AFRICANGLOBE – Under the cover of the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, the United States has stepped up its military presence in Africa. So, when more than 250 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state, were kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked Boko Haram in April, the U.S. took it as an opportunity to further strengthen its military and intelligence presence in Africa’s most populous and oil rich country — Nigeria.
As the U.S. increases and strengthens its military presence in 13 African countries, al-Qaida affiliates and militant groups continue to intensify their devastation in West Africa and the Horn of Africa.
For years, the U.S. military has showed up in African countries rich in both oil and resources to engage in active military operations and training. Military analysts suggest that the U.S. engagement in Africa is aimed at waging war against supporters of terrorist groups, like Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabab, that have cells popping up across the continent.
AFRICOM, the U.S. military’s sixth regional command, has broadly positioned itself across Africa since its establishment during the Bush administration. It says it is involved in increasing the number of wars against al-Qaida affiliates and militant groups.
According to the Institute for International Strategic Studies, these groups are linked with others across Africa and abroad, such as the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Infiltrated police and armed forces
When Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan admitted that Boko Haram had “infiltrated” the government’s armed forces and the police, U.S. authorities promptly sent military and intelligence officials to Abuja.
Though Washington supports the U.S. military presence in the country, that doesn’t necessarily mean Nigerians do, too.
“Each country has its own sovereignty and should be able to manage it for its own citizens,” said Timothy Adekola Adediran, president of the Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development (MIND), an umbrella organization for about 15,000 Nigerians in Minnesota. “I’ll say the role of the U.S. should be in the interest of Nigeria, and I’ll not suggest that they stay there permanently.”
For many Africans, the U.S. military presence on the continent is purely for the sake of U.S. interests and geopolitical advantages, as Boko Haram kidnappings have been taking place there for over a decade. Some have noted, for example, that the U.S. became interested in “bringing back our girls” in Nigeria not long after some of Africa’s largest oil reserves were discovered there. In light of these and other considerations, the U.S. military training programs have been received with mixed reactions.
For Africans in the diaspora, it is unfortunate that conflicts and kidnappings continue unabated on the continent. And for many Nigerians living in the U.S., the news of the kidnappings of the young Nigerian schoolgirls was not encouraging.
“It is unfortunate that our [African] countries are unable to defend themselves… This has probably led the U.S. to pledge assistance to Nigeria to locate and secure the release of those girls that were abducted,” Adediran said.
No word about missing girls
Since the U.S. announced that it would send military forces to help search for the missing schoolgirls, not much has been heard from the military advisers it sent and the girls are still missing. Meanwhile, Boko Haram has proposed exchanging the girls for the group’s militants held by the Nigerian government. In recent weeks, Boko Haram has intensified its attacks on civilians, killing about 15 people in the state of Borno.
That the U.S. military doesn’t share the information and intelligence it collects from the continent with its African partners is a common complaint.
“Although AFRICOM is providing the needed security, humanitarian and crisis response training for the African military, its core mission remains the promotion of the United States’ interest and security,” said Papa Faal, author of “A Week of Hell,” a chronicle of what happened in The Gambia when a group of poorly-trained, low-ranking soldiers overthrew a democratically-elected government in the West African nation.
“The presence of AFRICOM in such volatile continent is crucial in providing stability and security for the people of Africa,” Faal, also an assistant lecturer at ITT Technical Institute in Minneapolis, continued. “However, to achieve a meaningful end for the people of Africa, the United States must ensure that the mission of AFRICOM aligns side-by-side with the security, stability and prosperity needs of the people in addition to promotion of ‘good governance.’”
Adediran says Nigeria, for example, should be able to solve its own problems, since the country has a pool of intellectuals, experts and people who have travelled the world that could contribute to resolving the country’s sociopolitical mess.
“Because the intelligence-gathering in the country has been neglected, corruption has eaten at the fabric of the nation,” said MIND’s Adediran, explaining where Nigeria went wrong by misappropriating allocated military funds. “[By misusing] resources meant for military installment, that have not been used the way they should be used, we became vulnerable to Boko Haram.”