Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
The new U.S. command for Africa began independent operations on Wednesday, after being carved out of three other Pentagon units previously responsible for the continent. President George W. Bush originally wanted Africom to be based in Africa, and Liberia has offered to host it. But the plan met with considerable hostility on the continent, especially from big powers South Africa and Nigeria and oil giants Algeria and Libya. Many ordinary Africans were also cynical, believing Africom would be a cover for Washington to counter growing Chinese influence and control vital oil supplies from West Africa — expected to provide 25 percent of U.S. needs by 2015.
The hostility forced Washington to rethink its plans and Africom, expected to reach its full complement of 1,300 by the end of next year, began work from Stuttgart, home of the existing European command, although officials clearly expect to open a base in Africa sometime in the future. It also pushed U.S. officials to emphasise that there was no hidden agenda, that Africom would not threaten the sovereignty of any nations and that a base would not be built in Africa without the full agreement of potential host nations. They also said half of Africom’s leadership would be composed of civilian agencies including the State Department. Africom’s stated aim is to help African countries face everything from natural disasters to terrorism and its targets will including drug trafficking, arms smuggling and the kind of piracy now plaguing the waters off Somalia. Experts say U.S. forces have been cooperating quietly for years with African armies, particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel where rebel and al Qaeda-affiliated groups operate. They say Africom got a bad press initially because it was associated with heavy-handed U.S. policy in Somalia and as part of the U.S.-led ”War on Terror”, but now Pentagon officials are treading more carefully, realising how sensitive Africans are about suggestions Washington is trying to dominate.
Do you believe U.S. assurances about Africom or is it the thin end of the wedge, a precursor to a boosted American military presence on the continent that could attract rather than deter terrorist attacks and infringe on the sovereignty and independence of African nations?
It’s the stuff for a Hollywood blockbuster to rival Ridley Scott’s 2001 thriller “Black Hawk Down”: A bunch of 50 Somali pirates in speedboats and heavily armed with grenade launchers clamber aboard a Ukranian ship in the Gulf of Aden. They overwhelm the 20-man crew and take control of the ship and its dubious cargo of 33 battle tanks, supposedly destined for the Kenyan military. Six days later and with US navy ships stalking, a shootout breaks out on board among the pirates, killing three.
The hijacking of the MV Faina is only the most high-profile of what is turning into the biggest scourge of sea piracy in modern times. According to the International Maritime Bureau, presumed Somali pirates have attacked more than 60 ships in the area this year. It’s piracy alert website reported on Sept. 26 that four ships had been attacked in the Gulf of Aden within a 48-hour period.