The war on terror and the scramble for Africa

Every story has a beginning.

When exploring the reasons for the allied NATO intervention of Libya in an article last year I posed the reader a series of rhetorical questions, the last being, is it because US AFRICOM (The United States Africa Command) needs a boost in North Africa? 17 months later and by no surprise the answer is a resounding, yes. That being said, it is clear now more than ever that an emboldened AFRICOM has every intention of widening its operations. Exploiting the latest spillover from the two previous interventions in Libya and Mali, which are a product of AFRICOM intelligence and military assistance, they are making rapid gains in their North Africa advance.

Albeit the intervention in Mali, the precursor of the Algerian Hostage Crisis, was undertaken by French forces, this is a two-man show with the USA leading from behind, much like in Libya. The true tragedy in the expanding destabilization of the region, besides the tens of thousands dead, is the millions displaced, already in North Mali hundreds of thousands of refugees are left to brave the merciless Sahara.

For what? One begins to ask, before continuing understanding how profitable chaos is, is crucial to answering the question. The ensuing chaos within Mali, expanding to Algeria and set to encompass North Africa leaves scope for a state of permanent low level war. This low level war is nothing new, it’s taking place as you read this over nearly all of the globalised world claiming millions of lives: described by John Pilger as the Third World War. This expanding theatre of the ‘war on terror’, which I will later explore, provides ample opportunity within its vast marketplace for hordes of corporations to destroy, ravage, rebuild and beautify entire nations.

Scrambling for Africa

In 2011, the BBC aired a three-part documentary that picked up a considerable buzz and caused most of the general populace to become temporary experts on Sino-African geopolitics. ‘The Chinese are coming’ is an exploration of how the Chinese are wooing African nations into lucrative business contracts, extending a hand rather than the barrel of a gun. Although in stark contrast to the European led carving up of the continent in the 19th and 20th Century, it’s important to note that the incentive for this increased Chinese presence is purely profit and not the betterment of everyday Africans or the environment. The question few seemed to ponder following the documentary is,‘how are the other global players securing their interests in the African Continent?’ Since they of course, undoubtedly, are.

The Algerian Hostage crisis which resulted in the death of over 80 people including a variety of foreign nationals at a Gas facility in the Algerian Sahara has been plastered over the mainstream media for the last 96 hours; with resounding sound bites of how ‘Extremist Islamists have wrested control of a region the size of France in northern Mali and proclaimed an Islamic state.’ I do not intend to explore why, or how, the rebels laid siege to the plant, since AK47 wielding Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one eyed leader of the task force, made it clear in his address to the world via handycam. I intend rather to explore the backdrop to this situation and the reasons behind how and why the Washington/Brussels are utilizing the current instability in the region.

The US National Security Strategy for Africa signed in by President Obama only 8 months ago, expounds the usual rhetoric of an official Pentagon Foreign Policy document. However, for those who are all too familiar with the White House playbook, reading between the lines becomes not only a necessity, but a very fruitful exercise:

‘We will work with our African partners to build strong institutions, to remove constraints to trade and investment, and to expand opportunities for African countries.’

These are the trademark green light phrases surrounding the modern corporate scramble for Africa, and this is where the heart of the issue lies in North Africa; oil, gas, gold, and for France, uranium. The Ecologist, in its poignant analysis of the thoroughly written ‘The New Scramble For Africa’ by Padraic Carmody elaborates further on this need to open up the African continent by removing constraints to trade and investment;

‘As Carmody explains, it wasn’t until the Cold War that the United States began to show an ‘active interest’ in African nations by supporting various murky dictators in order to support its foreign policy goals. US interests were largely – and still continue to be – related to oil, though packaged under the more general label of supporting African markets.’
Besides the WTO and IMF structural adjustment plans aimed at opening up the African continent for mass privatization and the squandering of remaining resources, the U.S had another vision of how to maintain their presence in Africa; and so we come back to the question how are big global players securing their interests in the African continent? For the USA the answer is simple, AFRICOM.

AFRICOM, the Pentagons African Command center formed in 2007, is for all intents and purposes America’s direct response to China’s economic foothold in the African continent. Since its inception, the USA in Africa has, as Carmody explains, ‘Built up a considerable military presence, from training African troops, to the rather murky sounding ‘security cooperation’ with various states.’

Libyan citizens have suffered first hand the expansion of this American military presence in North Africa when a mini shock and awe took place in 2011. As we watched hundreds of tomahawk missiles rain down on Libya, setting ablaze what little stability remained, flashbacks to Iraq were conjured. The consequence of the NATO led intervention was catastrophic for the civilian population and terrorist attacks such as that on the US Consulate continue to ravage the country. Besides that many civilian deaths caused by NATO remain unaccounted for as an in depth 76-page report by Human Rights Watch on the intervention alludes to:

“Attacks are allowed only on military targets, and serious questions remain in some incidents about what exactly NATO forces were striking.”

Several nations are now experiencing the blowback of the intervention in Libya, the Algerian Hostage Crisis being the latest in the series of repercussions. However, the NATO Libyan intervention and AFRICOM fit into a much broader strategy. The September 2002 National Security Strategy under the Bush Jr Administration provides telling signs of this broader backdrop, explaining how Africa is a ‘strategic priority in fighting terrorism’. The war on terror remains the centre piece in the Pentagons overarching agenda of mass militarization in and outside of the US, which ‘favors client regimes, setting up military bases and training mercenaries – cooperative partnerships in Pentagon newspeak.’

Terrorism, the never-ending pretext

And so we touch on the crux of the US strategy in Africa, the mother of all wars and the paradox of the century, ‘The War on Terror’. The U.S has since moved its notion of a war on terrorism since the idea was first invoked in 1981 under Reagan, where the focus was ‘in particular state-directed terrorism.’ The targets in this new war on terror are smaller-than-state operations such as the seemingly unstoppable Al Qaeda.

In true  style the Washington/Brussels axis has conjured up a perpetual war of snake-eating-tail that rests firmly on the premise of Problem-Reaction. As Chomsky sharply notes in an interview with The Guardian, ‘The US invasion of Afghanistan is “one of the most immoral acts in modern history”, which united the jihadist movement around al-Qaida and sharply increased the level of terrorism’ – Problem. As father of the P.R Industry and arguably the most influential man to have lived in modern society Eddie Bernays suggests in his manuscript to media, Propaganda, ‘If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it’- Reaction.

British Hip-Hop artist, Lowkey, in his groundbreaking song, ‘Terrorist’, poses a question that anybody who expresses serious concern about terrorism should ask him or herself:

‘What is the dictionary definition of Terrorism? The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. But what is Terror? According to the dictionary I hold in my hand, Terror, is violent or destructive acts, such as bombings committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands. So, what’s a terrorist?

Upon reflection of the above and after careful research one would find it becomes quite clear that the pioneers of terrorism are none other than those that proclaim to be fighting Terrorism. A word we can all now safely associate with the military action of western governments, especially since the fully documented and entirely illegal ‘Shock and Awe’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the consequent sieges in Fallujah. Indeed even on a fundamental level’ you don’t declare a war on terrorism unless you’re planning yourself to undertake massive international terrorism.’

However, anyone wishing to dig deeper into the history books (with integrity) would find that terrorism was something that has been forged and implemented from Operation Wounded Knee to the British concentration camps of the Boer War.

Mali headlines the Main Stage

Since before and after AFRICOM’s media show of military exercises in Mali, aimed at expounding how: ‘U.S. military forces, European partner nations and military forces throughout the Trans-Saharan region aim to establish and develop military interoperability, regional relationships, synchronization of effort and capacity-building.’Mali has been fundamentally crucial to the Pentagons strategy in Africa and continues to be an area of intense focus.

This is true now more than ever since France’s ongoing military intervention has generated repercussions of epic proportions.These are felt most poignantly in the form of the Algerian Hostage Crisis and the serious threats that since ‘France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France.’

However this is a dance of two, not one of the permanent members of the Security Council. Not wanting to get their hands dirty and with the upcoming presidential elections at the time, Washington had no intention of overtly intervening in Mali: especially since the consulate attack in Benghazi had become a sore spot for Obama. This is not to say however that Washington had not been rallying left, right and center with their French partners for an intervention in Mali, indeed,

‘Mrs. Clinton held talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other ministers as part of a bid by the US and France to secure Algeria’s vital backing for any use of force against militants in Mali.’And In the same AFP article, in an almost prophetic manner, it explains how,’ Algeria, with its powerful army, was at first opposed to any military intervention in Mali, fearing a destabilization of its territory inhabited by 50,000 Tuaregs.’

With the breaking news of the Algerian Hostage Crisis, the spread of the ever-expanding theatre of the War on Terror has crept into North Africa in what Pepe Escobar explains in his most recent article for Asia Times as ‘this new, brewing mega-Afghanistan in Africa’. The rhetoric from Whitehall certainly contains the air of Operation Enduring Freedom, ten plus years in Afghanistan, why not ten plus years in North Africa as prophet David Cameron explains:

‘What we face is an extremist, Islamist, al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group. Just as we had to deal with that in Pakistan and in Afghanistan so the world needs to come together to deal with this threat in North Africa… This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades’

Since the mainstream press refuse to print the backdrop to this escalating situation in the Sahara it’s quite often left up to the imagination of the individual. The individual, bereft of background information and pumped full of PR aimed at manufacturing consent, imagines that there must be a just and logical explanation to the escalation of events. In this case the story behind the Algerian hostage crisis is, as in most cases, absolutely fundamental to understanding not only how the situation has escalated but also why it escalated, to who’s advantage and how it may further escalate.

Meet Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, a name that will never be forgotten by Malians, a man who in 24 hours collapsed the relative stability in Mali. Captain Sanogo conducted a coup just weeks before Malian President Amadou Toure was due to step down, consequently sabotaging Mali’s position as a Democratic state. However, this author is fully aware of the underlying hypocrisy associated with the word democracy as used by, and in conjunction to, today’s political institutions. Sanogo is a well-trained military captain all too familiar with U.S style of warfare after having completed what Pepe explains as his:

‘Four-month infantry officer basic training course in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010… also groomed by AFRICOM, under a regional scheme mixing the State Department’s Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership program and the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom’

Ramzy Baroud of Press TV writing for Al Arabiya showed great far-sightedness in predicting in July of 2012 that:

‘The US media is now fomenting fears among Americans, perhaps in preparation for a military campaign led by the US and its Western allies, under an African umbrella’

Baroud also elaborates on how the unsuspecting coup unfolded.He explains that although being instigated by a frustration born of pivotal losses in the ongoing conflict in the North of Mali the coup has actually created an even larger void in the North with Tuareg led MNLA who, having botched previous rebellions, seized complete control of the region.

What happened next was what paved the way for the current French intervention. The entrance of the proverbial phantom of the opera in the theatre of the war on terror, the handy-cam wielding worlds most wanted, Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, as an organization, is admittedly one of the murkiest to have ever existed with connections ranging from the CIA/Pentagon to the Saudi princes of Riyadh to the infamous Triple Frontier in Brazil.

The depth of the controversy and cloudiness when it comes to West and Al Qaeda is surreal, crisscrossing channels from Pakistan to Pentagon. It is a relationship that requires an article in and of itself, however what can be said with certainty is that all major western intelligence agencies and special operations including CIA and MI5 have worked, are working and will in the future work with Al Qaeda.

A hotbed of crime, extremist philosophies and showbiz names such as Mokhtar ‘The Untouchable” BelMokhtar, the Al Qaeda in the Maghreb differ in no way to the Al Qaeda we all know of AfPak. Flushed with drugs and human trafficking money, the AQIM entered North Mali and in record time quashed the MNLA with a rapid insurgency taking control of key cities including UNESCO World Heritage Site, Timbuktu, before laying siege to it, much like they have in the ancient markets of Aleppo in Syria. And so the pretext was born.

Oil imperialism

But the concerted effort to orchestrate a full-blown military campaign in order to oust the greatest bogeyman of all time and stabilize (or destabilize) the North African region is happening for reasons purposefully not explained by the leaders undertaking the campaign. And so, as with nearly all Western escapades spanning the globalized world, it returns back to the black and blue gold. Within a network Pepe Escobar poignantly describes as ‘Pipelinistan’ a constant flux of war on terror battles take place to ensure oil rich regions cooperate with the giants of the economic world, The Captains of Capitalism, Big oil.

With Production Sharing Agreements abound (the way Big Oil makes money), meetings have no doubt been had in regards to beginning explorations of the several oil basins of Mali, these obligations must be fulfilled by any and all means necessary, in the eyes of Big Oil. At this point its also worth noting that following a 2004 campaign to entice Big Oil, nearly all of the exploitable acreage in Mali has already been licensed to no less than a dozen Big Oil names. GeoExpro a leading petroleum/geosciences magazine reveals in Mali: A Country on the Cusp that:

‘A 2006 independent evaluation of its potential, undertaken by industry consultants RPS Energy, suggested that just the five blocks held by Baraka Petroleum, covering half the Malian Taoudeni Basin, could hold as much as 645,000,000 barrels of oil and over 9,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas.’

With all of this pillaging of resources taking place along and besides the ever-encroaching Sahara – a consequence of our savage policy of perpetual consumption, the inherent irony is blatant. When it becomes clear that our leaders are hell bent on pursuing foreign policies underlined by the continual consumption of non-renewables; Firstly at the cost of lives in the theatre of the war on terror and secondly at the expense of the entire biosphere it also becomes clear that we must voice our opposition. With ecological tipping point yards ahead (or behind) the onus is on us to stand firmly against the corporations who continue to cause, arm and fund the war on life on earth.

© Occupy News Network

Joshua Virasami is one of the organizers of the Occupy London Stock Exchange. He is currently studying at Birkbeck College, University of London.


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  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.