This article was written by Jesutimilehin Akamo and originally published on Grey Dynamics.
- It is almost certain that most of central Africa is unstable. While Sao Tome and Principe has remained peaceful in the last decade, other countries in the region are either at the brink of conflict or have active conflicts.
- Oil, as a national security issue, was the primary reason for AFRICOM’s establishment. Therefore, even if AFRICOM reduces its engagement in Africa, it is highly likely to maintain its presence and relationship in Central Africa.
- African countries will highly likely overlook interference in their internal affairs because of the help they receive from AFRICOM.
Measuring the Temperature
The Central African Republic (CAR) is in a conflict situation. Since 2012, when crisis re-emerged, finding a lasting peace has been difficult. However, Russia is helping.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is battling the Allied Democratic Force and other warlords. It is also facing the rise of an Islamic State (IS) in the northern part of the country.
Grey Dynamics’ Africa Intelligence Assessment indicates that Cameroon is unstable. Although there is no full-blown conflict in the country, its south-west and north-west regions suffer repression because they rebel against perceived injustice. The government tries to silence them through the threat or actual use of force.
Chad faces a Boko Haram insurgency and anti-government rebellions. There are also occasional clashes between the government and anti-government rebels over mining resources.
In April 2020, the Chadian government launched a successful offensive called “Operation Wrath of Boma” against Boko Haram. However, Chad still has to work with Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon to maintain security. Yet, as shown by Grey Dynamics’ Africa Intelligence Assessment, the Chadian victory does not guarantee stability.
In Angola, unrest in Cabinda, its oil-rich region, is ongoing and anti-government rebels face government forces over the unbalanced distribution of oil wealth.
Equatorial Guinea is fragile and the situation in Gabon is tense. Both of them experience no active conflict. Congo Republic (Brazzaville) is yet to experience any conflict since the end of the post-election in November 2018.
AFRICOM’s Business in Africa
United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the U.S. military’s command assigned to Africa.
Congressman William Jefferson said, “African oil should be treated as a priority for U.S. national security post 9/11. I think that… post 9/11 it’s occurred to all of us that our traditional sources of oil are not as secure as we thought they were.” For the U.S., therefore, it is a matter of national security.
Oil, the war against terrorism, and security in the Gulf of Guinea place the central African region at the center of U.S. national security concerns in Africa compared to other African regions. Thereby becoming a primary business for AFRICOM.
Angola, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, and Cameroon are oil-producing countries, and all but Chad and Cameroon are among the ten largest oil-producing African countries. The graphic below shows a comparison between oil produced in central Africa and other African states (bbl/day). The central African leads the statistics in sub-Saharan Africa.
These countries are ill-equipped, ill-trained, and lack the required resources to address their domestic and regional security problems. This is because, among other factors, of the long years of instability and governance deficit. Such security problems include:
- Armed political, religious and ethnic conflicts
- Violent extremism, terrorism, and insurgency
- Piracy and sabotage of off-shore oil production in the Gulf of Guinea
- Illegal fishing and maritime illegal trafficking in the Gulf of Guinea
- Drug smuggling and movement of Small Arms & Light Weapons (SALW)
- Dumping of hazardous wastes
AFRICOM’s partnership with central African countries aims to build their indigenous defense capacity so they can become able to handle these issues independently and in line with the U.S.
Many African governments protested against AFRICOM. Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) was the first to issue a clear message against AFRICOM. It also urged sister regions to not agree to AFRICOM. However, the central African region, except for Angola that expressed dissatisfaction through SADC, was not vocal about AFRICOM and relied on the continent’s leadership. But the U.S. intensified diplomatic efforts and did not start with big military installations. This allowed for a cautious acceptance.
The map below shows the U.S. military bases in Central African countries. Their closeness to the Gulf of Guinea is obvious. This is where most of the oil in the region is extracted.
AFRICOM trains the defense forces of central African countries within and outside Africa. It also provides support in anti-terrorist/insurgency operations.
Rivalry: Beyond Oil
Oil brought AFRICOM to Africa, but it is likely insufficient to keep it in the continent. This is because rivals are lurking. Beyond oil, Chinese and Russian interest in the central Africa region are increasing, with active attempts to build economic and security relations. Both countries are economic and military competitors of the U.S. in Africa. For example, Russia gives financial and military aid to the Central African Republic. Also, China, through the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), is increasing its economic presence in the region. Thus, the U.S. will likely treat them as threats, and hence, increase and maintain a firm presence in the region.
Pros and Cons
Hiding under the partnership, there is a realistic probability that the U.S. will use AFRICOM to interfere in the internal affairs of central African countries. Also, the mandate of AFRICOM is not to ensure lasting peace in the region. Rather, it is to promote and protect U.S. national interests. Lasting peace in Africa, or central Africa, would mean that the continent will no longer see the need for AFRICOM.
Despite this disadvantage, central African leaders will highly likely prefer that AFRICOM stays. These countries cannot handle the conflict situations they face. They need better training, financial and non-financial support to deal with security challenges. In the case of violent extremism and movement of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), they also need intelligence assistance.
Central Africa is oil-rich but unstable. Securing oil, a matter which was considered of national security, is what brought AFRICOM in the region. Now that the U.S. no longer prioritizes Africa, it is a realistic probability for AFRICOM to withdraw. However, Russia and China will highly likely force AFRICOM to stay in the region. Increasing rival activities will likely influence a move from AFRICOM in central Africa within the next decade. AFRICOM is unlikely to explicitly state Russia and China as the threats necessitating its continued presence. Rather, the U.S. will maintain that security is the reason for AFRICOM’s presence in the continent.