We’ve been told over and over again: the train has left the station. The new U.S. military command for Africa (AFRICOM) is already operational in Stuttgart, Germany. It has temporary funding, much of which has been transferred from other branches of the Department of Defense (DoD). It has a commander – General William “Kip” Ward. It has an agenda – counter terrorism on African soil, protect oil resources, and halt further movements by the Chinese on the continent.

At AFJN, we believe that the train may have left the station, but it can still be derailed at some point down the line. Or, if we are willing to work hard enough, it might never gather enough steam to reach its first stop. AFJN has been following US military involvement in the African continent since our publication of a document by Paul Rutayisire in 1986 entitled The Militarization of Sub-Saharan Africa. We continue to commit ourselves to working for an Africa that does not suffer at the mercy of Western interests and weaponry.

AFRICOM has been pushed through by the Bush Administration without a vote from Congress and without the consent of our African partners. It is a command still seeking a headquarters and a clear mandate. Make no mistake; those elements are slowly but surely being acquired – by President Bush, by the charm of General Ward, by neoconservatives, and by private military contractors – but the American people have the capability to act. We can join voices with our brothers and sisters in Africa and say ‘no’ to AFRICOM.

In the week before the Christmas holiday, AFJN staff member Beth Tuckey met with Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chair of the Africa Subcommittee in the House. What became clear that day was the need for engaged citizenship. Congress has no reason to oppose AFRICOM unless its constituents make the issue a priority. That is the beauty of American democracy and it is something upon which we ought to capitalize lest we become complacent with the agenda of those in positions of power.

Unfortunately, AFRICOM is a difficult point of advocacy. Yes, we can lobby members of Congress, but their capabilities do not extend far beyond the power of the purse when it comes to foreign policy. Besides, DoD is asking for a comparatively miniscule amount of additional defense funding for the new command. Ultimately, AFRICOM will receive its orders from the Bush Administration and we, as American citizens, have very little influence over the executive branch, particularly in cases where Congress has a diminutive role.

So where does that leave us? It puts us in a position to take our cues from the peace movement, from the women’s rights and civil rights movements, and from all those who have fought to make a better world despite improbable odds. We must build a critical mass. We must tell our leaders that extending America’s arm of defense to Africa will destabilize the continent and will set the US on a path of self-destruction. The State Department and Ambassadors must remain at the head of US foreign policy in Africa and the legislative branch must maintain some level of oversight to ensure accountability. Ultimately, Congress needs to know that if it allocates funding for education, jobs, debt relief, and microcredit, Africa will be far more secure than it ever could at the mercy of some hundreds of soldiers.

So today, we ask you to engage. Read about AFRICOM on the AFJN website, sign our petitions to Congress and to the Bush Administration, and inform others about what is happening to US-Africa policy. If you disagree with the direction of AFRICOM, tell your Senators and Representatives. Write letters to the Presidential candidates, informing them that AFRICOM will be a central element of their foreign policy and that if they do not like it, now is the time to resist.

Watch the AFJN website for information on a national Call-In Day, an AFRICOM campaign website, and for other ways you can be involved in the peace movement for Africa. The train may have left the station, but that does not mean our job is done. We can still steer AFRICOM down the right track. We can shape it in a way that respects the dignity and capacity of our African partners. We can put security in the hands of African governments and African civil society in collaboration with US civilian agencies, not the Defense Department. It is their development strategies that will bring peace and prosperity to the African continent, not the machinery or tactics of war.

By Beth Tuckey