WASHINGTON, DC, February 7, 2013 - When most Americans think of Africa, they envision tribal villages, Sally Struthers on TV soliciting donations to help starving children, or reports of AIDS epidemics running wild.
When governments consider Africa, they have a much different vision, and it does not include helping starving children.
Oil, gold, diamonds, uranium and perhaps most of all, coltan, are the sugar-plums dancing in their collective heads.
The mineral coltan, used in nearly every electronic device (used to create transistors) has no real substitute, and is widely used by the military industrial complex. Its ability to hold and move electrical charges reliably in the most extreme of temperatures, makes it an ideal for applications such as bombs and missiles.
It has long been classified as a “strategic mineral.”
Australia was the worlds largest producer of coltan, but production has tapered off significantly in recent years, leaving several countries eying the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most resource rich areas on the planet, with a rapidly growing level of envy.
Most coltan mined in the Congo is done under the control of armed factions and organized crime. African regimes come and go, but the one thing that is becoming a constant in the region is the availability of foreign aid. The Congo contains 80 percent of the worlds known coltan supply.
For the last 15 years, China has been investing in Africa, and their level of investment has skyrocketed in recent years. They were the first to recognize that the African continent was a treasure trove of resources, and being the first to establish permanent relationships, both political and industrial was of the utmost importance.
The United States has been a little late in showing up to the game.
In 2007, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created under the Bush administration.
Its mission statement is as follows:
The united States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. Government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. Foreign policy.
The word military being used four times in that short paragraph is not a coincidence. Africa has been a war-torn continent throughout history, with central Africa being the focal point.
Currently, Camp Lemonnier is the only US military base on the African mainland, situated in the tiny country of Djibouti, the southern landmass at the Mandab Strait. The Arabic name for the strait is Bab-el-Mandeb, meaning Gate of Grief, a 20 mile wide strip of water through which 4 million barrels of oil travel every day.
From this base, US troops are in the act of deploying to 35 countries within Africa, authorized by President Obama, and announced Christmas Eve of last year. The stated mission of these troops is to train local forces and identify any potential Islamic insurgent activity in their respective regions of operations.
Washington’s plans for how to approach the Africa “dilemma” are not well known, but some small steps have been taken to explore the situation. I hope that we have learned from the mistakes of our past in the Middle East, and will build lasting alliances to the mutual benefit of both the sovereign nations within Africa and the United States.