State of foreign military presence in Africa

Date | 14 August, 2019

Tomorrow (14 August) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security  Council  (PSC)  will  hold  a  session  to  assess  the  state of foreign military presence in Africa and its implications on the implementation of African Common Defense and Security Policy.

The  AU  Peace  and  Security  Department  is  expected  to  brief the Council. The Committee of Intelligence and Security  Services  of  Africa  (CISSA)  is  also  best  placed  to  provide further inputs.

In recent years increasing concerns have been expressed over  the  surge  in  the  establishment  of  foreign  military  presence in various parts of the continent. In its communique of its 776th session held in May 2018, the PSC expressed deep concern ‘over the potential negative effects of the presence of foreign military bases in some volatile parts of the continent to the future security and stability of Africa’.

The 19th meeting of the Panel of the Wise in November 2018  went  further.  It  not  only  reiterated  the  concern  about the ‘increasing militarization of parts of the continent, in particular the Sahel and the Horn of Africa regions’  but  importantly  ‘the  increase  in  uncoordinated  external interventions which undermines the efficacy of African‐led  solutions  to  violent  conflicts  on  the  continent.’ In this respect, the Panel underscored that considerable  attention  should  be  devoted  to  understanding the dynamics of external involvement on the continent’s security landscape.

The trend in the militarization of parts of the continent is backed  by  data.  Over  the  past  three  decades,  the  continent has witnessed the heavy military presence of multiple  regional  and  international  security  actors.  Particularly in the Horn of Africa region, the number of actors  with  military  presence  from  Europe,  the  United  States, the Middle East, the Gulf, and Asia has increased exponentially.  Moreover,  the  increased  volatility  and  complex security challenges in the Sahel and West Africa regions  have  also  led  to  the  expanded  role  of  foreign  security actors.

France has had a military presence in Djibouti since the late  1800.   After  Djibouti  achieved  independence  in  1977, France retained several military facilities. In recent decades,  in  the  Horn  region,  foreign  military  presence  was first established for purposes of countering violent extremism  and  terrorism  following  the  terrorist  attacks  in the United States in 11 September 2001. Since 2001, the  Government  of  Djibouti  leased  Camp  Lemonnier  to  the USA and ever since the US has made continuous investment  to  transform  it  into  a  permanent  facility.  Similarly, the US has also established presence in other countries in the Horn for its operation against al‐Shabab. Surveillance  sites  in  South  Sudan,  Uganda  and  Democratic Republic of Congo have also been established  aiming,  among  others,  at  capturing  Joseph  Kony.

China’s  first  major  security  step  in  relation  to  military  presence in Africa came in 2008 when it launched an anti‐piracy  mission  in  the  Gulf  of  Aden.  China  has  since  maintained a permanent naval anti‐piracy presence in the  Horn  of  Africa  region  and  recently  it  launched  its  32nd convoy fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters. In a landmark development, China established a People’s Liberation  Army  Navy  (PLAN)  base  in  Djibouti  in  August  2017. While presented as a logistics support base and aiming at supporting China’s peacekeeping operations in Africa  and  its  participation  in  the  fight  of  international  piracy off the coast of Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden, the  facility  has  been  instrumental  in  the  protection  of  China’s growing overseas assets and represents China’s plan to project power.

The  UK  similarly  has  deployed  a  number  of  military  personnel at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, for a closer cooperation with the US forces in the region.
Increased presence from emerging actors particularly the Gulf  States  has  witnessed  sharp  increase  starting  from  2015‐2016. Saudi Arabia has significantly increased its presence in the region, particularly following the civil war in  Yemen  and  has  maintained  a  significant  naval  presence in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. After strained relationship with Djibouti, the UAE has directed its ties to Eritrea, Somalia and Somaliland.

The UAE has also targeted Somaliland by working on the military  base  in  Berbera  to  strengthen  its  military  capacity in the conflict in Yemen while also providing security  for  Somaliland’s  coastal  waters  and  coastline.  Turkey has also opened a military training centre in Mogadishu  in  2017  to  train  recruits  for  the  Somali  National Army.

Russia  has  become  the  latest  power  to  emerge  on  the  African security scene. In 2018, it has established presence  in  the  Central  African  Republic  (CAR)  to  equip  and advise the CAR military. In apparent indication of long‐term  presence,  Bangui  and  Moscow  signed  a  military cooperation pact.

The  rivalry  and  competition  among  foreign  powers  has  worsened already volatile security situation in the continent.  In  addition  to  the  GCC  crisis,  the  perceived  rivalry between the US and China has further intensified the military presence. The US Africa Strategy has openly stated  its  intention  of  countering  China  and  Russia’s  influence in the continent.

These  competing  military  engagements  particularly  among global powers will have a number of implications for the implementation of the African Common Defense and Security Policy.

One of the principal objectives of the policy is ‘to ensure collective responses to both internal and external threats to Africa… in conformity with the principles enshrined in the Constitutive Act’. The current security landscape and involvement  of  foreign  power  complicate  the  establishment of any collective security response by African states.

While there is recognition that individual member states have  the  sovereign  prerogative  for  allowing  their  territories to be used by foreign militaries, there remain concerns  about  the  extent  to  which  such  military presence  is  channeled  for  enhancing  the  collective  security of the continent. Some of the bilateral engagements  of  member  states  are  seen  as  being  not  fully coherent with existing continental commitments and  mechanisms  established  by  the  AU.  Rather  there  is  seems to be fragmentation and ad‐hoc engagement with foreign  powers,  leading  to  fragmentation  of  the  engagement of AU member states. Moreover, there is also a tendency of building closer ties with foreign power than  with  neighboring  states  in  the  security  front.  It  is  feared that this tends to fuel tension among neighboring countries.

IGAD during its 46th ministerial meeting cognizant of the changing geopolitics in the region, adopted ‘a collective approach  to  challenges  in  the  Red  Sea  and  the  Gulf  of  Aden by strengthening regional cooperation, and establish  a  regional  platform  for  IGAD  Member  States  with a view to promote dialogue’ and agreed ‘to harmonize  and  develop  a  common  position  to  protect  the security and economic interests of the region’.

The  expected  outcome  of  the  session  is  a  communiqué.  The PSC may take note of the increased level of unregulated  presence  of  foreign  militaries  in  Africa  and  destabilizing effects of antagonism and rivalry among powers  on  the  peace  and  security  of  the  continent.  The  PSC may urge member state for their immediate action in considering  the  continental  and  regional  standards,  particularly the Common African Defense and Security Policy,  when  engaging  foreign  security  actors.  The  PSC  may call on member states to work towards common security  and  intensify  regional  cooperation  to  effectively respond  to  any  threat  emanating  from  foreign  power  competition. As part of the effort to limit the pitfalls of foreign  military  presence,  the  PSC  may  task  the  AU  Commission to present to it a report on the scope of foreign  military  presence,  its  adverse  impacts  and  ways  and means by which member states may coordinate with the AU on the role of foreign militaries in their territories.