US Military practicing effective public diplomacy in Africa

The distinction that the military does not conduct public diplomacy -- it practices public affairs -- is disappearing by the day. A four country tour by Admiral Harry Ulrich,commander of US naval forces in Southern Europe and Africa, was more military-led diplomacy. Will there be follow up w/ civilian resources? State Department teams of public and cultural diplomats?

Admiral Harry Ulrich speaking with Gabon's Defense minister on 8 Feb 06:

Activities are going on off the coastline of your country, illegal activities like poaching fish, smuggling drugs and human traffic...Let me just categorically say we have no intention of creating a military base in the region. That (...) is not going to solve the dangers that we discussed today.

Speaking a couple of days earlier in Pretoria (6 Feb 06) he indicated an increased US Navy presence in oil rich Gulf of Guinea.

By presence I do not necessarily mean air craft carriers, cruisers, strike crafts and submarines, but rather that we would help countries to build on their own capacities. It is not my intention to bring the US navy down here.

He did offer offer maritime services in the form of an unarmed US Navy repair ship making a five port visit in April 2006. Hopefully, this won't be a one-shot deal.

Before South Africa, he was in Ghana (2 Feb 06) where the visit focused on illegal fishing, drug trafficking, and piracy and other "numerous maritime safety and security concerns."

Prominent was encouragement to deploy the Automated Identification System (AIS) already used by Europe and Nato. Essentially a transponder for ships (transponders are on aircraft to identify the craft to controllers), it can also act as an IFF (Identify - Friend or Foe) system for ships. This would be useful in anti-piracy and counter-terrorism efforts.

Integration with the West would help against the Chinese too, which is active in Africa as monitored in this blog. According to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

U.S. officials said most countries welcomed the American visits, though one officer described Equatorial Guinea military officials as "distant and standoffish," speculating their estrangement was because of growing Chinese influence there.

Could the EG be looking more toward China because of the West's involvement in a coup attempt? Between Mark Thatcher and other UK "ne'er do well" public schoolies and pre-positioned ships of their coast, perhaps the EG despot is seeking a friendlier face.

Sao Tome and Principe are likely to be ports for the US, but dredging would be required. An August 2005 visit by a 240-foot US Coast Guard cutter on loan to the 6th Fleet had to anchor off shore. San Diego's Union-Tribune wrote:

One recent morning, half a dozen Sao Tomean sailors hopped aboard an orange American zodiac, taking instruction from U.S. sailors on man-overboard lifesaving exercises. On land, another group gathered around a mustachioed American showing them how to repair an outboard motor.

That afternoon at a peach-colored seaside high school, the only one in a country of about 150,000 people that's roughly five times the size of Washington, D.C., a few U.S. crewmen fixed door hinges in what was clearly a public relations campaign.

Sao Tomean officials warmly welcomed the three-day American presence, but they were under no illusions.

"Unfortunately, Americans are interested in Sao Tome because of oil, but Sao Tome existed before that," said Carlos Neves, national assembly vice president.

Sao Tome has been touted as the possible site for a new U.S. naval base, but officials from both countries said no such plans were in the works.

A top U.S. diplomat said U.S. forces may use storage facilities on Sao Tome as they do in other parts of Africa: to preposition equipment and supplies for emergencies, but no more.

U.S. involvement today is limited mainly to a yet-to-be-completed feasibility study on expanding the airport and building a deep-water port in Neves, north of the capital, in anticipation of a massive local oil boom.

Sao Tome and Principe's coast guard is just 50 men and two inflatable zodiacs - clearly inadequate to patrol a vast, yet-to-be-exploited zone it shares with Nigeria that's believed to contain up to 11 billion barrels of oil.

Petrol facilities and oil rigs in other places are also vulnerable. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, some U.S. oil platforms are protected not by that government's minuscule navy but by private, unarmed guards.

Fostering political stability and keeping oil flowing are key U.S. goals, particularly in Nigeria, which exports about 2.5 million barrels daily, half of it to the United States.

Militia attacks and threats against foreign oil workers in Nigeria's oil-rich delta have cut hundreds of thousands of barrels of daily oil production. Muslim-Christian violence in the volatile country's north has killed thousands.

On Wednesday, army officers overthrew the U.S.-allied president of Islamic Mauritania, which had been increasingly looking to the West and citing a growing threat from al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome have both been struck by coups and attempted coups over the past few years.

Washington had in the past shunned Equatorial Guinea, run by Teodoro Obiang, a longtime dictator who had his predecessor - his uncle - executed by firing squad. But with the tiny nation's newfound oil wealth, that has begun to change. The visit to Equatorial Guinea was the first by U.S. forces in 13 years.

Encouraging intelligence-sharing and helping nations prepare for potential terror threats is another U.S. strategy.

It's similar to what the U.S. is trying to do elsewhere on the continent, particularly the vast, ungoverned stretches of open desert that sweep across northern Africa, where U.S. forces conducted joint training exercises with African armies this summer.

In October, the U.S. Navy hosted a first-ever gathering in Italy of Gulf of Guinea naval officials. A similar conference is planned for Ghana in December.