What is AFRICOM?
According to the official AFRICOM website, “AFRICOM is a new U.S. military headquarters devoted solely to Africa. AFRICOM is the result of an internal reorganization of the U.S. military command structure, creating one administrative headquarters that is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. military relations with 53 African countries.” Previously, Africa had been covered by three separate commands – European Command (EUCOM), Pacific Command (PACOM), and Central Command (CENTCOM).
However, AFRICOM is not simply a reorganization of the US military. If reorganization were the only goal, there would be no reason to oppose the command. What goes unsaid in the above definition is the fundamental shift in the roles of the State Department and the Department of Defense (DoD). Many duties that previously belonged to nonmilitary US agencies – things such as building schools and digging wells – will now fall under the jurisdiction of the DoD. The resulting dual-nature of the military is not only confusing to our African partners but sets a negative example for countries who already overuse the military in civilian affairs.
One of AFRICOM's primary functions will be to train and equip African militaries to "legitimize" and "professionalize" soldiers. The history of U.S. train and equip programs has resulted in devastation and violence as a result of the infusion of weapons and training into unstable areas of Africa. During the Cold War, the U.S. provided weapons and training to governments which were willing to help fight the ideological war against communism, regardless of their human rights or good governance standards. The U.S. continues such programs today under the mantra of counterterrorism and is currently providing military aid to countries such as Chad and Equatorial Guinea.
AFRICOM is a piece of a broader shift in US foreign policy – a foreign policy that places an emphasis on defense above diplomacy. Donald Rumsfeld, a man expelled from office for his failed policies in the Middle East, approved the creation of this command. AFRICOM is designed to fulfill the immediate special interests of the United States with little heed to the implications for the people of Africa.
Where is AFRICOM located? Who leads it?
AFRICOM is currently located in Stuttgart, Germany, alongside European Command. Originally, AFRICOM sought a headquarters on the continent, but after a strong outcry from African governments, the Pentagon decided to leave the Command in Stuttgart. AFRICOM has said that it will remain there until they find it necessary to relocate on the continent.
AFRICOM is led by a four-star general, General William ‘Kip’ E. Ward. Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Activities is Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates and Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations is Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller.
Due to this structure, many U.S. government organizations on the continent, including USAID, will ultimately report to General Ward. Ambassadors, who are traditionally the point-persons for US foreign policy may be overshadowed by the military's goals.
What is the mission of AFRICOM?
The official AFRICOM website states that “United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.”
However, in several meetings, briefings, and statements, high-level officials have said that AFRICOM has three main goals: (1) to counter terrorism on African soil as part of the Global War on Terror, (2) to protect oil resources, recognizing that the US currently purchases approximately 24 percent of its oil from Africa, and (3) to counter China’s growing economic investment on the continent.
AFRICOM is designed to bring stability to Africa, but only as it serves US interests. It is our belief that AFRICOM will actually destabilize the continent in the long-run and will put our partners in Africa at risk. For all the talk of it being a new, innovative engagement, AFRICOM may simply serve to protect unpopular regimes that are friendly to US interests while Africa slips further into poverty, as was the case during the Cold War.
Creating security and stability in Africa is not something that can be accomplished by the U.S. military- by any military- regardless of specialized training and cooperation with experts and good intentions. If the US government truly wants to promote peace, stability, and human development in Africa, it should not do so by a military command but by offering a civilian-driven just security approach.
What is Africa's response?
According to DoD and State Department officials, most African governments have welcomed the presence of AFRICOM and have expressed positive interest.
However, according to our partners on the ground, African civil society, several African regional bodies, and most African governments, AFRICOM is not welcome on African soil. Many Africans have voiced a resounding “no” to AFRICOM. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which includes 14 Southern African nations, has publicly denounced AFRICOM and has said it will not tolerate the presence of an American military structure on its soil. Nigeria, Libya, Botswana have made similar statements. The only government to offer its country as a location for the AFRICOM headquarters is Liberia.
The DoD failed to adequately consult with African governments and regional bodies before announcing the establishment of the command, though now it appears to be in continued consultation with African governments.
Many Africans are concerned about the role of private military contractors such as DynCorp International, Blackwater Worldwide, and Northrup Grumman. Considering the notorious history of defense contractors in other “unstable” parts of the world, it is not unreasonable to see why there is a strong opposition to this. Several of these contractors are already engaged on the continent and have proved themselves incapable of adequately bringing security or stability to communities.
What are some alternatives to AFRICOM?
The US government should promote a just security doctrine. AFRICOM is not what the people of Africa need and it is not what will achieve long-term stability on the continent. What is needed is a boost in education, job opportunities, health care, debt relief, fair trade policies, and many other things that would ensure development, peace and prosperity. We believe it is essential to insist that:
- The role of Ambassadors as point-persons in US-Africa policy is maintained and that the command structure is delineated to ensure that diplomatic efforts do not fall under the jurisdiction of the military.
- Congress has sufficient oversight whether through regular reports or a special committee.
- Restrictions are placed on funding to ensure that private military sub-contractors are never used to carry out the mandate of AFRICOM.
- Restrictions are placed on funding to ensure that the military is under the same guidance as the State Department and that human rights violations never occur.
- When training and equipping foreign armies, local communities are made fully aware of US presence and its intended goals.
- The military acts in the most culturally respectful way possible when engaging in activities on the continent.
- Every decision is made with the interests of Africans in mind.