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News Analysis: Why does Bush drop military command headquarters plan in Africa?
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10:39, February 23, 2008

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For the first time U.S. President George W. Bush said recently his country would not seek to build new military bases in Africa, nor will it set up headquarters for the command on African soil, amid overwhelmingly strong opposition from African countries.

NO NEW MILITARY BASES IN AFRICA: BUSH

Speaking in Ghana on the fourth leg of a five-nation African tour, Bush said the U.S. military command for Africa (Africom) created last year was intended to help African leaders solve the continent's crises, not boost the U.S. military presence there.

"We do not contemplate adding new bases," Bush said at a joint news conference with Ghanan President John Kufuor.

"I know there are rumors in Ghana: 'All Bush is doing is coming to try to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. Or, as we say in Texas, that's bull," Bush said.

But he did not rule out the possibility of developing some kind of office somewhere in Africa to coordinate with Africom's current headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and to monitor missions implemented in Africa. "We haven't made our minds up. This is a new concept," Bush said.

He also defended the military command which he proposed to set up last year as "aiming to help provide military assistance to African nations, so African nations are more capable of dealing with Africa's conflicts, like peacekeeping training."

He cited the example of the joint African Union and UN effort in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

Announcing the establishment of Africom last February, Bush said the command "will 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."



AFRICAN CONCERNS

Yet, despite the rosy picture Bush has drawn for Africa, most African nations cast doubt on Washington's real motive for establishing U.S. military presence on the continent, and some considered the proposal "putting a Trojan horse" at their homes.

Most Africans feel "nervous and insecure" that the U.S. military presence on their land is, first of all, an attempt to militarize the U.S. foreign policies in Africa under the banner of combating terrorism.

Enlarged U.S. military troops in Africa, many Africans fear, would jeopardize African nations' own military power and their sovereignty, starting again a near neo-colonization on the continent.

"Africans vividly remember that colonialism was preceded by philanthropic missionaries who came to fulfill God's Will of rescuing Africans from the clutches of barbarism," said Wafula Okumu, who heads the African Security Analysis Program at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria of South Africa.

Secondly, Africans are concerned that Africom would bring more U.S. bases and troops to the continent, making Africa a new target of Washington's global enemies, unnecessarily bringing the global war on terror to the backyard of the African continent, thus seriously weakening the joint efforts by African countries to boost economy.

The United States currently has about 1,800 troops at a counter-terrorism task force base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, in sharp contrast to its strong military presence in the Middle East.

Oil is another concern. In 2006, Africa's oil exports to the United States reached 2.23 million barrels per day, surpassing, for the first time in 21 years, its imports from the Middle East. By the year 2015, about a quarter of the total U.S. oil imports is expected to come from Africa.

Besides, Africans wonder whether the Africom idea is a ruse to protect the U.S competitive stake in African oil and other resources avidly sought after in today's world.

As the United States wants to keep the oil flowing, a heavy military presence would be necessary to secure its source, analysts said.

"Africans have a feeling Africom represents something more than what is being sold to them," said Okumu.

In addition, any country hosting the command will be criticized for violating Africa's common position on African defense and security, which discourages the hosting of foreign troops on the African soil, Okumu said.

Many African countries believe that African affairs should be managed within the African Union, free from the interference of a foreign force. Development and poverty alleviation, not more U.S. troops, are what the Africans need the most, they said.

Many African countries, including regional heavyweights Nigeria, South Africa, and the fourteen-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), have all refused to host Africom. They also rejected placing Africom anywhere in Africa.

"If there was to be an influx of armed forces into one or other of the African countries, that might affect the relations between the sister countries and (would) not encourage an atmosphere and a sense of security." South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said earlier this year.

The U.S. efforts to seek a home for the command suffered one more blow when the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), comprising Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, voiced strong opposition at the end of last year to any foreign military establishments on the soil of African countries.

Analysts said refusals from so many countries showed that African nations have reached a broad consensus on rejecting the U.S. military headquarters in Africa.

Africom has also raised concerns within the U.S. government. "There is also concern that the military may overestimate its capabilities as well as its diplomatic role in Africa, or pursue activities that are not a core part of its mandate," a study by the U.S. Congressional Research Office said.

Only Liberia has offered willingness to host Africom, a country which has historically tight links with the United States, and has always shared strong ties with the superpower.



U.S. NEXT MOVE

Facing overwhelming opposition and skepticism from African nations, the Bush administration was forced to make adjustment to its Africom plan. During his African trip, instead of choosing a site for Africom headquarters, Bush reiterated that Washington has no intention to set up new military bases or increase troops in Africa, nor will it move the Africom headquarters from current Stuttgart to African soil for the time being.

Instead, the U.S. side will try to switch the debate away from the controversial headquarters issue and focus on the "added value" it aims to bring to Africa.

According to Africom commanders' proposal, Africom headquarters will stay in Stuttgart for now, with a loose structure of Africom liaison offices and staff posted across Africa, offering training exercises with humanitarian work such as building hospitals and schools.

Africom will gradually expand from its current 300 to about 1,300 personnel by Oct. 1 this year, when the command finishes its transitional period and starts full operation.

Around 40 percent of the staff will be civilians, including development specialists and officials from the U.S. State Department, Treasury and departments of homeland security, justice, agriculture and commerce.

With a budget of 50 million U.S. dollars for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, Africom has responsibility for 53 African countries and the island nations surrounding the continent.

As the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor commented recently, Bush's African visit and the decision of setting up Africom have shown that the White House "has drawn an important lesson: Africa is important."

Source: Xinhua



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