Over the last few weeks, AFRICOM has appeared in several major media outlets. Until now, there has been very little national-level presscoverage of the command, reflecting a lack of knowledge about AFRICOM among the general public. As such, we are delighted to see media exposure that highlights not only the basic facts but also the criticisms that AFJN and the AFRICOM Working Group have been discussing since August.
Newsweek, Dan Rather Reports, and NPR have each provided commentary on AFRICOM that gives both sides to the issue, including African rejections and hesitations over US military involvement in the continent.
Farai Chideya on NPR’s News & Notes interviewed Emira Woods, co-editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. AFJN has been working closely with Woods in drafting statements and visiting Congressional and Ambassadorial offices about US military presence in Africa. Newsweek and Dan Rather Reports are also excellent sources for understanding the harmful effects of this new development and we applaud such analysis within the media.
AFRICOM became operational on October 1st, though its headquarters remain alongside EUCOM in Stuttgart, Germany until a location is found on the continent. Though the rhetoric about humanitarian aid as a project of AFRICOM has shifted to the backburner (likely due to opposition from NGO’s and governments in Africa), AFJN remains opposed to the current structure of the command. The military insists AFRICOM will be an excellent tool for training African militaries – from the African Union (AU) to national armies. However, American military training is unlikely to be culturally sensitive, responsible, or appropriate for African peacekeeping tasks. The training that the US military has conducted in Uganda has not been used for its slated peacekeeping mission but for counter-insurgency attacks against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the north. Also, as the recent Blackwater scandal has shown us, the inevitable involvement of private defense contractors in military capacity-building will be nothing but detrimental to African societies.
Thus, AFJN remains strong in its opposition to the command. We do not agree with the humanitarian role of the Defense Department nor do we believe that training of African militaries will be carried out such a way as to increase the efficacy of the AU or government forces. Instead, we hope to promote a non-military alternative to involvement in the continent. We encourage the US government to live up to its current obligations in Africa and to reform US policies that are harmful to Africans. From PEPFAR to AGOA to US farm subsidies, there is much that the US government can do outside of its military expansionism.
AFRICOM is therefore seen as another phase in the Bush Administration’s War on Terror and hunger for oil; it is a self-interested command and one that is unlikely to yield positive results even for the US. The American track-record in the fields of counter-terror operations and resource extraction is negative and we can only assume that AFRICOM will be the same.
However, while we would like to see AFRICOM removed from the military’s operations entirely, we cannot expect to shift a command that was constructed at the Administration-level. AFJN will therefore work to develop a set of policy recommendations that includes non-military alternatives as well as a means of engaging the US military in Africa in a more responsible manner.
AFJN encourages you to listen to or read the recent media reports and to continue checking the AFJN website for more information, for policy recommendations, and ways you can help us counter this new military development.