AFRICOM in US transformational diplomacy.

Author:Dumbuya, Peter A.


President George W. Bush's decision to create the Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007 might have signaled the end of what Abel Esterhuyse has described as a "very cautious and defensive" US approach to its national security involvement in post-World War II Africa. Instead of adopting "a more proactive and preventative approach in protecting and extending US security and other interests in Africa," Washington "very often lost interest in Africa and, indeed, had to "rediscover" Africa at several junctions during the post-World War II era." In this paper, I extend Esterhuyse's analytical framework to examine the critically important pre-1945 era during which the US laid the foundation for its post-World War II relations with Africa. (1) This involves the interrogation of three inter-related factors that underscore AFRICOM's creation, stand-up as a unified combatant command, and relevance to Africa's contemporary security issues.

First, I historicize US relations with Africa from the Barbary Wars of the early 19th century, when America's military complex began to take shape, to the onset of the Cold War. (2) In this period the US Navy was engaged in Africa in pursuit of strategic, commercial, trade, and humanitarian interests that included the interdiction of slave ships headed for the Americas. (3) America's military and diplomatic engagements with Africa continued during World Wars I and II. After World War II, Africa became a Cold War battleground between the US and its western allies on the one hand and, on the other, the then Soviet Union and its communist bloc allies. All of these events and interactions should have accorded Africa a place in the strategic thinking of Washington planners. And when policy makers did begin to recognize the continent's strategic importance, their reactions were uncoordinated between the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), two of the most important diplomatic and national security departments of the US government.

Second, President Bush's decision to establish AFRICOM followed somewhat bleak assessments of Africa as a continent that is strategically important but that it "continue[s] to pose the greatest security stability challenge" to the area of responsibility (AOR) of the European Command (EUCOM) to which over two-thirds of the continent was wedded at the time. The Pentagon, led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had concluded that Africa needed its own combatant command because its security challenges were impinging on EUCOM's ability to carry out its traditional warfighting responsibilities in Europe. Since Africa's challenges were mainly developmental ones, AFRICOM would utilize scarce resources and personnel from the DOD, DOS, and other US government departments and agencies to carry out its mission. (4) AFRICOM's establishment also shed light on what US-Africa security experts have often overlooked, which is that the DOD, through reorganization of its command structure between 2007/08, accomplished what the DOS had achieved by 1958 when it separated African affairs from European affairs with the ere ation of the Bureau of African Affairs with an Assistant Secretary of State. By establishing both the Bureau of African Affairs with geographic responsibilities for Africa and AFRICOM, colonial ties and Cold War imperatives that once justified the lumping together of European and African responsibilities in one command structure were severed. But while the DOS slowly loosened Africa's institutional and structural ties to Europe as decolonization gained momentum after World War II, the DOD, beginning in 1952, selected only North Africa for inclusion in EUCOM. The rest of the continent remained outside of America's military command structure until 2008. (5)

Third, moving forward I examine the extent to which AFRICOM's mission to promote US national security interests cohere with contemporary Africa's multifaceted security challenges. Since much success depends on forging mutually beneficial partnerships, I examine US bilateral and multilateral cooperation with African countries to strengthen their own military capabilities which Washington sees as necessary for the region's stability and security in the postCold War world. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) can serve as a vehicle for US multilateral military cooperation with Africa thereby limiting the US military's footprint on the continent. With the African Standby Force (ASF) as its military arm, the PSC is in a position to implement security policies and strategies that are mutually beneficial to the US and its partner African countries. This cooperative model, if successful, can also blunt criticism of AFRICOM as a tool for the militarization of US relations with Africa.

From Barbary Wars to World War II

Most, if not all, of the literature describes Africa as unimportant to US strategic interests or that Washington acts only when it perceives a threat to such interests. This thinking, I argue, ignores more than two centuries of interactions with Africa dating back to March 1785 when the US Congress empowered various ministers, who had been authorized by a commission in May 1784, to negotiate treaties of peace and amity with the Barbary powers. With an expense account of $80,000, the agents went to Morocco and Algiers. In Morocco, Thomas Barclay, the US Consul-General in Paris, eventually concluded a treaty with Sultan Sidi Muhammad XVI in 1786. The importance of the treaty lay in the fact that the US carried on a "useful commerce" in the region and because "our Atlantic and Mediterranean trade is open to his annoyance," meaning that without some sort of understanding with the US the Sultan or pirates operating out of Morocco could have disrupted that vital commerce. (6) A similar threat to commerce emanated from Algiers where pirates seized two vessels, detained twenty-one persons as slaves, and demanded a ransom of $59,496 for the captives. When Congress proved unable to pay the ransom, Algiers declared war against the US. In the end the George Washington administration was forced to conclude a treaty of peace with Algiers for the sum of $40,000 to be followed by an annual payment of $25,000 during the life of the treaty. The US signed a final treaty with Algiers in December 1816 to end hostilities that had begun in 1793 when it could not pay a $40,000 ransom to free thirteen American captives. (7)

The 1786 treaty with Morocco was one of the first the US signed with an independent state to safeguard trade in the Mediterranean Sea. According to a report to the President and members of the House of Representatives in December 1790, Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, stated that US exports to the Barbary States bordering on the Mediterranean Sea consisted principally of wheat and flour, dried and pickled fish, and rice. Annually between 80 and 100 American ships with 1200 seamen plied the Mediterranean Sea, but that trade was being disrupted and interfered with by the Barbary powers whose pirates operated with near-impunity. The ensuing Barbary Wars, the first lasting from 1801-1805 and the second in 1815, gave birth to America's naval and military forces. The nascent US Navy engaged the Barbary pirates, but a combination of "hard" military power and "soft" diplomatic power in the form of special gifts, tributes, and ransom payments to various leaders eventually ended the Barbary States' interference with US trade, merchant vessels, and citizens in the Mediterranean Sea. (8)

In the first half of the 19th century, philanthropic organizations and individuals helped define US interests in Africa. Among these interests were the suppression of the trans-Atlantic slave trade which involved the US Navy's interdiction of slave ships headed for the Americas, free trade, humanitarian causes, and colonization activities. (9) It was during this period that the American Colonization Society (ACS) began to resettle freed African Americans in Liberia in 1822. The ACS expressed the hope that "the slow but gradual abolition of slavery" could be accomplished by colonizing free people of color in the West coast of Africa. (10) ACS members and their allies in the American Geographic Society (AGS) continuously showcased Liberia as a model for resolving an American "social question" by establishing self-governing colonies for free people of color in Africa. (11) By mid-century, Britain and France had instructed their naval officers and consuls in West Africa not only to identify the nationalities of slave traders but also to suppress the slave trade itself. The US Navy interdicted slave ships and had their human cargoes freed by American courts for repatriation to Africa. In 1860 President James Buchanan's administration held up the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 (Articles VIII & IX) as the best and most efficient tool to suppress the trans-Atlantic slave trade by the US and Britain. (12) Washington also sent war ships to West and Central Africa, including the Congo River, to explore prospects for commercial transactions with various African kingdoms. These included the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (June 1879) which was led by Commodore Robert W. Shufeldt, the Kearsarge, and the Lancaster (December 1884). (13)

On the diplomatic front, Henry S. Sanford, a former US diplomat to Belgium during the Civil War, began to press for US recognition of the Belgian King Leopold II's International Association (IA) and the so-called Congo Free State in April 1884. Recognition led Germany to invite the US, led by its Minister to Germany John A. Kasson, to participate in the Berlin Conference of November 1884 February 1885. Even though the conference produced a General Act, the US entered into an independent commercial treaty with the Congo Free State; the US Senate ratified both documents in January 1892. (14) Congo's commercial importance to the US led President Chester A. Arthur...

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