On February 6, 2007, Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, announced to the Senate Armed Services Committee that President Bush had given authority to create a new African combatant command of the United States Military, called USAFRICOM or AFRICOM. Its mission is, according to President Bush, to "enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa", among other things by "strengthening bilateral and multilateral security cooperation with African states".
On July 10, 2007, President Bush nominated General William E. Ward as the commander of AFRICOM. Ward is currently deputy chief of the US European Command, where he oversees day-to-day operations of American forces and military interests in 92 countries, including many African nations. Under the US constitution, his nomination must be confirmed by the US Senate. Ward has been a US army officer since 1971. From March to December 2005, he was designated by the Secretary of State as US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He has also commanded the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia and commanded an infantry brigade in Somalia in the early 1990s.
AFRICOM is supposed to be fully operational by September 30, 2008. Until that date, AFRICOM will be headquartered in facilities located at Stuttgart, Germany. Then, after it will be fully established, the command will be headquartered on the African continent. Humanitarian, health and development efforts are intended to be important parts of AFRICOM's mission. The headquarters is expected to have two deputy commanders: a State Department ambassador will serve as deputy for civil-military activities and a three-star military officer will serve as deputy for military operations. As currently envisioned, the headquarters will include staff specialists from the State Department, the US Agency for International Development and other federal agencies currently working with African partners. The focus of its missions, according to Theresa Whalen, Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, will be diplomatic, economic and humanitarian aid, aimed at prevention of conflict, rather than at military intervention.
The territory to be assigned under the responsibility of the new command will consist of all of the African continent besides Egypt - which will remain under the direct responsibility of USCENTCOM, as it is closely relates to the Middle East - as well as islands related to the continent, including Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, islands belonging to Equatorial Guinea, and the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles. It should be mentioned that before the establishment of AFRICOM, most of Africa was under the responsibility of the European Command (USEUCOM), the Horn of Africa and Sudan were under the responsibility of the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), and the islands of Madagascar and Mauritius were under the responsibility of the Pacific Command (USPACOM).
It is important to stress that discussion over the need for a new continental command has been ongoing since 2003-2004 with the rise of tensions in the oil rich Niger Delta region, which supplies a large amount of oil to the United States. US oil industry officials emphasize that the US intelligence community has estimated that the United States will buy 25 percent of its oil from Africa by 2015, and a January 2002 report from the African Oil Policy Initiative Group played a role in getting discussions about such a command within the US national security community, though their specific recommendation was to create a subcommand for the Gulf of Guinea.
Other areas of increasing interest to the United States in Africa as from the beginning of the 2000s include the Sahel and North African region, where the GSPC and now al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb used to operate, the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, and Darfur.
Thus, the US policy towards Africa, which has contributed to the foundation of AFRICOM, looks to be largely defined by the war against international terrorism and the increasing importance of African oil to American energy needs, all of these issues will be dealt with later.
Africa: A Competition Ground between the US and China
However, another element, which was not mentioned so far, has been most crucial to the foundation of AFRICOM this year even more than the war on terrorism and security issues. This element is Africa's growing importance in global affairs, which is reflected in intensifying competition between the US and China as well as other countries for access to African resources and influence.
China has emerged as a significant world player on the economic scene with an ever-growing demand for oil, timber, minerals, and other natural resources. In order to sustain its dynamic economy, averaging 9 percent growth per annum over the last two decades, China is currently importing approximately 2.6 million barrels of crude oil per day, about half of its consumption; more than a third of its imports come from African sources, especially Sudan, Angola and Congo Brazaville. Thus, China's economic presence in Africa has risen dramatically over the last ten years. Its trade with the continent surged from $4 billion in 1995 to $55.5 billion in 2006, fuelled by African oil sales to China.
Thus, it is no wonder that China is acquiring control of natural resource assets, competing successfully against Western contractors on major infrastructure projects and providing soft loans and other incentives to African countries all over the continent. China has made Africa a front line in its pursuit of more global influence, closing trade deals with many African countries and educating Africa's future elites at Chinese universities and military schools. China's demand for resources is driving up the world price of several commodities such as copper, gold, aluminum, nickel, and timber, reversing a long decline, and giving African exporters of these materials a welcome economic boost, and hence increasing China's clout in the continent. Currently, more than 700 Chinese companies are operating in 49 African countries.
Therefore, it is no wonder that in January 2006, the Chinese regime published the first ever official white paper elaborating the bases of its policy towards Africa, which states that "the Chinese government encourages and supports Chinese enterprises' investment and business in Africa, and will continue to provide preferential loans and buyer credits to this end". True to its word, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced this year, ahead of his February twelve-day, eight-nation tour of Africa – the third such journey since he took office in 2003 – a three-year, $3 billion program in preferential loans and expanded aid for Africa. These funds come on top of the $3 billion in loans and $2 billion in export credits that Hu announced in October 2006 at the opening of the Beijing summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation which brought nearly fifty African heads of state and ministers to Beijing. The ever-growing trade contacts between Africa and China make the latter the continent's third most important trading partner, behind the United States and France, and ahead of Britain.
Alongside the economic and trade expanding relations with Africa, China has currently diplomatic relations with 48 of Africa's countries, the most recent being Senegal, which resumed ties in October 2005. In exchange for their diplomatic support in the isolation of Taiwan, China has provided a considerable amount of development assistance to African countries. In addition to bilateral relations, China has also made a concerted effort to engage Africa on a multilateral basis. In 1999, then President Jiang Zemin wrote to the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) to propose the creation of a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the first ministerial meeting of which took place the following year in Beijing with some forty-four African states participating.
What further drives the Americans crazy is the non-intervention policy of China in internal affairs of sovereign countries, including local African conflicts, even though it involves human rights' violations such as the case of Darfur, evolving from their policy of not interfering in African internal politics and giving the local governments a free hand to settle these conflicts as they see fit, without pressuring them to do so and without doing anything that might harm these countries' sovereignty. Hence, China used to veto or abstain many of the United Nations Security Council decisions concerning Darfur with the pretext that the consent of the Sudanese government is needed for its implementation. Even more alarming for the US is the fact that China offers an alternate source of support even for the United States closest allies, when they are under Western pressure for economic and political reform. China backed Ethiopia in its border dispute with Eritrea and the Kenyan President, under pressure from Western donors because of the corruption of his regime, simply led a high-level delegation for China asking for aid. Furthermore, it is a well known fact that China has found a ready export market for its weapons systems in some African countries, including Sudan (Chinese arms have been discovered in Darfur despite the UN arms embargo), Ethiopia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe, Uganda (US ally), and more countries.
In this context it should be mentioned that while all American and Western attention has been focused on China's activity in Africa, India's expanding relations with African countries have gone largely unnoticed. India's activity in Africa, which has its beginnings in ancient times, is driven by the same motivations as China's, including quests for resources, opening new business opportunities, and strategic alliances. India, which is facing a serious energy crisis, currently imports most of its oil from the Middle East. But due to its instability, it seeks an alternative supply of energy in the African oil sector. Thus, it has gained an extensive access to some of the best production blocks in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal.
In parallel to its economic activity in Africa, it currently has twenty-five embassies or high commissions throughout Africa with four others scheduled to open over the next two years. As a result, the chair of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Niger Foreign Minister, represented the 15-member group by supporting in 2006 India's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Furthermore, since the end of the Cold War, India has participated in UN peacekeeping operations in Mozambique, Somalia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia. India has also trained officers from a number of African countries in its military schools. Even more importantly, the chiefs of the South African and Indian Navy met in India earlier this year to discuss the mechanisms for cooperation between the two countries for regional security in the Indian Ocean, particularly for dealing with terrorism and piracy. In this context, one should see the announcement of the Indian External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, from August 11, who said that India would like to boost its cooperation with African countries in the war against international terrorism and, for that matter, the India-Africa Forum Summit would be held in India in April 2008.
However, one has to remember that in several countries, such as in Uganda and Kenya, India must overcome a legacy of cooperation with the colonial powers and with the Arab slave traders. Thus, most of the economy in these countries has been for more than a century at the hands of Indians. This aroused a strong feeling of "Indian-hatred" in these specific countries, which brought to the expulsion of all Indians from Uganda by Iddi Amin in 1972 and to their persecution by Black Africans in Kenya. In these countries, India's activity is not welcomed.
India's economic interests and activity are going sooner or later to clash with those of China. This clash has already begun and until now, at least, China has got the upper hand over India and the US on the competition on the access and control of African natural resources.
To sum up, one has to remember that China's footprint in Africa is indeed expanding, as is that of the US, Europe, India and many other countries that are looking to Africa as a trade and investment partner. Since 2001, every industrialized country has markedly increased its trade with Africa, principally with oil and gas purchases. Furthermore, it is important to note that Africa's trade with Europe and North America has also grown and the latter continues to constitute the destination for the majority of Africa's exports. Moreover, it must be stressed that though Chinese investment in Africa is increasing, it still represents a small fraction of China's total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) stock. The stock of Chinese FDI in Africa in 2005 was $1.6 billion, which represented only 3 percent of China's total FDI. Most Chinese investment was directed to Asia (53 percent) and Latin America (37 percent). The period of 2003 – 2005 saw massive increases of Chinese FDI outflows to all parts of the world, not just to Africa.
Yet, what distinguishes China's involvement in Africa from that of other countries is that it is accompanied by a clear government policy in support of African commercial ventures, abundant financing and tax benefits for Chinese firms operating abroad and robust diplomacy toward the region. However, with the exception of some importers, African countries' political and economic elites continue to be oriented primarily to the US, Europe and South Africa.
The sometimes aggressive competition between the US and China on the access to Africa's rich and abundant natural resources, especially the oil and energy resources located in the Gulf of Guinea area, makes energy and economical security as well as securing the access to Africa's natural resources the number one short term challenge confronting AFRICOM and the US, even more than the global war on terrorism.
In December 2005, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a paper titled "Emergence of the Gulf of Guinea in the Global Economy: Prospects and Challenges", in which its author, Damian Ondo Mane, addressed the growing importance of the area for energy supplies. Given the current uncertainties over Middle East oil supplies and especially instability in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf of Guinea is expected to occupy even greater strategic importance to the US, Europe and Asia, principally China, in the future. It is expected that the US will invest more than US$10 billion a year over the next ten years in oil activities in the region. According to this report, "the Gulf of Guinea bears numerous advantages for Western countries. First, the crude oil from the region is of better quality than that from Latin America. Second, the region's oil contains little sulphur by international standards, an appreciable characteristic for US companies. Third, oil in the region is mostly extracted from offshore fields, far from ground political instability and wars and as such can be easily protected from turmoil".
Furthermore, the Gulf of Guinea is relatively close to the main markets of Europe and the Americas. The area has also substantial natural gas reserves. The United States, according to the same report, faces a shortage of natural gas as reserves have steadily declined in the past years, reaching their lowest level in 2003. Hence, "it is more convenient and less costly for the petrochemical and steel companies to import foreign natural gas – that is broadly deemed cheaper and more accessible – than to pursue domestic exploration and production. Another factor in favor of natural gas importation in the United States is the lack of infrastructure and pipelines to extract and channel gas in the United States".
A year later, in his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush issued a call for the United States to "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025" and to "make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past". Thus, according to a report of the Energy Information Administration on US total crude oil and products imports, published on May 25, 2007, in March 2007, Nigeria edged past Saudi Arabia to become the US third largest supplier. Together with Angola, the two African states alone now supply more of America's energy needs than Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates combined. This is very significant given the fact that the militant activities of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) over the course of the last eighteen months has "had the cumulative effect of cutting Nigeria's total oil production by almost one-third".
In the background for this oil crisis, one has to understand that Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the fifth biggest source of US oil imports, which accounts for 9% of US exports. Oil has been produced in Nigeria ever since its independence from British rule. By the early 1990s, Nigeria became almost completely dependent on petroleum extraction economically, generating 25% of its GDP (this has since risen to 40% as of 2000). Nigeria produces over two million barrels of oil a day, which accounts for 90% of its export earnings and 80% of government revenue. Over the years, the Nigerian government has signed laws that appropriated oil resources and placed them under the control of the multi national oil companies, such as Chevron Corporation, and most notably, Shell. Despite the vast wealth created by petroleum, the benefits failed to reach the majority of the population, who as from the 1960s has been dispossessed from their farms in favor of foreign oil interests and thus, has increasingly abandoned their traditional agricultural practices. So, in spite of the ever-growing number of skilled, well-paid Nigerians who have been employed by the oil corporations, the majority of Nigerians, and especially the people of the Niger Delta states, has become poorer since the 1960s.
Furthermore, the Delta region has a steadily growing population estimated to be over 30 million people as of 2005, accounting for more than 23% of Nigeria's total population, and this number is always rising from year to year. The population is also among the highest of the world with 265 people per kilometer-squared. This population is extending at a rapid 3% per year and the oil capital, Port Harcourt, along with other large towns are growing quickly. This has ironically forced the growing populace to begin destroying the ecosystem that they require to sustain themselves. However, from the point of view of MEND and its supporters, the people of the Niger Delta have suffered an unprecedented degradation of their environment due to unchecked pollution produced by the oil industry and not due to natural socio-economical processes.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is a militant indigenous people's movement dedicated to armed struggle against the exploitation and oppression of the people of the Niger Delta and the degradation of the natural environment by foreign multinational corporations involved in the extraction of oil in the Niger Delta. It has been linked to attacks on foreign owned petroleum companies in Nigeria. Its stated goals are to localize control of Nigeria's oil and to secure reparations from the national government for pollution caused by the oil industry. As from February 2006 until June 14, 2007, when the newly-installed government of President Umaru Yar'Adua - in an effort to partially pacify Ijaw demands - released its leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari from prison, MEND had conducted attacks against Nigerian government and security forces' officials as well as against foreign oil companies' installations. MEND's militants had killed scores of Nigerian soldiers in attacks; seized, and later released more than a hundred of hostages in almost weekly incidents; blown up a pipeline to an export terminal; and detonated car bombs near tanker trucks. Hostage taking was the favorite tactic of MEND in its fight against the foreign oil corporations and their employees. The aim of this method is twofold: creating maximum panic in the international oil markets as well as bringing the giant US and European financial companies, that have invested heavily in the Gulf of Guinea's oil and gas industry, to exert pressure on the Nigerian government to respond to their demands. During the time, the tactics implemented by MEND became more and more sophisticated. A car bomb activated by a cell phone exploded at the beginning of May 2006 at an oil-truck stop near Wari, one of the central major towns in the Niger Delta. A MEND official wrote an email to news organizations following this attack, in which he stated that "the bomb was the final warning before fresh attacks on oil workers, storage facilities, bridges, offices, and other soft, oil industry targets". But, it was also "a massage to the Chinese governments and its oil companies to steer well clear of the Niger Delta. The Chinese government by investing in stolen crude places its citizens in our line of fire".
Since his May 29 inauguration, Yar'Adua has made it a priority to resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta and has employed a number of strategies to do so. He has allowed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to go after corrupt ex-politicians, threatening jail and seizure of assets for those who fail to go along with his initiatives. He has also reached out to the ethnic Ijaws who comprise much of the Niger Delta and MEND. He appointed Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw and former governor of Bayelsa State, to work full time to reach agreements with Niger Delta state and local authorities to rein in violence against the oil industry. He also released Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of the militant group Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, who was jailed for treason in 2005, and empowered him to lead negotiations with fellow gang leaders. Additionally, he released former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha on July 27, acceding to another MEND demand. The Nigerian President is considering making concessions to Niger Delta politicians who demand an increased share of the oil revenues generated in their region. The six oil-producing Niger Delta states currently share 13 percent of the oil revenues, allocated in special oil derivation funds, but reportedly are demanding a boost in their share to fifty percent.
The states, however, are unlikely to get the 50 percent they want, though an increase in money transferred to the Niger Delta is likely. The boost is expected to come in a series of government initiatives, particularly as part of a constitutional conference Yar'Adua is considering holding at some point in the future. Greater resource sharing, which is intended to placate regional, political and militant factions that have permitted or carried out attacks against oil infrastructure in the region, could result in a reduction of attacks. Yet, even though Niger Delta politicians are treading more carefully with regard to Yar'Adua, by ending their protection of gang leaders, violence in the Niger Delta will not end. However, attacks against the region's oil infrastructure are likely to subside as the area's many heavily armed gangs' members lose their political patrons. Abductions of Nigerians, including family members of politicians and businessmen, can be expected to continue – due to the simple fact that kidnapping is a good revenue-generating activity – and foreigners could be caught in the crossfire.
It is interesting to note, that Nigeria is not the only country in Africa where oil installations are under attack. On April 24, 2007, Ethiopian rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), who have fought alongside Islamic militants in Somalia, raided a Chinese- run oil field, killing 74 people and destroying the exploration facility in the border region between Ethiopia and Somalia. It was the first such attack ever on a foreign company in Ethiopia. According to Chinese officials, nine Chinese oil workers and 65 Ethiopians died and seven Chinese were taken away by the rebels.
The raid by more than 200 gunmen lasted nearly an hour and followed a warning issued last year by the rebel ONLF against any investment in eastern Ethiopia's Ogaden area that could benefit the West. In August 2006, the ONLF issued an electronic threat against a Malaysian oil company that was contemplating drilling in Ethiopia. The ONLF was formed by the Somali minority in Ethiopia in 1984. Since the beginning of the 1990s, its members have fought for the secession of the Ogaden region from Ethiopia, though in recent years it mounted only occasional hit-and run attacks on government troops. However, since the warfare in Somalia broke out last December, there is always the threat of its spillage into Somali-inhabited regions of Ethiopia, exactly what happened here.
It should be stressed in this connection that it has long been a goal of al-Qaeda to damage American and Western economic power by attacking oil facilities and targets. In a December 2004 audiotape, bin Laden stated that "one of the main causes for our enemies' gaining hegemony over our country is their stealing our oil; therefore, you should make every effort in your power to stop the greatest theft in history of the natural resources of both present and future generations". Moreover, Ayman al-Zawahiri gave an interview in 2005, in which he called the Mujahidin to "focus their attacks on the oil wells stolen from the Muslims, because most of the revenues of this oil go to the enemies of Islam. Thus, attacking oil fields and foreign investments in the Arab world is a preferred target by Jihadi groups inspired by Al-Qaeda.
It is not surprising, then, that the Jihadi forums reported on the actions of MEND. Thus, on the same day in February, in which MEND declared war on all foreign oil companies and on their employees, it kidnapped nine employees of the US petrol company Willbros and threatened to use them as human shield. Information about this kidnapping was widely circulated in the Jihadi forums, which published photos of the nine employees under the title "photos of the Lions of Nigeria after having taken prisoner some Americans", with the following text: "Allah supports you oh Lions of Nigeria! These are the photos of the Mujahideen in Nigeria after the seizure of nine hostages from the US oil companies who rob the wealth of Muslim Nigeria and the world", though the members of MEND are Christians and not Muslims. Moreover, photos of MEND attacks against petroleum installations, including the December 15, 2006 deadly attack against a Shell oil facility in southeastern Bayelsa State, have appeared on radical Islamists websites in the Middle East with captions describing the combatants as "the Mujahideen in Nigeria", who are fighting "US oil companies who rob the wealth of Muslim Nigeria and of the world".
But, the most threatening effect posed by this increased violence in the River Delta against government facilities and foreign oil companies, though it stopped in the meantime, is the potential for a goal-oriented alignment between MEND and the radical Islamists abroad. This is not to say that radical Muslim groups will recruit members from MEND or vice versa. Instead, MEND may provide inspiration to radical Islamic groups who are witnessing its success, even through the Jihadi forums. Damaging America's economy via targeting the oil industry has long been one of al-Qaeda's missions. If MEND will resume its attacks and will be successful in targeting and hurting Nigeria's oil economy, it is entirely possible that these future successful attacks may give rise to other attacks conducted by terrorist organizations across the globe.
Maritime Security and Terrorism
Given the importance of the Gulf of Guinea as a major source of oil and other natural resources for the US, the other challenge AFRICOM will face is the maritime security in the region. The Gulf of Guinea region has encompasses roughly a dozen countries with nearly 3,500 miles of coastline running in an arc from West Africa to Angola. These countries have not invested much in maritime security measures since historically the concept of security has had two broad characteristics in many African countries. First, security has been associated with the perpetuation of a regime and not necessarily the welfare of a country and its inhabitants. Secondly, the focus has been primarily land-centric, because regime security has seldom had a maritime dimension. As a result, maritime security arrangements in the Gulf of Guinea are under-resourced and have received scant policy attention. Furthermore, the states in the region belong to three different sub-regional organizations – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – each with its own geographic point of focus as well as differing developed capacities.
Moreover, enduring disagreements over maritime boundaries could precipitate armed conflict, particularly when the disputed areas have significant economic potential or are strategic transportation hubs. These disputes also make it much more difficult for countries in the sub-region to address shared security challenges in a collaborative manner. Examples of maritime disputes in the Gulf of Guinea include those between: Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula; Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon over an island at the mouth of the Ntem River, and Gabon and Equatorial Guinea over the Mbane Island and Corisco Bay boundaries.
Thus, the International Maritime Bureau ranks the Gulf of Guinea as one of the most troubled global waterways. Since the late 1990s, this sub-region consistently ranked among the top piracy hot spots worldwide. Between 2002 and 2004 alone, piracy attacks in this sub-region exceeded recorded incidents in the rest of the continent. Growing crime complicates the tenuous security climate in this sub-region's maritime domain. Poor maritime governance significantly facilitates oil theft (illegal bunkering) in the Niger Delta region, with dire regional ramifications. This highly organized activity costs the sub-region around $1.2 billion every year in lost revenue. In addition, the criminal gangs responsible for oil theft contribute to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the region. The Weaponry is becoming more sophisticated and lethal as the criminal gangs seek to evade national law enforcement personnel. Another criminal trend worth noting is the transshipment of narcotics. The Gulf of guinea is becoming a major narco-trafficking hub. Furthermore, an inability to exercise control over their maritime domain has made it difficult for Gulf of Guinea states to enjoy the full benefits of the significant fisheries resources located offshore. Recent studies suggest that poaching by vessels from Asia, Europe and other parts of Africa costs the sub-region some $370 million annually.
As mentioned earlier, the traditional land-centric approach to security in the sub-region contributed to a systematic neglect of maritime forces. It is, therefore, not surprising that countries in the sub-region are unaware of most traffic and activities in their territorial waters. Basic equipment (such as functioning surveillance systems), material (including patrol craft) and trained personnel are in short supply. Most port and surveillance infrastructure is in need of repair, upgrading or replacement. Failure to pay sufficient attention to this crucial aspect of maritime security over the years is partly responsible for the current state of affairs. Poor maritime domain awareness undermines security by making it possible for criminals to operate with impunity – thereby jeopardizing security.
Another African high-ranking piracy hot spot worldwide is the 2,300 miles Somali coast, which is located near crucial shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. It saw scores of pirate attacks between March 2005 and June 2006, but these stopped after the Union of Islamic Courts conquered their bases along the coast. However, following the Ethiopian invasion and ousting of the Union of Islamic Courts from power, there has been a resurgence of pirate attacks on international shipping off the unpatrolled Somali coast as from May. Thus, on May 15, 2007, Somali gunmen captured two Kenyan fishing vessels off the Somali coast. Just a day earlier, the Qatar-flagged MV-IBN Younous, which was carrying around 15,000 tonnes of cargo from South Africa to the Gulf States, had escaped a same fate, when three men armed with machine guns and a rocket launcher attacked the boat, but it succeeded to escape with some damage to its crew quarters. On May 19, pirates staged a failed hijacked attempt on a boat carrying aid for the World Food Programme. Also in May, pirates seized two South Korean fishing vessels and still hold they crew hostages. More ships have been captured since then.
These attacks, taking place at least 180 nautical miles from shore, mark a new strategy and confirm fears that the pirates are becoming better funded and equipped – they now use satellite phones and GPS to track their prey. That same technology allows large container ships to operate with smaller crews, making them easier to overpower.
Thus, if al-Qaeda happens to ally itself with those pirates, roaming the shores of the Gulf of Guinea and Somalia, it might provoke a chain of maritime terrorism against world shipping, which sails along these waters. Taking into consideration the oil fields stretching along the Gulf of Guinea Gulf as well as the Gulf of Aden being the main artery for the passage of oil tankers, naval ships and even tourists from Europe to the Far East and vice versa, this future maritime terrorism might harm world economy. Although up till now, al-Qaeda attacked only two targets at sea in the Gulf of Aden, still one has to take seriously this threat to world economy.
Terrorism and Radical Islamism Issues
In this context, AFRICOM symbolizes the great importance that the United States has finally attributed to the African continent as part of its global war on terror, in which al-Qaeda or radical Islamic groups inspired by its ideology and tactics comprise the main enemies.
When dealing with Africa, social inequality, alienation and isolation of certain groups on religious and ethnic grounds should warrant more attention in some Sub-Saharan countries. These are the feeding grounds or the parts of Africa where it is easier for more committed extremists from outside the region to move through to gain local support and assistance, even though the local people in those cases are not the ones who are providing most of the foot-soldiers for extremism and terrorism.
That raises the question of the spread and strength of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even though the precise number of Muslims in the continent is unknown – due to incomplete statistics regarding religious demography, and despite the intense efforts to win converts by Christian missionary groups active in Africa – Islam is the largest religion in Africa with about 50 percent of the population being Muslims. In contrast, about 33 percent are Christians and less than ten percent are non religious or adherents of African religions. There are a number of centers of Islam in the region including the West African Sahel Zone, the tropical zone along the Gulf of Guinea, the Sudanese Nile region, Ethiopia, the East African coastal strip, Somalia, and the Cape region. In all of these regions, the spread of Islam took a different path in which the relative importance of specific elements of the religion depended on the historical and social context.
Nevertheless, the majority of these areas appear to share two common features. Islam did not develop into an exclusive state religion and the interpretation of the Islamic legal code appears to have been moderate across the board. However, the long-standing practice of a moderate interpretation of Islam is subject to change. A radicalization has taken place with the introduction of Shari'ah in twelve Nigerian states, rigid adherence to Shari'ah in the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia and extremist tendencies among Muslims in South Africa.
In the short term, however, it is unlikely that extremist Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa will become an important and integral part of al-Qaeda's network. In contrast to North Africa, membership is likely to be limited to a few individuals. Al-Qaeda's call after the Mombassa attacks in 2002, on African Muslims to join its cause was met with decidedly more indignation than approval, with one important exception. The Algerian Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) joined al-Qaeda in September 2006 and in January 2007 changed its name to the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. Since then, it has widened its scope of operations into Tunisia, and it seems like it cooperates even with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in Libya, which conducted a failed suicide bombing in the end of June. Furthermore, it has greatly increased its terrorist activity within Algeria, which opened in February with a series of suicide bombings and continued with suicide attacks conducted in Algiers on April 11, at the entrance of the Ministry of Interior, killing 24 people and wounding 300.
Yet, the possibility of the development of a genuine African variant of terrorism cannot be entirely ruled out since the necessary ingredients—lack of economic perspectives, social deprivation, a loss of cultural identity, political repression and a dysfunctional state—are virtually omnipresent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, rather than being directed outwards, it appears that the potential for violence arising from the interplay of these factors in Sub-Saharan Africa is, for the most part, directed inwards against one's own society in the form of increasing violent crime, civil wars, and plundering warlords. Thus, all that is needed is a mobilizing, unifying idea, such as the one offered by radical Islam; and appropriate agitators, who abuse this idea to direct the violence bred by these factors externally.
The importance of Africa in terms of international terrorism will focus in the next couple of years on two factors. First, the weak and desolate states of Africa provide an excellent space to draw back to, such as the Sahel region for members of al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, and their informal economies offer superb conditions for money-laundering and parking capital. Second, ineffective state security apparatuses create a convenient environment for carrying out attacks, such as was the case in Kenya and Tanzania.
Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more failing states than any other region in the whole world. But even in more or less functioning states such as Kenya and Tanzania, the state is hardly capable of effectively maintaining a monopoly on violence and controlling the entire territory of the country. Border areas and the slums of the big cities, such as Nairobi, where the Mungiki and the Taliban gangs fought against each other this year, are already de facto zones outside the state's control. The security forces' training and equipment are entirely insufficient and corruption and criminalization of the police is far advanced. The shadow economy of these crumbling states makes capital transactions and trafficking in weapons, raw materials, and consumer goods possible, without which terrorist networks would be unable to function. Thus, the incapacity of the majority of African security forces to protect targets threatened by terrorism is in stark contrast with the great variety of such potential targets including embassies, the numerous agencies and projects of international development organizations, subsidiaries of American and European companies, and international tourist hotels.
This situation prevailing in most African states is taken advantage of by local terrorist groups, some of them using methods emulated from al-Qaeda or from the Jihadists actions in the Middle East, to achieve their local aims. Such is the case of the "Iraqization" of the fighting in Mogadishu between the insurgents and the Ethiopian and Transitional Federal Government forces, which began in February this year and is still raging, causing in the process to the killing of hundreds of people, the wounding of thousands of people and to more than 200,000 people fleeing Mogadishu. As from February, Mogadishu has been the scene of persistent violence, including mortar and rocket attacks on TFG and Ethiopian installations, and the city's airport and seaport; machine gun attacks on police stations and checkpoints; targeted assassinations of public officials, military and security personnel, nongovernmental activists, and their relatives; unexplained homicides; intra-clan gun fights; car hijackings; and the erection of road blocks by local militias to extol tolls from motorists. The fighting has escalated since the end of March, when the insurgents introduced new warfare tactics, that remind us more and more of the Iraqi scenes of war, such as: planes' downing; burning TFG's and Ethiopians soldiers and mutilating their bodies; open artillery duels instead of hit-and-run mobile mortar assaults; the use of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices; and the introduction of suicide bombing operations. The most prominent groups among the insurgents are the Islamist ones, the most recent of them is the Youth Mujahidin Movement (Harakat Shabab al-Mujahidin), which announced its establishment on March 26. They claimed responsibility for most of the qualitative operations that were carried out, including the planes' downing and the suicide bombings. It seems like they have been responsible for the introducing of Iraqi-style tactics into the Somali scene. Thus, they seem to have a very prominent role within the insurgency movement, although the real leaders are the Hawiye leaders.
In the ideological field, the pragmatic approach taken by the Salafis towards the Sufis must be taken seriously and fully into account. The Sufis in Africa were not always peaceful as they have been regarded to be by others. There was a strong linkage between Sufis and Jihad all over the continent, but particularly in West Africa. The first African Sufi who waged Jihad was the great Muslim scholar, Othman dan Fodio, a member of the Qadiriyyah Muslim sect. He declared Jihad against Muslim heretics at the beginning of the nineteenth century and established the Sultanate of Sokoto, which was governed by Shari'ah rule. His Jihadi movement was not linked in any way whatsoever to the Wahhabiyyah prevailing at the same period in Saudi Arabia. Yet, like the Wahhabiyyah, he sought to reform the society in which he lived, which was corrupt and not abiding by the Shari'ah or by the Sunnah of the Prophet. That was the main ideological motivation for his Hijrah (immigration) and jihad. Othman dan Fodio had a strong ideological influence not only on Nigerian Muslims but also on all African Muslims and even on the African-American Diaspora in the Caribbean.
Throughout the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth century, Sufis stood at the forefront of the Jihad against the Europeans in all parts of Africa. The Libyan Omar al-Mukhtar led the struggle against the Italian occupation; the Somali Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan led the struggle against the British, the Italians and the Ethiopians; and other less known Islamic Sufi scholars, such as those who took part in the Maji Maji rebellion against the Germans in Tanzania. This radical attitude inherent in the Sufism in Africa as well as the strong connection prevalent between Sufis and Jihad were hailed by al-Qaeda supporters in Jihadi forums as a possible ideological basis for cooperation between radical Muslims and Sufis in Africa, as really reflected in Somalia, where Sufis and radical Muslims united their forces under the Islamic Courts Union's framework in the name of nationalism in order to fight the Ethiopians and the Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government.
Another factor, which helps facilitate radical Islam in Africa, has been the intensive activity of Islamic NGOs, such as the Muslim World League, based in Saudi Arabia, World Islamic Call, based in Libya, and other organizations, within the continent during the last three decades or so. The increase in the number of Islamic NGOs from the 1970s onwards, can be largely attributed to financial sponsorship from oil-rich Muslim states in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and North Africa. They have been willing to finance their work, among other things, also as active participants in the modern scramble for Africa and as a means of counteracting the activities of Western-backed Christian NGOs. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, are the main financiers of these organizations.
These NGOs have focused their work, first of all, on development and relief issues in Sub-Saharan Africa in the name of Jihad and the cause of converting more people to Islam. In this case, it should be noted that the term Jihad encompasses a wider range of meanings than just militant holy war. Its relevance to the subject of relief and development stems from its general meaning of "striving" or "struggling". According to this worldview, the Zakat—a duty every Muslim must pay—can be rightfully spent on some kinds of Jihad including: military preparedness or defense; propagation of Islam; payment of salaries to religious teachers and to others, who impart other knowledge on which the people's progress and prosperity depends; and, for bringing about improvements in matters of faith and state. In other words, Zakat can be used for Jihad in the military sense as well as for Jihad in the sense of propagating Islam and development.
In Africa, therefore, Islamic community development projects go hand in hand with Da'wah and Islamization projects. The main reason for the Islamic NGOs growing involvement in development matters in Africa is their better ability to reach the rural poor population, than government agencies do. These same rural poor are also the main target for Da'wah and Islamization projects. The primary missionary feature of the Da'wah in Africa has been the training of Muslim teachers, leaders, imams, and legal experts, alongside building of mosques and of schools attached to them. Thus, since the 1970s, future imams and youth leaders have become increasingly involved with the Islamic NGOs after an initial training in Africa. Then, they have been sent by these NGOs for further education abroad in Islamic institutions, universities, and advanced seminaries. Hence, it is not surprising to find that the version of Islam that has been emphasized by these NGOs is Salafist or Wahhabist or other radical versions as propagated in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
Saudi Arabia, as well as some Salafi elements in other Gulf States, managed through the finance of relief projects, to turn a marginal Islamic trend of Salafism of the Wahhabi school into a worldwide ideology, with a growing number of adherents and a spectrum of doctrines, from a reformist Salafism to radical militant global Jihad. In this sense, Africa, with its enormous social problems, is the most fertile greenhouse for relief projects on one hand, and their exploitation for political and ideological process of Islamization on the other hand. It is not surprising, then, to find that financing of radical Islamic activities in East Africa and the Horn comes from a variety of sources, but high on the list one can find the Islamic NGOs, which have been active in East Africa and the Horn for years. In addition to encouraging Wahhabi beliefs, building mosques, and implementing useful social programs, some of their branches are suspected of funneling money to al-Qaeda and to other radical Islamist organizations active in Africa.
This most worrying phenomenon must also be seen in the context of the continuation of the long struggle between Islam and Christianity over the souls of the Sub-Saharan African population. Whereas in the past, there was a roughly clear-cut division between a dominantly Muslim north and a dominantly Christian south, while the rain forests or the equator comprising the border between the religious influence zones, it is not so now. Many converts to Islam can be found every single year in what was once a country with fully Christian population. Thus, in the unlikely country of Angola, where in the 1990s there were no Muslims at all, Muslims comprise today 2% of the population.
A good example for this Da’wah is the activity of the African Muslim Agency (Lajnat Muslimi Ifriqya). The African Muslim Agency (Lajnat Muslimi Ifriqya) is a Kuwaiti-based Islamic NGO, which was founded in 1981 as the Malawi Muslim Agency (Lajnat Muslimi Malawi), focusing its activity in Malawi. Later, when it expanded its scope of activity throughout sub-Saharan Africa, it changed its name to the African Muslim Agency, only to change its name again in 1999 to Direct Aid International (Jami’ayyat al-'Awn al-Mubashir). It has established itself 32 African countries, including Sierra Leone, Mali, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Angola, the Gambia, and particularly the Republic of South Africa.
According to African Muslim Agency's website, until 2006, it had achieved the following throughout Africa: building 840 schools and two colleges, in which a total of half a million African students study; awarding 300 scholarships/study grants to students for higher studies as well as sponsoring 1000 students for university studies; digging 4150 water wells throughout Africa and constructing three dams; erecting 45 medical camps, especially to cure eye diseases; establishing eight large agricultural, livestock poultry farms and 204 handicraft training centers for destitute women; dispatching 260,000 tons of food, medicine and clothing as aid to the needy during periods of severe famine, drought and floods; establishing 108 community centers, each of them comprising of a school, clinic, female training center, orphanage, and agricultural land; translating and printing 7.8 million value-based Islamic educational booklets/leaflets in 22 different languages; establishing an educational broadcasting station covering sixteen regions and ten languages and disseminating education programs in Africa; holding 650 training workshops for educators, trainee students and interns of education institutes throughout Africa; and sponsoring and maintaining 9500 orphans daily throughout the continent.
In addition, it established specific community development projects throughout Africa, such as: vocational training carpentry workshop and center in Burkina Faso; agricultural and honey producing station for orphans in Uganda; cattle, livestock and chicken breeding farm in Zambia; women dressmaking and cooking center in Niger, maize producing and processing plant in Kaakieri –Uganda; industrial vocational training center in Wajiier/Kenya; women carpet making center in Wajiier/Kenya; Agricultural co-operatives operation in southern Sudan; rice and wheat agricultural co-operative in Chad; furniture making workshop for the handicapped in Togo; vocational skills training, orphanage and education center in South Africa.
Furthermore, AMA launched Da'wah, relief and development projects directed at specific tribes and societies—detailed in an article outlining its strategy titled "The Relief Propagation Organizations"—such as: the Islamization of the Randili and Borana tribes in northern Kenya; the Islamization of the Giryama tribe in south-eastern Kenya; relief and Da'wah projects for the Pokomo and the Borana in eastern Kenya; a special project for the aid of the Somalis in east and north eastern Kenya; the Islamization of the Sakalava and Intimor tribes in Madagascar as from 1994; the Islamization of the Borana tribes in south Ethiopia as from 1997; relief and development projects for the Dinka tribes as well as for other tribes in Sudan as from the mid-1980s, for the purpose of pacifying the areas which they inhabit; relief, development and Da'wah projects for the pagan and Christian tribes in south Chad as from 1994, for the purpose of pacifying this region, which is known for its separatist tendencies; relief and development projects for the Dabula tribes in Senegal for the purpose of pacifying the southern region of the country; Da'wah projects for the Fulani tribes in Guinea, whose youth have been converted to Christianity; relief and development projects for the Muslims in north Ghana, Togo, and Benin, who suffer from economical and social neglect, as from the beginning of the 1990s.
Within these Da'wah projects, the African Muslim Agency ascribed a major importance to the spread of Islamic education among Africans. Hence, it established the College of Zanzibar in 1998. Among its faculties are the Faculty of Islamic Studies and Arabic Language, the Faculty of Social Sciences and the faculties of mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, and computer sciences. The students are drawn from Eastern African countries, the Republic of South Africa, Malawi, the Comoro Islands, Somalia, and Ethiopia, while the lecturers are drawn from Tanzania, Sudan, India, Egypt, and Algeria. In Somalia, it established in 1999 the Somali Institute for Administrative Development, which trains Somali cadres in administration, accounting and computing.
As a result of the AMA activities, dozens and even hundreds of people have converted to Islam in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Zambia (where it has been involved in building and running of schools, hospitals, orphanages and mosques), Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, the Central African Republic, Togo, Rwanda, Senegal, Ethiopia, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Madagascar, Malawi, and other African countries.
Another example for an intensive Arab activity is Ghana, where Muslims comprise about 16% of the population. During the last three decades, there has been a significant increase in Arab activity in Ghana, resulting in a proliferation of Islamic organizations. In 1971, a Muslim missionary organization known as the Islamic Reformation and Research Center was started in Accra, Ghana's Capital. Activists of the center refer to it as a Wahhabi missionary order. The organization is financed by the Saudi Dar al-Ifta' and has since produced hundreds of students, who have been to Arab universities for further studies. This and numerous other Muslim Arab groups and organizations embark on missionary activities. They undertake to establish schools and other social services, and carry out public preaching within the urban centers to propagate Islam. Most recently there have been a number of bloody confrontations between missionary minded Muslim groups, made up of graduates from Arab universities, and the majority traditional Ghanaian Muslim groups. The most notorious of these groups is what is known locally as the Ahl al-Sunnah, a Saudi trained Wahhabi inspired group. Its members attack and publicly condemn traditional Muslim practices, such as the production of charms and the wearing of amulets, as un-Islamic. The brand of Islam they regard as "pure" or "orthodox" Islam is that which they were exposed to in Saudi Arabia or in other parts of the Arab world.
Thus, on the long run, the radical Islam originating in the Arab world comprises a threat to moderate African Muslims as well as to the West. In this sense, this is a challenging hour for the Muslims in Africa. Globalization processes and a closer links with the Arab world might bring with them some adaptations and changes on the part of the majority Sufi Muslims in Africa. This process of adaptation has already begun in the form of the creation of reform movements within the Sufi orders and the common base of Jihad, which unites radical Muslims and moderate Sufis under one umbrella organization, as happened in Somalia. The understanding of this process, which seems to be at its initial phase, might show us on which direction Islam and Muslims in Africa might go: towards the radical end or towards the moderate end.
With this in mind, if this trend is going to continue, Africa might be a Muslim continent, with a minority communities of Christians and pagans still at hand. Yet, much more serious and important scenario is that Africa might become a battle ground between the traditional Sufis and the more radical elements originating in the Arab world, as already happens in Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, and other countries. If the more radical elements win this struggle on the character of Islam in Africa, than it might comprise a real threat to world security and economy. Sub-Saharan Africans compose a growing share of immigrants to Europe, and might join North African Arab radicals there, either for the same socio-economic problems they face in Europe, or among higher educated Muslims, whose share in terrorism on European soil is about to grow.
The above-mentioned processes raise another element of tension in Africa, which is prominent for the time being only in the on-going war in Darfur region in Sudan – the animosity between Arabs and African Muslims. The process of Islamization, even though by peaceful means, carries within it a process of Arab dominancy. Such a process is eminent also in Mauritania, where in the 1990s, its president oversaw a bloody purge of Black Africans from the Arab dominated army and where the enslavement of Black Africans by Arab people is still practiced despite the adoption of a law on August 8 by Mauritania's national assembly criminalizing slavery for the first time ever. The law, passed by the Senate on August 22, makes slavery punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison. Such a process is eminent also in Somalia, since its independence and belonging to the Arab league, and in part is one of the backgrounds of the chaos there. Similar tensions exist also in East Africa on the grounds of past memories of Black slavery and Arab slave traders, who reached in their voyages to capture slaves even into the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo and to the Congo Basin. The process of Islamization, especially that which is primarily done by wealthy Arab governments and NGOs, with a certain religious direction on one hand, and certain sense of superiority on the other, might bear negative results as well for the Arabs.
Still, there is one major factor which might unite radical Muslims, Sufis, and Arabs in Africa. The news concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Western involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, which reach the African Muslims through the television, newspapers, radio and internet, must have a crucial role in creating a sense of strong alienation among moderate and radical African Muslims towards the United States, the West and their respective governments, which are perceived to collaborate with the West. Together with the strong sense common to the majority of Sub-Saharan Africans of being exploited by the West without getting any reward back, this strong sense of alienation and in some cases, even hatred, towards the West might turn into terror activities against Western targets using Middle Eastern methods.
Yet, it must be stressed that the balance of power between radical and moderate Muslims is still turning clearly towards the moderates. Overall, the radical Muslims comprise a small minority in Africa, compared to the overwhelming majority of the moderate Sufi Muslims.
A final point to be noted is that the same processes that Muslims in Africa are going through are common also among the African Diaspora in Europe, especially in France, in the Arab world, in the Caribbean, and even in the US and Great Britain. Thus, the Sufi Tijaniyyah order in France shows signs of radicalization, the Saudi wanted list of radicals includes four Chadian nationals, the Jamaat al-Muslimin organization, active in Trinidad and Tobago, is still influenced by Othman dan Fodio's Jihadist ideology, and the Somali community in the US and Great Britain becomes more and more radicalized as a result of its support of the Islamic Courts Union and its wish to help expel the Ethiopian conquerors from their homeland.
Environmental Security: Climate Change and Conflict
In addition to the above mentioned challenges facing AFRICOM and the US in Africa, there is one more security challenge, which is not restricted to Africa alone and which is widely neglected throughout the world, although it seems to be more and more the number one cause for the eruption of conflicts throughout the world, and particularly in Africa. This challenge is called global climate change. Africa is the continent that is most vulnerable to the uncertainties and weather extremes of climate change since ecological vulnerabilities and widespread poverty seriously limit adaptation capabilities. Extreme climate events such as floods, strong winds, droughts and tidal waves are the main threats to Africa from climate change.
Africa can easily be said to contribute the least of any continent to global warming. Each year Africa produces an average of just over one metric ton of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per person, according to the US Department of Energy's International Energy Annual 2002. The most industrialized African countries, such as South Africa, generate 8.44 metric tons per person, and the least developed countries, such as Mali, generate less than a tenth of a metric ton per person. By comparison, each American generates almost 16 metric tons per year. That adds up to the US alone generating 5.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (about 23% of the world total, making it the leading producer), while Africa as a whole contributes only 918.49 million metric tons (less than 4%). It is a cruel irony that the people living in the continent that has contributed the least to global warming are in line to be the hardest hit by the resulting climate changes.
Two thirds of the rural population and one third of the urban population are already affected by a lack of access to safe drinking water in Africa. Climate change is expected to exacerbate Africa's persistent water stress. Due to the large numbers of subsistence-based communities, water scarcity presents a very serious hazard for people's existence. As rainfall declines, the quality of water deteriorates because sewage and industrial effluents become more concentrated, thereby exacerbating water-borne diseases and reducing the quality and quantity of fresh water available for domestic use. In the Nile region, for example, most scenarios estimate a decrease in river flow of up to 75 per cent by 2100, displacing up to 90 million people by 2015.
Thus, climate change has had a huge impact on agriculture throughout Africa. On any continent crop failure means trouble, but in Africa it’s a catastrophe. About 40% of the gross national product of African countries flows from agriculture, and about 70% of African workers are employed in agriculture, most of them on small plots of land. Africa is full of poor people who are very highly dependent on climate-related issues for their livelihoods. They are subsistence farmers in often very marginal environments. A UN report, which was published on November 5, 2006, predicted that by 2080, global warming could lead to a five percent fall in the production of food crops, such as sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan; and groundnuts in Gambia.
Africa's global importance has increased greatly in the last decade or so and the US, which until very recently neglected the continent, wishes to still be able "to jump on the train before she passes away" by means of the new African Command, which is going to be based somewhere in Africa in October 2008. But, it seems like the most formidable challenge facing AFRICON is the African reaction to it. In Africa, the announcement concerning AFRICOM's foundation has been met with trepidation and controversy.
Resistance to the idea is fuelled primarily by fears that it could lead to the militarization of American foreign policy towards Africa. The view is widespread that AFRICOM is a tool to secure better access to Africa's natural resources, erode China's growing influence on the continent, and establish forward bases to hunt and destroy networks linked to al-Qaeda. Thus, to many Africans, especially African Muslims, AFRICOM is, along with Iraq and Afghanistan, another sign that the US is seeking to reassert American power and hegemony globally. Moreover, by emphasizing AFRICOM's role in development and humanitarian tasks, US officials may have actually amplified African concerns. The fear is that, henceforth, the main lens through which development efforts in Africa are perceived will be the Pentagon's.
Of its numerous critics, South Africa has been especially vocal. South Africa is the loudest voice on the continent in opposition to AFRICOM. According to recent media reports, there is a growing tension in US – South African relations over AFRICOM. The US Ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost, complained that South Africa's defense minister, Mosioua Lekota, has not responded yet to embassy requests to meet the commander of AFRICOM. Moreover, on August 29, Lekota said that "more armed US soldiers are not welcome in Africa" and that "any country that allowed itself to be a base for the US strategic command in Africa would have to live with the consequences", which could amount to neighboring African countries refusing to cooperate with them. He stressed further that the Southern African Development Community defence ministers had, at the summit in Lusaka held in August, decided that no member states would host AFRICOM and more armed US soldiers, and that it will be better if the US were involved in Africa from a distance rather than be present on the continent that creates a sense of uncertainty.
However, to sum up, there appears to be an agreement on two key points. The first is that AFRICOM is still an enigma. No one is sure what it will do or how, if at all, and what it means to Africa. The second is that AFRICOM's success will ultimately depend on how well the US understands and responds to the security priorities of Africans, which are different from those of the US itself. In the meantime, throughout the last year, the African Union tries to resolve African conflicts independently by deploying forces in Darfur and Somalia.
This stand marks, more than everything else, the wish of the Africans to get rid of outside involvement in their matters and to build its own mechanism, which will be able to respond to African security and peacemaking priorities. Fifty years ago, Kwame Nkrumah, the President of Ghana, the first African country to gain its independence, called on Africans to create the "United States of Africa". One central feature of his call was for an African Military High Command. Thus, it seems that nowadays, as the African Union deliberates continental governance, there could not be a better time to push forward African responses to Africa's security priorities and creating the African Military High Command, as envisioned earlier by Nkrumah, and for the first time ever to create a united African force that will secure African security and interests, without any need for foreign intervention.