Top 5: Military in Africa
Foreign Bases from Djibouti to Central Africa
The number of foreign military installations popping up across the African continent is rapidly increasing. TBY takes a look at five of the largest foreign military bases in Africa and what they mean for its future.
Djibouti has become a military hub for armies the world over.
Military personnel from China, Japan, France, Italy, and Saudi Arabia are all setting up shop next to one another in this corner of the Africa. Why, and how?
Lying at the crossroads of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, the small state of Djibouti is important to Suez Canal traffic as a safe haven of sorts in what has been one of the world’s most lawless maritime territories.
Though piracy off the coast of Somalia has abated since its peak between 2008-2012—with no major incidents recorded since 2017—conditions in neighboring Somalia are far from stable.
As such, the political calm of Djibouti will remain a critical long-term goal for regional and global powers alike—especially since the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is the fourth-most important choke point for oil exports and imports in the world after the Straits of Malacca, Hormuz, and the Suez Canal.
France has a permanent base of 1,500 soldiers (down from 2,900) in Djibouti, its largest in Africa.
The US also has a permanent military installation in Africa at Camp Lemonnier—a former French Foreign Legion base first leased to Washington in 2001 in the wake of 9/11—which now houses 4,000 military and civilian personnel.
In 2017 the Chinese opened their first foreign military base at Obock on the north end of the Gulf of Tadjoura (across the bay from the US base). Though Beijing claims this will serve strictly non-military purposes and act as a logistics center for its plans to build the largest free-trade port in the world by 2028, most analysts are skeptical.
Japan first set up a ‘Self-Defense Forces’ (SDF) camp near the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport to combat piracy in 2009.
Nearby Saudi Arabia recently gave the green light to open their first foreign military base in Djibouti. Their Djibouti redoubt will also help them monitor the security of the Red Sea, whose stability is crucial to the Kingdom and its commercial Red Sea hub of Jeddah.
Turkish military base in Somalia
In addition to a string of other development initiatives in Somalia since 2011, in total worth nearly USD1 billion according to Turkish state media, Turkey opened a new military base and training facility in the capital of Mogadishu called Camp TURKSOM in 2017.
Built at a cost of USD50 million, its first class of 200 Somali cadets graduated in December of that year.
It is designed to train up to 1,500 new soldiers every year, and will train a total of 10,000 altogether, BBC Türkçe reported.
The timing could not have been better. Barely six months after TURKSOM’s completion, Ankara lost a close ally when Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was overthrown after 25 years in power by a military coup backed by popular street protests.
Since Sudan was home to the only other Turkish military base in the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea island outpost of Suakin, TURKSOM’s importance to Ankara’s active foreign policy in the region will only grow.
Russia and the Central African Republic
Russia is now presenting itself as an alternative to Chinese and US hegemony in Africa.
Granted, the Soviet Union was heavily involved in funding and arming liberation movements across the continent—everywhere from Algeria, Angola, and Ethiopia to Egypt, Congo, and Mozambique.
But its involvement in Africa all but disappeared after 1991, strained as the Russian Federation was to keep its own house in order after the collapse of communism.
Now freshly confident after a string of geopolitical successes in Ukraine, Syria, and the Caucasus, Russia not only sells a significant amount of military equipment to Egypt, Algeria, Angola, Tanzania, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and Sudan, but is also in talks with officials in the capital of Bangui to develop a permanent military base in the Central Africa Republic (CAR).
Though it is unclear whether or not Moscow will actually open a base in the CAR, the planeloads of arms and 175 advisors it sent to the country over 2017-18 represented its largest foray into Sub-Saharan Africa in decades. Moreover, after helping broker a tenuous peace deal between the government and 14 rebel factions in February of this year, their presence in the CAR is only likely to grow.
Les Forces Françaises en Côte d’Ivoire
Though the French established their first missionary outpost in what is now the Ivory Coast in 1637, not until 1842 did they solidify their military presence along the coastline, and not until the 1890s was the country incorporated into the French Empire.
Becoming an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958, the Ivory Coast was granted independence in 1960. Contrary to its policies elsewhere, however, France was not one to burn bridges with its former West African colonies.
In 1961 it signed a defense treaty with the Ivory Coast that, if rarely invoked, remained in place throughout the 33-year presidency of President Félix Houphouët-Boigny.
The French military presence has been key. Upgrading its Force Licorne, which helped the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) protect French and other foreign nationals from 2002-2015, into the Forces Françaises en Cote d’Ivoire (FFCI) in 2015, the French have expanded their permanent base at Port-Bouët into defensive strike positions at La Bourgerie, LCL Saboret, and Lomo Nord, all in the vicinity of the country’s most important city, Abidjan.
With 900 elite forces on the ground coordinating strategic land and air operations with their Ivorian and other regional counterparts, the FFIC, if unable to bring peace to the country, at least seems able to prevent an all-out war.
US in the Sahel
A vast arid region spanning 5,400km from the Atlantic coast of Mauritania in the west to the Sudanese Red Sea in the east, the Sahel has grown increasingly important for the global US security apparatus.
After setting up the Pan-Sahel Initiative in 2002 in the wake of 9/11, Washington D.C. has since greatly expanded its reach in the region.
First created to combat regional offshoots of Al-Qaeda, the Sahel operations of the US military have since expanded to fighting Boko Haram (whose current insurgency in northern Nigeria exploded in 2009) and various IS-affiliated groups.
According to then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Washington had had over 1,000 military personnel deployed to Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania in 2017 alone.
According to US sources, the bulk of these, an estimated 800 are in Niger, a little known fact that came to light after an Islamic State-Greater Sahara ambush left four US soldiers dead in October 2017, the largest US combat casualties in Africa since the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.
On a more institutional level, the US has also been critical to establishing the G5 Sahel Joint Force and Sahel Alliance, a multinational military alliance that, in the words of General Waldhauser, Commander of the United States Africa Command, is “African-led, French-assisted, and US-supported.”
With the support of the European Union, African Development Bank, United Nations Development Program, and the World Bank, the alliance is also slated to fund 600 development projects worth USD10 billion over the next five years.