Africas Own Needs Should Come First

n his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush declared, “Here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil.” The United States increasingly looks to Africa to feed that addiction. In fact, the Department of Energy says that Africa—especially Algeria, Nigeria, and Angola—supply 24 percent of U.S. imports, and has now surpassed the Middle East as a source.

As global supplies shrink and the Middle East remains in turmoil, the United States is not without competition in Africa. China and other emerging economies are also looking to the continent and only seeing the oil needed to feed their rapid growth. This is especially true as new discoveries of oil on the African continent seem to pop up every year. Ghana discovered oil off its shores in 2007, Mauritania in 2006, and many other countries are ramping up exploration.

In an effort to control oil and contain China’s role in Africa, the Bush Administration has designed a scheme to militarize U.S.-Africa policy. “One of Donald Rumsfeld’s final acts as secretary of defense [was] to put the finishing touches on an Africa Command for the U.S. military,” William Arkin reports in The Washington Post. This unified military command, AFRICOM, would coordinate U.S.-Africa engagement including humanitarian assistance, development programs, and even diplomacy. Military officers would be responsible for overseeing school construction, drilling wells, and other traditional State Department functions.

None of this planning, ostensibly for the defense of the continent, involved consulting the nations that would bear the burden of this military expansion. African leaders are expressing concerns about the U.S. militarization of the continent. South Africa, among the first to speak out, organized the 14-nation Southern African Development Community to say “no” to expanding the U.S. military footprint in their region. Nigeria followed, raising its voice in opposition to AFRICOM and urging the oil-rich West African Gulf of Guinea states to reject the plan. Algeria and Libya are also leading voices of resistance, organizing the North African states.

These coalitions are the work of national leaders who are responding to public pressure. African human rights advocates, civil society leaders, editorial writers, and cartoonists increasingly are raising alarms about AFRICOM. Throughout the continent, Africans are realizing that in a world of finite resources, funds spent on militarism come at the expense of education, healthcare, and housing, the building blocks of stable societies.

A just U.S. foreign policy would first end the addiction to oil. This addiction is causing upheaval around the world and is also leading to dangerous climate change. A just U.S.-Africa policy would put the needs and priorities of Africa first.

Instead of militarizing the continent, we should end the flow of arms to the region. Instead of selling arms or food on credit, we should remove the existing illegitimate debt burden. Instead of pushing deals that privilege U.S. companies at the expense of small farmers, we should promote fair trade that prioritizes local and regional markets. The African Union should be the first responders to conflict, with the United Nations in its tried-and-true role of peacekeeper, leading negotiations that tackle root causes of protracted crises.

These are the building blocks for security and development in Africa. There is no need for the U.S. military to take command and control in Africa or to dictate U.S.-Africa policy.

Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.