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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

Africa: Revisiting U.S. military expansion

On July 20, Gen. William “Kip” Ward, the senior officer of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), spoke at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. He emphasized (a) AFRICOM’s “recognized legitimacy” and (b) that AFRICOM is indeed working “for American interests.” The following article was written by Jennifer Schutzman, intern in the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

AFRICOM was launched in 2008 in response to the growing strategic interests of the U.S. on the African continent. Its implementation reorganized all U.S. intervention in Africa, with the Department of Defense given the lead mandate. The 2010 FY budget included $1.4 billion for AFRICOM, while the entire U.S. State Department receives only $53.9 million. This continued emphasis on military involvement over diplomacy puts at risk the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, the safety of non-military personnel and the value of all diplomatic tools.

During the CSIS panel, Gen. Ward made it clear that AFRICOM is no longer facing questions of legitimacy – “why” its presence is necessary.

Now its leaders are addressing “how” AFRICOM’s strategy will be implemented. Michael Phelan from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee commented that it is “encouraging” that AFRICOM is not seen as a modern form of colonization or a bully seeking to control resources.

However, this declaration of legitimacy is largely exaggerated in that it does not seem to represent African opinion. The AU Monitor reports that “African leaders are against AFRICOM because they think that the command is meant to benefit the United States and not their countries.” In fact, just one of 53 African countries – Liberia – was willing to host the AFRICOM headquarters. To date, the headquarters remains in Stuttgartt, Germany.

Gen. Ward himself declared at the same forum that AFRICOM “is about one thing and it’s about pursuit of American interest. And if anyone thinks that what Kip Ward does, having worn this uniform for 39 years is about anything else than that, then you’re probably smoking something that you ought not be smoking.”

African civil society fears that AFRICOM is a modern-day attempt by a Western power to control African resources. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has publicly argued against this military presence. Violation of international law has also come into question. The National Conference of Black Lawyers charges AFRICOM with protecting U.S. interests over respect for the equality of sovereign nations as mandated by the UN Charter.

In fact, only the leaders of AFRICOM themselves have stopped asking “why” the U.S. must have military control over Africa.

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns recently co-signed a letter to Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), thanking him for holding a critical hearing on AFRICOM. Other members of Congress, including Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), have raised the question of legitimacy in high military spending when reviewing the national debt. (Over 40 percent of the U.S. tax dollars goes towards the military.) During this current economic crisis it is painful to see that approximately two percent goes into jobs and the economy, while millions fund a growing U.S. military presence in Africa.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in July conveying its lack of confidence in the AFRICOM structure. The GAO reports that “AFRICOM is generally not measuring the long-term effects of its activities to determine whether they fully align with the command’s mission ... specifically, DOD and State have not carried out systematic program monitoring of funds for projects that, among other things train and equip partner nations’ militaries to conduct counterterrorism operations.” American University’s Prof. Carl LeVan warns that “[t]his is a scandal waiting to happen along any number of scenarios, including possibilities such as failed projects touted as big successes, or the actual example offered by staff at an East African embassy: the choice of location for a well disrupted and destabilized local clan relations.”

In order to support the achievement of sustainable peace in Africa, U.S. policy makers should reverse the dangerous imbalance between military and civilian agencies, prioritize long-term stability over the protection of a narrowly-defined set of national interests, and stop the financing, training, and equipping of non-U.S. militaries.

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns participates in the recently organized Africa Human Security Working Group (AHSWG) to educate lawmakers about the dangers of this continued Cold War strategy of strengthening militaries in African countries regardless of citizen opinion or the protection of democratic values. According to its mission statement, the AHSWG works “[f]or a U.S. foreign policy that does no harm; that prioritizes civilian leadership, development and diplomacy; and that is grounded in true partnership with the AU, African governments, and civil society.”

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