In the Face of Pessimism Comes Progress

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When we started our work opposing AFRICOM, many people told us that the train had left the station and that there was nothing we could do to stop it. No one in Congress or at the Embassies felt empowered to stand up against a direct order from the Bush Administration, particularly when it came to national defense. After all, what can you do when the President of the United States (aka Commander in Chief) signs a request to generate security and stability on the African continent through AFRICOM?

The answer: you use every tool you have available to you, as a citizen of the United States, as an activist, as part of our global community, and as someone concerned for the well-being of the people of Africa to stand up and say “no” to the further militarization of the African continent. Thanks to you and to all those in Africa who have taken action against the new command, we have had some small successes!

In short:

    • Recently, there has been increased awareness in the media, on Capitol Hill, and among the broader public.
    • The Pentagon has decided not to headquarter the command in Africa.
    • The House Armed Services Committee put a note in it’s mark-up of the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act about the “appearance of militarizing U.S. foriegn policy on the continent of Africa.”

In detail:

First and foremost, we have raised the profile of AFRICOM among members of Congress, the media, and the broader public. More members of Congress are aware of the potential risks of putting a military command in Africa, more op-eds have been written in local papers, and more ordinary citizens are asking “what’s wrong with AFRICOM?” It may not seem like a big feat, but the most important beginning to any campaign is awareness. The more people who know about Rumsfeld’s AFRICOM folly, the greater the likelihood that it will become part of our nation’s dialogue and will fall the way of other irresponsible Executive-level decisions.

Because of your outreach, several staffers on Capitol Hill have begun discussing AFRICOM amongst themselves with an ear toward the concerns of American citizens and of the people of Africa. Despite the large public relations campaign from the Administration, from conservative think-tanks, and from private military contractors, these staffers are now asking us how to present this issue to their bosses.

Perhaps the most striking success came on the African side. Due to the strength of African voices and the unwillingness of every African government (except Liberia) to host AFRICOM on their soil, the Pentagon has temporarily decided to put AFRICOM’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany or on the East Coast of the United States. Unfortunately, most of AFRICOM’s programs will still go on, but thanks to the voices of opposition, the command will not sit in anyone’s backyard just yet.

A couple of weeks ago, the House of Representatives finished its mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2009. Although the Armed Services Committee approved much of the military funding we encouraged them to drop, they didnote that “The Committee is concerned about the appearance of militarizing U.S. foreign policy on the continent of Africa and requires a report on the final set of roles and missions of AFRICOM, including how the interagency will contribute to its staffing and funding.”

So the next time someone tells you that the train has already left the station, inform them that you know how to slow a speeding train. It is easy to get discouraged, but always remember that every action you take – from visiting your member of Congress to telling your friend about AFRICOM – is a step toward stopping the disastrous mission of AFRICOM.
By Beth Tuckey

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