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Africans have consistently rejected the presence of foreign military bases on their soil

There is a widespread belief in West African countries that foreign militaries contributed to aggravating security threats
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The eviction of French military troops from Niger and the suspension of a military agreement between Niger and the US has led to speculations that Nigeria could be interested in hosting a U.S. military base. According to some reports, the American and French governments have been lobbying the governments of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana to sign new defence pacts, which could lead to the establishment of such military bases. The backlash on media platforms regarding those alleged lobbying efforts shows that Africans are increasingly hostile to the establishment of foreign military bases in their countries. There are several reasons for this strong opposition.

First, the deployment of Western troops and other intelligence personnel in the Niger Republic as part of counter-terrorism measures failed to address security threats in that country. Instead, it coincided with an increase in terrorism only two years after the launch of the France-led operation Operation Barkhane in August 2014. Available data indicate that Western Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Western Niger) experienced the largest escalation of violence and fatalities involving militant Islamist groups in Africa, resulting in the displacement of more than 2.6 million people since 2016. Yet, Barkhane was set up ostensibly to address these threats. Today, there is a widespread belief in the West African region that foreign militaries, especially American and French troops, contributed to making matters worse.

Secondly, the presence of foreign troops raises several questions relating to sovereignty and public order, with the host country usually unable to enforce the law of the land on these troops. A case in point is the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn, a Briton killed in a road traffic collision on 27 August 2019 by a car driven by Anne Sacoolas, a member of the US Intelligence Community. Sacoolas fled to the UK soon after the incident, claiming diplomatic immunity with the support of the US government. The diplomatic row that ensued between the two countries, who are traditional allies, shows that impunity for US military and intelligence personnel is the rule rather than the exception.

The fact that these foreign military bases usually assume diplomatic status poses other security challenges. Their personnel require no passports because they are not flying through regular airports but travelling via military planes and landing on airstrips attached to the base. For instance, the Ghana-U.S. military agreement gave the US unchecked access to Ghanaian facilities. A similar arrangement for US troops in Somalia has elicited questions about the nature of the activities of US troops, which evade oversight from the host country.

Thirdly, interference in internal affairs and destabilization of host countries are recurrent features of foreign military presence, a ‘Trojan horse gift’ from the West, if you will.  For instance, Nigeria’s civil war experiences when Britain supported the Nigerian government while France overtly supported the Biafra secessionists, and the ambivalence of the US during that war, should be food for thought for African leaders. If Western powers can aggravate an internal conflict from a distance, one can only imagine the harm they could cause if they were directly involved with boots on the ground. It is important to remember that Nigerians had consistently opposed defence agreements with foreign countries since the 1960s when the Tafawa Balewa administration was forced to abrogate the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Agreement because the agreement contained a clause that allowed the Royal Air Force to overfly and test its aircraft in Nigeria. The Agreement was abrogated because public opinion perceived it as an assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty. It was believed that tolerating such an agreement could have drawn the country into hostilities with other countries against the wishes of Nigerian people and, possibly, leaders.

Furthermore, the recent tensions between historical allies such as Nigeria and the Niger Republic following Niger’s decision to evict French troops demonstrate how such decisions are perceived as an attack against the core interest of Western powers and can lead to conflicts between countries that otherwise have no interest in being at each other’s throats.  ECOWAS’s threat of invasion of Niger and its unilateral stance against countries which had experienced coups have undermined decades-long regional integration efforts and historical relations between Nigeria and its neighbours. This should never happen again.

Nigeria’s priority should be on restoring these relationships, protecting its foreign policy, and territorial and sovereign integrity, all of which the presence of foreign military bases tends to undermine, thereby straining good relations with other neighbouring countries as seen with the rising tensions between Niger and Benin.

The denial of the Federal Government through the Information Minister, Mohammed Idris, who affirmed that Nigeria has no plans to host the US or any foreign military base in Nigeria, is a good place to start.

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