JOHANNESBURG — For decades, Africa has been teeming with foreign military personnel, with more than a dozen countries known to have deployments and bases on the continent.
A key area of interest for foreign powers, particularly Western countries, has been the Horn of Africa.
At least 13 countries have a military presence in Africa, while there were about 11 foreign military bases in the Horn of Africa, according to a 2019 report by the Institute of Security Studies, a think tank headquartered in South Africa.
The US and its allies such as France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Japan, and India make up a large chunk of the countries with a military presence on the continent, the report said.
Among Horn of Africa nations, none has garnered more attention from world powers than Djibouti, which hosts at least eight foreign military bases, including the US, France, Japan, and China.
The primary reason is Djibouti’s location at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, acting as a bridge between Africa and the Middle East.
While the US has numerous outposts across Africa, the State Department says Djibouti has the “only enduring US military presence in Africa at Camp Lemonnier.”
It was established in 2003 through a formal agreement that also gives the US access to Djibouti’s port facilities and airport.
France, the other Western power with the largest military presence in Africa, has a major military base in Niamey, the capital of Niger.
The base plays a crucial role in France’s operations in the troubled Sahel region, where militant activities are a major concern, besides also serving as a training and equipment hub for local forces.
The base has gained even more importance for France after neighboring Burkina Faso forced the withdrawal of French troops from its territory this year.
Additionally, last year, France decided to pull out its forces from Mali, where they were stationed for years to fight militants in the Sahel region.
The future of the French base in Niger is also now up in the air, following Wednesday’s apparent coup, with a group of soldiers claiming to have overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum, a key ally of the US, France, and the wider West.
Resources and geopolitics
However, these military installations are more to advance the interests of their own countries, rather than contributing to Africa’s development and security, according to African experts.
“Superpowers compete to at least have their deployments at strategic positions so that should the need arise to go all out in any form of warfare, they will have access to resources and ammunition,” Lesiba Teffo, a political analyst, told Anadolu.
He pointed out that Western powers are scrambling to set up strategic military bases all over the world, not just in Africa.
“Why is there war in Ukraine? Because all NATO wants is to deploy its armaments in Ukraine so they can have the closest access should the need arise to attack Russia,” he said.
“That’s at the heart of it. All other platitudes are for the average mind.”
Ahmed Jazbhay, a professor at the University of South Africa, said the rush for “foreign military bases in Africa is wide-ranging and goes beyond resource extraction.”
“It has to do with competing geopolitical interests,” he said, adding that all the world powers present in Africa want to advance their own interests on the continent and around the world.
Colonialism and control
Jazbhay also touched on how the drive for military presence ties in with colonialism and a desire for political power.
“We see these global powers, including former colonial powers, wanting to hold influence on the continent,” he said. “While some countries in Africa are attempting to break off the chains of Western influence, for instance, Burkina Faso, others are holding on to it.”
Certain unstable African countries, particularly those ruled by authoritarian figures, are open to hosting Western military bases or forces because it helps them stay in power, he explained, citing Niger, Chad and Mali as examples.
Some Western powers also try to influence election results to ensure they have leaders who are more easily controlled, he added.
“They don’t want Africa to break the chains of colonialism, so they can continue looting resources and ensure economic dominance,” Jazbhay asserted.
Teffo delved into the economic aspect of Western military presence, particularly how it brings in money and generates jobs.
“Wherever there are military bases, Africans have jobs and there is economic activity. If you take them away, locals lose out too,” he said.
On the African Union’s inability to dissuade countries from hosting foreign military bases, he said the bloc “has failed dismally” on that front.
“If a long time ago, they acted against dictators, against leaders who destroyed their economies, and said we would rather starve in dignity than eat in shame, maybe Africa would be far more advanced today and would be able to raise its voice,” he said.
Right now, Africa is treated like a child that is expected to express gratitude to those providing donations or aid, even though these resources originate from the continent itself, said Teffo.
“Africa must take responsibility for its own future and its own path,” he asserted.