“I wouldn’t say we see eye to eye on every issue.” That was the very diplomatic way that Ryan Henry, principal deputy under-secretary of defense for policy, described recent meetings with African countries on the subject of the US military command for Africa (Africom). In June, Mr. Henry led a delegation of Defense and State Department officials on a trip to consult leaders of Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and the African Union. What they heard, from all reports, during those meetings was rejection of their request to host the military headquarters. One State Department official told….. One State Department official told The Guardian, “We have a big image problem down there.” It is uncertain if that was news to anybody, however the delegation came back licking their wounds and trying to put the best face on the trip. In the meantime, plans for the ‘standing up’ of Africom continue at full pace. An official website has been established, and on July 12, the name of the first commander was made public. Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, a 58 year old African American and the only African American four-star general in the army, will become the first commander of Africom. At present, he is deputy commander of the European command. He will be stationed, at least in the beginning, in Stuttgart, Germany. The idea is to eventually put the military headquarters on the continent of Africa, but besides Liberia, which appears to be grovelingin order to get the headquarters, several nations have rejected outright the placing of the command on their territory. Libya and Algeria gave a definite no to being the host and said that they would urge others to say no as well. Mr. Henry stated that there will not be one, but several locations in Africa from which the commander would work, none of those places being the one official location. It would be what is called a ‘distributive command,’ networked across the continent. Africom, Henry said, will be different. Indeed. There is a fear, among other things, that a country hosting Africom would become a terrorist target, particularly a majority Muslim country. The Washington Post quoted Rachid Tlemcani , a professor of political science at the University of Algiers, saying that “the stern response from North African governments was a reflection of public opposition to U.S. policies in the ….region. People on the streets, he said, assume their governments have already had too many dealings with the U.S. in the war on terror at the expense of the rule of law.” The message given to the U.S. delegation from African leaders was that there was a general interest but an insistence that the African Union be the entity that coordinates security on the continent. The Americans admit that there are misperceptions and misunderstandings concerning the role and the purpose for Africom. Their trip was in part an attempt to refute the “three myths” surrounding the command. Mr. Henry said that the myths were 1) that Africom is all about terrorism, 2) that it is a way to counter China’s growing influence and 3) that it is all about Africa’s resources, especially oil. Henry insists that those are not the intentions. In fact, he stated that “we look forward to the rise of China…. The key, and the reason that we are standing up Africom is we want to work with the current good efforts we see going on on the continent, through the African Union and leading states, for African to be able to develop their own security mechanisms and capability and capacity to be able to address their own problems. And that is the principal focus of the command.” AFJN rejoices that there is more and more critical thinking on the part of African governments and civil society concerning a US military command for the continent. This is especially important because of its bizarre mix of military and humanitarian duties. However, equally disturbing is the talk about what role private contractors will play in the force. There is talk of a ‘mix,’ though they can’t say yet what the proportion will be. AFJN continues to welcome comments and reflections from its members and friends on this development in US Africa policy. Phil Reed
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