American troops swarmed over the continent during the Obama years, allegedly to fight terrorism. They were also there to prop up friendly regimes with horrific human rights records, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda. And they were driven by a new scramble for resources – such as the rare-earth minerals so crucial to producing cell phones – and by intensified competition with China, now Africa’s, as well as Asia’s, largest trading partner. But it was mostly about oil.
Africa has about 10% of global oil reserves, and imports from Africa to the U.S. equal those from the Mid-East. Huge reserves have been discovered in Uganda. South Sudan now controls about three-quarters of the formerly united country’s oil production. The Guardian claims that in Somalia the “potential is comparable to that of Kuwait, which has more than 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves,” and that “if true, the deposits would eclipse Nigeria’s reserves and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.”
As always, securing access to oil underpinned Obama’s security concerns. Bush had created the AFRICOM military command in 2007. Yet under Obama, AFRICOM’s budget rose to $302 million, almost tripling since its launch. And these funds don’t include vast sums spent on training, arming and financing African militaries, which climbed to about $1 billion, plus another $1 billion for private military contractors.
Lee Wengraf writes: “It is no exaggeration to say that the U.S. is at war in Africa. The continent is awash with American military bases, covert operations and thousands of Western-funded troops.” U.S. troops are now in Uganda, Mali, Chad, Burundi, Niger, Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Congo, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles, South Sudan, Nigeria and several other African nations.
There is a secret network of drone bases in East Africa, especially Somalia, which has suffered over two decades of civil war. One Somali told David Axe, “You Americans, you’ll destroy an entire city to get three people.” Both Kenya (which receives a billion dollars in U.S. aid) and Ethiopia have launched invasions into Somalia. The U.S. now has its largest military presence there since it left the country in 1993. The conflict has generated hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of refugees.
But the death toll was far higher in South Sudan, where tens of thousands died and three million people joined the refugee flow toward the Mediterranean. The U.S., predictably, was the source of this misery. According to Thomas C. Mountain, the CIA was funding a dirty war “little different than the wars the CIA funded in Angola and Mozambique” to overthrow the government. As it had done in those countries, it used a “rebel leader” with arms funneled from U.S.-friendly Ethiopia to wage an ethnic-based war, pushing for regime in the name of a doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” (much the same rationale as in their war against Libya).
Why? Because South Sudan was doing business with China. The oil fields there are the only Chinese owned and operated in Africa. Despite horrifying tales of black on black tribal violence, the U.S. was the only beneficiary, having been able to repeatedly damage or shut down the Chinese oil fields as a result of the rebellion. As Obama left office, South Sudan, despite its oil riches, was on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war and famine. “It’s that simple,” writes Mountain, “…the war in South Sudan is about denying China access to Africa’s oil.” Cui bono?
The region has been under Washington’s thumb for nearly 200 years, and again Obama’s policies were completely consistent with those of the past: protecting Wall Street’s investments, training and supporting thugs who promised to return their countries to the old authoritarian rule, and destabilizing democratically-elected leaders who opposed it. Bush’s attempts to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, with its own vast oil reserves, are well known. Less known perhaps is the fact that both before Chavez’ death in 2013 and since then, against Chavez’s elected successor, Nicolas Maduro, Obama pursued the same actions.
Tactics included speculation that led to collapse in the price of crude oil and subsidization of protestors and anti-government media. Once again, the mainstream media functioned as cheerleaders for this effort, as the Washington Post trumpeted, “How to derail Venezuela’s new dictatorship.”
Bolivia, Colombia (where $450 million per year was widely seen as merely a cover for U.S. military power projection in South America) and Brazil, where the new President Michel Temer openly boasted that he’d led the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff not for any crime but for her refusal to implement a right wing economic plan. Paraguay experienced a similar parliamentary coup in 2012, and the U.S. tellingly refused to join the rest of the hemisphere in condemning it.
But Obama’s worst Western Hemisphere crime – and this was not a continuation of something Bush had begun – was crushing democracy in Honduras and turning it into a narco-state that now serves as a primary transit point for drugs into the U.S. In June 2009, the Honduran army seized President Manuel Zelaya and whisked him away in a plane that refueled at a U.S. military base. The OAS, the U.N. and others refused to recognize the subsequent sham election, but the U.S., predictably, did. The coup leaders, like so many others, had trained in the U.S. at the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which had formerly changed its name from School of the Americas because of its long-term association with torture.
The tiny country, formerly used by Reagan in the 1980s as a base for the Contra war, now has the highest murder rate on Earth. The Obama administration cynically provided the military with plenty of aid for fighting the drug trade ($18 million in 2016 alone), knowing full well that it is used to repress indigenous activists such as Berta Caceres,
The causes were America’s insatiable demand for resources – in this case, cocaine – and its stubborn refusal to let nations determine their own destiny. Once again we see a tragic pattern. The U.S. destabilizes an independent country, causing violent coups, civil wars, repression or large-scale, drug-related violence, even famine. Thousands leave, unable to find work or basic safety, and add themselves to the vast flow of refugees attempting to enter Western Europe or the U.S., where right-wing groups demonize them and blame them for our internal problems.
Was this some kind of cruel joke? Did he do this just because he could do it? As one of his very last acts, a week before Trump’s inauguration, with no evidence of any threat and months after the opening to Cuba, Obama signed an executive order renewing the status of both Venezuela and Cuba as “national security threats.”