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USA/Africa: Questioning AFRICOM, 1

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Aug 1, 2007 (070801)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

With the nomination in July of General William E. Ward as the first chief of the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the long-discussed new command took another step toward full operation, now scheduled for October 2008. But the controversy about what this military reorganization means for U.S. military involvement in Africa is just beginning.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a critique by Emira Woods and Ezekiel Pajibo for Foreign Policy in Focus, countering earlier positive comments by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It also contains a press release on General Ward's nomination and excerpts from an analysis written for the Brenthurst Foundation in South Africa. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excepts from an extensive critique from the Center for International Policy, with particular emphasis on U.S.-Nigerian relations.

In contrast to this bilateral U.S. initiative, the U.S. arrears in payment of peacekeeping dues to the United Nations topped $1 billion earlier this year, despite an expected increase in the UN peacekeeping budget, including for new deployment in Darfur. See

Other recent commentaries include:

GWB, Africa and a New African American General
by Carl Bloice, July 23, 2007

Africa: Africom Can Help Governments Willing to Help Themselves
Guest column by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 25 June 2007

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on African security and U.S. involvement, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

AFRICOM: Wrong for Liberia, Disastrous for Africa

Ezekiel Pajibo and Emira Woods | July 26, 2007

Editor: John Feffer

Foreign Policy In Focus

[Ezekiel Pajibo is executive director of the Liberia-Based Center for Democratic Empowerment. Emira Woods is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. She was born in Liberia.]

Just two months after U.S. aerial bombardments began in Somalia, the Bush administration solidified its militaristic engagement with Africa. In February 2007, the Department of Defense announced the creation of a new U.S. Africa Command infrastructure, code name AFRICOM, to "coordinate all U.S. military and security interests throughout the continent."

"This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa," President Bush said in a White House statement, "and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa." Ordering that AFRICOM be created by September 30, 2008, Bush said "Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa."

The general assumption of this policy is that prioritizing security through a unilateral framework will somehow bring health, education, and development to Africa. In this way, the Department of Defense presents itself as the best architect and arbiter of U.S. Africa policy. According to Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, director of the AFRICOM transition team, "By creating AFRICOM, the Defense Department will be able to coordinate better its own activities in Africa as well as help coordinate the work of other U.S. government agencies, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development."

Competition for Resources

This military-driven U.S. engagement with Africa reflects the desperation of the Bush administration to control the increasingly strategic natural resources on the African continent, especially oil, gas, and uranium. With increased competition from China, among other countries, for those resources, the United States wants above all else to strengthen its foothold in resource-rich regions of Africa.

Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States. The West Africa region currently provides nearly 20% of the U.S. supply of hydrocarbons, up from 15% just five years ago and well on the way to a 25 share forecast for 2015. While the Bush administration endlessly beats the drums for its "global war on terror," the rise of AFRICOM underscores that the real interests of neoconservatives has less to do with al-Qaeda than with more access and control of extractive industries, particularly oil.

Responsibility for operations on the African continent is currently divided among three distinct Commands: U.S. European Command, which has responsibility for nearly 43 African countries; U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya; and U.S. Pacific Command, which has responsibility for Madagascar, the Seychelles, and the countries off the coast of the Indian Ocean. Until December 2006 when the United States began to assist Ethiopia in its invasion of Somalia, all three existing Commands have maintained a relatively low-key presence, often using elite special operations forces to train, equip, and work alongside national militaries.

A new Africa Command, based potentially in or near oil-rich West Africa would consolidate these existing operations while also bringing international engagement, from development to diplomacy, even more in line with U.S. military objectives.

AFRICOM in Liberia?

AFRICOM's first public links with the West African country of Liberia was through a Washington Post op-ed written by the AfricanAmerican businessman Robert L. Johnson, "Liberia's Moment of Opportunity." Forcefully endorsing AFRICOM, Johnson urged that it be based in Liberia. Then came an unprecedented guest column from Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, "AFRICOM Can Help Governments Willing To Help Themselves," touting AFRICOM's potential to "help" Africa "develop a stable environment in which civil society can flourish and the quality of life for Africans can be improved."

Despite these high-profile endorsements, the consolidation and expansion of U.S. military power on the African continent is misguided and could lead to disastrous outcomes.

Liberia's 26-year descent into chaos started when the Reagan administration prioritized military engagement and funneled military hardware, training, and financing to the regime of the ruthless dictator Samuel K. Doe. This military "aid," seen as "soft power" at that time, built the machinery of repression that led to the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians.

Basing AFRICOM in Liberia will put Liberians at risk now and into the future. Liberia's national threat level will dramatically increase as the country becomes a target of those interested in attacking U.S. assets. This will severely jeopardize Liberia's national security interests while creating new problems for the country's fragile peace and its nascent democracy.

Liberia has already given the Bush administration the exclusive role of restructuring its armed forces. The private U.S. military contractor DYNCORP has been carrying out this function. After more than two years in Liberia and an estimated $800,000 budget allocated, DYNCORP has not only failed to train the 2,000 men it was contracted to train, it has also not engaged Liberia's Legislature or its civil society in defining the nature, content, or character of the new army. DYNCORP allotted itself the prerogative to determine the number of men/women to be trained and the kind of training it would conduct, exclusively infantry training, even though Liberia had not elaborated a national security plan or developed a comprehensive military doctrine. In fact, the creation of Liberia's new army has been the responsibility of another sovereign state, the United States, in total disregard to Liberia's constitution, which empowers the legislature to raise the national army.

This pattern of abuse and incompetence with the U.S. military and its surrogate contractors suggests that if AFRICOM is based in Liberia, the Bush administration will have an unacceptable amount of power to dictate Liberia's security interests and orchestrate how the country manages those interests. By placing a military base in Liberia, the United States could systematically interfere in Liberian politics in order to ensure that those who succeed in obtaining power are subservient to U.S. national security and other interests. If this is not neo-colonialism, then what is?

Perhaps the South Africans will be the loudest voices on the continent in opposition to AFRICOM. Recent media reports spotlight growing tensions in U.S.-South Africa relations over AFRICOM. The U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost, complained that South Africa's defense minister Mosiuoa Lekota, was not responding to embassy requests to meet General Kip Ward, the recently nominated first commander of AFRICOM.

Opposing AFRICOM

The Bush administration's new obsession with AFRICOM and its militaristic approach has many malign consequences. It increases U.S. interference in the affairs of Africa. It brings more military hardware to a continent that already has too much. By helping to build machineries of repression, these policies reinforce undemocratic practices and reward leaders responsive not to the interests or needs of their people but to the demands and dictates of U.S. military agents. Making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that can encourage irresponsible regimes to use U.S. sourced military might to oppress their own people, now or potentially in the future. These fatally flawed policies create instability, foment tensions, and lead to a less secure world.

What Africa needs least is U.S. military expansion on the continent (and elsewhere in the world). What Africa needs most is its own mechanism to respond to peacemaking priorities. Fifty years ago, Kwame Nkrumah sounded the clarion call for a "United States of Africa." One central feature of his call was for an Africa Military High Command. Today, as the African Union deliberates continental governance, there couldn't be a better time to reject U.S. military expansion and push forward African responses to Africa's priorities.

Long suffering the effects of militaristic "assistance" from the United States, Liberia would be the worst possible base for AFRICOM. But there are no good locations for such a poorly conceived project. Africa does not need AFRICOM.

Africom Chief Nominated for Unique New Command

United States Department of State (Washington, DC)

12 July 2007

Washington, DC - General William E. Ward, an Army officer, is President Bush's choice to be the first chief of the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which will coordinate U.S. government support for nations across the continent.

Ward is currently deputy chief of the U.S. European Command, where he oversees day-to-day operations of American forces and military interests in 92 countries, including a majority of the African nations. Bush made the nomination July 10.

Bush announced in February the creation of AFRICOM. Instead of being a traditional military command, the new headquarters will coordinate existing security cooperation with African nations while consolidating U.S. government support for partner nations.

Humanitarian, health and development efforts are intended to be important parts of AFRICOM's mission. The headquarters is expected to have two deputy commanders: a State Department ambassador will serve as deputy for civil-military activities and a three-star military officer will serve as deputy for military operations. As currently envisioned, the headquarters will include staff specialists from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other federal agencies currently working with African partners.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Ward's nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Ward's nomination hearing and annual public hearings on the status of AFRICOM are expected to create more visibility for African issues within the U.S. government. Until now, the U.S. European Command has coordinated U.S. military interests in much of Africa.

The new AFRICOM headquarters is scheduled to begin initial operations in October and to be fully established by October 2008. The AFRICOM transition team currently is based in Stuttgart, Germany, home of the U.S. European Command. But U.S. officials have said they want to move part or all of the headquarters' offices to one or more African countries. Pentagon officials have said they would like the new AFRICOM chief to establish a personal presence on the continent soon after being confirmed by the Senate.

"The goal of U.S. Africa Command is to help build the capacity of African nations and African organizations," the Defense Department said in a July 10 news release.

Ward has been a U.S. Army officer since 1971. From March to December 2005, he was designated by the secretary of state as U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He also has commanded the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia and commanded an infantry brigade in Somalia in the early 1990s. In addition, he has served at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and, early in his career, commanded an infantry company in the Republic of Korea.

AFRICOM and African Security

Greg Mills, Terence McNamee, Mauro De Lorenzo, and Matthew Uttley

Brenthurst Discussion Paper 4/2007

Brenthurst Foundation

[Note: brief excerpts only. For full report, including footnotes, see The paper is based on discussions at a dialogue on 'What Does AFRICOM Mean for Africa?' staged jointly by the Brenthurst Foundation and the African Center for Strategic Studies at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve, South Africa, 13-15 July 2007.]

In October 2008, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) will be 'stood up' as a unified combatant command. In Africa this announcement has been met with trepidation and controversy.

Resistance to the idea is fuelled primarily by fears that it could lead to the militarisation of American foreign policy towards Africa. Of its numerous critics, South Africa has been especially vocal. Yet in other parts of Africa there is a cautious optimism based on the hope that Washington is finally taking the relationship between African security and development seriously.

However, there appears to be agreement on two key points. The first is that AFRICOM is still an enigma. No one is sure what it will do or how, and what it means for Africa. The second is that AFRICOM's success will ultimately depend on how well the U.S. understands and responds to the security priorities of Africans.


Africa is currently part of the area of responsibility (AOR) of three U.S. combatant commands: European Command (EUCOM), Central Command (CENTCOM), and Pacific Command (PACOM). No other continent is similarly divided. For the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the creation of a single combatant command for Africa is primarily an internal bureaucratic shift, a more efficient and sensible way of organizing the U.S. military's relations with Africa. In other words, with AFRICOM the U.S. will do the same kinds of things it has always done in Africa, but with more consistency, coherence, and depth.


AFRICOM also represents a transformation in the way the military instrument is used to advance security and stability in conflict-prone or post-conflict societies. The Pentagon sees AFRICOM as a test-run for new forms of collaboration with other U.S. government agencies. Indeed, for the first time in a U.S. unified command, a State Department official will occupy a senior leadership position as the deputy to the commander for civil military activities. Officials from USAID and half a dozen other agencies will also be detailed to the command, bringing their knowledge and expertise to bear on the execution of the AFRICOM's mission.

African Perceptions

That AFRICOM will have such a significant civilian component does not impress many African observers, for whom even the word 'command' suggests malign intentions. In Africa the view is widespread that AFRICOM is a tool to secure better access to Africa's natural resources, erode China's growing influence on the continent, and establish forward bases to hunt and destroy networks linked to Al-Qaeda.

Moreover, by emphasising AFRICOM's role in development and humanitarian tasks, U.S. officials may have actually amplified African concerns. The fear is that, henceforth, the main lens through which development efforts in Africa are perceived will be the Pentagon's.

Washington has underestimated how deep-rooted and ideological African assumptions about U.S. aims can be. To many, AFRICOM is, along with Iraq and Afghanistan, another sign that the U.S. is seeking to re-assert American power and hegemony globally.

In the words of Virginia Tilley at South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council, the "Bush administration's agenda offers little but mounting expense and new dangers for African security. The urgent question for South Africa is not how to join that war, but how to help protect Africa from it."

Or as Charles Cobb argues, "in the thinking of Pentagon and White House officials, the world today is too dangerous a place not to be policed by Washington." For Cobb "the establishment of AFRICOM is being driven by two main strategic concerns: first, the growing demand for African oil and gas and second, the perceived danger of Islamic radicals." Cobb suggests that Washington's excessive focus on "security tends to erode, if not crush, civil liberties, and those governments on the continent that already show little inclination to support democratic freedoms will almost certainly use 'security' as an excuse to clamp down on things they don't like."

But not all African perceptions of AFRICOM are negative. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia spoke for those who feel well-disposed to the initiative when she wrote in June 2007: "AFRICOM should be seen for what it is: recognition of the growing importance of Africa to U.S. national security interests, as well as recognition that long-term African security lies in empowering African partners to develop a healthy security environment through embracing good governance, building security capacity, and developing good civil-military relations. ... AFRICOM is undeniably about the projection of American interests but this does not mean that it is to the exclusion of African ones."

Washington hopes all African leaders will eventually share that perspective. But convincing them that AFRICOM is 'military lite' will not be easy. It cannot be denied that, in terms of its structure and declared intent, AFRICOM embodies a fresh attempt to create a joined-up inter-agency strategy that weaves diplomacy, defence, and development into a coherent mechanism.


A 'Steady-State' of U.S.-Africa Security Engagement

Much debate has focused on where AFRICOM will be based and how it will be structured. Currently the United States military presence centres on its 2,000-strong East African base in Djibouti Command Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) which falls under CENTCOM. In current thinking, the AFRICOM headquarters will be based initially in Stuttgart, Germany but will eventually move to the continent. U.S. officials have indicated that, based on their consultations with African countries, they will not have a large single headquarters in Africa but rather smaller regionally-based staff presences in order to work more effectively with the regional economic communities. The U.S. presence in Djibouti will likely be maintained. Other small regional bases will probably be established in each of North, Western and Southern Africa. ...


much of what AFRICOM does will be about re-packaging and adding to what the U.S. Department's of Defense and State already do with African partners in the area of building security capacity. These programmes have taken a number of forms and already involve an annual financial commitment of over a quarter of a billion dollars (excluding the costs of CJTF-HOA):

[current initiatives listed in full report]

Not only could AFRICOM assist in streamlining and institutionalising the initiatives outlined above, its added value over previous structures of U.S. security engagement comes from its institutional expression of a long-term commitment to Africa that is joined to and, critically, framed by an inter-agency approach. Ultimately, however, AFRICOM will only be accepted if it is postured in a manner that is focused not on addressing the U.S.'s insecurities, but Africa's.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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