Africa: Campaign Presses Obama to Abandon Bush Plan for Africom

4 December 2008
guest column

The administration of incoming United States President Barack Obama is likely to continue the militarization of U.S. policy toward Africa unless it comes under pressure to change direction, writes AllAfrica guest columnist Daniel Volman.

In February 2007 President George W. Bush announced that the United States would create a new military command for Africa, to be known as Africa Command or Africom.

Throughout the Cold War and for more than a decade afterwards, the U.S. did not have a military command for Africa; instead, U.S. military activities on the continent were conducted by three separate commands: the European Command, which had responsibility for most of the continent; the Central Command, which oversaw Egypt and the Horn of Africa region along with the Middle East and Central Asia; and the Pacific Command, which administered military ties with Madagascar and other islands in the Indian Ocean.

All three of these commands were primarily concerned with other regions of the world that were of great importance to the United States on their own and had only a few middle-rank staff members dedicated to Africa. This reflected the fact that Africa was chiefly viewed as a regional theater in the global Cold War, or as an adjunct to U.S.-European relations, or — as in the immediate post-Cold War period — as a region of little concern to the United States.

But when the Bush administration declared that access to Africa’s oil supplies would henceforth be defined as a “strategic national interest” of the United States and proclaimed that America was engaged in a “global war on terrorism” following the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 2001, Africa’s status in U.S. national security policy and military affairs rose dramatically. Hence the inauguration of Africom, first as a sub-unified command under the European Command from October 2007, and then – from October 1 this year, just a month before the election of Senator Barack Obama – as a fully operational command.

It will now be up to President-elect Obama to decide whether to follow the path marked out by the Bush administration — a strategy based on a determination to depend upon the use of military force in Africa and elsewhere to satisfy America’s continuing addiction to oil — or to chart a new path.

The best indications that we have about what course the Obama administration will pursue on Africom come from the answers that the Senator Obama gave to the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation in response to a questionnaire in October 2007, and in remarks made by Whitney W. Schneidman, an adviser on Africa to the Obama campaign, at the National Press Club in September.

In his response to the Sullivan Foundation questionnaire, Senator Obama maintained that Africom “should serve to coordinate and synchronize our military activities with our other strategic objectives in Africa.” But he contended “there will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force.” And he went on to assert “having a unified command operating in Africa will facilitate this action.”

This statement, when considered alongside Senator Obama’s campaign statements on the need to intensify U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and on the right of the United States to make unilateral military strikes into Pakistan against alleged members of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations in violation of that country’s sovereignty, demonstrate that he is genuinely convinced of the necessity and legitimacy of the global war on terrorism and, at least implicitly, of the necessity and legitimacy of recent U.S. military attacks on Somalia.

Indications are that the Obama administration will continue to expand the entire spectrum of U.S. military operations in Africa, including increasing U.S. military involvement in the internal affairs of African countries (including both counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations) and the direct use of U.S. combat troops to intervene in African conflicts.

Therefore, according to Schneidman, the Obama administration “will create a shared partnership program to build the infrastructure to deliver effective counterterrorism training, and to create a strong foundation for coordinated action against al- Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa and elsewhere.” He explained that the proposed program “will provide assistance with information sharing, operations, border security, anti-corruption programs, technology, and the targeting of terrorist financing.” In particular, Schneidman argued “in the Niger Delta, we should become more engaged not only in maritime security, but in working with the Nigerian government, the European Union, the African Union, and other stakeholders to stabilize the region.”

In addition, President Obama is certain to come under pressure from business interests and lobbyists (especially from the oil companies); certain think tanks and NGOs; officials at the State Department, the Agency for International Development, and the Pentagon; and from some African governments to pursue the plan for Africom initiated by the Bush administration. It is likely, therefore, that the Obama administration will continue the militarization of U.S. policy toward Africa unless it comes under pressure to change direction.

However, members of the U.S. Congress are now beginning to give Africom the critical scrutiny it deserves and to express serious skepticism about its mission and operations. Moreover, the Resist Africom Campaign — comprising a number of concerned organizations and individuals in the United States and in Africa came together in August 2006 to educate the American people about Africom and to mobilize public and congressional opposition to the creation of the new command.

This campaign will continue to press the Obama administration to abandon the Bush plan for Africom and pursue a policy toward Africa based on a genuine partnership with the people of Africa – and on a multilateral approach which includes other countries which have an interest in Africa, including China and India – which promotes sustainable economic development, democracy and human rights, and a new global energy order based on the use of clean, safe, and renewable resources.

Daniel Volman is director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He is a specialist on U.S. military policy in Africa and African security issues and has been conducting research and writing on these issues for more than 30 years.This column is adapted from a comprehensive 8000-word article on Africom.

AllAfrica publishes around 600 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.