African New Age

Russia – Africa Forum opening a new era of internationalism and sovereignty

A Comment by Ralph T. Niemeyer, Sankt Petersburg

There is a sense of soviet-era revival in the air as Russia eagerly strengthens bonds with African nations carefully making sure that it’s moves aren’t seen in any neo-colonial way, an accusation Western European nations and the US are often confronted with.

But, Russia is also not a naive player anymore when it comes to it’s Africa policy. It is clear that China, India and Russia, as much as they claim to stand for the new BRICS-world order opposing the western “NWO” of the US’s neocons and the World Economic Forum (WEF), are also rivals and not always good partners.

In Africa, nowadays also the US are increasing their engagement recently, especially in South Africa that always had one foot in the American pitch and one in the BRICS which made it impossible to guarantee Russian President Putin’s safety for the summit to be held in August in Cape Town. South Africa would be obliged as a signatory to the Statute of Rome to extradite the Russian leader under an International Criminal Court warrant to The Hague. The idea to move the summit to either Russia as an expression of solidarity or to China didn’t win any backing.

Russia also follows it’s own interests, of course, like everyone else. China is being accused of plundering the resources already for almost two decades while in exchange building major infrastructure projects, roads, railways, ports, housing projects, all secured by private army soldiers.

Now, here is where Russia has to be wary not to get into a trap: during Soviet times the emphasis lay on Giving rather than Engaging, today, Russia is eager to Engage more and apart from some fertilizers it so far is not giving much, but also deployed it’s private army, the infamously brutal “Wagner PMC” which already got involved in a dubious way in the conflict in the Central African Republic where it was found standing on the “wrong” side stabilizing the regime of CAR’s president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who is actually only controlling little more than the capital city Bangui at the moment while 80% of the population are said to be against him.

The Russian private military ambushed rebel groups that were marching towards the capital. It became an issue of international investigation at the UN security council level that the Wagner-troops were deployed specifically in regions of diamond mines thus tainting the image of Russia as an honest mediator further.

And, also the role the Russian private military company is playing in Mali is seen as counterproductive to President Putin’s vow to establish ties with African leaders on equal level in order to engage in humanitarian, social and mutually beneficial economic cooperation.

Today’s second Russia-Africa Forum may open a new chapter for both sides if engagement is meant in a fair way and not a replacement of old colonial structures with new ones. Russian bullets are not more welcome than Western European and US-American ones in Africa.

60 years after most African nations fought for independence, the reality had proven to be a neo-colonial scenario that culminated in a very unfair “European Partnership Agreement (EPA)” as well as a migration-driven brain-drain in order to win cheap labor forces for the EU. Now, it is time for African nations to become fully sovereign and be treated on equal level.

How bizarre, that the Wagner PMC chief Prigoshin appeared on (social) media images distributed by the Embassy of the Central African Republic in Sankt Petersburg. It raises questions why, if this man was so dangerous to Russia, planting a coup d’état just a month ago, was walking freely around and posing with officials of the country he is helping to suppress it’s people by sheer violence.

Russia, with it’s expertise in exploring and managing resources, can play a major role in Africa, but it has to be careful, because of a lack of experience when it comes to African politics, not to be seen in meddling in brotherly fights like in Central African Republic or Mali, as it’s reputation can be at stake.

But, closer scrutiny reveals who are really the bad guys in Africa nowadays:

NAIROBI, Jan. 5, 2020 -- Smoke rises from a U.S. millitary base in Lamu County, Kenya, Jan. 5, 2020. The Somali extremist group al-Shabab said it has attacked the U.S. military base in Kenya's coastal Lamu County on Sunday morning. The police said the airstrip used by the U.S. marine was destroyed and aircraft were burned. (Photo by Xin Huashefa/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xin Huashefa via Getty Images)

Smoke rises from a U.S. military base in Lamu County, Kenya, on Jan. 5, 2020. Photo: Xin Huashefa/Xinhua via Getty

In September 2020 a dozen al-Shabab fighters infiltrated the perimeter of a military base in Manda Bay, Kenya. One of them took aim with a rocket-propelled grenade, firing at a U.S. surveillance plane and touching off an hourslong firefight. When it was all over, the two American pilots of that plane and a U.S. soldier were dead, two other U.S. military personnel were wounded, six surveillance aircraft and helicopters were destroyed, and parts of the airfield were in flames.

Where there are U.S. bases, there is the potential for such attacks, because bases are not just launching pads for offensive military operations, but targets for them too. Since 9/11, the U.S. military has built a sprawling network of outposts in more than a dozen African countries. The Intercept has obtained U.S. military documents and a set of accompanying maps that provide the locations of these African bases in 2019, including the one at Manda Bay. These formerly secret documents, created by the Pentagon’s Africa Command and obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, offer an exclusive window into the footprint of American military operations in Africa.

Maps of U.S. “Enduring” and “Non-Enduring” bases in Africa. The Pentagon defines “enduring” bases as providing “strategic access and use to support United States security interests for the foreseeable future.” “Non-Enduring” outposts — also known as “contingency locations” — are defined as supporting and sustaining “operations during contingencies or other operations.” Contingency locations can be categorized as initial, temporary, or semipermanent. Images: U.S. Africa Command

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee late September 2020, Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, echoed a line favored by his predecessors that AFRICOM maintains a “light and relatively low-cost footprint” on the continent. This “light” footprint consists of a constellation of more than two dozen outposts that stretch from one side of Africa to the other. The 2019 planning documents provide locations for 29 bases located in 15 different countries or territories, with the highest concentrations in the Sahelian states on the west side of the continent, as well as the Horn of Africa in the east. Since the plans were created, according to AFRICOM spokesperson John Manley, two bases have been shuttered, leaving the U.S. with an archipelago of 15 “enduring locations” and 12 less-permanent “contingency locations.” The documents note, however, that AFRICOM is actively seeking to enhance its presence and is primed for expansion in the future.

Chebelley, DjiboutiBizerte, Tunisia
Camp Lemonnier, DjiboutiArlit, Niger
Entebbe, UgandaDirkou, Niger
Mombassa, KenyaDiffa, Niger
Manda Bay, KenyaOuallam, Niger
Liberville, GabonBamako, Mali
St. Helena, Ascension IslandGaroua, Cameroon
Accra, GhanaMaroua, Cameroon
Ouagadougou, Burkina FasoMisrata, Libya
Dakar, SenegalTripoli, Libya
Agadez, NigerBaledogle, Somalia
Niamey, NigerBosasso, Somalia
N’Djamena, ChadGalcayo, Somalia
Kismayo, Somalia
Mogadishu, Somalia
Wajir, Kenya

U.S. Africa Command’s “Enduring Footprint” and “Non-Enduring Footprint” in 2019.

Violent extremism and insecurity on the continent has increased exponentially during the very years that the U.S. has been building up its network of bases, providing billions of dollars in security assistance to local partners, conducting persistent counterterrorism operations that include commando raids, combat by U.S. Special Operations forces in at least 13 African countries between 2013 and 2017, and a record number of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia (just over one attack per week in 2019). There are now roughly 25 active militant Islamist groups operating in Africa, up from just five in 2010 — a jump of 400 percent — according to the Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Militant Islamist activity also hit record levels in 2019. There were 3,471 reported violent events linked to these groups last year, a 1,105 percent increase since 2009. Reported fatalities resulting from African militant Islamist group activity also increased by 7 percent over last year, to an estimated 10,460 deaths. The situation has become so grim that U.S. military aims in West Africa have recently been scaled back from a strategy of degrading the strength and reach of terror groups to nothing more than “containment.”

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