Of Nigeria and AFRICOM in the Gulf of Guinea

US’ AFRICOM. Photo credit: https://africa.cgtn.com

Ademola Araoye

The renewal of the request of the United States of America to establish a military base in Nigeria should come as no surprise. As a fragilized and deconsolidated state, the internal circumstances of Nigeria make it abundantly a natural habitat of disoriented hegemonic forces desperately seeking to appropriate fresh spaces on the continent. Despite the narrative of seeking to bolster security in the troubled West African sub-region, the primary aim of the search for new homes for American military bases is to advance the global strategic imperatives of the United States in the post-Soviet era. Worst still, an American military base comes at a cost of disregard of national sovereignty. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), at a minimum ensures the inviolability of any territory conceded to a foreign army by host domestic authority.

The requested base of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the Gulf of Guinea presumably would be larger, even if it would be the second to the United States West Africa Logistics Network (WALN) at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Well beyond the impact of Nigeria’s accession to the request of the United States in West Africa, such massive deployment of American forces in the relatively low kinetic threshold of the African theater would have serious implications for the fight by consolidated African states to rid the continent of continued control by preeminent elite forces. It would also raise the threshold of kinetic power and armament range in a predominantly archaic military environment where a B7O7-300 is still regarded as a novel asset.

Ridding the continent of continued control by preeminent elite forces is an uncontested policy imperative of black humanity in the early decades of the Third Millennium. Such a deployment would negate the evolved radical transformations in political sensibilities that have impacted the strategic reconfiguration of the African continent. The reconfiguration is being undertaken in a manner that is leaving the dominant hegemonic forces operating across the continent in the lurch. Against the backdrop of developments in the Sahel since 2022 and the validation of the transformed sensibilities in the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Senegal, the renewed requests by the United States for the establishment of a military base stems from a desire to balance the influence of new partners of radical regimes in the sub-region; Russia and China.  This request thus feeds into the larger context of the turbulence in the global order. An American military base in the Gulf of Guinea constitutes a platform for significant strategic leverage in the Atlantic against a Sino-Russian axis. It is to be observed that most pan-African states on the continent are associated, if not fully strategically aligned, to the Sino-Russian orbit of elite powers. An American military base acceded to by Nigeria automatically impacts intra-African strategic relations.

Largely and presumably by tragic default, Nigeria, under “democratically elected” regimes more mobilized by irrational considerations for personal political conveniences, fostered dubious appreciations of the historicity of the struggles of black humanity and of the strategic import of policies that they pursued. Consequentially, Nigeria has in the last two decades emerged as the pivot of a counter force against progressive pan-Africanist regimes with radical orientations in West Africa. Nigeria was aligned with the likes of Omar Bongo and Sassou Nguesso in the Ivorian conflict. It countermanded the African Union consensus on the International Criminal Court and in clear nuances was set apart from the AU’s common stance for a negotiated settlement during the Western-instigated destruction of Col Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya. In more recent times, Nigeria aligned with the French poulain in Abidjan to seek to delegitimize the radical forces in the Sahel that are determined to rid themselves of their historic traducers. These policy fiascos that set Nigeria’s historic progressive policy thrust many decades behind, not only undermined Nigeria’s hitherto stout pan-Africa credentials, it sent clear signals of a loss of strategic focus by the country.

Yet, a determinate focus on the human agency would be limited in explaining consistent massive policy failures of the Nigerian state in recent decades. Institutional paralysis facilitates the preeminence of unhinged officials in the pursuit of private interests of key state officials over rational policy making, including in the Security and Foreign policy realm, in the larger interest of the polity. The scenario reflects the character of a deconsolidated state. State deconsolidation is a process and at the same time the outcome of two interrelated but conceptually distinct processes. Both processes, implicating domestic and external forces, often intersect but may also be independent of each other. Whether as distinct elements operating independently or in collaboration with each other, the end goal of state deconsolidation is the pursuit of domestic and external objectives that promote interests extraneous to the legitimate agenda of the state, especially as the process compromises the well-being of disenchanted populations for which the state no longer works. The objectives of those partisans in charge of the deconsolidated state are attained at the expense of the long-term capacity of the state to achieve developmental and progressive national goals. The activities of domestic elites and powerful external forces and influences result in weakening the capacity of the state to advance the legitimate aspirations of the disaffected citizens of the polity. The malignant deconsolidated state may continue to function with a façade of normalcy that may be demonstrated in healthy statistical parameters and procedural profiles. Yet, these metrics may not translate into engaged citizenship or the well-being of the individual. The fabric of the deconsolidated state is holistically fragilized. The deconsolidated partisan elite-directed state is peculiarly coercive and anti-people in the operation of the state machinery. Its worldview is in dissonance with the existential reality of the people and thus delinked in the policies that emerge from the state policy formulation machinery. Internal procedures of the deconsolidated state, such as democracy, are a distortion of classic tenets of substantive democracy. The outcomes of these processes are assumed to be at variance from the objective interest of the state. Indeed, the policies emanating from the caricatures of democratic experience may undermine the long-term sustainability of the state. A critical feature of a deconsolidated state is very low penetration of society. In fact, society across national territory is divided along primordial lines and characterized by significant intra-group bonding with negligible bridging across groups. Social capital as a holistic national asset often does not exist.

These internal features provide an enabling environment for external elite powers with vested interests in aligning the deconsolidated state toward its control orbit or sphere of influence. The corrupt elite of the deconsolidated states are easy targets to control by external forces through the facilitation of mechanisms to protect their regimes, often with scant internal legitimacy, and also the provision of institutions in the elite home countries that protect dividends of the illicit activities of the elites of deconsolidated states. All these are to incentivize collaboration and eventual cooptation of the corrupt elite regimes with powerful elite forces determined to keep them in their orbits of control.

This situation is largely to the benefit of the advancement of the strategic goal of the external powers and their domestic ruling classes. The workings of France across Francophone West and Central Africa illustrate the systematic deconsolidation of states in a manner that perpetually keeps the state from developing a national will or an autonomous voice outside the framework of the strategic interests of the controlling external order. FrancAfrique presents a well-coordinated process of deconsolidating a state. A central feature of FrancAfrique was that state-to-state relations between French and African leaders were informal and family-like and were bolstered by a dense web of personal networks (or reseaux in French) whose activities were funded from the cooperation budget. Through this mechanism, fourteen former French colonies in Africa pay a “Colonial tax” amounting to $500 billion. These countries included Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. In Anglophone Africa, such as Nigeria, the process of externally induced deconsolidation is more nuanced and subtle. The consequences are however the same.

At the other end of the spectrum, consolidated states have managed to resolve the fundamental crises of the post-colonial states since independence. Critically, consolidated states have attained the capacity for autonomous action as a state in its internal processes and are confident in articulating its views in its relations with the world. Consolidated states have transcended the multiple crises of integration, identity, distribution, inclusivity, leadership, and gender integration, among many other crises associated with state and nation-building. Nation-building is constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. Consolidated states are advanced in the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run. Social capital is abundant and state penetration of society is deep. Perception of state legitimacy is high. The trajectory of the post-colonial state to consolidation may have been fraught with national trauma such as in Rwanda.  However, the road to consolidation, is a relative state of affairs, given that no state is fully consolidated. The consolidated state is citizen-directed even when the state is elite-operated to achieve the legitimate objectives of the state. The institutions of governance are relatively strong and resilient with clearly defined separation of powers expected in a functional democracy. Corruption is largely curtailed.

With such a profile, hegemonic forces understand that the environment of a consolidated state poses a challenge to any attempts to turn it into a proxy. The opposite applies to deconsolidated states, where the governing political elites can be blackmailed to toe the line. Nigeria is currently in that gulag with a very constrained capacity to resist pressures from hegemonic forces in possession of heavy dossiers on the human agencies driving policy.

Meanwhile, if the anti-French coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, which have been responsible for the homelessness of Western forces in the sub-region, were considered to be aberrant events, the outcome of the democratic elections in Senegal articulated a similar revolutionary mold through democratic avenues The Senegalese forces professed the same rationale of radical departure from the neo-colonial dispensation largely instituted and overseen by France in the sub-region. Put together, developments in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal have emerged as major substantive historic departures with significant implications for the structure of power in the West African sub-region, Africa, and with significant salience for an evolving global order. These developments were also aligned with emerging repugnant sentiments across the continent directed at the consequences of the multi-level instrumentalized character of African democracy. This gross distortion of democracy was associated with status-quo regimes on the continent validated and overseen by their hypocritical directors in Western capitals. The strategic landscape in Africa was changing with the series of restorative interventions by the military. The geopolitics of these developments focus on the dynamics generated by the robust interactions of diverse interests across the system responding to constraints and opportunities presented by the closures and openings offered by the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. It is the critical context of the search for strategic deployments of elite forces in West Africa. A deployment of United States forces in the Gulf of Guinea would elicit reciprocal counter-deployments by Russia that now has a toe hold in the sub region.

In the above scenario, Africa would be thrust into a dangerous geo-political cycle way beyond its capacity to manage. The geo-politics of the deployment of United States in the Gulf of Guinea may pit progressive pan-African states against Nigeria. No doubt, geopolitics continues to influence international politics. It served as the basis for the United States’ Cold War strategy of containment, which was developed by George Kennan as a geopolitical strategy to limit the expansion of the Soviet Union. Analysts have expanded geopolitics to include the economic dimensions of politics interacting with military factors. Geopolitical risk focuses on the impact of political developments, including at the state and micro level, across the globe, which could impact the flow of goods and services in the international trade system and cause supply chain disruptions and cost increases for businesses. These postulations have been proven by the global impact of events in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in West Africa.

Those who warn against further diminution of Nigeria’s sovereignty by acceding to the renewed request of the United States have a very valid point. As important as that is, the challenge has deeper implications for continued stability of the sub-region and the African continent and a whole. It poses a risk to the holistic emancipatory thrust of black humanity.

* Professor Ademola Araoye is a retired official of the United Nations and former Director of Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFUND Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. He is author of Sources of Conflict in the Post- Colonial African State (AWP, 2012).