A Unified US African Command (Africom), to Africa’s Advantage?
Thursday, Jul. 26, 2007 at 8:34 PM
On 7 February 2007, US President George W Bush publicly announced that he had directed his Department of Defence (DoD) to develop and establish a Unified Command for Africa (Africom) by the end of September 2008. This would assume responsibility for the African continent (excluding Egypt) from the US European and Central Commands. This raised a number of suspicions in Africa about the US government’s motives for such an initiative.
23 July 2007
By: Henri Boshoff
Partly in an effort to allay such apprehensions the US DoD has made a number of visits to various African countries, Regional Economic Communities and the African Union in an attempt to explain the Africom concept. During the second week of July a high level delegation led by Theresa Whelan, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Africa and General Kip Ward, who will be the first commander of Africom, visited South Africa to make public and private presentations on the topic.
According to some diplomatic sources, South Africa is one of the countries leading the anti-Africom campaign. US Ambassador to South Africa, Eric Bost, claimed that the South African Minister of Defence had refused to meet with the US delegation on Africom, and a US-sponsored African military exercise was postponed earlier this month. Answering questions about her government’s response to the outright rejection of Africom by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Whelan said that would be fine, but that the US would simply cut off military relations with SADC as an organisation while continuing to engage with amenable countries in Southern Africa on an individual basis.
Politicians, analysts and journalists reacted differently to the perceived positions of South Africa and SADC. Jakkie Cilliers, Director of the Institute for Security Studies was quoted as advocating a pragmatic and sensible response to Africom. He said it should be clear that the US was motivated primarily by its own security interests, and that these did not always coincide with those of Africa; Somalia was a case in point. He also suggested that Africans work with the US as far as possible to redirect Africom from an obsession with the war on terrorism towards training and other support for the continent’s own security operations such as those envisioned for the Africa Standby Force. He added that the fact that the US had already agreed to distribute Africom structures around the continent and to engage more directly with the continent’s own institutions, might indicate a measure of Washington’s responsiveness to such an initiative. Cilliers also pointed out that Whelan was correct to point out that the US is supporting the AU missions in Somalia and Darfur as well as providing funding for the United Nations missions in Africa. The current difficulties of making the African Standby Force operational or conducting effective AU peacekeeping missions in Darfur and Somalia might also give pause for thought before jeopardising military relations with the US, as the SADC is apparently doing.
In an article on 22 July 2007, Greg Mills, of the Brenthurst Foundation, and his co-authors also asked how the US could improve the focus of Africom to address African as much as US interests. They suggested four priorities:
Educational opportunities for African officers should be expanded and training should focus on civil-military cooperation, strategic planning, doctrinal development and logistics.
Equipment offered to African militaries should prioritise the logistical hardware required to support disaster relief and peacekeeping missions.
Africom should help increase the peacekeeping capabilities of African militaries.
Africom should also support internal security capacity, police and border police.
It is apparent that there is a considerable gap to be closed between African and US perceptions of each other’s legitimate security interests and how these should find expression in military and security co-operation.
Henri Boshoff, Military Analyst, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)