As the US-led African Union attempts to form a new bloc to counter the threat of North Korea, the US is pushing to add new powers to its existing regional powers.
The move comes as US President Donald Trump seeks to build a military alliance with Africa to fight China.
In a move that could strengthen US and African ties, Trump on Thursday announced a $300bn (£217bn) arms and security package for the region.
But the move has triggered strong criticism from some African nations who fear it will give a boost to the military and security forces of authoritarian African states.
Africa’s largest state, South Africa, is keen to join the new bloc but fears that it could embolden countries like China to expand their influence.
US officials say the new alliance would be based on a mutual recognition of Africa’s rights, but critics have warned that this would empower authoritarian regimes.
US President Barack Obama, speaking on Thursday at a ceremony marking the signing of the new arms deal, said that it would give the US “greater access to the vast areas of Africa that we’ve traditionally had.”
He said it would also give the Pentagon more access to Africa’s militaries and civilian personnel.
He called the US a “nation of freedom and democracy”.
“And we will work closely with our partners in the African Union to advance our common security interests,” he said.
“And in so doing, we’ll help secure peace and stability in the region.”
However, Africa’s new president, Idriss Deby, said in a speech on Thursday that the US’s military build-up in the continent is “counterproductive” and will undermine the African continent’s economic and political stability.
“We cannot continue to have our borders guarded by militarised forces of the US and other Western powers and their military allies,” he told the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“Our borders will be guarded by African forces who will be equipped with the latest weapons systems, and who will provide a strong defence against the threats posed by the growing power of North America.”
Deby said the US has a strategic interest in keeping the continent’s borders open.
“I want to remind you that the United States and the US Armed Forces have spent nearly $300 billion over the last decade in Africa to strengthen the security and stability of the continent,” he added.
“It is a great success story, a success story that has resulted in the liberation of millions of people, the development of our economies, and the creation of a stable democracy in Africa.”
De by the ECOWAS, the 28 African nations have agreed on a roadmap for the creation and strengthening of a new African military force, the African Commission for the Protection of African People (ACPA), to be led by the US.
“The United States has long had a strategic, enduring, and longstanding interest in African security and economic development,” Deby told the conference.
“But this partnership, based on mutual recognition and accountability, is designed to create a stable, secure, and inclusive African security environment.”
US arms in Africa The new military alliance, known as the African Security Initiative (ASI), is part of the broader $400bn US arms deal with the continent, signed by the former president Barack Obama in 2016.
According to the White House, the new US arms agreement will help to support the development and maintenance of the African military and ensure the security of the entire continent.
The new arms pact was signed on Thursday in the capital, Addis Ababa, with the signing ceremony attended by a dozen heads of state and ministers.
The United States will send $7bn (£5.2bn) of equipment, including Apache attack helicopters and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) to Africa.
US troops will also receive Apache attack aircraft and support vehicles, as well as $3bn (£2.3bn) in training and equipment.
The Pentagon has already spent $5bn (£3.7bn) to train and equip the African militaries, and has said it will spend $40bn (£32bn) more by 2020 to train its own forces.
“These are just a few of the billions of dollars in new equipment and support we are committed to providing to African militiamen, their local partners, and our allies,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in his speech on the new agreement.
“There are millions of American soldiers who have served in the last eight years.
There are millions more who will soon return home to complete their military service.”
The deal will be the first of its kind between the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and South Africa.
The UK, France and Germany are the largest arms exporters in the European Union, and they have invested heavily in African militias.
The US, meanwhile, has a long history of supporting African milities and has sent troops to several African countries.
It has also given billions of pounds