Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Africa Command (AFRICOM) Prospect and the Partition of Somalia

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Africa Command Prospect and the Partition of Somalia

Abukar Arman
December 19, 2007

As the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was recently visiting American forces in Djibouti, the Washington Post was reporting how the Pentagon has been spearheading a seemingly dicey initiative to pressure Washington into recognizing the secessionist northwestern region of Somalia known as “Somaliland” as an independent state.

In an article titled ‘U.S. Debating Shift of Support in Somali Conflict’ that appeared on December 4, 2007 issue, the Post highlights how some Pentagon officials are convinced it is time “to forge ties with Somaliland, as the U.S. military has with Kenya and other countries bordering Somalia.”

The article quotes a senior defense official who asserts that "Somaliland is an entity that works." And another unnamed official who confirms the Pentagon’s view is that "Somaliland should be independent," and that the US should “build up the parts that are functional and box in Somalia's unstable regions, particularly around Mogadishu.”

This initiative clearly contradicts the State Department’s wait-and-see approach to this diplomatically sensitive issue. And, handled haphazardly, this could set ablaze the volatile inter-tribal tensions looming in northern Somalia, and, according to the article, “set a precedent for other secession movements seeking to change colonial-era borders,” therefore, “opening a Pandora's box in the region.

That said, it is worth noting that aside from the on again, off again, clan-driven skirmishes that make headlines every now and then, throughout the Somali civil war, the northwestern region has enjoyed relative peace and stability.

Naturally, this unprecedented aggressive approach by the Department of Defense raises questions worth pondering: When did the Pentagon become the engine propelling the US foreign policy? Why would the Pentagon care whether or not Somaliland becomes an independent state or not? And, more importantly, how prudent is it to take this kind of an approach?

In answering the first question, remember how the events of 9/11 have “changed the world” and how as a result the notoriously Islamophobic Neocons ascended to (absolute) power; remember that moment in history when in certain circles it was fashionable to declare diplomacy dead and to claim militarization of the American foreign policy is imperative to the survival of the nation.

It is then when the rules of the game have profoundly changed. Today, while the icons of that political machine have disappeared for one reason or another, the policy imprint they left behind would probably take generations to undo.

Last summer, US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, addressed an audience of several hundred, mostly Somali scholars, activists, students, and professionals at a Somali studies conference held in Columbus, Ohio. In her speech, Dr. Frazer said “we were against the Ethiopian invasion”.

This, of course, contradicted what the Somali people and the world already knew- that in January 2007 Washington switched hats from a “tacit supporter” of Ethiopia’s aggression to an active partner in the illegal invasion. US Air Force AC-130 gunship has launched aerial attacks against "suspected Islamist terrorists" based in Somalia.

So, was Dr. Frazer not being entirely honest? Perhaps not, though her statement was cleverly inserted in a context which could only give the impression that Ethiopia has invaded Somalia in spite of Washington’s objections. After all her statement was consistent with the State Department’s position; alas, that was superseded by the hawkish wishes of the Pentagon. And this brings me to the latter of the two original questions. And the simple answer is the establishment of the Africa Command or AFRICOM as it is commonly known.

AFRICOM is a US command center completely devoted to Africa. The primary objective of the command center is to promote US national security by “working with African states and regional organizations to help strengthen stability and security…” and creating an environment in which sustainable economic growth is possible. The command center is supposed to focus on “war prevention rather than war-fighting”.

It is no secret that many in the Pentagon consider the Somali port city of Berbera as the ideal location for AFRICOM. However, considering the site-selection criteria jointly developed by the Pentagon and the State Department that include “political stability; security factors; access to regional and intercontinental transportation; availability of acceptable infrastructure; qualify of life; proximity to the African Union and regional organizations; proximity to U.S. government hubs; adequate Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA),” Somalia might not look as a prime candidate.

However, detaching the secessionist northwestern region from the rest of chaotic Somalia gives a different picture. This explains why the Pentagon's view is that "Somaliland should be independent."

The Pentagon is pressed against time. October 2008 is the deadline when AFRICOM is supposed to be fully operational. In the mean time, Somalia’s situation is worsening by the day. The situation there is now considered the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. According to the UN, approximately one million civilians fleeing Mogadishu have become internally displaced persons (IDP) threatened by severe food shortage.

Oblivious to the scale of this humanitarian catastrophe and how their approach could potentially add another layer of complexity, the Pentagon is eager to accelerate the establishment of AFRICOM, especially now that China is making profound stride in Africa and the European Union is following suit. However, the real set back to Washington is its own self-defeating foreign policy that is treated as suspect everywhere.

According to Congressman Donald Payne, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Washington should expect “a lot of skepticism, because there has been so little attention given to Africa…All of a sudden to have a special military command, I think the typical person would wonder why now and really what is the end game?"

The neocons’ legacy, the DADD syndrome, or the Diplomatic Attention Deficit Disorder, is still propelling Washington’s foreign policy and continues to project America negatively throughout the world, especially in the Muslim world and Africa.

The US foreign policy regarding Somalia ought to focus on ending the Ethiopian occupation and therefore ending their widely condemned human rights abuses, as well as facilitating an all inclusive reconciliation conference before the 2009 general elections.

This is congruent, at least in part, with a nine point recommendation articulated in a communiqué issued by the Somali Cause upon the conclusion of its two day conference on December 1, 2007.

Somali Cause is a nine member coalition, Eight US based organizations and one Canada based- the Somali Canadian Diaspora Alliance.
Abukar Arman is a freelance writer who lives in Ohio.

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Why Europe is re-focusing
attention on Africa

By Zhang Bihon Xinhua

BRUSSELS--The Europeans, who once colonized Africa for scores of years, have refocused their attention on Africa in recent years following decades of neglect.

After a seven-year delay, the second EU-Africa Summit is finally to take place in Lisbon on Dec. 8-9, with the Europeans aiming at establishing a special relationship with their former colonies. So why are the Europeans focusing on the continent again?

‘Strategic revolution’

Louis Michel, European Union (EU) Commissioner for relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific States, said Friday in his “Europe-Africa: the indispensable partnership” speech to a conference organized by the European Policy Center that the EU needed to create its “strategic revolution” on Africa to change the nature of its relationship with Africa.

He proposed a “comprehensive, ambitious and sustainable” new partnership on the basis of a balanced sharing of responsibility between partners with equal rights and duties.

European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso wanted to put Africa as “a priority in our external relations,” describing the summit as “not ordinary” and “a new departure in the relations between the two continents.”

Barroso urged to “change radically our approaches to each other, moving away from the mere donor-beneficiary relationship to launch a true partnership between Africa and Europe, based on common interests and tackling together global challenges.”

Michel echoed Barroso as saying that the summit should be taken as a launch pad for a new era in relationship and “must mark the end of a relationship rooted in conservatism and sometimes in prejudice on both sides and mark the start of a recognition of real opportunities that are at hand for both sides.”

Reasons for change

The Europeans have re-discovered the geostrategic significance of Africa in the globalization process as their dependence on energy imports deepens.

As the world is changing under combined influence of the globalization of economy and the “multi-polarization” of power, Africa “is evolving and changing more than many other regions of the world,” as Michel put it.

He cited economic, strategic and security, and challenges over power as the three “sets of challenges” that made the change of relationship crucial to Europe.

Globalization of the eco­nomy was reflected in the greater than ever determination of the economic powers to access the vast resources of the African continent to pursue their continued economic expansion.

“Africa thus has a pivotal role in the new geopolitics of energy, driven by high demand of oil and gas,” as it has a 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves and had taken on strategic importance in the race for oil fields and in the diversification of the sources of supply.

Africa has also become a theater of global strategic and security challenges as poverty, terrorism and illegal trafficking prevailed the continent.

Michel said that world powers such as the United States, India and Brazil “have now made Africa the scene of a new ‘Great game’” as they were jockeying for position.

“The United States is back in force in Africa as part of its global strategic vision,” he pointed out.

Improving ties

“Europe occupies a unique position vis-a-vis Africa by virtue of its geography and by virtue of history which has left us a common multifaceted legacy,” Michel said, but the EU and its member states “do not appear to be taking advantage of their unique position.”

Michel listed the attitudes of the EU member states, Afro-pessimism in Europe and the attitude of the African side toward the Europeans as the reasons.

He explained that the colonial heritage and the power instinct created a situation where some member states forged strong bilateral links with their African partners, which only “serves to complicate Europe’s position as a global partner for Africa.”


Afro-pessimism has still prevailed in Europe, “not just in the circles of power, but in public opinion too,” according to Michel.Africa continues to be regarded as a “problem” by the Europeans.

African leaders were clear that “Africa is no longer Euope’s private domain” and they often criticized Europeans for their overcautious and backward-looking approach.