Africom: Wrong for Liberia, Disastrous for Africa


By Ezekiel Pajibo

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
Sept 18, 2007


Africom – Origins
February 2007, just 2 months after U.S. aerial bombardments began in Somalia, the Bush Administration solidified its militaristic engagement with Africa when the Department of Defense (DoD) 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”.

President Bush said in a White House statement, “This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa 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; and that the Department of Defense can best serve as architect and arbiter of U.S. Africa policy. Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, director of the AFRICOM transition team emphasized that “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”

This military driven U.S. engagement with Africa reflects the desperation of the Bush Administration in its efforts to control the increasingly strategic natural resources on the African continent, especially oil, gas and uranium. In what is becoming a multi-polar world with increased competition from China, among other countries, for those resources, the U.S. wants above all else to strengthen its foothold in resource-rich regions of Africa.

Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the U.S. The West Africa region currently provides nearly 20 percent of the U.S. supply of hydrocarbons, up from 15 percent just five years ago and well on the way to a 25-percent share forecast for 2015. While the Bush Administration endless beats the drums for its “global war on terror”, the African context underscores that the real interests of the Neoconservatives is less Al Queada and 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. 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 core avenues of international engagement from development (USAID) to diplomacy (State Department) even more in line with U.S. military objectives.

Africom – Liberia?
Africom’s first public links with the West African country of Liberia was through a Washington Post op ed written by the African- American businessman Robert L. Johnson, "Liberia's Moment of Opportunity." Johnson forcefully endorsed Africom and 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.”
Let’s be clear, consolidation and expansion of U.S. military power on the African continent is misguided and could lead to disastrous outcomes.

Remember, 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.

What is more, by locating AFRICOM base in Liberia, the country would become a target of those who want to go after U.S. assets by employing violence. This is not in the national security interest of Liberia and will in fact create new problems for Liberia’s fragile peace and its nascent democracy. At the moment, the United States has undertaken the exclusive role in the restructuring of the Armed Forces of Liberia. A private military outfit, DYNCORP was contracted to carry out this function.

After more than two years in Liberia, DYNCORP has not only failed to train the 2,000 men it was contracted to train, it has not engaged Liberia’s policy makers or civil society groups on defining the nature, content and character of the new army. In addition, DYNCORP allotted itself the prerogative to determine the amount of men/women to be trained, the kind of training it would conduct, (exclusively infantry training), while the nation had not elaborated a national security threat analysis nor develop a military doctrine. In other words, the creation of Liberia’s new army has been the exclusive responsibility of the United States of America, and in total disregard to Liberia’s constitution, which empowered the National Legislature to raise the national army. This behavior suggests that if AFRICOM is based in Liberia, the US will have an unacceptable amount of power to determine what Liberia’s security interests are and how the country would deal with those interests. As well, by placing a military base in Liberia, the U.S. would have to interfere in Liberia politics in order to ensure that those who succeed in obtaining power in Liberia are subservient to U.S. interests. If this is not neo-colonialism, then what is it?

The Bush Administration’s militaristic approach leads to an Africa policy that provides more weapons, equipment, and military hardware than schools. 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 Bush Administration 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.

Africom must be rejected at all cost. Further, Liberia, long suffering the effects of militaristic "assistance" from the United States, would be the worst possible base.
Ezekiel Pajibo is Executive Director of the Liberia-Based Center for Democratic Empowerment. Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Washington-Based Institute for Policy Studies
© 2007 by The Perspective

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