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Boko Haram - The inadvertent Western spin

24 May 2014, 19:01
The age-old nationalist gripe about allowing the United States of America to fulfill its age-old ambition of establishing military bases in Africa is not purely on pan-Africanist grounds.

 While it might be fashionable to hate America and blame it for everything that goes wrong in the world, world peace activists need to understand that this is different from a missile shield in Europe.

The US already enjoys military presence in Djibouti and a few 'secret' drone bases in volatile parts of this continent, but its strategic achievement will be to set up Africa Command (Africom) on African soil with the consensus of African leaders, especially influencial powers within regional blocks, Southern African Development Community (SADEC), Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) and East African Community (EAC).

The US will find little resistance from ECOWAS, given the Boko Haram, CAR and Mali situations. It will also find a warm reception in the EAC due to the Al Shabbab and Lord Resistance Army threat. It's likely to hit a snag in the South where South Africa pays some bills.

It was not co-incidental that in 2009 former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pit-stopped in South Africa after Kenya while on her way to Nigeria.

It was also not luck that it happened during South Africa's Women’s Month. It was strategic for a woman Secretary to visit a government which prioritises empowering women in decision-making. That our defence and foreign affairs portfolios were led by women was not lost to the State Department.

 America had pioneered such empowerment for some time; first with Madeline Albright and later Condoleeza Rice.

 And Clinton's five years ago gestures might work for her when she finally announces her intention to run for the White House. She, as the next president of the US would like to say, 'look, we can be trusted. Wasn't I your friend before? Now how about a little naval base in the Atlantic Ocean side of Africa?'. And remember she was in East Asia when the Western troops finally killed Libya's Muammar al Gadaffi; a tragedy to which her response when shown the image on her aide's smartphone was a lame 'Wow!"

However media and think-tanks have since 2009 been speculating about the significance of Clinton’s visit of seven, some influencial, some not, countries in a continent that took a backseat during eight years of the Republican Party’s War On Terror.

To the current Barrack Obama administration Africa has two significances. First; Obama’s campaign promise to reduce US dependence on Middle East oil is one such. Clinton visited Angola and Nigeria to fulfill that requirement.

She preached democracy in Angola; which in US language means putting in power a leader who will understand its energy needs.

Obviously, Clinton didn’t expect the second post-colonial Angolan leader, Dr Eduardo dos Santos to suddenly forget that they sponsored UNITA since 1975 and only overtly stopped in 1989, while still turning a blind eye to its bandit activities and clandestine mercenary support until its leader Dr Jonas Savimbi was executed.

Regardless, Angola is a potentially useful US energy partner; if you remove the Socialist and replace him with a pragmatic leader who never engaged US proxies in the bush.

Later Clinton preached anti-corruption in Nigeria. The US is aware that its national interests, whether oil or otherwise are not secured when there is internal dissatisfaction due to the inequitable distribution of oil revenue.

That’s the main cause of the Niger Delta insurrection. To Nigeria, she was simply saying “give the people of Delta and Ogoni their fair share and stop lining your pockets with their accruals and we can do business”.

She could have told then President Umaru Yar’Adua to continue managing oil spoils as consecutive regimes have done and reap targeted US development aid at oil rich troubled areas in exchange for oil exploration concessions. Her publicly condemning corruption was a PR address to the people of the Niger Delta to say “don’t hijack our Exxon oil rigs, we are the good guys here”.

Her second objective was what attracted speculation; her visit to South Africa. Commentators alleged that she was lobbying for Africom’s home. While she’s not eyeing South Africa she wanted promises from then biggest economy in the continent that it will not veto such a request and will convince Gaddafi that he had nothing to fear. (With hindsight he did have something to fear)

If such allegations are true and she comes to power in 2016 it will be wise for South Africa to use such a request to bargain for one of former president Thabo Mbeki’s long held proposal for the reform of the United Nations Security Council.

Mbeki argued that the world of 1945 that required five strategically located countries to police the world had dramatically changed. He reasoned that having China, the US, Britain, France and Russia deciding war drums was out of step with the reality of the twentieth century.

Mbeki’s administration believed that the Security Council should have more permanent members with veto power to reflect the 20th century. If such advice was taken irrespective of coming from an African, the Ukraine, Syria and other debacles could have been avoided.

 Americans and their fellow members in the Security Council have claimed that ‘membership’ to the council was inclusive even to Third World countries, citing Russia. However that South America and Africa have no veto status made a mockery of Clinton’s demands for democracy in other countries.

 South Africa should propose to the US that it will be allowed to establish Africom’s home anywhere in Africa, even in South Africa as long as the US pushes for transformation of the Security Council to accommodate ten new veto wielding members. Likely candidates will be Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Colombia, Jordan, Cuba and Sweden.

 This will be useful for a consensus based world order instead of two friends (US and Britain) using their power to threaten a passive France to abstain when a resolution goes to the Security Council that they know China and Russia will veto.

 It will be crucial to stop unilateral decisions to wage war that have fuelled one of the reasons why the US claims its needs Africom; to curb the influence of Islamic militancy in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and possibly Kenya. Africa would not need American, British, Israeli, French and Chinese drones to search for over 200 kidnapped girls if it was capacitated. Boko Haram is their biggest spin.

 The US needs Africa to counter France’s current military presence in Francophone Africa and to pre-empt possible Chinese similar advances in either Sudan or Zimbabwe. It’s not about the war on terror.

 With veto power, South Africa can easily block the US from using a military base situated anywhere in Africa from being used to attack any of the African Union, Arab League or Non Aligned Movement countries. Military bases create employment and boost local economies, which is a positive spin-off as long as the lease is not eternal but subject to a review every ten years. The same situation Russia faced at Crimea's Sevastapol naval base.

 Thus, it’s not all lost; the Obama administration must get its base, on that condition. Or rather let's give it to the US through Clinton. This is a rare opportunity presented for Africa to successfully play carrot and stick diplomacy with the last superpower.

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