conversation, May 10, 2021
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has asked the United States to move its military headquarters overseeing Africa to the continent, from Germany. This is to better tackle growing armed violence in the region. The Conversation Africa’s Wale Fatade asked peace and security expert Kester Onor about the implications of this request.
What do you think of President Buhari’s request that the US should move its Africa Command headquarters to the continent?
The request that the US should relocate AFRICOM headquarters to Africa contradicts the previous position taken by most African heads of governments when it was created. AFRICOM was formed in 2007. It was formed as a structure devoted to Africa (excluding Egypt) as part of US national security strategy. It became operational in 2008.
African policy makers, scholars and media resisted putting the command headquarters in Africa. They said it would undermine the precarious human security situation on the continent. They cited previous US military forays in Africa which led to a disproportionate development of military institutions relative to instruments of civilian rule.
Others saw AFRICOM as a naked attempt to exert American control over African resources. African leaders argued that Washington’s concern about African development was just a cover for asserting power.
Buhari’s request for AFRICOM’s assistance in tackling the country’s current security challenges may seem good in some aspects. These include providing technical assistance, intelligence gathering and logistics to Nigerian troops engaged in different operations locally.
But asking it to put boots on the ground may be detrimental to Africans. AFRICOM is a component of the US Department of Defense and State Department. The US Defence department places emphasis on traditional security imperatives that secure the state – guns and wars – rather than the principles of human security. The general fear is that highly centralised states with dictatorial leaders may further be militarised. This will be to the detriment of citizens.
Nigeria initially rejected the US setting up a military base in the country and in West Africa. Now insurgency, banditry and terrorism have escalated beyond manageable proportions due to acute deprivation and inability of the ruling class to allocate available resources equitably.
This is seen in lack of political will to confront and address the pathology of insecurity in Nigeria. Previous administrations were pragmatic in handling national issues. President Olusegun Obasanjo banned a radical Yoruba organisation, Odua Peoples Congress, even though it was formed by his own Yoruba people.
President Umaru Yar’Adua also offered an unconditional pardon to Niger Delta militants who agreed to lay down arms and assemble at screening centres. There was also cohesion among the security personnel in previous governments and superb inter-agency collaboration.
The US has not said whether the request will be granted or not. But I suspect it will, as this has always been its desire.
What are the implications of AFRICOM headquarters moving to Africa?
The implications are far-reaching.
We are in a multipolar world with China, US, Russia, India and France struggling to expand their spheres of influence. Just like China established its first overseas base in Djibouti, other foreign powers will likely follow the same direction, thereby making the continent a war zone.
The United States military has intervened in many countries, thereby creating enemies. Examples are Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Mali. The relocation of AFRICOM headquarters to Africa will expose the continent to attacks from several fronts. Islamic fundamentalists might attack in ways perceived to inflict pain on US government and citizens. An example is the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. African countries could be caught in proxy wars between the US and its enemies.
African governments will tend to be influenced in decision-making. This can happen through application of hard and soft power instruments. This may lead to securitisation and militarisation of policy whereby scarce resources which should be directed to critical sectors may be diverted to military spending. The American large military industrial complex might lobby its government to create instability in Africa to enable them market its arsenals. We’ve seen this in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
The establishment of a large American military institution on the continent may truncate Africa’s nascent democracies. It undermines the establishment and growth of civil society. It also creates avenues for military incursion in politics. The Command will involve military training and this can encourage coups.
Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, is the relocation an answer to these challenges?
It will not ameliorate or eradicate insecurity bedevilling Africa. The present insecurity in Africa is the consequence of misrule, corruption and endemic poverty. Also, bad governance, gross marginalisation and political exclusion.
These cannot be resolved by mere relocation of a military institution to Africa. They are challenges caused by underdevelopment.
Insecurity causes are multifaceted, therefore, the solution lies in structural reformation of African society. The plural nature of African states demands structural reforms. Reforms that will entrench constitutionalism, the rule of law, and political inclusion.
Kester Onor is Lecturer, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Covenant University