I have followed the ongoing debate on whether Liberia should or should not be the headquarters of the United States new military’s command center for Africa, known as Africa Command (AFRICOM). Both supporters and opponents have raised important points about the respective benefits and disadvantages of this new United States military post. The debate has been characterized by cordiality and openness. It is in this spirit of candid exchange of ideas on a critical national issue that I am participating in the debate. In my view, AFRICOM has the capacity to do tremendous good in Liberia.
AFRICOM: A Response to New Geopolitical Reality
Before explaining what AFRICOM is, let me briefly clarify a point about myself. In a 2001 article, I asked: “Could the Savimbis and Mobutus survive as long as they do without the generous assistance from their transatlantic overlords . . . ? How long could the ‘illiterate,’ slain former Liberian military dictator, Samuel Doe, maintain his ruthless regime without US intelligence and arms?” I closed that article with this statement: Africa’s Big Men “are as big as Washington and its allies are prepared to bloat them.” (http://www.theperspective.org/bigman.html
) I still believe that Western Powers, including the United States, created and nurtured Africa’s most despicable dictators.
Briefly, the US will shortly announce the venue for AFRICOM, which will be located probably somewhere in western Africa. Its primary goal would be to protect US vital security interests in Africa. According to the US Department of State, “AFRICOM will play a supportive role as Africans continue to build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent. AFRICOM’S foremost mission is to help Africans achieve their own security, and to support African leadership efforts.” (http://usinfo.state.gov/af/africa/africom.html
) Here lies a source of the skepticism for opponents of AFRICOM. Anyone with elementary knowledge of US foreign policy knows that American governments tend not to promote “democratic institutions;” one does not promote democracy by supporting brutal dictators or by legitimizing fraudulent elections like the one Samuel Doe stole from Jackson F. Doe in 1984. In short, the US has a track record of propping up undemocratic regimes. I do believe, however, that this time around, new geopolitical realities are very likely to force the US to reverse its position and actually work for democracy and sustainable development around the world; in fact, there are clear signs of this foreign policy change.
The war on terrorism is an example of the recent global reality forcing the US to adopt a new strategy. Following the tragedy of 9-11 and in the wake of the current US military disaster in Iraqi, the US realized that to succeed in the war or terrorism it needs global cooperation. Furthermore, the present administration is finally appreciating what its critics in the Democratic Party and many in Europe have been pointing out all along: deepening poverty and social inequality around the world tend to breed terrorism or hatred towards the US and its rich allies in the West; many see the West as supporters of unpopular, anti-people regimes. Thus, impoverished youths from mainly Third World nations are excellent recruits for Muslim extremists like Al-Qaeda in their so-called Jihad against the U S. Many of the recruits are drawn from the oil rich, but oppressive Islamic states that deny freedom to young people; others come from poor states that lack economic opportunity for the growing population of youths. Lured by Al-Qaeda’s call to join the Jihad against the “Great Satan” from the West, these youths have contributed to the sustained resistance encountered by US military campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thus, the US views the cooperation of these poor nations that served as recruiting grounds for Muslim extremists (as well as unstable states like Liberia, DRC Congo, and Somalia) as critical to its victory over terrorism. That cooperation now includes substantial capital for poverty reduction and humanitarian assistance. This is why the US insists that AFRICOM will have a limited military presence in the host nation. AFRICOM will instead focus on poverty-reduction programs (e.g., direct economic assistance to small businesses) and humanitarian aid (e.g., improved healthcare and better schools). This year alone, the US spent about $9 billion dollars in Africa with a substantial portion going to healthcare and development. Unlike the past, this aid is being channeled more directly to Africa’s poor, e.g., through the purchase of drugs for the millions affected with HIV/AIDS and funding for the fight against malaria. And the leaders in the recipient nations are under increasing pressure to clean up corruption and promote good governance (i.e., “build democratic institutions”). Certainly, the US is still promoting its strategic interest in Africa or “hegemony” as one opponent correctly stated. I do believe, however, that the rapid pace of globalization will compel the US to work for real reform in parts of Africa: in a shrinking world, US national security interests are increasingly tied to other regions. In this case, the US is very likely to be more sensitive to local circumstances. Consequently, AFRICOM might be flexible and responsive to Liberia’s specific needs.
AFRICOM will Enhance, not Undermine Socioeconomic Development
As one of the world’s eighty or so poorest nations, Liberia is already benefiting from the new US initiative on fighting terrorism. The presence of AFRICOM will enhance its position to receive even more economic assistance from the US. Presently, the US is spending millions in Liberia on healthcare, education, economic development, and national security. An excellent example of the current US assistance is the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). Under the PMI, President George Bush has promised up to 1.2 billion dollars over five years to cut down the alarming malarial mortality rate in fifteen African countries, including Liberia. The PMI is already distributing new insecticide-treated mosquito nets in East and West Africa. Therefore, the presence of AFRICOM will further strengthen Liberia’s position in the PMI, which among others things, would accelerate the fight against this deadly disease. AFRICOM is promising to help improve our healthcare system that years of fighting have destroyed. This is good news for the majority of our people, who have access to no clinics and hospitals. It is offering assistance to build our roads, at a time when regional cities like Voinjamin, Harper, etc. are isolated because of bad roads. Also, the presence of AFRICOM will ensure additional funding for Liberian schools. Some of these plans are being implemented, others are under consideration. For example, just a few days ago, President Bush promised to send back the Peace Corps, this time to train much-needed teachers for Liberian schools. Finally, as I indicated above, Liberia and other recipients are expected to promote good governance as a condition for this aid. How can all this be against the interest of our poor people? How can trained teachers, better schools and hospitals, improved roads, assistance to small businesses, and greater freedom hurt our people?
Another illustration of how the US is attempting to channel assistance to Africa’s poor is the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). The MCA provides additional aid to nations if they meet a majority of specified criteria. The criteria include “ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom” (Todd Moss, 2007, 140-41). Out of the twelve African nations that applied in 2005, eight qualified, among which were Benin, Ghana, Mozambique, and Senegal. (Liberia has a good chance of qualifying soon.) These countries will reap huge economic benefits: more money to lift their people out of poverty. But note that they must show that they are “ruling justly, investing in people, and encouraging economic freedom.” One cannot fail to see that Ghana, Mozambique, and Benin, all professing some form of socialism in the past, are now forging close ties with the US. This is the new pragmatism. Botswana, one of a few African states untouched by political instability, is seriously considering inviting AFRICOM. Whatever the final decision, one can expect Botswana’s alarming 39 percent HIV/AIDS prevalence rate to be a key topic in the deliberations.
One argument against AFRICOM is that it will expose Liberia to terrorist attacks or it will undermine Liberia’s sovereignty. I will not address these points because my response is basically similar to the one made previously by Mr. Theodore T. Hodge. (http://www.liberiaitech.com/theperspective/2007/1003200701.html) Besides, as I indicated above, people with economic opportunity and political freedom are unlikely to become suicide bombers. Also, AFRICOM poses no more threat to Liberia’s sovereignty than our current dependency on US assistance: the US is already providing millions of dollars just to keep Liberia afloat: support for the budget, education, security, NGOs, etc. Any form of dependency has the potential to undermine national independence.
No Conspiracy to Seize Liberia’s Resources
A suggestion made by some opponents of AFRICOM is that the US is attempting to secretly steal or “exploit” Liberia’s resources by first gaining a foothold in the country. This thinking is absurd. First, Liberia has no known resource that the US desperately needs. The days for the primacy of natural rubber are apparently waning, as man-made rubber is on the rise. After decades of rising expectation, Liberia has yet to discover oil. Moreover, in the past, American companies have obtained lucrative deals in Liberia to mine for gold and iron ore; they stand to receive even better deals today. American companies do not need a military command to obtain favorable deals. African leaders, for example, in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and Nigeria freely sell their petroleum to the US and the West; there are no US military commands in those nations to ensure that the oil is ship to the US. In short, the US is not secretly trying to steal anything that it already does not have access to in Liberia.
There is a mutual need here. The US is looking for a strategic location for AFRICOM, which will protect its vital interests in the South Atlantic. For its part, Liberia requires US dollars to provide urgently needed services like healthcare, education, improved roads, and economic assistance to its struggling people. There is a very good possibility that Liberia can accomplish some of these goals quicker, if it welcomes AFRICOM. I believe that AFRICOM has the capacity to do enormous good in Liberia.
About the author:
William E. Allen, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of History, Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
© 2007 by The Perspective
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