AFRICOM and Liberia: A Case of Dashed Hopes

By: R. Wesley Harmon

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 5, 2007


Convinced about the positive impact AFRICOM will undoubtedly have on the fortunes of the country that will be chosen to host its headquarters, proponents, of having said headquarters based in Liberia, are indeed disappointed to learn from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, that Liberia stands little or no chance of having this highest American honor bestowed upon her.

Faced with widespread and outright indignation from African governments about the prospects of an African Command Center based on African soil, Liberia dared to volunteer her soil for this noble undertaking; the first of its kind in the history of the African continent. Risking and enduring severe criticisms from African leaders, political pundits, as well as opinion leaders within and without the West African sub-region, President Johnson-Sirleaf pressed on, making her case publicly and privately, why she feels Liberia is uniquely positioned to host this command center.

Madame Johnson-Sirleaf has articulated and continues to stress the immense benefits Liberia, coming out of a devastating civil war, would accrue if this venture were placed on her soil: stability in the security sector; employment for Liberia’s vast number of unemployed (approx. 65%); and yes, serving as a catalyst for infrastructure development. Also articulated are the benefits that would accrue to the U.S. AFRICOM: a stable and friendly environment within which to operate; easy access to various trouble spots within the sub-region, as well as outside; access to Liberia’s command structure and government apparatus; freedom of movement of U.S. military and civilian personnel, among others.

Notwithstanding the noted benefits, it appears the Pentagon is taking a strictly business approach to the matter of choosing the location for AFRICOM’s headquarters, thus eliminating the qualities Liberia presents. The choice seems to be focused on what infrastructure is available to accommodate the immense logistical requirements of such a command center rather than the professed intrinsic values the command center would engender to the host country in particular, and the continent in general. If the focus were rightly placed on the stated intentions of AFRICOM - to buttress the security and development of Africa, as well as to secure American security interests on the continent, then Liberia presents a unique opportunity to showcase this commitment.

Liberia has been vilified and castigated, to the extent of being called “America’s stepchild”, for its adherence to all things American, and for vigorously supporting American political positions. This support is, however appropriate, and predicated on the fact that the United States continues to provide sustained assistance to Liberia, especially in her darkest hours, and both leaders enjoy a kind of quiet confidence in each other. Therefore, contrary to the fact that others see this relationship as one of dependency, rather than one of mutual respect and trust, Liberia should and must support the U.S. positions in the face of, sometimes almost global opposition to U.S. interests, confirming the Biblical adage that, “A friend stickest closer than a brother”.

Despite the nuances that Liberia does not possess the requisite infrastructure to support AFRICOM’s headquarters’ deployment, there are times when demonstrating commitment to a friend means going the extra mile to ensure you don’t allow your friend to lose face in public. This would certainly not be the first time the U.S. military has setup shop under less than desirable circumstances. The construction of bases in Europe and Japan post World War II, as well as the construction of The Green Zone in Iraq, after the Iraq War, proves this point. While it is true that it may end up costing several millions more than under normal circumstances to locate AFRICOM’s Headquarters in Liberia, but this is the time for the U.S. to showcase its commitment to her trusted and true friend, Liberia. In the end the benefits that would accrue would far out-weigh the cost of weathering the storm of underdevelopment.

The imminent loss of stature Liberia faces by being by-passed will reverberate around the continent and the world for a very long time to come. For example, if Ghana, Nigeria or any other West African nation were chosen over Liberia to host AFRICOM, the myth of Liberia being the traditional friend of the U.S. would be forever shattered. Britain would never consider Liberia over Ghana or Nigeria for such a significant venture neither would France turn her back on Senegal or Ivory Coast. Why would the U.S. consider any other African country over Liberia for such a noble undertaking? On the other hand, if Liberia were chosen this would send a message, in the strongest possible terms, that the U.S. is ready to shed the image held by Africans that when it comes to dealing with the continent the U.S. does not have permanent friends but rather its interests are tantamount to everything else.

The Bush administration has championed issues affecting Africa more so than any other U.S. administration in recent history. We therefore call upon President Bush to prevail upon The Pentagon to do the right thing rather than the expedient thing, and choose Liberia for AFRICOM, by so doing it will send a stronger message to the continent and the world that will resonate louder than bestowing the Medal of Freedom upon President Johnson-Sirleaf.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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