Abayomi Azikiwe (right), editor of the Pan-African News Wire, along with (right to left) David Sole of MECAWI, Mike Kelly of Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME) and Derrick Grigsby of MECAWI. (Photo: Cheryl LaBash, WW).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Skepticism Greets New US Africa Command
By TODD PITMAN
Associated Press Writer
1:55 PM CST, November 6, 2007
Just a few years ago, the U.S. military was rarely seen in the oil-rich waters of West Africa's Gulf of Guinea. This year, it plans to be there every day.
The strategic importance of Africa and its natural resources is on the rise, and the Defense Department last month created a new unified U.S. military command for the continent called Africom.
The first American mission to Africa since that move began Monday when a Navy cruiser, the USS Fort McHenry, arrived in Senegal's capital to begin a half-year training exercise for African naval forces around the Gulf of Guinea.
For American commanders, Africom means consolidating responsibility for a continent previously split among three other regional commands, each of which viewed Africa as a secondary interest.
However, Africom's creation has provoked so much skepticism on the continent that one of the most basic questions -- where it will be located -- remains unresolved.
Some Africans are concerned the new command could draw the continent deeper into the global war on terrorist groups.
Others wonder if it is meant to protect America's competitive stake in African oil and other resources increasingly sought by rising powers like China and India. The continent has surpassed the Persian Gulf as the leading supplier of oil to the United States.
"Africans have a feeling Africom represents something more than what is being sold to them," said Wafula Okumu, an analyst at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies. "If it was packaged a different way and better explained, maybe it could be a success."
U.S. officials concede America's strategic interests come first. But Africom's deputy for military operations, Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, said the command will allow the United States "to do more with our African partners when it makes sense to do so and where it's in their interest to do so."
There is a misconception that Africom is part of "a U.S. effort to militarize Africa, and that's definitely not the case," Moeller said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The U.S. military is already well-entrenched in Africa, spending around $250 million a year on military assistance programs, said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Since 2002, about 1,800 American military personnel have been stationed in Djibouti as part of efforts to stifle terrorist networks in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia. Money is also being poured into the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, which has focused on training armies in western and northern African nations from Algeria to Nigeria.
Moeller said Africom will bring no new U.S. military bases to the continent and no substantial changes in America's military role here for the foreseeable future. Its aim is to help Africans with military training and support peacekeeping and aid operations crucial to stability and the prevention of conflict, he said.
Regional powers including Libya, Nigeria and South Africa have expressed deep reservations, partly because they believe Africom could undermine their influence, analysts said. So far, only Liberia has publicly stated a willingness to host Africom, though even critics like Nigeria welcome the continuation of the U.S. training programs.
Led by Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, Africom is expected to be fully operational within a year, spending the next 12 months getting ready.
With a budget of $50 million this fiscal year, Africom is responsible for 53 countries in Africa and the island nations surrounding it -- everything except Egypt, which will remain under the U.S. Central Command because of its proximity and importance to the Middle East.
Kurt Shillinger, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said the Pentagon has failed to allay concerns of Africans who see "this as a Trojan horse through which the U.S. will pursue and defend its key interests in Africa."
African nations supply the United States with more than 24 percent of its oil -- more than the Persian Gulf, at 20 percent, the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration says. Much of that crude comes from or through the Gulf of Guinea.
Moeller said increasing security in the gulf is partly an issue of open markets. The U.S. wants to work with "African partners to make sure the resources that emanate from the continent are available to the global community," he said.
Internal conflict in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, has sporadically disrupted the flow of its crude, and offshore platforms along the western coast are little-protected because most countries have only small navies.
The U.S. naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea -- measured by "ship days" -- has increased more than 50 percent since last year, said Lt. Brian Badura, a spokesman for the 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy, which commands American warships in these waters. From just a handful of days in 2004, the Navy expects to have a daily presence over the next year.
In a first for America's global combat commands, Africom will have a deputy commander who is a civilian responsible for overseeing civil-military affairs and coordinating with other U.S. government agencies.
Africom officials say that post highlights the importance of humanitarian operations to U.S. goals in Africa, but even that has spurred controversy.
"Why should they be using the military to promote development when they already have institutions within the U.S. government that are better capable and more acceptable?" asked Okumu at the Institute for Security Studies.
Analysts said there has been criticism of the command within the U.S. government itself, notably from State Department officials.
Shillinger said some officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development worry their humanitarian programs could be "stigmatized" by direct links with the military, which has melded aid programs with combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- wars unpopular in most of Africa.
Moeller said the command's relationship with Africa and other U.S. agencies will be "collaborative." It will "not be taking the lead" in aid operations or U.S. policy, he said.
For now, Africom has just over 200 staff members, and is based in Stuttgart, Germany.
Moeller said where it is established is an issue to be decided with "our African partners." Instead of one central headquarters, there may be smaller offices in five regions, each with one or two dozen staff, officials said.
Theresa Whelan, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, estimates 80 percent of the command's eventual staff of around 800 will be based outside Africa.
"Having a presence on the continent in some form is certainly a goal," Moeller said. But "ultimately it has to be agreed to by the Africans."
The cruiser now in the region, the Fort McHenry, can skirt the issue. The self-sustaining, helicopter-equipped warship can serve as a mobile base for training African forces in maritime security -- and move on.
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press
This article can be found on the web at
Say No to Africom
by DANNY GLOVER & NICOLE C. LEE
from the November 19, 2007 issue
With little scrutiny from Democrats in Congress and nary a whimper of protest from the liberal establishment, the United States will soon establish permanent military bases in sub-Saharan Africa. An alarming step forward in the militarization of the African continent, the US Africa Command (Africom) will oversee all US military and security interests throughout the region, excluding Egypt. Africom is set to launch by September 2008 and the Senate recently confirmed Gen. William "Kip" Ward as its first commander.
General Ward told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Africom would first seek "African solutions to African problems." His testimony made Africom sound like a magnanimous effort for the good of the African people. In truth Africom is a dangerous continuation of US military expansion around the globe. Such foreign-policy priorities, as well as the use of weapons of war to combat terrorist threats on the African continent, will not achieve national security. Africom will only inflame threats against the United States, make Africa even more dependent on external powers and delay responsible African solutions to continental security issues.
The US militarization of Africa is further rationalized by George W. Bush's claims that Africom "will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa" and promote the "goals of development, health, education, democracy and economic growth." Yet the Bush Administration fails to mention that securing and controlling African wealth and natural resources is key to US trade interests, which face growing competition from China. Transnational corporations rely on Africa for petroleum, uranium and diamonds--to name some of the continent's bounty. West Africa currently provides 15 percent of crude oil imports to the United States, and that figure is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2015.
Policy-makers seem to have forgotten the legacy of US intervention in Africa. During the cold war, African nations were used as pawns in postcolonial proxy wars, an experience that had a devastating impact on African democracy, peace and development. In the past Washington has aided reactionary African factions that have carried out atrocities against civilians. An increased US military presence in Africa will likely follow this pattern of extracting resources while aiding factions in some of their bloodiest conflicts, thus further destabilizing the region.
Misguided unilateral US military policy to "bring peace and security to the people of Africa" has, in fact, led to inflamed local conflicts, destabilization of entire regions, billions of wasted dollars and the unnecessary deaths of US soldiers. The US bombing of Somalia in January--an attempt to eradicate alleged Islamic extremists in the Horn of Africa--resulted in the mass killing of civilians and the forced exodus of refugees into neighboring nations. What evidence suggests Africom will be an exception?
In contrast, Africa has demonstrated the capacity to stabilize volatile situations on its own. For example, in 1990 the Economic Community of West African States set up an armed Monitoring Group (Ecomog) in response to the civil war in Liberia. At their height, Ecomog forces in Liberia numbered 12,000, and it was these forces--not US or UN troops--that kept Liberia from disintegrating. In another mission, Ecomog forces were instrumental in repelling rebels from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.
There are a range of initiatives that can be taken by the US government and civil society to provide development and security assistance to Africa that do not include a US military presence. Foremost, policy toward Africa must be rooted in the principles of African self-determination and sovereignty. The legitimate and urgent development and security concerns of African countries cannot be fixed by dependence on the United States or any other foreign power. Instead of military strategies, African countries need immediate debt cancellation, fair trade policies and increased development assistance that respects indigenous approaches to building sustainable communities. Civil wars, genocide and terrorist threats can and must be confronted by a well-equipped African Union military command.
American policy-makers should be mindful that South Africa, whose citizens overthrew the US-supported apartheid regime, opposes Africom. In addition, Nigeria and the fourteen-nation Southern African Development Community resist Africom. These forces should be joined by other African governments and citizens around the world, to develop Africa's own strong, effective and timely security capacities. Progressive US-Africa policy organizations and related civil society groups have not been sufficiently organized to bring this critical issue before the people of the United States. It is urgent that we persuade progressive US legislators to stop the militarization of aid to Africa and to help ensure Africa's rise to responsible self-determination.