Is Ebola an opportunity to compete with China for military control in Africa?

Senior Airman Laura Quick places a mask over her face on Wednesday Oct. 22, 2014, during an infectious disease training exercise for the Ebola virus on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Medical specialists on base perform the exercise with a different disease each year. (AP Photo/Northwest Florida Daily News, Nick Tomecek)

A day after news hit that Chinese companies are pulling back workers from West Africa, the U.S. has announced a more than doubling of the presence of U.S. troops in the region. While the official mission, according to the U.S. government and military, is to help combat the spread of Ebola throughout the region, many people believe that this is another bold step by the U.S. to increase the military presence in Africa and help establish a significant military base of operations on the continent. China has been well established, both in military and economic terms, in Africa for years now, and the U.S. may be looking to change the balance of power.

The United States has recently announced that an estimated 3,000 U.S. forces are being deployed to join with the U.S. Africa Command, also known as Africom. This White House press release officially states that the goal of this deployment is to “provide regional command and control support… and facilitate coordination with U.S. government and international relief efforts.”

According to this article on WND.com, the plan laid out by the Obama administration call for $500 million in humanitarian assistance in West Africa, but many are estimating that the actual cost will exceed $750 million. This financial commitment to the region will certainly help in combatting the Ebola epidemic, but many are pointing out that the U.S. could well have ulterior motives.

Since 2009, China has been Africa’s largest trading partner, and has thus gained a considerable amount of political and military cache throughout the continent. In fact, as the Washington Post pointed out earlier this year, China did more than $200 billion in business with Africa in 2013 alone. In comparison, the U.S only spent around $110 billion in the same year.

With China spending that large amount of money, they are also sending thousands of companies to operate in Africa, investing over $40 billion in infrastructure alone according to this article in the Washington Times. This spending in Africa has allowed China to spread an anti-colonialism message, which resonates as an anti-West message for many. For example, back in May, Lt Gen. Qi Jianguo, a deputy chief of staff for the People’s Liberation Army of China, had strong anti U.S. words for African citizens. Specifically, he praised Zimbabwe’s president Mugabe while calling the United States a mastermind trying to deprive Africa of peace and prosperity.

“General officers and men of China admire Zimbabwe Defense Forces, especially your commander-in-chief, President Mugabe who has managed to stand against Western powers’ machinations to destabilize the African continent,” Gen Qi told reporters according to The Washington Times.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent less money in Africa, and has become embroiled in conflicts that many in Africa see as unsuccessful. Participation in the violence in Somalia, Libya, Mali, and central Africa with thousands of U.S. troops, be they fighting against al-Qaeda factions or in civil conflicts, has done little help the U.S. establish a foothold in Africa. According to this article in Global Research, Army General David M. Rodriguez estimated that the U.S. military needs to increase its intelligence-gathering in Africa 15 times over, a monumental task.

With the outcry for help fighting the Ebola epidemic, however, this could be a golden opportunity for the U.S. to turn the tides of both public opinion and the need for sustained U.S. military presence throughout Africa.

The Obama administration has made it a point to expand U.S. aid and influence in many African nations. Obama even held an African summit in 2013 while more than doubling the U.S. presence in African throughout eight countries.

Now, with the Ebola outbreak top of mind, the U.S. has committed 3,000 troops to Africom, which currently has only 2,000 assigned personnel. This force will be established, according to WND, in Monrovia, Liberia, and will be tasked with working directly with international partners on the ground. A successful mission and eradication of Ebola would go a long way toward establishing a stronghold in Africa for the United States Military.

By Brett Gillin

 

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