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
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 allAfrica.com
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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