When President George W. Bush announced the formation of a military command for Africa (AFRICOM) this past February, it came as no surprise to the Heritage Foundation. The powerful right-wing organization designed it.
The Heritage Foundation, founded in 1973 by ultra-conservatives Paul Weyrich and Joseph Coors and funded by such right-wing mainstays as the Scaife Foundation, has a strong presence in the Bush administration. While not as influential as the older and richer American Enterprise Institute, it has a higher profile when it comes to Africa policy.
Back in October 2003, James Jay Carafano and Nile Gardner of the Heritage Foundation laid out a blueprint for how to use military power to dominate that vast continent.
“Creating an African Command,” write the two analysts in a Heritage Foundation study entitled U.S. Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution, “would go a long way toward turning the Bush administration’s well aimed strategic priorities for Africa into a reality.”
While the Bush administration says the purpose of AFRICOM will be humanitarian aid, not “war fighting,” the Heritage analysts are a tad blunter about the application of military power: “Pre-emptive strikes are justified on grounds of self-defense…America must not be afraid to employ its forces decisively when vital national interests are threatened.”
Carafano and Gardner are also quite clear what those “vital interests” are: “The United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.”
The two also proposed increasing military aid to African regimes friendly to the United States and, using the language of pop psychology, confronting “enabler” and “slacker” states that threaten U.S. security. “Enabler” states, according to the authors, are those—like Libya—that directly aid terrorists and “slacker” states are failed nations—like Somalia—where terrorists can base their operations.
Their recommendations are almost precisely what the administration settled on, albeit the White House wrapped its initiative in soothing words like “cooperation,” “humanitarian aid,” and “stability.”
In a sense, AFRICOM simply formalized the growing U.S. military presence on the continent.
The United States currently deploys 1,800 soldiers in Djibouti as part of its Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Special Forces and air units operating from Djibouti were instrumental in Ethiopia’s recent invasion of Somalia.
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, the United States has bases in Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome/Principe, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia. The Sao Tome/Principe base lies 124 miles off the coast of Guinea and the oil fields of Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea..
Through the Trans-Sahal Initiative aimed at supposed terrorist groups operating in the Sahara, the United States has roped Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania into an alliance. Chad and Mauritania have significant oil and gas deposits.
And, lastly, the Pentagon’s Africa Contingency Operation Training and Assistance program supplies weapons and training to Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
Exactly as the Heritage proposal recommends, the United States has recruited client regimes like Ethiopia, Chad and Uganda that are willing to support U.S. policy goals. In the recent U.S.-sponsored invasion of Somalia, Ethiopian troops overthrew the Islamist regime and Ugandan soldiers helped occupy the country.
Controlling resources for U.S. corporations is a major impetus behind AFRICOM, but it is also part of the Bush administration’s fixation with China. The Chinese “threat” in Africa has been a particular focus for both Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute. The later held a conference last year entitled “Beijing Safari: The Challenge of China’s growing ties to Africa.”
Peter Brooke, Heritage’s “Africa hand,” has led the way in hyping the dangers China is said to pose in Africa. “Amid festering concerns about China’s burgeoning global power, Beijing has firmly set its sights on expanding its influence in Africa,” writes Brooke in a Heritage analysis titled Into Africa: China’s Grab for Influence and Oil.
Certainly China is active in Africa. Some 30 percent of China’s oil comes from the continent, and Beijing has invested in the energy industries of Nigeria, Angola and Sudan.. In 2006, Beijing dispensed $8 billion in aid to Angola, Nigeria and Mozambique alone. In comparison the World Bank gave $2.3 billion in aid for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
Military power is not the only arrow in the United States quiver. And once again the Heritage Foundation has played a key role in promoting the Bush administration’s other strategy for controlling Africa: free trade.
In a major Heritage Lecture, entitled “How Economic Freedom is Central to Development in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Brett Schaefer argues that developing countries must lower their trade barriers in order to grow. The Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Account ties aid to such reduced barriers.
But as University of the Philippines sociologist Walden Bello, director of Focus on the Global South, points out, “free trade” is a Trojan horse that ends up overwhelming the economies of developing countries. “From the very start, the aim of the developed countries was to push for greater market openings from the developing countries while making minimal concessions of their own.”
Because of subsidies, U.S. wheat sells for 46 percent below production costs, and corn at 20 percent below cost. The World Bank and Oxfam estimates that the developed countries’ trade barriers cost developing countries $100 billion a year, twice what the latter receive in economic assistance.
The impact of such one-way free trade has been to collapse rural economies. U.S.-subsidized corn has driven some two million southern Mexican farmers off their land, accelerated rural poverty, and helped fuel immigration to the United States. American subsidized soybeans and rice respectively control 99 percent and 80 percent of the Mexican market.
Such subsidies have a particularly devastating impact in Africa, where 50 percent of a country’s GNP may be in agriculture.
A 2005 study by the World Bank found that while the effect of developing countries dismantling trade barriers would increase their income by $16 billion over 10 years, that would translate to a grand total of two dollars a year for the world’s one billion poor. And there might well be a net loss.
Bello says a recent United Nations trade and development study predicts that tariff income losses for developing countries could range between $32 billion and $63 billion annually. “This loss in government revenues—the source of developing country health care, education, water provision, and sanitation budgets—is two to four times the mere $16 billion in benefits projected by the World Bank.”
Bello cites research by the Carnegie Endowment and the European Commission suggesting that the impact of free trade on Africa will be profound, and small African farmers will be unable to compete, exactly what happened to small corn farmers in Mexico.
Indeed, Bello points to a study by the United Nations Development Program that suggests the best strategy for developing countries is exactly the opposite of the Heritage Foundation’s formula. According to the analysis, countries like Japan and South Korea were successful because, rather than embracing “free trade,” they protected their industries from outside competition.
The AFRICOM initiative is creating some unease in both the United States and Africa. “Some initial reaction to the locating of the African Command on the continent has been negative,” says the Congressional Research Service, because some African countries see it as a device to increase troops there.
Nicole Lee, executive director of the TransAfrica Forum, called AFRICOM “neither wise nor productive,” and suggests that the U.S. should instead focus on “development assistance and respect for sovereignty.”
Not so long as U.S. policy in Africa is driven by think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.