New Era (Windhoek)

Africa: No Interest in Africom Bases in Africa

Windhoek — America has no plans, interest or money to set up military bases in Africa, other than plans to strengthen existing relationships with various countries' military authorities, says the highly decorated commander of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Carter Ham, who was in the country for talks with the Namibian military.

General Ham, who holds the highest rank as a four-star general in the US army, had discussions with the Namibian Minister of Defence, Major General (Rtd) Charles Namoloh and Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Epaphras Denga Ndaitwah. "We had opportunities to review what we have done [and] to find ways we can strengthen the partnership between our two militaries. I think we came to some good agreements, programmes and activities, which we can seek to do together well into the future," Ham revealed during the special press briefing yesterday afternoon shortly after the official talks in Windhoek.

The two militaries are cooperating in a number of areas, including leadership training, de-mining, and prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS in the defence force.

Ham described the meeting that he attended as "a great meeting", and the cooperation with African countries as "a partnership of equals". It was Ham's first official visit to Namibia. He also visited Mozambique and Malawi since taking over the command of the Stuttgart, Germany-headquartered AFRICOM from General William Ward in March this year. Accompanying him was AFRICOM Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Activities, Ambassador Christopher Dell.

The visit was to gain a better understanding of where military-to-military cooperation between the USA and Namibia might be strengthened. "We have done some things together in the past and look forward to exploring other opportunities for other activities in the future," Ham said. Former AFRICOM commander Ward also visited Namibia in 2010.

AFRICOM has been a topic of many media reports with speculation that the USA is in the process of stretching the AFRICOM command post's presence on the continent, with a number of African countries fingered for granting the US permission to set up army bases for that purpose. But Ham dismissed such reports as untrue. "We have no intent, no plan, no interest and no money to establish a US base in Southern Africa or anywhere else in Africa with the exception of the place where we have an enduring presence, in Djibouti," he said when pressed for comment.

The US army has the joint task force in the Horn of Africa country for a number of years.

Ham also said at no point did any African military chief express uneasiness or unwillingness to continue the cooperation with AFRICOM amid the negative reports on AFRICOM. "I have not yet visited an African country where the government officials said we do not want you back, we do not want to anymore. It has always been 'let us look for more opportunities to do things together'. That makes sense to me because the challenges that we face are regional trans-national challenges.

That to me says there must be a regional trans-national approach. Nations are no longer able to deal with the threats that present themselves especially in Africa, they are not able to address them by themselves. It requires a cooperative effort and synchronised efforts. The issues that are important to African security are important to American security. Our goals are common, our interests are shared, that does not mean we agree on everything. We do not and that is okay. [What we] do have is a very professional enduring dialogue to address those matters, where we have common interests," said Ham.

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