ACCRA (AFP) — US President George W. Bush said Wednesday that the United States has no plans to build new military bases in Africa, amid concerns on the continent about a new AFRICOM command now based in Germany.
"We do not contemplate adding new bases," Bush said, on the second-to-last stop of a five-country Africa swing, during a joint press conference with Ghana President John Kufuor.
"I know there's rumors in Ghana -- 'all Bush is coming to do is trying to convince you to put a big military base here.' That's baloney. Or as we say in Texas, 'that's bull,'" Bush said.
"That doesn't mean we won't develop some kind of office somewhere in Africa. We haven't made our minds up. This is a new concept," Bush explained, amid deep suspicion on the continent about the purpose of AFRICOM.
Some African critics have tied the project to the fact that, by 2015, Washington expects that 25 per cent of the oil it imports will come from the continent, essentially from the Gulf of Guinea.
Bush rejected the premise: "It is a command structure that is aiming to help provide military assistance to African nations, so African nations are more capable of dealing with Africa's conflicts, like peacekeeping training."
"We've got an issue in Darfur that we've got to all work together to solve, and I'm very pleased that the AU (African Union) and UN hybrid force should be moving in there. I'd like to see it move in quicker," he added.
"I want to dispel the notion that all of a sudden America is, you know, bringing all kinds of military to Africa. It's just simply not true," he said. "The whole purpose of AFRICOM is to help leaders deal with African problems."
Confronted by a lack of enthusiasm for AFRICOM, Washington has been doing its best to sound reassuring. At the end of January, US diplomat Geoffrey Martineau told the Nigerian parliament that the United States did not intend either to put military bases in Africa or to invade the oil-rich Niger Delta.
Nigeria is currently the world's eighth exporter of crude oil and the fifth supplier to the United States.
Nigeria has already refused to host AFRICOM and has made known its unwillingness to have it based "anywhere on African soil".
The US government announced early in the year that the Defence Department was creating a US Africa Command headquarters to coordinate all American military and security interests throughout the continent.
The US military involvement in Africa has so far been shared among the US European Command, the US Central Command and the US Pacific Command, and AFRICOM is currently based in Germany, while a continental location is evisaged in the longer term.
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