The war you’ve never heard of: Africom and the death of La David Johnson

Amidst the exhausting and unending controversies in Trump’s presidency, the tone deaf phone call made by President Trump to the widow of La David Johnson has only stayed the distance because the President and his previously squeaky clean Chief of Staff have chosen to lie and degrade the widow and congresswoman Wilson who both confirmed the story.

Why there was ever any expectation of compassion from the monstrous rotten orange sitting in the White House is beyond me, but this caught my attention because La David Johnson, three other Green Berets and five local soldiers were killed in Niger. They unexpectedly encountered 50 fighters. The focus has been on Johnson because he went missing and it required an escalation of conflict to find his body. Not in Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq. In Niger.

I had no idea that the USA had a military presence in Niger. Niger, a country of 21 million people is in northwest Africa nestled between Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali. It turns out there are at least 800 US military personnel in Niger. They are there as part of the US Africa Command (Africom) to train the Niger military to carry out operations that are in turn provided by the USA.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Africom. I hadn’t. Africom is only ten years old. It was created after a series of attacks on US corporations’ oil installations throughout the African continent and since its inception there has been an exponential growth in terrorist organisations.

That seems weird; isn’t the point of Africom to stop that violence? Well, in short, no. Africom is about maintaining the historical European and American imperialism in the continent of Africa against the economic incursion of China. Certainly, Africom’s stated aims are the defeat of Daesh, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram in West Africa as part of the worldwide “War on Terror.” But their stated aims and the actions they have led and supported don’t quite add up.

Rather than starting with Niger, we’d do better to return to the end of 2010 when Muammar Gaddafi was still the dictator of Libya (remember, that’s Niger’s neighbour). Gaddafi had started a serious conversation in the African Union about a pan-African currency and was demanding a fairer deal for Libyan oil. The Libyan oil fields are the largest Africa, some 46 billion barrels of oil.

Nicolas Sarkozy of France was infuriated by the potential restrictions on access to much needed oil and along with USA concerned at the potential for an African economic zone to reduce their influence. Fortuitously, the Arab Spring had begun, a sweeping non-violent citizen movement for a greater say in their respective countries; Sarkozy’s government funded Al Qaeda in Libya to start a civil war. Yes; that Al Qaeda.

Africom supported the French efforts in Libya with military intelligence, advisors, black ops and military equipment. Gaddafi was executed and Libya fell. France continued to support Al Qaeda who flowed over the borders into Mali and Niger.

Mali and Niger struggled to combat the well-armed and battle hardened Al Qaeda forces, had no resources to support internally displaced peoples and saw swathes of their populations radicalized. Africom offered a solution: if Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger would work with them and France, they could source United Nations funding. Not for reconstruction and emergency efforts, but for building US drone bases throughout West Africa.

But why would France and Africom encourage instability in West Africa? Europe and the USA want continued control of Africa’s energy resources. That control is threatened by China’s “independent foreign policy of peace,” which has seen Chinese investment on an unprecedented scale in infrastructure and reconstruction projects throughout Africa to encourage African nations to reconsider who might be their champion internationally.

Instability ensures African countries are in state of endless war. The USA economic power is in the military industrial complex; war is essential for the American economy, and no other country can compete in that area.

How important is African energy? One French company in Niger produces the uranium that provides 75 percent of French power from nuclear power plants. That one compant produces 7.5 percent of the total uranium in the world. As noted above, the Libyan oil fields are the largest in Africa; corporations have now ‘partnered’ with the national oil body to get that oil flowing to Europe. In addition, there is an enormous natural gas pipeline that runs directly from Libya, under the Mediterranean to Europe. The partner corporations are all European and American.

China is considered a genuine threat to US and European hegemony. In 2009, China offered Niger millions of dollars to develop their own independent oil industry. in 2010 President Mamadou Tandja who had accepted China’s offer, was overthrown in a coup d’état. China has currently invested US$10 million in Ethiopia, building a port at Djibouti and a rail link with Addis Ababa. The US has located 4,000 troops there and recently started construction of a drone base in Ethopia to launch strikes against the growing terrorist threat in the country. Three further drone bases are being built in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and of course Niger. Each base is about US$100 million.

It seems to be that what China builds, Africom undermines. Since Trump has been President, this has only escalated. Africom received orders from this administration to consider West Africa and Somalia a “zone of active hostilities,” which is the green light for air strikes and ground assaults as the military commanders see fit.

La David Johnson’s death and Trump’s ham-fisted handling of the phone call to his widow inadvertently threw a light on American imperialism in the African continent. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, our foreign policy is aligned with the USA. But to be aligned with the USA is to be a small cog in a machine of endless war.

David Lange followed in Norm Kirk’s footsteps in projecting the image of a small state that could stand on its own feet on the world stage. That was never quite true; our Australian and US intelligence relationships were never severed as we remained in what we now know as the Five Eyes alliance.

But the principle holds as true to day as it did when Lange rose to speak in the Oxford Union: we need to speak independently and with conscience. The activities of Africom and the intentions of the US foreign policy in Africa should give us pause to think before we throw ourselves onto Trump’s lap.