A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop.

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop (2007).

To understand AFRICOM, it is important to look at where the energy and where the money are focused.

In May b real wrote at Moon of Alabama:

… maintaining control of the perception of AFRICOM is very important in the initial stages of the new command. However, since the official public image of AFRICOM (”a new kind of command” combining humanitarian missions with the pentagon’s soft power capabilities to help Africans help themselves) hardly matches up with the command’s true mission (secure and guarantee U.S. access to vital energy sources and distribution channels while containing China’s growing superpower status), AFRICOM, and everyone involved in promoting it, will remain beset by their own contradictions and weaknesses.

An article at CNN reports:

Africom’s deputy for military operations, Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, said in a telephone interview Monday … “Our primary responsibility … is working with our African partners to help them build their security capacity” — mainly by training armies and peacekeepers. Moeller added that “a secure and stable Africa is very, very much in U.S. strategic interests.”

And from General Ward in another story:

“Our primary mission is to work with the nations of Africa and their organizations to assist them in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security,” Gen. William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters during the inauguration ceremony of AFRICOM.

And yet, Refugees International reports AFRICOM’s security budget is meager:

Currently, no funds are allocated for security sector and governance capacity-building for African nations. Instead, funding is being requested for Global War on Terror priorities.

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.

From CNN again:

Africans believe Africom is aimed at promoting America’s interests, not Africa’s,” said Wafula Okumu, a Kenyan analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

Most Africans don’t trust their own militaries, which in places like Congo have turned weapons on their own people.

As is also decribed by Refugees International:

… the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s [Congo’s] desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

Refugees International also describes the funding imbalances that both drive and describe the militarization of US foreign policy:

Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20% … Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

An article in HStoday (unintentionally) makes even more clear the contradictions in the role of the Africa command:

The CT [AFRICOM counterterrorism] officials told HSToday.us that Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-influenced Muslim jihadists in Africa are becoming an increasingly serious terrorist threat that has forced much greater attention to be focused on the region.
one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations.

Yet from the same article:

“in many parts of Africa it is perceived as the US bringing its war on terror to Africa. That is not what AFRICOM is about, but that is how it has been seen.”

Which is almost funny, considering the content of most of the article.

While long-term US strategic interests in Africa clearly are of concern and under the purview of AFRICOM, the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism, the CT officials told HSToday.us.

For the time being, AFRICOM will be based in Stuttgart, with covert intelligence operatives working out of US installations and front companies throughout Africa.

This last strikes me as nightmarishly bad foreign policy. It sounds like the US is replaying all the worst features of US foreign policy in Africa (and in Asia and Latin America) from the last 60 years. This is how you destabilize governments, with “disruption operations”.  It is not capacity building, it does not strengthen human security.  It is not partnering or peacekeeping.  It does not help refugees return home or economies develop.  It does not make things anywhere more secure and stable.  It promotes trade in contraband and the destabilizing movement of money across borders facilitating more trade in contraband.  As well as being destructive, covert disruption operations are not cheap, and they are not easy to justify in budget requests, which makes using and encouraging contraband for funding more attractive.

Contrast again the two statements above:

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.

and:

… one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations … the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism …

The representatives of AFRICOM are telling the American and African public that AFRICOM is all about peacekeeping, capacity building, and security.   But the focus of the energy and funding for AFRICOM is all about counterterrorism, military development, psyops and disruptive covert operations.  The public narrative is lies and illusions.  The public narrative creates a false front and false face to those whose lives will be most seriously impacted.

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As AFRICOM stands up, it might be worth looking at the short essay by Thomas Palley featured on RGE Monitor from Nouriel Roubini, The Origins of the American Corporate Predator State (also here).

Jamie Galbraith’s recent book describes modern (Bush-Cheney) Republicanism as creating a “predator state”. Its predatory aspects are starkly visible in the gangs of corporate lobbyists who roam Washington DC, the Halliburton Iraq war procurement scandal, and the corruption and incompetence that surrounded the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

However, the broad concept of a predator state needs qualification as we are really talking of an “American corporate” predator state. Thus, the predatory nature of contemporary US governance is quintessentially linked to corporations, and it is also a uniquely American phenomenon.

… [The] origins clearly trace back to the military – industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about in his final televised address to the nation on January 17, 1961.

That complex has captured politics and corrupted the business of government, including of course the conduct of national security policy. The fact that it has wrapped itself with the flag and entwined itself with the military makes it impossible to confront without being charged as unpatriotic. Worst yet, its enormous enduring profitability has provided a model for imitation by other industrial complexes like Big Pharma and Big Oil.

Another feature … is a tendency to conflate profit with free markets. That means the distinction between fair competition (which is good) and fat profits (which are bad) is lost, thereby providing cover for predators.

The Africa Command is a creation of the Bush Cheney American corporate predator state. It was conceived by people who were focused on Africa’s oil, other natural resources, and on opposing China. These are the same Bush Cheney cronies that have done the most to convert American democracy into a corporate predator state, and destroy American democracy in the process. I have tried to document these origins since February 2007 when the command was announced. For another excellent introduction to AFRICOM, see: Understanding AFRICOM:
A Contextual Reading of Empire’s New Combatant Command Part I
, part II , part III.

Look at the AFRICOM logo. It bears an unfortunate metaphorical resemblance to female genitalia, with target Africa in the middle. In the metaphorical context of the phallic shapes of the military weaponry being shopped to Africa, it is additionally unfortunate. Intentional or not, it speaks to the underlying motives for creating the command.

In his essay Why AFRICOM has not won over Africans Samuel Makinda 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.

Although there is a lot of talk from AFRICOM about partnerships, there has been little real consultation with Africans. Most of the Africans consulted have been those trained, one might say indoctrinated, in US military training programs such as IMET. Regarding 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?

AFRICOM is a major manifestation of the militarization of US foreign policy. The Pentagon is swallowing the traditional diplomatic and foreign assistance programs of the United States. The process and budget are described in the report from Refugees International: U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement

And most important of all Makinda points out:

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.

What is needed is energy, focus, and money to strengthen civilian democratic political, economic, and social institutions, so that democracy, participation of all the people, can grow and flourish.

Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion

CAMEROON – Cameroonian Marine Corps members display their certificates of completion, marking the end of a five-day training course on small unit reconnaissance and patrolling. The training, conducted June 9 – 13, 2008 by U.S. Marines, was sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. Its objective was to provide Cameroonian Marines with the opportunity to practice light marine infantry tactics and learn techniques for improving border patrol in the swampy region of the Bakissi Peninsula. (Department of Defense photo)

Refugees International released a report on July 17 saying:

In practice, the Pentagon is largely dictating America’s approach to foreign policy.


The rising military role in shaping U.S. global engagement is a challenge to the next president. Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20%. The U.S. military has over 1.5 million uniformed active duty employees and over 10,100 civilian employees, while the Department of State has some 6,500 permanent employees. Although several high-level task forces and commissions have emphasized the urgent need to modernize our aid infrastructure and increase sustainable development activities, such assistance is increasingly being overseen by military institutions whose policies are driven by the Global War on Terror, not by the war against poverty. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

This civil-military imbalance has particular ramifications for Africa, where Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance. The U.S. is only helping four African countries transform their armies and security agencies into professional organizations that protect citizens rather than abuse them. Resources are allocated in a manner that does not reflect the continent’s most pressing priorities. For example, the U.S. has allocated $49.65 million for reforming a 2,000-strong Liberian army to defend the four million people of that country. In contrast, it only plans to spend $5.5 million in 2009 to help reform a 164,000-strong army in the DR Congo, a country with 65 million people where Africa’s “first world war” claimed the lives of over five million people.

The U.S. military’s new Africa Command (AFRICOM) is poised to become the dominant influence over U.S. policy on the continent.

More funding is needed to address the current 17 to 1 spending imbalance in staffing and resources between defense and diplomatic/development operations, and to reduce the use of contractors in foreign assistance programs.

Two case studies emphasize the problems inherent in the U.S. approach. Military dominance over reform programs in Liberia has resulted in a policy focused solely on restructuring Liberia’s army by expensive private contractors, DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers. Meanwhile, intelligence, judiciary, and prison agencies are sadly neglected. In the DR Congo, the State Department has played a very active role in facilitating dialogue among belligerents and is concerned about the humanitarian situation in the east, but the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

Having the Pentagon dictate foreign policy, with AFRICOM poised to become the dominant influence in US Africa policy is precisely the problem with AFRICOM. Add to that the use of military contractors, mercenaries or PMCs, who lack any accountability, and you have a disaster already in operation. That disaster will hurt the US badly, although it will probably hurt a lot more people in Africa. It is what I, and many other people wish to avoid. It is the reason not one African government, aside from Liberia, has welcomed an AFRICOM headquarters on their sovereign soil. As the report states, the Global War on Terror, and I’ll add the US quest for oil, do not address the real security issues in Africa.