One of the Foreign Service's most experienced Africa specialists assesses the Pentagon's new Africa Command, what it is, what it will do, and how it will relate to American embassies and ambassadors on the continent. There will be issues, he finds, but they can be managed, and it will be "up to U.S. ambassadors in the field to guide all these new boots into careful paths."--Ed.
In October 2007 AFRICOM, America's new military command for Africa, assumed responsibilities for the continent that theretofore had been divided among EUCOM (European Command, for most of Africa), CENTCOM (Central Command, for the Horn, Sudan, and Kenya), and PACOM (Pacific Command, for Indian Ocean islands).
Rationale for the new command is that it will improve the U.S. military focus on Africa and enhance American support for the development of African military establishments. Led by General William E. Ward and deputies Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates and Admiral Robert T. Moeller, AFRICOM is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, where it is destined to remain for the foreseeable future.
- While many African governments embrace the idea of more attention to their military needs, they are hesitant about seeing great power militarization of Africa and apprehensive about the perception (as much as the reality) of undermining continental neutrality enshrined in the Organization of African Unity and African Union charters. Others are skeptical about America's real intentions, fearing a hidden agenda of hegemony.
The lack of a well articulated, clear explanation for the evolution to the new command from the U.S. government, coupled with concerns arising from the American military posture in Iraq and Afghanistan, have tended to excite and feed fodder to critics. They, in turn, decry extension of a global war on Islam, preparation to annex African oil fields, and U.S. military interference in politics, including regime change for nations that run afoul of Washington's capricious whims. Of course, all of this so bluntly stated is balderdash, but there are kernels of truth within. U.S. policy does combat terrorism, and much of the global variety has Islamic connections. We want the world's oil supplies to be secure, and we do criticize autocratic regimes, especially those like Robert Mugabe's in Zimbabwe that egregiously abuse the rights of their people.
Observers are correct, however, in raising questions, because both the Defense and State Departments intend AFRICOM to be different from other Combatant Commands (CoComs). It will have as yet undefined responsibilities and tasks beyond the purely military sphere. For example, staffing plans call for a State Foreign Service Officer as lead deputy (Ambassador Yates is already in place) and up to a hundred or more civilian interagency personnel. If nothing else, this demonstrates a clear intent for programs that focus on humanitarian and development issues. Such organization supports an...