TEMA, Ghana (Nov. 23, 2007) Sailors assigned to the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) present soccer balls to children in support of Africa Partnership Station (APS). APS aims to support more than 20 humanitarian assistance projects in hopes of enhance regional maritime safety and security in west and central Africa. (071123-N-8483H-002 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Hills) From the Photo Gallery – African Partnership Station
I like this picture because it seems to me the faces of the young Ghanaians in this photo-op reflect the range of skepticism and interest that many Africans feel about AFRICOM.

Samuel Makinde, the Chair of Security, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism Studies at Murdoch University in Perth Australia, and who writes a weekly column in Nairobi’s Business Daily, has written an excellent article about Why AFRICOM has not won over Africans. He divides the questions about AFRICOM into three areas, paraphrased here:

  • The lack of any clear explanation or rationale for creation of the command.
  • The complete lack of transparency in creation and presentation of the command.
  • The creators of AFRICOM discount or disparage the advances Africa has made with respect to African security through the African Union as well as regional organizations.

On the lack of a clear explanation he says:

The African Union has important new security institutions, most notably the Peace and Security Council, which is charged with monitoring and preventing conflicts around the continent. In 2004, African leaders agreed to a Common Defense and Security Policy in order to enhance defense cooperation and ensure a collective response to threats to Africa and African states. Perhaps AFRICOM has a contribution to make in helping Africa achieve these objectives, but if so, this has not been explained by American officials.

Rather than a clear vision, U.S. officials have painted a confusing picture of an organization that seemingly plans to mix economic development and governance promotion activities, heretofore the responsibility of civilian agencies, with military activities. Africans, given the history of military coups that once plagued the continent, tend to regard this militarization of civilian space with great misgivings.__ . . .

Why have U.S. officials insisted that the command’s role would include addressing such issues as political instability, human rights abuses, good governance, poverty alleviation, the building of health clinics and schools, and the digging of wells?

These issues represent serious challenges in Africa, but a cross-section of people believe the military should be used to tackle them only in cases of emergency. Proposing them as long-term goals of the new combatant command has given the impression that the United States does not fully understand the concerns of Africans. It has also opened the way for critics to suggest that the American government’s good governance, development, and security rationales for a military command are a smokescreen intended to hide other and possibly nefarious objectives for AFRICOM.

Africans know that the militarization of political and economic space by African military leaders has been one of the factors that has held Africa back for decades. While African states are trying to put the culture of military rule behind them, the United States appears determined to demonstrate that most civilian activities in Africa should be undertaken by armed forces. To some African policy makers, this suggests that the U.S. Government lacks sympathy for what Africans so deeply want today, namely democratic systems in which the armed forces remain in the barracks.

On the second point, the lack of transparency, Makinde says:

African analysts and policy makers point out that in Africa today there is little or no transparency in discussions of AFRICOM or of U.S. military relations with African states generally. They note that . . . it has not been freely and openly discussed by the legislatures of the African states, even in countries that have been mentioned as possible sites for AFRICOM’s headquarters.

This prompts the question: what governance ethos would AFRICOM foster in the future if its current relationships with African governments are shrouded in secrecy?

And on coordination and cooperation with the African Union he says:

African analysts and policy makers believe that the Americans are taking the AU for granted and neglected consultation with AU officials before its announcement. They claim that one of AFRICOM’s Achilles heels is that it has no plans to cooperate with the AU’s Peace and Security Council and that AFRICOM has the potential to undermine the Common Defense and Security Policy, which prohibits the establishment of foreign military bases on the continent. If AFRICOM has no mechanisms for dealing with the AU, it also has no way of cooperating with the regional security mechanisms based on organizations such as the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which have played significant roles in conflict prevention and management.

Failing to cooperate and coordinate, lack of transparency, and concealing information are all hallmarks of the Bush administration approach to everything they do. No one should be surprised that AFRICOM was conceived and executed in this manner. The complete failure of the US to consult or coordinate with the African Union in creating AFRICOM is a breathtaking combination of ignorance and arrogance. Of course this is how the Bushies have conducted themselves for most of their administration. It is how they conduct themselves within the United States. The actual practice of democracy is quite alien to them. Their approach at all times is: we’ll do things our way, we won’t consult, and if you get in the way, we’ll run over you. Rather than being strong, they have made themselves and their country steadily weaker.