The Role of Africom in Africa

Foreign Policy has a good article that disputes the myths and perceptions about the role of Africom in Africa.  There are 5 lessons that are the goals for Africom:

Lesson 1: Africom does not create policy. One of the most serious criticisms leveled at Africom is that the organization represents a U.S. military takeover of the foreign-policy process. This is certainly not true, though I suspect some of our more outspoken critics have been so vocal about this that it is quite challenging for them to change course.

Lesson 2: Africom must work hand in hand with the diplomatic corps. It’s no secret that Africom’s early rollout was met by concern within some quarters of the foreign-policy community. We’ve worked hard to allay those concerns. Despite the warnings of skeptics, the past three years have not seen any dramatic increase in numbers of U.S. personnel or military funding directed at Africa. Depending on how you count the figures, the U.S. military represents between 5 and 10 percent of all U.S. government spending in Africa, and we do not anticipate significant future shifts. We believe diplomacy, development, and defense should work hand in hand — and in balance — to achieve long-term security. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has spoken eloquently about the need to increase funding for diplomacy and development and has warned of what he calls “excessive militarization.”

The U.S. military has been working with African militaries for decades, but the work was not sustained and integrated as effectively as it probably could have been to complement and better support the activities of other agencies of the U.S. government. In many ways, Africom was devised as a test platform for helping the military as an institution to better understand its role in supporting diplomacy and development. State Department and USAID officials serve in senior billets on the staff, advising the military on the best way to support their agencies. And yes, they frequently send message traffic back to their home offices to help ensure the military understands its subordinate role in Africa.

All the U.S. military’s work in Africa is done with the approval of U.S. ambassadors.

Lesson 3: Keep our footprint in Africa limited. We have also been accused of looking to establish military bases across the African continent. This was false when the rumors arose at the time of Africom’s creation and remains false today. Africom’s headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany, and we are not looking for any other location. Misconceptions arose when, in the early months of 2007, some people in the U.S. Defense Department community considered the idea of positioning small teams regionally to better coordinate the command’s day-to-day partnerships. However, there was never a formal search, and as soon as the command opened its doors in October 2007, we made it clear that we intended to stay in Stuttgart for the foreseeable future.

Our footprint in Africa remains purposefully limited. We have only one forward operating base, at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, established in 2002 under the U.S. Central Command. In 2008, Africom inherited the base, which is an ideal site for supporting our military-to-military programs across eastern Africa and also serves as a key node in the Defense Department’s global transportation infrastructure. We are not seeking any additional bases.

Lesson 4: Africom is most effective when it listens to the concerns of its African partners. The consistent message we hear from the leadership and the people of Africa is that they want to provide for their own security. Despite sometimes difficult histories, many African nations today are working to develop professional security forces that follow the rule of law and protect all their peoples. African nations today make up more than 40 percent of all international peacekeepers deployed throughout Africa with the United Nations and African Union. Their goal is for Africans to make up 100 percent of the peacekeeping forces within Africa. By building a regionally focused African Standby Force, the African Union seeks to play an ever-greater role in bringing peace and security to turbulent regions on the continent.

Rather than deploying large numbers of U.S. military forces, we accomplish our goals by conducting hundreds of what we refer to as “capacity-building” events each year. Africom sends small teams of specialists to dozens of countries to offer our perspective on military topics such as leadership, the importance of civilian control of the military, the importance of an inspector general program, the finer points of air-traffic control and port security, aircraft maintenance, military law, and squad tactics for a unit preparing for peacekeeping deployment or patrols against violent extremist groups — the list goes on. Even though we are showing and explaining how we do business, we are not imposing U.S. methods upon our partners. After all, our practices might not be right for them — that is a question they must answer, based on the information they receive not only from us, but from their many international partners.

Lesson 5: Don’t expect instant results. Our partners in Africa warn us that we must adopt an “African time” perspective. We should not expect quick results or approach the continent with a “make it happen now” mindset. At the same time, we do see slow, steady progress. Coups are decreasingly tolerated as a means of acceptable regime change, and in some cases, such as Mauritania, we have seen militaries take stock of the international community and make steady progress in restoring civil authority. Much of our work is aimed at reinforcing African success stories so that we can work together as capable partners to address regional and global concerns.

Let there be no mistake. Africom’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests. That is what nations and militaries do. But we also have found that our own national interest in a stable and prosperous Africa is shared strongly by our African partners. By working together, we can pursue our shared interests more effectively…….Across the continent, we work closely within the framework of the overall U.S. government effort. As a military organization, we do not create policy. Rather, we support those policy decisions and coordinate our actions closely with the State Department, U.S. embassies in the region, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other U.S. government agencies that have been trusted partners in Africa for decades.

Africom was created to promote U.S. foreign policy in Africa, while also promoting the long-term aspirations of the African people. This is the way that some view this new or “updated” policy focus on the African continent. Yes, they are critics about the whole role of a military command just for Africa, but the US also has military commands for other regions of the world. So it was about time that Africa begin receiving some attention and focus in my view. This increased attention and reporting will only in the long run produce better policy prescriptions and new line of thinking from a new crop of academics and public servants across the continent.

Previous post on Africom here.

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