Foreign military bases seen as threat to East Africa

Saturday May 18 2019

French president Emmanuel Macron (right) visits the French military base in Djibouti on March 12, 2019. PHOTO | LUDOVIC MARIN | AFP


Western nations, China and emerging military powers such as India and Turkey are projecting their military might throughout East Africa, a new report says.

The growing array of foreign military deployments has so far served mainly as an expression of international co-operation on benign initiatives such as preventing piracy, supporting peace operations and providing humanitarian relief, notes the study carried out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Countering terrorism has also been a shared objective of the Western, Asian and Middle Eastern countries with a military presence in East Africa, the report says.

But some of these foreign forces are using military bases in the region in order to counter perceived threats from one another, Sipri notes.

And the consequences of the accelerating build-up of outside military strength may prove destabilising for East Africa, the report warns.

"The focus on joint efforts to promote regional security is currently being superseded by external military deployments to the Horn that are driven by geopolitical, commercial and military competition, often with negative effects for regional stability,” Sipri states.


Strategic arena

East Africa has thus become another strategic arena with links to other geopolitical pressure points.

Foreign forces in East Africa “are part of international networks of military facilities and naval deployments that together link the Horn to security developments in the Middle East and the Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Asia Pacific, as well as in other parts of Africa,” Sipri observes.

India and Japan, for example, are deploying military units in East Africa partly in order to express their unease over China's projection of force into the Indian Ocean and the Horn, Sipri observes.

Similarly, Turkey plans to build facilities for its military vessels on the Sudan island of Sawakin in a move “viewed as part of a larger geopolitical struggle between Iran, Qatar and Turkey, on the one hand, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on the other,” the report says.

“The deal took place against the backdrop of a deepening partnership between Sudan and Turkey that has significant implications for the regional balance of power,” the report adds.

Turkey has also built a $50 million military base in Mogadishu to train recruits for the Somali National Army.

“More than 200 Turkish military personnel are reported to be stationed at the base, which is Turkey’s largest overseas military facility,” Sipri points out.

China has meanwhile built a large naval and air base in Djibouti in close proximity to an even larger US base.

Chinese policymakers have referred to the Djibouti installation as “a strategic strong point.” It represents “a forward presence designed to support the ability of the Chinese military for long-range force projection, including as part of a network of such strategic points,” Sipri states.

The facility also signifies “the gradual rise of Chinese sea power in the Indian Ocean,” the study adds.

The United States maintains the single largest foreign military presence in East Africa. US forces operate out of bases in Kenya and Somalia, as well as Djibouti, where some 4000 American troops are believed to be stationed.

Camp Lemonnier, the name of the base in Djibouti operated by the Pentagon since 2003, now serves as “the centrepiece of a network of US drone and surveillance bases stretching across the continent,” Sipri notes.