AFRICOM: A Model for ‘Capacity’ Building and Development or Not?

By J. Kpanneh Doe


By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 24, 2007


New Developments and the Status of AFRICOM
Sooner or later, the U.S. Administration is expected to announce its decision on where AFRICOM – the U.S. Military Command headquarters for Africa – will be located. Reports emerging suggest that several African countries, namely, Botswana, Morocco, Ghana and Senegal are in the running as candidates for consideration, but it is still not clear whether Liberia is a viable candidate. Meanwhile, AFRICOM continues to maintain its headquarters in Stuggart, Germany.

Judging from President Johnson-Sirleaf’s recent visit to the U.S., which among others focused on a strategy to lobby the Bush Administration as was evident by her visit to the U.S. Defense Department where she met and consulted with Mr. Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Defense, on matters covering Liberia’s security. This marked a new departure as it has not been a traditional practice for African heads of state to visit the Pentagon. But prior to the President’s visit, Mr. Brownie Samukai, Liberia’s Minister of Defense, also visited the U.S. in early September to make the Liberian case for AFRICOM.

If recent development is anything to go by, Liberia’s candidacy for AFRICOM appears doomed. On her recent return to Liberia from her visit to the U.S., President Johnson-Sirleaf reported that Liberia is no longer a viable candidate as it lacked the “infrastructure” to accommodate AFRICOM. (Daily Observer, October 28, 2007) While her comments were short on specifics, it is not difficult to discern that Liberia’s existing infrastructure – airports, seaports, roads, electricity and telecommunications’ capacity - all of which are critical to a project of this nature – are inadequate for such mammoth undertaking. But this is however, not a new reality! Clearly, the U.S. is aware that much of Africa suffers from a poor and aging infrastructure, and that African governments have not done much by way of improving its infrastructural base.

In the case of Liberia, the reality is even more overwhelming. This critical aspect of its economic foundation remained underdeveloped as the country was engulfed in a 14-year civil war. So, could it be that the U.S. has recoiled or is rethinking AFRICOM as a “capacity” – building model for Africa? Or, has the U.S. considered sentiments expressed by Africans at home and in the Diaspora opposing this new militarization of Africa as being in conflict with the demilitarization efforts taking place on the continent?

Pentagon versus State
There is also a heated internal debate taking place between the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon regarding the mission’s objective and mandate of AFRICOM. Many U.S. policy experts on Africa at the State Department view the AFRICOM initiative as usurping the traditional role played by the State Department, and having the potential of militarizing foreign aid. Dr. J. Peter Pham, a noted U.S. Defense policy expert, underscores this conflict: “Fulfilling such a broad mandate would, however, necessitate that the command’s theatre-wide engagement be a spectrum array which embraces, in addition to ‘hard power’ options, diplomatic, developmental assistance, humanitarian relief, and other proactive ‘soft power’ mission which some in the military have been hesitate to engage in and which others in the policy community – I can think of certain high officials and career officers at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as the anti-military ‘usual suspects’ – will be none too eager to see the uniformed services undertake”. (World Defense Review, February 15, 2007)

Whichever the case, this new development calls into question one of the core arguments put forward by advocates of AFRICOM, that it has the capacity to do good. The U.S. has never considered foreign policy as “Social Work” or nation building. So doing good for Africa has never been a strategic geopolitical interest that the U.S. has pursued as history has borne out. Even with new geopolitical realities – the preeminent war on terrorism; the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, and globalization – there has been no fundamental change or “paradigm shift” in U.S. foreign policy doctrine.

Even though the Cold War has ended, this is not the end of history! The policy of realpolitik – the U.S. asserting its power (including military), now the only global superpower, and pursuing its national interest – still remains the cornerstone in its international relationships with other countries at the global level, i.e., Grenada, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Yugoslavia, etc. These are all countries where the U.S. had to exercise its power in recent time to ensure that its national interest was protected.

While advocates of AFRICOM acknowledge this historical fact, they offer no compelling or historical – based evidence to support claims that a fundamental change has occurred. What is offered as evidence is a rehashing of programs and/or initiatives that has historically been an integral part of U.S. Foreign aid program; and others launched in recent times, notably the return of the U.S. International Peace Corps Volunteers (a welcome news that must be applauded as Liberia desperately needs this, especially teachers who could help restore our primary and secondary school system). The AIDS/HIV Initiative (PREFAR); and President Bush’s Malaria Initiative for Africa (PMI).

There is no disagreement regarding the positive impact these development-oriented initiatives will have on the lives of Africans. However, AFRICOM as a military/security program cannot have a similar and lasting impact on Africans. Africa needs more aid to support its development programs in the areas of health, education, agriculture, rural development, and infrastructural development than the benefits military aid would offer.

A closer examination of what is offered as evidence is misleading and clever attempt to mix apples and oranges with guns and steel; engaging in verbal gymnastics (word play) and wanting to have it both ways by mischaracterizing AFRICOM’s objectives. Here is what a few supporters have stated in their commentaries thus far: “We all should know that health, development, and good governance of Africans do not weigh heavily on U.S. foreign policy agenda. What matters in the nutshell, is U.S. interest foremost. That should come as no surprise to us because it has been stated explicitly, “Super powers don’t have [permanent] friends; they only have [permanent] interest”, the writer (T. Hodge) admits, but then quickly disagrees in few sentences later that “A number of commentaries by Liberians and other Africans, lead one to believe that (AFRICOM) will be to the disadvantage of the African continent and its citizens to allow the United States to set up a military base on the continent”.

So which should we accept, will AFRICOM aid Africa’s development or undermine it? Another commentator (A. Dukulé) admits that “AFRICOM is not about African security, it is not about African security or development. AFRICOM is an instrument for the protection and expansion of America’s strategic interest that are now embedded in African resources. Looking at it from this perspective, Africans may be able to make a judgment as to how to negotiate terms and benefit from the process,“ he concludes. Again, another doublespeak! In the writer’s own admission, if AFRICOM is not about Africa’s security, stability and development, how can it benefit from it? The writer’s only rationalization is that the U.S. is viewed both by the government and people [of Liberia] as America’s “natural friend”. Another commentator (W. Allen) acknowledging the checkered past of U.S. historical role in Africa, admits: “In short, the U.S. 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 U.S. to reverse its position and to actually work for democracy and sustainable development around the world; in fact, these are clear signs of this foreign policy change”. The same writer argues further that he believes “the rapid pace of globalization will compel the U.S. to work for real reform in parts of Africa; in a shrinking world, U.S. national security interests are increasingly tied to other regions. In this case, the U.S. is very likely to be more sensitive to local amenities. Consequently, AFRICOM might be flexible and responsible to Liberia’s specific needs”, he concludes. This is hopeful optimism, but he presents no valid evidence as to how this hope can be secured; let alone, how globalization has benefited Africa and Liberia due to U.S. sensitivity.

The above advocates of AFRICOM have failed to answer a number of fundamental questions. A mention of few will suffice. Why does the US need AFRICOM to support Africa’s development when USAID is already playing this role throughout Africa? Why should anyone think that the Cold War period was less important than the present dynamics of global world politics? Certainly, during the Cold War period, the U.S. had every reason to support and develop its allies in the developing world including Liberia but failed woefully to do so. The so-called biggest aid to Liberia was spent almost entirely on the military during the Doe years. If this project is aimed at supporting Africa’s development and security efforts, then why should this be done through a military command led by a four star general called William Ward? Why should Africans not be worried about the potential negative impact of AFRICOM in the continent of the militarization of African security agenda?

Already, the leading powers in contemporary African politics have voiced their protest against placing AFRICOM headquarters on African soil. These include Nigeria and South Africa. As reported by Bashir Adigun, Nigeria is “against the U.S. command basing its headquarters elsewhere in West Africa, where the country of 140 million is a military and diplomatic heavyweight, said Kwara State Governor Bukola Saraki, who announced the government's position after the meeting” with Governors of Nigerian states. (By Bashir Adigun - The Associated Press Posted: Monday Nov. 19, 2007 12:49:49 EST)

On globalization for example, there is abundance of evidence that points to the contrary and deleterious and disproportionate effects the international trade arrangements have had on African economies. Professors de Janvry and Derek Byerlee, authors of the 2007 UN World Development Report argues that “if European countries, the United States and other wealthy nations removed all tariffs and subsides – practices that reduce the world price of commodities and make it harder for unsubsidized farmers in poor countries to compete – developing countries’ share of world trade in cotton and oilseeds would be more than 80 percent in 2015 instead of only about half.” They conclude that the “United States subsides to cotton growers were directly and negatively impacting African farmers”. (2007 UN World Development Report) Ironically, foreign aid to African agriculture, its economic mainstay, continues to experience a decline in the past 20 years, while military aid has peaked. Of course, as it has been widely reported and discussed by other commentators, Africa is the only continent that would not meet any of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at addressing mass poverty in the world.

So far, the debate on the saliency of AFRICOM has been characterized by civility, decency, an engaging exchange of ideas, and has set the stage of what could emerge as a vibrant and rich debate tradition whereby Liberians can debate an issue that has profound national policy implications for their country’s future without resorting to ad hominen attacks, name-calling and falsehoods.

Paradoxically, however, the issue of AFRICOM has almost gone unnoticed with Liberian policymakers. Recently, however, the debate has descended into a new low with Masu Fahnbulleh whose badge of honor and claim to fame is that, “he’s a Liberian who has served for 11 years in the U.S. Armed Forces as a paratrooper”.

In Search of an “Enemy”
Masu Fahnbulleh asserts in a recent piece that, “Many in Liberia, particularly remnants of the progressive movements: Movement for Justice[s] in Africa (MOJA) and the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) have begun a campaign of fear, distortion, misinformation and intimidation of the Liberian people”. And so too we have seen in countries where the newly appointed decorated Military Commander of US/AFRICOM, Lieutenant General (LTG) Ward has toured in an effort to outline and educate the citizenry of the importance of having AFRICOM”. (Liberian Dialogue, November 5, 2007)

This description hardly fits the facts and is an example of the highest degree of intellectual falsehood and dishonesty! The writer, not being able to marshal substantive facts to make his case for AFRICOM, has chosen to traverse the dangerous path of searching for an “enemy” and straw men – the Progressives. First these erstwhile organizations – MOJA and PAL – are not engaged in any such campaign, no longer exists and have long since evolved into new political entitles. MOJA formed the Liberian People’s Party (LPP), and PAL organized the United People’s Party (UPP). Both parties have since merged to become the Alliance for Peace and Progress (APD). Second, there is no such parallel debate about AFRICOM taking place in Liberia; only Liberians in the Diaspora have intensely debated the issue. Third, the writer cites no evidence regarding General Ward’s mistreatment by Africans, let alone Liberians. Now, who is peddling misinformation and lies here: the Progressives or this paratrooper?

Conclusion: Africans Need Economic Security, Not Military Security
Others have tried to pigeonhole the debate about AFRICOM in very trivial and simplistic terms as one of a “love – Hate” relationship Liberians have for America. That Liberians have a bifurcated psychological complex when dealing with America. In essence, Liberians want to have it both ways, to have their cake and eat it too. But how AFRICOM amounts to this or to a love-hate relationship is hard to fathom.

On balance, if one takes the commentaries as a baseline to measure the pulse of Liberians, in the absence of any scientific poll, opinions about AFRICOM has been evenly divided and split. So, is this a reflection of love-hate dynamic at play? The answer is NO! What it shows is that Liberians have matured in their discourse, can express real concerns and can have candid disagreements about an issue that affect them. Therefore, using such all-purpose analysis and generalization undermines intellectual curiosity and a search for truth. Every issue has to be treated based on its merits and demerits, vis-à-vis its impact on Liberia’s future. This is the reason why AFRICOM as a new model for Africa’s development leaves much to be desired by Liberians and Africans who are in need of economic security than military security.

© 2007 by The Perspective

To Submit article for publication, go to the following URL: