United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) carried out an engagement in Somalia at the end of January. AFRICOM’s press release stated, “During the engagement, U.S. forces trained partners on a variety of topics that reinforced combat skills and operational planning.” On February 8, the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams entered the port of Mombasa, Kenya. According to its commanding officer, Captain Michael Concannon, “Our visit to Mombasa confirms our resolve and commitment to the preservation of security and stability in Kenya and Africa.” Meanwhile, US AFRICOM leadership completed visits to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Navy Rear Admiral Heidi Berg said of these visits, “U.S. Africa Command understands the importance of combating terrorism and piracy, malign activities, and ensuring safe seas and waterways for shipping and commerce.” These are just a few of the publicly admitted activities of AFRICOM in the last month and the reasons given for them.
But why is the United States military so actively involved in Africa? It is not the propagandist talking points given above. Rather it is about the control of the material resources and the strategic location of the African continent. The 2020 AFRICOM Posture Statement makes this quite clear, “Of note, 26 African nations hold reserves of minerals determined to be critical to the U.S economy and national security.” Malcolm X understood this in 1964, when he explained,
“Africa is strategically located, geographically between East and West; it’s the most valuable piece of property involved in the struggle between East and West…Cobalt and uranium, the largest deposits are right there on the African continent. And this is what the man is after. The man is after keeping you over here worrying about a cup of coffee, while he’s over there in your motherland taking control over minerals that have so much value they make the world go around…Now the raw materials are taken from Africa, shipped all the way to Europe, used to feed the machines of the Europeans, and make jobs for them, and then turned around and sold back to the Africans as finished products.”
United States foreign policy has changed very little since Malcolm X described it. AFRICOM exists to oversee the extraction of mineral wealth from Africa.
Of these mineral rich countries, Niger is one of the richest with an estimated total of 4% of the world’s uranium supply. Niger is home to the Agadez U.S. Airforce base, “the largest troop labor construction project in U.S. history,” with a total cost of 110 million dollars to build and 15 million annually to operate. Niger’s two largest uranium mines are owned by the French corporation Areva. According to Business Insider, “During the period spanning the beginning of uranium exports in 1971 and the 2007 mining contract, French extractors paid no export taxes and left the Nigerien state with only around 5.5% of uranium-industry revenue…” Today Niger receives just 12% of the uranium revenue. Niger is just one example of how transnational corporations benefit from the mineral wealth of Africa at the expense of the African people and AFRICOM is at the center of this exploitation. The presence of AFRICOM in Niger is in defense of the transnational capitalist class for the extraction of uranium.
President Biden’s new US Ambassador to the U.N. is former Assistant Secretary of African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. In testimony to congress in 2019, she said, “it is crucial that there be sustained U.S. engagement on the continent.” In this same testimony, speaking of Zimbabwe, she claimed, “There were high expectations in 2018 when President Mnangagwa was elected President.” Yet she co-authored an article that was published in the March-April 2019 edition of Military Review which clearly said,
“As Mnangagwa assembled his cabinet, there was hope he would reach across the aisle and appoint some members of the opposition. That did not happen. Instead, Mnangagwa’s cabinet was heavy on career military officers who traded in their epaulets for pinstripes, confirming for all that this was nothing less than a coup.”
But as Mnangagwa was willing to work with the World Bank and IMF, she testified to Congress that, “There must be continued U.S. engagement with the government of Zimbabwe to show that the transition from the long-time Mugabe regime, recent disputed elections, and protests will ultimately give way to a more democratic and transparent process of governing that will justify removal of sanctions and increased investments.” This is the typical double-speak that can be expected from politicians in defense of capitalism. At the time of her testimony, she knew that Mnangagwa was installed – not elected, yet she did not mention the coup at all and called for renewed United States investments in Zimbabwe. Her position as Ambassador to the U.N. will only give her more power to carry out the U.S. agenda of exploitation abroad.
Why is Zimbabwe even of any concern to the United States? The United States Department of Commerce International Trade Administration website notes on Zimbabwe, “The government’s renewed interest in increasing domestic production of value-added mineral products may require larger capital investments in the mining sector than under business models that relied upon the export of unprocessed or semi-processed natural resources.” It is not difficult to surmise that the legitimacy of the Mnangagwa regime in the eyes of the United States will depend on how much access corporations are given to this mineral wealth.
President Mugabe, who was deposed by Mnangagwa in the coup, “introduced a law requiring that at least 51% of each of the country’s platinum mines to be owned by local people.” This amendment was just recently removed allowing foreign corporations to fully own Zimbabwe mines. At the time of the coup, Trump administration Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “Zimbabwe has an extraordinary opportunity to set itself on a new path.” This new path is now showing itself to be the foreign takeover of the mineral wealth that Mugabe had attempted to put back in the hands of the Zimbabwean people. The state of mining is heading back toward the situation described in the 80s by John Bradbury and Eric Worby in The Mining Industry in Zimbabwe: Mining, Capital, and the State, “The objective of the transnationals in the mining sector in Zimbabwe is still the process of capital accumulation and the inter-regional transfer of value out of Zimbabwe mostly into South Africa, the UK and the USA, the host sites of the major mining transnationals.” This return to a model of international exploitation bodes well for the transnational corporate class and indicates tough times ahead for the working class of Zimbabwe.
It is also worth noting that BlackRock Investment Management holds a 2.68% stake in Impala Platinum Holdings Limited, the South African Company that controls much of Zimbabwe’s platinum production. Brian Deese, Biden’s top economic adviser, and Wally Adeyemo, nominee for Deputy Director of the Treasury, both have ties to BlackRock. Even though the United States maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe, transnational corporations such as BlackRock are still profiting from plundering the mineral wealth of the country.
Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton identified the transnational corporate class as being the real ruling power in the United States in 1974, saying “Such a ‘ruling class’ can, in fact, be readily shown to exist. Its locus of power and interest is in the giant corporations and financial institutions which dominate the American economy, and moreover, the economy of the entire Western world.” BlackRock is one example of how a non-state actor can hold vast amounts of control globally. In 2010, BlackRock was referred to as “almost a shadow government” and its power has only grown since then. BlackRock currently has “over $7 trillion in assets under direct management.” In contrast, the national net worth of the entire African continent in 2019 was $4.1 trillion. BlackRock is just one of the three largest investing firms in the United States along with Vanguard and State Street. The Conversation found that these three corporations “taken together, have become the largest shareholder in 40% of all publicly listed firms in the United States.” These transnational firms directly benefit from the agenda being carried out by the United States in Africa.
Niger and Zimbabwe are just two examples of what is happening throughout the African continent. The term for this exploitation of the material wealth from the nominally independent countries of Africa is neocolonialism. Neocolonialism is not just about direct control of a nation’s resources via military presence; it is far more insidious than that. As the first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, described
“The methods of neocolonialism are economic control, in the form of ‘aid’, ‘loans’, trade and banking; the stranglehold of indigenous economies through vast international interlocking corporations; political direction through puppet governments; social penetration through the cultivation of an indigenous bourgeoisie, the imposition of ‘defence’ agreements, and the setting up of military and air bases; ideological expansion through the mass communications media of press, radio and television, the emphasis being on anti-communism; the fomenting of discord between countries and tribes; and through collective imperialism…”
In this statement, made in 1970, Kwame accurately predicted the rise in power of the transnational corporate class. Even something as seemingly benign as food aid is used as a tool for control by neocolonialism. As the Marxist feminist Silvia Federici wrote,
“So questionable has food assistance been in its effects, so dubious its ability to guarantee people’s livelihood (which would have been better served by the distribution of agricultural tools and seeds and, first of all, by the end of hostilities), that one has to ask whether the true purpose of this initiative was not the phasing out of subsistence farming, and the creation of a long-term dependence on imported food – both centerpieces of World Bank reform, and conditions for the integration of African countries into the global economy.”
The exploitation comes from all sides in neocolonialism.
Another big factor in neocolonialism in Africa is debt. Fadhel Kaboub described this crisis on Real Progressives’ Macro N Cheese when he said,
“Well, it turns out that struggle has to do with a massive amount of external debt that most developing countries have. And when you dig for the sources of that external debt, you discover that those sources are trade deficits that are concentrated primarily in the lack of food sovereignty, lots of food imports, a lack of energy sovereignty, lots of energy imports, especially fossil fuels.”
African debt doubled from 2015 to 2017 with “32% of African government external debt is owed to private lenders, and 35% to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.” In July 1987, Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara appealed to the United Nations to end all African debt. As he described in his speech,
“We think that debt has to be seen from the perspective of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who colonized us. They are the same ones who used to manage our states and economies. These are the colonizers who indebted Africa through their brothers and cousins, who were the lenders. We had no connections with this debt. Therefore, we cannot pay for it.”
Less than three months after making his appeal for debt cancellation, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso was assassinated. Although there has been no clear resolution of who was behind the assassination, Cyril Allen revealed in an interview, “The next thing you know, the US had infiltrated the liberation movements and set about overthrowing Sankara, who was leaning too far left. The Americans were not happy with Sankara. He was talking of nationalizing his country’s resources to benefit his people. He was a socialist so he had to go.” After Sankara was assassinated, the debt remained and has continued to grow. This imposition of debt allows outside forces to continue to control the independent countries of Africa.
The United States government and AFRICOM continue to wield their immense power to defend the interests of transnational capitalism in Africa. As progressives, it is important to take a global view of affairs. What is happening in Africa may not seem as urgent as children in cages on the border, but it is just as relevant to the socialist struggle. The solution to this problem is clear – shut down AFRICOM and decolonize. These demands must be the part of any revolutionary movement. The revolution must be global in scale and the class struggle in Africa will play a key part in the victory of the proletariat. As Malcolm X said, “Today, power is international, real power is international; today, real power is not local.” The class struggle is a global struggle between the elite transnational corporate class and the working class of all nations.