Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the Left Forum on June 9, 2013 at Pace University in New York City. Azikiwe spoke on four panels at the annual gathering., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
United States Expands Focus on Gulf of Guinea
Capture of two Americans provides rationale for deeper involvement off coast of West Africa
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A series of military operations and engagements in the countries of West Africa near the Gulf of Guinea has further exposed the United States build-up in the region. Two U.S. citizens were reportedly kidnapped by so-called pirates while they transported oil supplies from Nigeria on October 23.
With the disappearance of these two Americans, there has been interest in the presence and role of the U.S. in the region. A leading Nigerian newspaper questioned military officials about the investigation involving the kidnapping.
However, Nigerian Navy Spokesman, Kabiru Aliyu, said: “Yes, we are aware that they are missing, but we still do not have any information on the whereabouts of the men. We have deployed search-and-rescue teams, who are currently combing the creeks. We are doing our best to find them.” (ThisDay, October 28)
According to ThisDay, “A U.S. defense official said the State Department and FBI were leading the American response to the incident. A second defense official said the U.S. Marine Corps had a small training unit in the region but it was not clear if it would get involved.”
This same article continues claiming that “The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said on Friday (October 25) that U.S. officials in Nigeria had been in touch with their local counterparts but that no further information was available…. Nigerian navy special forces had patrolled the waters during a joint military exercise between Nigerian armed forces, U.S., Britain, Netherlands and Spain near Lagos on October 18.”
These military exercises are indicative of the escalating presence of Pentagon and U.S. intelligence forces in the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria, a leading oil producer in Africa, is the largest exporter of their crude oil to the U.S. among all other continental states.
Recent Pentagon Maneuvers in the Region
Under the guise of enhancing the national security capacity of African states, Washington’s armed forces have established numerous programs in conjunction with regional governments. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) through its new commander, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, asserted that the increased presence of Pentagon personnel was to curb illegal activity related to piracy and drug trafficking.
Rodriguez said that “maritime crime continues to be a major challenge in the Gulf of Guinea. Our programs are helping partners strengthen maritime security and counter illicit trafficking.” (maritime-executive.com, October 28)
An offshore military base has already been made operational in the Gulf of Guinea. The maintenance of the base is carried out mainly by the U.S. but involves many other African states.
This base off the coast of West Africa is part of a number of such installations throughout the continent and its waterways. Similar naval operations exist in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia where the Pentagon and European Union (EU) naval forces patrol the area utilizing a flotilla of warships.
Both the Pentagon and the EU have stated repeatedly that their presence in the Gulf of Aden is related to the activities of Somalians who are described as pirates. Over the last five years, the imperialist states say that the incidents of piracy have declined as a direct result of their naval operations.
The importance of the U.S. operations in the Gulf of Guinea was described by Maritime Executive as significant within the Pentagon’s broader strategic outlook in Africa. Of these bases, says the publication, and “Key among them is the Africa Partnership Station, an initiative that has grown over the past six years to include more than 30 African, European and North and South American countries.”
This report stresses that “More than 90 U.S. Marines as well as Dutch, Spanish and British forces are participating in Africa Station 2013, currently underway off the West African coast. Operating from a Royal Netherlands Navy landing platform, they will visit Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Benin during the three-month mission.” (martime-executive.com, October 28)
Another U.S. operation in West Africa centers on building relationships with the nation of Cameroon, also an oil and natural gas producing state. Exercise Obangame Express 2013 involves 12 warships from 10 countries off the coast of Cameroon in February. Plans for additional joint exercises are already underway for 2014.
“Obangame Express helps promote relationships between nations to combat these illicit activities,” said Navy Capt. Dave Rollo, U.S. director for Obangame Express 2013. “These acts of piracy are not just an American problem. They are not just a Cameroonian problem. They're a global problem.” (maritime-executive.com, October 28)
In the Cape Verde Islands near the inland state of Guinea-Bissau, both of which are former Portuguese colonies that won their independence through a protracted armed struggle during the 1960s and 1970s, the Pentagon too is engaging in naval operations with the local defense forces. Cape Verde is often reported in the corporate media to be a center for illicit drug trafficking.
“The purpose of these types of military engagements is to help our African partners learn to enforce their international maritime laws at sea,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Adam Chamie, liaison to the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet commander. This engagement demonstrated the increasing ability of Cape Verde’s ability to successfully board vessels as needed to enforce those maritime laws.” (maritime-executive.com, October 28)
Despite claims by Washington that it is in and around Africa to assist the nation-states in building up its security infrastructure, it so happens that the principal focus of activity by the Pentagon centers in areas where there is oil, natural gas and other strategic resources. Thousands of Pentagon forces and intelligence operatives are being redeployed from Central Asia and the Middle East to place more military concentration on the continent.
At least 100 operations involving AFRICOM are already planned for the next year. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an additional 4,000 African Union (AU) troops in Somalia to bolster the U.S.-backed federal government in Mogadishu.
Africa cannot move towards genuine national independence, unity and sovereignty with these levels of Pentagon and intelligence penetration from the U.S. and its NATO allies. An African Standby Force, often discussed at AU Summits, must become a reality if real peace and security is to be established on the continent.