A review of major US governmental sources on the subject of extremism in Africa often leaves one with a morbid impression that radical Islamists exceedingly prey on specific weak spots of African communities. Indeed, American counterterrorism officials have been long concerned that weak, lawless, and unstable states that ‘litter’ the African continent can potentially become safe havens for Al-Qaeda jihadists who would subsequently use multiple lawless areas as new ‘launching pads’ for terrorist attacks abroad.
According to this view, Jihadists breed a new generation of suicide bombers recruiting from among the displaced, starving, victimized, and, therefore, vulnerable, masses who have been marginalized and stigmatized by violent governments and warlords that are too busy waging a fight over the continent’s most precious resources – oil and diamonds.
It is precisely this imagery of terrorists running rampant across the African continent that Obama administration has recently invoked when seeking Congressional approval for an expansion of American counterterrorism program in Africa. While it seems that the President is seeking an objective solution to an objective problem, Eric Fletcher, contends that neither is entirely clear-cut. Mr Fletcher believes that in the current context, US government portrays Africa as the newly emerging threat solely to pursue its pragmatic imperialist interests. In other words, the imagery of ‘insurgent Africa’ is an ingenious sleight of hand that allows America to pursue its imperialist projects under the mantle of counterterrorism operations.
Within this context, Mr Fletcher suggests that “the past September Benghazi attack on US Consulate, while tragic, was a rather ‘convenient’ occurrence for US governmental officials. Prior to the attack, US government did not have any conclusive data that would explicitly link African extremist groups to Al-Qaeda – one of the primary US national security threats. In this context, US had no justifiable reason to expand its counterterrorism program in the region.” Indeed, a source from the US government who preferred to remain unnamed confirmed to the Voice of Russia that “up until past September American officials lacked any compelling reason to believe that the continent’s extremist organizations might have international agendas and thus pose an imminent threat to the US”. After the autumn attack on the Consulate, however, the US considered themselves to have every reason, and, what is more, a credible justification, to seek expansion of its counterterrorism campaign in Africa.
Crucially, however, Mr Fletcher argues that such justification was based on far too narrow a foundation. The expert believes that while the radical Islamist group AQIM (supposedly responsible for the attacks in Benghazi) pledged affiliation to Al-Qaeda in 2007, it remains largely unclear to what extent, if any, the organization collaborates with and takes orders from Pakistan-based Al-Qaeda. Moreover, the expert is largely skeptical about the US presumption that African terrorist cells have global rather than local agendas. In this sense, Mr Fletcher contends that Benghazi incident does not provide a solid case which would justify more extensive US involvement in the region. Nevertheless, Obama administration has continuously referred to the September attack in its calls for an expansion of US counterterrorism in Africa. In Mr Fletcher’s opinion, such a neglect of countervailing evidence and willingness to use however shaky justification for its expansionist project is illustrative of the extent to which the US has been blinded by the lure of imperial grandiosity in its African policy.
Following this line of thought, Mr Fletcher contends that “by ensuring a nearly permanent presence of US military forces in oil-rich African countries under the pretext of the war on terror, American government will be able to secure vital oil supplies, which will amount to one-quarter of all US oil imports by 2020”. Indeed, as the US slowly cuts its reliance on the Middle Eastern oil it has to ensure a reliable and safe alternative. In this sense, Mr Fletcher believes that US counterterrorism involvement in Nigeria – one of Africa’s main oil producers – is a strategic move characteristic of American imperialism rather than an empathetic attempt to prevent further bloodletting in the country. The US fears that without its military presence, currently grappling with insurgency Nigerian state is likely to collapse, which will most probably bring down much of oil-rich West Africa with it. In this situation, not only will US oil security be profoundly endangered, but US global position as a great power will also be shattered since without sufficient oil imports US industries will not be able to compete with such great powers as China.
Thus, Mr Fletcher argues that the expansion of American counterterrorism program in Africa cannot be perceived as an end in itself. Rather, it should be viewed as a means for the US to reach its ultimate imperialist goal of global hegemony.