United States carrier aircraft Super Hercules C130J takes off into the skies, on day-two of the 'Aero India-2017' at the Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India. Picture: Jagadeesh NV/EPA
United States carrier aircraft Super Hercules C130J takes off into the skies, on day-two of the 'Aero India-2017' at the Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India. Picture: Jagadeesh NV/EPA

The AU is concerned about the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 17, 2020

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By Theo Neethling

Recent media reports claim that a covert Kenyan paramilitary team is responsible for the unconstitutional killing of terror suspects in night-time raids. The reports are based on interviews with US and Kenyan diplomatic and intelligence officials.

The team was trained, armed and supported by US and British intelligence officers.

It has been reported that since 2004, a CIA programme has been operational in Kenya without public scrutiny. For its part, the British Secret Intelligence Service has played a key role in identifying, tracking and fixing the location of targets.

This has drawn renewed attention to the reality of widespread foreign security operations in Africa.

Several African governments are hosting foreign military bases. This is despite the AU Peace and Security Council’s ongoing concerns about the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent. The AU is also concerned about its inability to monitor the movement of weapons to and from these military bases.

At least 13 foreign powers have a substantial military presence on the continent. The US and France are at the forefront of conducting operations on African soil.

Moreover, private military groups are active in several conflict zones on African soil. Northern Mozambique is the most recent case.

Currently, the US has 7000 military personnel on a rotational deployment in Africa. They are hosted in military outposts across the continent, including Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal, Niger, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In addition, 2000 American soldiers are involved in training missions in 40 African countries.

Like the US, France has either deployed military forces or established bases in a number of African countries. The country has more than 7500 military personnel currently serving on the continent. Its largest presence is in the Sahel, especially in the border zone linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The presence of foreign military forces in Africa is not limited to Western powers. China has been particularly active with its military presence in the Horn of Africa. It has become more engaged since 2008 when it participated in the multinational anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.

Since then China has maintained an anti-piracy naval presence in the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden. Between 2008 and 2018, the Chinese Navy deployed 26000 military personnel in a variety of maritime security operations.

India is another Asian nation that has increased its naval presence in Africa. The country has established a network of military facilities across the Indian Ocean to counter China’s rising military footprint in the region.

When it comes to the Middle East, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are the two countries with a notable military presence in Africa.

It is clear that the Horn is the epicentre of foreign military activity in Africa. Foreign troops have been deployed there to counter threats to international peace, subdue terror groups and pirates, and support foreign security initiatives.

But there are other motivations to establish military bases in Africa. These include protection of commercial interests, aligning with friendly regimes, and expressing dominance on a continent that is the focus of rising global competition.

For some observers it might seem like foreign governments are imposing their militaries on Africa, but, in fact, many African governments are keen to host them.

Bilateral agreements with major powers generate income for African states. The opening of China’s military base in Djibouti is a case in point. Most of Djibouti’s economy relies on Chinese credit.

The presence of foreign military forces has also played a significant role in fighting terror groups. These include groups like al-Shabaab in East Africa and jihadists in Mali. This explains why several African countries are willing to turn to foreign governments for advice, intelligence and support.

But there is a downside to the presence of foreign forces on the continent. For instance, the African security landscape has become overcrowded by a multiplicity of foreign security and military activities. These activities often function at cross-purposes.

The competition among some of the world’s powers has been heightened by the increasing presence of Asian powers. China’s expanding presence in Djibouti has caused concern.

Finally, African countries are not agreed on how to regulate foreign security and military activities. The approach so far has been disjointed.

Though Africa’s peacekeeping capacity has increased significantly, the AU is still highly dependent on external funding and resources for its peacekeeping operations. It does not have the freedom to take independent strategic, operational and even tactical decisions in its operations.

These are matters that have to be addressed before African states can heed the AU Peace and Security Council’s concerns about extensive foreign military involvement on the continent.

* Neethling is a professor of Political Science at the Department of Political Studies and Governance based at the University of the Free State. This article was first published in The Conversation.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL

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