AFRICOM, French Operation Barkhane and Africa's Recidivist Insecurity: What Future? – THISDAY Newspapers
Bola A. Akinterinwa
Africa’s foreseeable problem goes beyond having COVID-19 as the next recolonization pandemic humanity will have to face. Recolonisation is likely to be a new special pandemic that will not be for biological warfare in design and origin, but which will require the re-digitization of the human cerebrum in application for political recolonization. These problems should still be differentiated from Africa’s future problem, which will be the use of the African territory to fight Islamic jihad, extremism wars and other military manifestations of clash of civilisations that have become imminent.
In this regard, the U.S. and other great powers are not likely to allow the use of their own environment as battle fields. They are most likely to prevent the influx of terrorists to Europe and America. Consequently, it cannot but be in their strategic calculations to seek to contain terrorism far away from their borders. As the terrorists are being chased out of Syria, with the reorganization of the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and possibility of its coming to aid and abet terrorism in Africa, Africa should be expected to sooner than later become a hot bed of military insecurities soon.
Africa is already a terra cognita for recidivist insecurity, ranging from armed banditry, armed insurrection, struggle for self-determination and secession, to a new wave of unconstitutional changes of Government, questionable constitutional changes aimed at prolonging the stay of incumbent leaders in power, and to protests against the AU and the ECOWAS, which are seeking to outlaw coups d’état. Without doubt, the African Union Peace and Security Mechanism has not been effective enough to be able to sanction African leaders engaging in sit-tight politics and corruption. The Mechanism has also not been able to prevent new coups which have been prohibited. The coups in Niger, Chad, Mali and more recently in Guinea have clearly shown the limitations of the African Union in effectively nipping in the bud insecurity in Africa. Insecurity has become recidivist in Africa and there is not much African leaders can do. With Africa of Al-Qaeda, can Europe and America have peace?
The U.S and French Desiderata
How is the international community preparing to respond to the challenge? International terrorism is the global community’s public enemy numero uno that should be fought in every nook and cranny of the world. Not every Member State of the international community has the interest to provide leadership in the anti-global terror. In fact, there are state sponsors of international terrorism.
There are two solid options left for Africa to contend with in freeing Africa from the mainmise of international terror, and that is the acceptance of the United States option of AFRICOM (Africa Command) and the French option of Operation Barkhane in the main. Both options have the objective of fighting al-Qaeda terrorism in Africa in order to ensure safety and security of the Americans and the French back home.
For example, on February 6, 2007, President George W. Bush directed the creation of an AFRICOM to assume full responsibility for U.S. security interests in the whole of Africa, for which different commands had been responsible. In fact, it started as a sub-unified command of the US-European Command. AFRICOM is one of the U.S. eleven military commands – the Africa Command, Central Command, Cyber Command, European Command Indo-Pacific Command, Northern Command, Southern Command, Special Operations Command, Strategic Command, Transportation Command, and the Space Command – established by the United States to contain the use of terror and protect U.S. national security interests in the governance of international relations.
Specifically, the AFRICOM, which has responsibility for all US Department of Defense operations, exercises, and security operations on the African continent, its islands nations and surrounding waters, began its initial operations on October 1, 2007, and became fully operational on October 1, 2008. This was made possible following the reduction of US military forces stationed in Europe which made space available for the AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart. In this regard, what is the expected role and place of the AFRICOM in the emerging terrorist war showdown in Africa?
This question is necessary at this juncture because there is nothing to suggest that Africa will be given priority bearing in mind the emerging conflicts in the South China Sea region. It is useful to recall here the problem of Taiwan as well. There is most likely to be a diplomatic show down between the Americans and the Chinese over the future of Taiwan agreement.
When the Communists took over Mainland China on October 1, 1949, thus compelling the Chiang Kai-Sheik government to flee from the southern provinces of China to Taiwan, with the ultimate objective of the Project National Glory or Project Guoguang, a project aimed at recapturing Mainland China, the issue of status of Taiwan was specifically raised. The ousted leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-Sheik, considered that Taiwan was an integral part of Mainland China, and therefore never had initial problems strategizing to reconnect with Mainland China.
The understanding and agreement by then, was that Taiwan was Chinese and there would not be any forceful annexation of the island by China. However, when it became clear that not much could be done to oust the Communists from power, a different narrative was given by the Chiang Kai-Sheik government. It was argued that Taiwan is not part of Mainland China; that Taiwan is a sovereign state of its own. And perhaps more interestingly, the initial agreement between the Chinese and the Americans that Taiwan was Chinese, and that China should not use force to annex it, was thrown into the winds of caution.
While the Chinese, in the last one week, has shown its largest number of military fighter jets, breaking through the airspace of Taiwan and promising to use force to ascertain Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, the United States has responded that it would not abandon its allies. In fact, probably in reciprocal reaction, the Joe Biden administration has released information on its nuclear stockpile, ahead of the forthcoming nuclear non-proliferation talks, in order to also tell the Chinese that there may be trouble ahead.
If we also remember the problem of Australia’s diplomatic row with France over the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and the United States submarine agreement, and juxtaposing it with the 1 September 1951 ANZUS Treaty (involving Australia, New Zealand and United States), it will be discoverd that China, as a Communist government, has always been a target. Even though the ANZUS accord was not binding as a collective security agreement at the level of Australia and New Zealand, the purpose of the treaty was ‘to reassure the two countries that they would be protected and bolster their support for the anti-communist cause.’ Parties were to develop the military resources needed to resist attack and to consult others whenever their security is threatened. It is useful to recall the background to the treaty. When Britain surrendered to the Japanese in February 1942, the confidence of New Zealand in the UK was shaken. New Zealand considered the need to seek alliance with the United States, which also wanted to retain Japan as an ally to assist in containing the spread of communism. It was against this background that the making of the ANZUS treaty should be understood. Thus, China is currently the main target enemy. China is a major target of the AUKUS, in the manner China and the former Soviet Union were targets of the ANZUS.
Put differently, it is being suggested that any armed attack in the Pacific area on one member would endanger the peace and safety of others, and therefore warranting intervention. In the event of an attack in the Pacific and terrorist jihad taking place in Africa, which region shall have priority attention? Can the French option fill the gap? What is the likely role of France’s Operation Barkhane?
Operation Barkhane is the counter-terrorism operation, numbering about 5,100 but which President Emmanuel Macron wants to reduce to between 2,500-3,000 over the next few months. The French troops have been much up doing in the fight against the Jihadists in the Sahel, especially as from 2013 when the French had to intervene in Mali to prevent an Al-Qaeda affiliate from taking over the Malian capital, Bamako. Several lives of French soldiers had been lost in the Sahelian duels.
For the French, the killing of the Head of the Islamic State Group in the Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi is considered ‘another major success in our fight against terrorists in the Sahel,’ President Emmanuel Macron has said. The French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, also said ‘it was decisive blow against this terrorist group.’ Killing public enemies’ number one can be gladdening. However, the killing does not address some critical underlying questions often raised by people in countries that the same France is assisting.
In Mali, the Touareg terrorists do not want French presence in Mali. Many observers also complain about the French. The truth is that in Mali of today, without the French serving as an anti-terrorist buffer zone, there is nothing like a sovereign Mali. African leaders argue against military interventions in Africa, but Malian governments have invited the French. African leaders condemned both the coup-in-coup in Mali and Guinea, but the coups enjoyed the general support of the people. Should African governments be supporting political misgovernance to the detriment of the interest of the people? Even France has not always waited to be invited to intervene before doing so. In Chad, the Constitution of the land was so clear that in the absence of the President, the parliamentary leader should stand in. The French claimed the leader refused to take over. Whether it is true or false, the French encouraged and supported the take over of power by the son of the late Idris Derby.
From the foregoing, the point being made is that Africa has become a land of insecurity and the insecurity has the potential to be sharply increased with Al-Qaeda terror. Where is the AU peace architecture in this matter?
Africom, AU, ECOMOG, and French Berkhane
The South Asian region is likely to be the immediate theatre of the Cold War in the making but Africa should not be allowed to be an extension of the proxy battles that may accompany the war. In the same vein, Africa should not be the theatre for Islamic jihad. In this regard, there is the need for a quadripartite entente amongst the AFRICOM, the African Union, the ECOWAS and the French Berkhane Operation managers.
The Americans and the French do have strategic interests to protect in Africa but the Africans themselves should also learn how to articulate their own interests and protect them. The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is a coinage referring to the key AU mechanisms for promoting peace, security and political stability in Africa.
What is noteworthy about the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council, as established on 9 July 2002 in Durban and as entered into force in December 2003 is that it ‘authorizes the mounting and deployment of peace support missions, and lays down general guidelines for the conduct of such missions including the mandate.’ More important, it not only promotes ‘harmonisation and coordination of efforts between regional mechanisms and the AU in the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa,’ but also requires the need ‘to ensure implementation of key conventions and instruments to combat international terrorism.’ Our focus here is terrorism in Africa and the challenge is how do we deal with the problem? Thus, there is an existing enabling policy instrument to prevent terror. How do we take advantage of the policy?
The situation of insecurity in Africa is such that the policy pronouncement according to which African problems should be left to African leaders to resolve appears to be completely irrelevant. A partnership approach appears to be a necessity. Africa needs the AFRICOM, not as a military base in Africa, but as a partner-in-progress in an agreement in which mutual sovereignty is respected and there is shared intelligence in the war on terror. There is a lot to learn from the American experiences.
France, being a former colonial master, also knows the African environment well. The African Union should be prepared to also learn from her. What should be of concern is why the trend of coup making is only occurring in the former French colonial territories. Why is this so? In some of the cases, the French would make statements along the quest for return to normalcy, but the French are always quickly told to mind their own business and to avoid any iota of interference. Most unfortunately however, with this development, the French are still required in ensuring that the African soil is not plagued with terror.
As regards the ECOWAS, it is on record to be the champion of regional security in Africa. When the civil war first broke out in Liberia, the ECOWAS came up with the ECOMOG to help address the problem. The ECOMOG is on record to have done well. The story of the Sierra Leone war is not different. There was ECOMOG II. Peace was restored in the country, thanks largely to the commitment of the Government of Nigeria.
In forging an alliance against international jihad in Africa, the African Union should be at the epicentre and immediately surrounding the epicentre should be the ECOMOG in such a way that it becomes the coordinating force. The likelihood of the French accepting to be under the command of the AU-ECOMOG may not be there. France has always objected to the mania of U.S. leadership when it comes to military integrative partnership like this. France did not accept the US-command of the NATO at a point in time, which led to the relocation of the NATO headquarters from Paris to Brussels. To now expect that France would want to accept the AFRICOM leadership in Africa cannot but be a dream.
However, this likely situation does not imply that Africa should not take the bulls by the horns and define the way forward. In fact, it is the core interests of Africa that are first at stake. Africa should initiate an UNGA-monitored negotiations on a quadripartite agreement on how to reorganize a fresh security architecture for Africa. The long-debated African Standby Force must stop being rhetorical. The West African region, and particularly the Sahelian sub-region should be one of the areas for joint training and exercise. With African foot soldiers, with Franco-American training and logistics, and with the African Union providing the required home-based support, Africa will be better armed to resist whatever Islamic jihad that may be in the making.
It can be rightly argued that insecurity at the municipal level cannot easily allow security to thrive at the regional level. There is no disputing the fact that, in Nigeria, for example, it cannot but be quite difficult to have security for various obvious reasons: government officials aid and abet boko haram insurgency, funders of terror hobnob with legislators and military officials, President Buhari himself promotes nepotism, unfairness and injustice in the conduct and management of the affairs of the country, while at the same time preaching to the people to be calm and maintain peace. Of course, no one bothers to listen to him. Agitation for self-determination and secession is what is treading in Nigeria as at today. Consequently, if there is no peace in Nigeria, peace cannot be exported by Nigeria into any part of the West African region.
It is important not to confuse the type of insecurity in Nigeria with the likely situation of insecurity that Africa will be challenged with, that is, imported jihadist terror into different regions of Africa. Rather than sit down allowing the Americans and the French doing the fight, African soldiers themselves, as distinct from national soldiers, should assume first and full responsibility to secure Africa. Every country defines its interests in clear terms.
The US Central Command, also referred to as CENTCOM, has its headquarters located in MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida. The CENTCOM is the administrative headquarters for all US military affairs in 20 countries of the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Northeast Africa, and the Arabian Gulf. It was carved out from the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force in January 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. By design, it is a geographic combatant command. When it comes to the protection of U.S. military interests in Africa, the AFRICOM was conceived.
The French approach is not in any way different. It was when French strategic interests were globally threatened, and particularly in Africa, that the French Berkhane Operation was also conceived. Although Francophone countries do participate in the Berkhane operations, their participation has been generally limited. Even with that, Chad abruptly decided in August 2021 to reduce its force in the three borders region from 1,200 to just 600 in order to deal with the local security threats
The first and most likely effect of any successful jihadist terror in Africa cannot but be on Nigeria. The target of jihadist terror in Africa is Nigeria. The agenda, as clearly explained by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is to have Muslim North and Christian South if there is to be any enduring peace in Nigeria. This was even to be the starting point. Different efforts have been made in the past to present Nigeria internationally as a Muslim State, but all the efforts have failed. What is yet to be tried is the use of force to turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation. Thus, a quadripartite partnership is needed to be worked out at the level of U.S. AFRICOM, French Berkhane, the African Union and the ECOWAS to ensure that the African space does not allow for terrorism to breath. Africa has been conceived to be the main battleground for Muslim Jihad and the ideal response is to mobilise an international opposition to it. Africa should adopt a policy of no compromise with jihadist terror on African territory and all diplomatic efforts should simply be geared along this direction.