[News] A Senseless Cathedral of Doom - Africa Lion 21

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Thu Jul 15 09:40:19 EDT 2021

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*A Senseless Cathedral of Doom: The Twenty-Eighth Newsletter (2021)*

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social 

In early June 2021, the United States military led a major military 
exercise on the African continent: the African Lion 21.  Major General 
Andrew Rohling of the US Army’s Southern European Task Force said 
it was the ‘largest US military exercise ever conducted on this 
continent’. The African Lion military exercise, which was first held 
with the Kingdom of Morocco in 2002, is – in the words of US Africa 
Command – an annual 
‘joint, all-domain, multi-national exercise … to counter malign activity 
in North Africa and Southern Europe, and increase interoperability 
between US, African, and international partners to defend the theatre 
from adversary military aggression’. African Lion 21, which included the 
armed forces of 21 countries including Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Italy, 
Libya, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, took place in Morocco 
and in the occupied territory of Western Sahara as well as in Senegal 
and Tunisia. The overall military exercise – with over 7,000 soldiers – 
was conducted under the leadership of the US Africa Command with the 
assistance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The exercise was conducted under the command of Major General Rohling 
and General Belkhir El Farouk, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Southern 
Zone commander. It is important to note that General El Farouk’s 
jurisdiction covers the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. On 10 
December 2020, US President Donald Trump offered 
Morocco recognition of its illegal occupation of Western Sahara in 
exchange for Morocco normalising its relations with Israel. Trump’s 
statement on Western Sahara goes against a range of UN General Assembly 
resolutions, including 1514 (XV) from 1960, which affirms 
that all people from former colonies have the right to 
self-determination, and 34/37 from 1979, which explicitly calls 
for an end to Morocco’s occupation of the territory. When Major General 
Rohling was asked about African Lion 21’s presence in Western Sahara, he 
saying that the choices of the location were made before Trump’s 
December 2020 declaration.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

This month, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, along with 
the Socialist Movement of Ghana’s Research Group, released dossier 
no. 42 (July 2021), /Defending Our Sovereignty: US Military Bases in 
Africa and the Future of African Unity/. The dossier catalogues the 
growth of the Western military presence on the African continent, with 
special focus on the United States and France. The US, by itself, has 29 
known military facilities in 15 countries, while France has bases in 10 
countries. There is no doubt that the United States and France have by 
far the largest military footprint on the African continent, and that no 
country in the world has a greater global military footprint 
than the United States. According to the US National Defense Business 
Operations Plan (2018-2022), the US military manages 
<https://leftword.us11.list-manage.com/track/click?u=6a79324d3b4acfde1e7e546c6&id=bfeca706ad&e=d206d0a40d> a 
‘global portfolio that consists of more than 568,000 assets (buildings 
and structures), located at nearly 4,800 sites worldwide’.

In the case of the US military, the sheer scale of the military’s 
presence and activities indicates a qualitatively different character. 
This character includes the capacity of the US to defend its interests 
on the continent, operating as the gendarme not for the world community, 
but for the beneficiaries of capitalism. Furthermore, it attempts to 
prevent any serious competition to its control of resources and markets 
through a ‘new cold war’, through which the US exerts pressure to 
contain China on the continent as part of its broader geopolitical 

Both the US and France are members of NATO, whose own mandate has moved 
from the defence of Europe to aggression overseas. Two main objectives 
stand at the heart of NATO’s activity in Africa: to prevent migration 
into Europe and to obstruct Russian activities in northern Africa. In 
its recent strategic document, /NATO 2030/, the alliance notes 
‘NATO’s “South” refers to a broad geographic area including North Africa 
and large parts of the Middle East, extending to sub-Saharan Africa and 
Afghanistan’. This is not a new vision, since NATO has previously 
in Sudan (2005-2007), in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa 
(2008-2016), and in Libya (2011). NATO took the lead in the destruction 
of Libya, which continues to be wracked by a political-military crisis 
and social collapse. NATO’s new missions include operations in the 
Mediterranean Sea such as Operation Active Endeavour (2001-2016) and Sea 
Guardian (ongoing); operations to support the African Union such as 
training the African Standby Force; and counterterrorism efforts in 
northern Africa.

Agadez, Niger

Agadez, Niger

Reading the documents by US Africa Command, the French military, and 
NATO, one could misleadingly believe that the Western military operates 
in Africa to prevent the growth of terrorism (largely the al-Qaeda 
variants). NATO’s operation 
in Libya in 2011 crushed the state, emboldening the extreme Islamist 
currents in the region to act with impunity. Some of these groups – such 
as al-Qaeda in the Maghreb – end up being smugglers 
of cigarettes, cocaine, humans, and weapons. It was the destroyed Libyan 
state which opened the door to both the rise of insurgency and criminal 
activity across the Sahara Desert and the increase in migration towards 

It was in this context that, in 2014, France suborned five African 
countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) to form 
the G5 Sahel initiative. The Sahel is the belt that runs across Africa 
below the Sahara Desert. At the same time, the US has built a network of 
bases, including an enormous drone base in Agadez (Niger), and uses its 
drones to provide aerial support for US forces, France’s military, and 
the militaries of the G5 states. Europe has moved its southern border 
from the northern edge of the Mediterranean Sea to the southern rim of 
the Sahara Desert.

>From interventions in Somalia in 1992 to present-day activities, the 
track records of US and French military interventions in African 
countries are clear: US and French troops exacerbate conflicts and use 
the internal weakness of African states to assert US and European aims. 
A recent study 
by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows 
that there are 23 active armed conflicts on the African continent 
(Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, 
Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, 
Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, 
Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Western Sahara). With 
a 41% net increase in fatalities from 2019-2020, SIPRI writes, 
sub-Saharan Africa ‘was the region with the most conflict-related 
fatalities in 2020’. It is well-worth recalling that US and French arms 
manufacturers, whose combined arms exports accounted 
for over 43% of the global total between 2015 and 2019, provide the 
lion’s share of weapons for these conflicts.

Camp Simba, Kenya

The principal causes of conflict on the continent, SIPRI summarises, 
are: ‘state weakness, corruption, ineffective delivery of basic 
services, competition over natural resources, inequality, and a sense of 
marginalisation’. The main reason that US Africa Command and NATO 
provide for their intervention in Africa – terrorism and geopolitical 
conflict – are not on the list.

To address these issues, it is important for African states to assert 
their sovereignty and chart out a credible project for the well-being of 
the people in these regions. That is why the African Union’s Peace and 
Security Council passed a resolution 
in 2016 expressing concern at the expanding foreign military bases on 
the continent. It is the weakness of the member states and their 
organisational disunity that have prevented that resolution from being 
enacted further and it is what enables the West to extend its 
neo-colonial pressures to intensify the causes of conflict. The 
austerity programmes of the International Monetary Fund produce the 
‘ineffective delivery of basic services’, and Western multinational 
firms produce ‘corruption’ and ‘competition over natural resources’. The 
main authors of the problems on the continent are neither China nor 
Russia, whose presence is used as a justification for expanding the 
Western military presence.

Watch the Video <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gq593AA_4Ls>

The Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research dossier is enriched by 
satellite photos gathered by data artist Josh Begley 
For the dossier, the art team at Tricontinental: Institute for Social 
Research physically projected images and coordinates of these 
hidden-away sites onto a map of Africa, visually reconstructing the 
apparatus of militarisation today. Meanwhile, the pins and threads 
connecting these places remind us of the ‘war rooms’ of colonial 
domination. Together, the set of images is a visual testament to the 
continued ‘fragmentation and subordination of the continent’s peoples 
and governments’, as this dossier writes.

Kofi Awoonor, 1935-2013

Kofi Awoonor, 1935-2013

In 2013, when extremists from al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate Shopping 
Mall in Nairobi (Kenya), they shot 
and killed Kofi Awoonor, a Ghanaian poet, ambassador to Cuba, Brazil, 
and the UN, and chair of a UN committee against apartheid. Awoonor would 
often talk of the ‘distresses’ of his country – the same country that 
President Kwame Nkrumah led out of colonialism and into a new possible 
future. Military coups and IMF austerity deadened the hopes of 
generations of Ghanaians in their struggle for liberation, but Awoonor 
held fast. One of my favourite poems by Awoonor is ‘The Cathedral’, 
which carries forward that sense of the ‘distresses’ that are visited 
upon our world and that continue to be fought against today:

On this dirty patch
a tree once stood
shedding incense on the infant corn:
its boughs stretched across a heaven
brightened by the last fires of a tribe.
They sent surveyors and builders
who cut the tree?
planting in its place
A huge senseless cathedral of doom.



The post A Senseless Cathedral of Doom: The Twenty-Eighth Newsletter 
appeared first on [:en]THE TRICONTINENTAL[:es]TRICONTINENTAL[:] 

Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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