Obama's Africa policy — an expanding military footprint to grab resources

August 23, 2016

United States President Barack Obama has carried out classically colonial, imperialistic policies towards Africa during his time in office.

John Feffer, from the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said in a Common Dreams article: “Strip away all the modern PR and prettified palaver and it's an ugly scramble for oil, minerals, and markets for U.S. goods.”

United States President Barack Obama has carried out classically colonial, imperialistic policies towards Africa during his time in office.

John Feffer, from the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said in a Common Dreams article: “Strip away all the modern PR and prettified palaver and it's an ugly scramble for oil, minerals, and markets for U.S. goods.”

Ethiopia, a lynchpin in the East African region that is playing an increasing role in the African Union, is a classic example.

Major international players, such as the US, are giving Ethiopia and East Africa more attention and are establishing cooperative relations with that country.


But Ethiopia, and East Africa generally, has always been strategically important to great powers. When Ethiopia was governed by a Communist-allied regime (1974-91), it was always regarded as a strategically important ally for the former Eastern bloc countries.

It maintained extensive trading, cultural and political relations with the other socialist countries. The United States, Britain and other imperialist powers viewed Ethiopia as a battleground — indeed, Africa was in the midst of the Cold War fought between the allies of the rival superpowers.

The US sponsored various ethnic-based militias in secessionist wars to topple the socialist regime in Addis Ababa. The US was interested in opening up Ethiopia to its economic imperatives. Using the disguise of humanitarian intervention, it funneled arms and support for the ethnic-separatist groups, gathered together in the Maoist-oriented Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

This formation, having acquired power in 1991 after the disbanding of the Eastern bloc and removal of the socialist regime, has hung onto power ever since through dictatorial measures.

The EPRDF quickly abandoned any pretence of commitment to Maoist-style socialism and became an enthusiastic Western ally. It has implemented International Monetary Fund economic programs. Corruption and mismanagement have become endemic. Human rights violations are normalised.

Agricultural products make up the largest part of Ethiopia's exports, despite chronic food shortages in the country.

Ina Counterpunch article, Graham Peebles said: “More than half the population live on less than [US]$1 a day; over 80% of the population live in rural areas (where birth-rates are highest), and work in agriculture, the majority being smallholder farmers who rely on the crops they grow to feed themselves and their families.

“The people of Ethiopia have suffered chronic food insecurity for generations: the major reason, as is the case throughout the world, is poverty. Other causes are complex; some due to climate change, others result from the ruling regime's policies ...

“International organisations encourage Ethiopia to produce cash crops to export, which reduces the land available for growing domestic crops — yes, Ethiopia — where millions rely on food aid every year — exports food.”

Ethiopia experienced drought and famine during the 1980s, drawing attention from the international community. The reaction of the imperialist powers was to exploit the suffering of the Ethiopians for Cold War political purposes — food became a political football. Media outlets broadcast heart-rending images of the famine's victims, and concerts were organised to raise money for food aid.

Western governments promoted the Eurocentric view that Africans — and in particular, socialist-oriented Africans — cannot feed and govern themselves. Any suggestions that there were natural causes contributing to the famine were dismissed and the blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of the regime.

Now Ethiopia again faces famine and food insecurity. By late last year, the number of people requiring food aid doubled to 8.2 million. Schools, hospitals and facilities have been forced to close down due to water and food shortages.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released startling figures that place the number of food-insecure people in Ethiopia at just over 10 million. The OCHA points to the connection between natural and human-made causes, stating: “More than 80 per cent of the population live in rural areas and rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood.

“Their vulnerability is frequently exacerbated by natural and man-made hazards, including drought, flooding, disease outbreaks, intercommunal conflict and refugee influxes from neighbouring states.

“Drought and flooding increase the risk of water-related disease outbreaks, particularly Acute Watery Diarrhoea, malaria and measles and especially among children under age 5.

“Access to clean water and basic health care, including life-saving maternal and neonatal services, remains low.”

The Ethiopian government has responded by denying the severity of the crisis. The regime has jailed opponents, suppressed journalists and carried out repressive measures against Muslim and ethnic minorities, particularly in the Ogaden region in the south-east.

These are the same crimes of which the former socialist regime was accused and condemned. In an article headlined “Ogaden: Ethiopia's hidden shame”, Peebles said: “The ethnic Somali population of the Ogaden, in the southeast part of the country, has been the victim of extreme government brutality since 1992.

“It's a familiar story of a region with a strong identity seeking autonomy from central government, and the regime denying them that democratic right.”

However, the Addis Ababa regime has avoided outright international condemnation because it is a valued US proxy. In July last year, Obama visited Ethiopia and celebrated its role as a solid ally in the “war on terror”.

Obama praised Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn's regime and expressed appreciation for the Ethiopian military's role in US-supported wars in Somalia.

Military bases

In a series of TomDispatch.com articles, investigative journalist Nick Turse revealed how the US has secretly built an enormous and extensive network of military bases, outposts and spying facilities across Africa.

In an article “America's empire of African bases spreads”, Turse documented his ongoing battle with the US military to uncover exactly how many, and how geographically extensive, the archipelago of US military bases is in Africa.

Turse wrote: “So how many U.S. military bases are there in Africa? It's a simple question with a simple answer.

“For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) gave a stock response: one. Camp Lemonnier in the tiny, sun-bleached nation of Djibouti was America's only acknowledged 'base' on the continent. It wasn't true, of course, because there were camps, compounds, installations, and facilities elsewhere, but the military leaned hard on semantics.”

The US military prefers to use a new euphemism — cooperative security locations (CSLs) — to describe its military outposts in Africa. When taking into account all the other military facilities, spying locations, drone bases and considerable military settlements the US has, the number is astounding.

Turse describes it as an AFRICOM base bonanza: “Indeed, U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations (FOLs), and other outposts — many of them involved in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities and Special Operations missions — have been built (or built up) in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.”

The US military footprint, initiated by George W Bush, has escalated under Obama. The first African American president has overseen a huge rise in the US military presence in Africa.

In 2012, a US Socialist Worker article said: “It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops, and responsibility for this escalation must be laid squarely on Obama's doorstep.

“Key to the Obama administration global strategy in the post-Iraq era is a shift from 'boots on the ground' towards 'alliance-building.' The idea is to cement American 'indispensability' to African political stability in geo-strategically critical areas — from the Horn of Africa, with its proximity to the Suez Canal and Middle East, to West African nations, with billions of barrels of oil.”

Obama has deployed an insidious policy of proxy-building; acquiring reliable allies, such as Ethiopia, who can perform the bulk of the actual fighting. Meanwhile, US special forces, military experts and foreign policy planners provide backup where needed.


Socialist Worker pointed out the context: “During the past decade, the U.S. has engaged in a fierce battle with China for worldwide economic and military preeminence. The aim has been to encircle and contain China's growing reach.

The Economist reported a Department of Defense announcement that by 2020, 60 percent of American warships would be stationed in Asia, along with 'a range of other “investments” to ensure that despite China's fast-growing military might, America would still be able to 'rapidly project military power if needed to meet our security commitments.”'

“Intensified competition with China, and other powers such as Russia, is fueling the higher levels of U.S. military involvement in Africa and a new scramble for resources. This scramble is mainly about oil, in which Africa plays a critical supply role for both China and the U.S., but also about increased overall investment in resources — from diamonds and gold to land for agricultural investment.”

Beijing is of course looking out for its own interests. China has dealings with repressive states in Africa, such as Sudan, which receives military equipment and arms in return for oil.

Beijing has successfully acquired the oil markets of the new nation of South Sudan, importing 77% of its country's oil. This is galling for the US, because the birth of South Sudan was nurtured by the US, who provided arms for its secessionist ambitions.

The Chinese are building infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, providing billions in every sector of the economy, from roads to telecommunications to health. China's volume of trade with Africa reached $222 billion last year.

The US views China's “soft power” approach with anxiety. This underpins the US militarisation of the continent.

[Heavily abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.