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Africa Last Updated: Nov 3, 2007 - 10:13:14 AM

AFRICOM: Stabilizing a Region in Chaos
By David C. Walsh, Serviam 9-10/07
Nov 1, 2007 - 1:53:35 PM

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One of Africa’s greatest plagues is instability. Strongmen stay in power because if they resign, they face certain exile or execution. Groups rebel against regimes because the strongmen won’t step aside. Political parties fear giving up power because if they lose an election, their members lose their livelihoods. Some outside interests fear a change in status quo, while others foment it.


If situations can be stabilized, can Africa turn itself around?
Not without a lot of help, U.S. and African government officials agree. That’s where the Pentagon is coming in. Partnering with other federal agencies and private companies and liaising with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); Canadian, European, and East Asian allies; and Africans themselves, the Defense Department is standing up the United States Africa Command, known as AFRICOM.

A Partnership for Change

AFRICOM is a consortium of all U.S. military branches and private defense and security contractors—firms like Northrop Grumman, Blackwater Worldwide, DynCorp International, and MPRI. It’s meant to interface with reliable offices and agencies—including military—in Africa’s hardest-hit nations. Gen. William Ward is the new Combatant Commander.

AFRICOM originated in the private sector. Much of the command’s conceptual framework, embracing defense, came from ideas propounded in 2004 by two men: James Carafano and Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation in Washington. There was, as well, a rough template dating to the previous year. During 2003’s U.S. intervention in misery-plagued Liberia, Carafano and Gardiner noted that African forces, “with a modicum of American support,” had done “a credible job helping to end violence and restore political order.” This was a real development. The two think-tankers fleshed out their ideas—embracing military, diplomatic, and economic cooperation with Africa—and then spoke to Department of Defense (DoD) chieftains. The feedback was positive.

The new, multiprong command is set to be much lighter in manpower and more dynamic and flexible than the others. “By having one command…focused on the entire continent,” AFRICOM transition team chief Rear Adm. Robert Moeller told Congress, the military believes it can confront Africa’s challenges “much more coherently” than before.

Stabilization Through Compassion

AFRICOM’s “primary focus” is not counterinsurgency or counternarcotics. According to Moeller, it is “humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and crisis response missions.” That means large-scale coordination with private global stability actors in the business and charity sectors with planning input from African states.

Having a distinct command, Carafano and Gardiner add, engenders “thoughtful, informed military advice, in-depth knowledge of the region, and continuous planning and intelligence assessments.” It can also increase the relevance of private businesses and NGOs that already know the region and its people well.

Some observers voice concern over the Saudi Kingdom’s funding of Wahhabi (fundamentalist Islam) schools. The Saudi government—which the U.S. State Department calls a key ally in the war on terror—has pledged to closely monitor the schools’ curricula.

U.S. interests were attacked in Algiers this year, and U.S. embassies bombed in Kenya (2002 and 1998) and Tanzania (1998). Then there is the concern with the growing role of the energy-hungry People’s Republic of China, which buys influence in oil- and mineral-rich African countries and props up the very regimes, as in Sudan, that are the causes of some of the continent’s worst humanitarian crises.

A Troubled Continent

Until recently, Washington largely busied itself elsewhere. Now, as the humanitarian (and so, strategic) crises in Africa deepen, there is new awareness of the region’s importance, a new sense of urgency.

A key AFRICOM objective, according to a July report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), is to help create safe distribution conditions for aid organizations and their destitute, starving charges. Such work also entails creating or restoring war-wracked infrastructure and accountable government. Training—and vetting—various military and police units should help.

Until now, the record of various military peacekeeping units in countering thievery, graft, and other corruption has been mixed. Though well intentioned and generous, contributing nations (principally Western) have found the financial and logistic hurdles hard to surmount. Staying the course for decades at a time has proven almost impossible.

The Strategy of Stability

AFRICOM, the command’s spokespeople say, intends no massive “deployments” in the conventional sense. Nor could it: the forces aren’t available. Only about 600 people, mostly headquarters personnel, would be involved in the initial stages when AFRICOM is fully stood up in late 2008, and the Pentagon says numbers would remain low afterwards.

Rather, the new command is tasked with creating new initiatives, developing new thinking, and advancing incentives for officials from the senior government level to the smallest local components (i.e., tribal chieftains or village elders). Here again is an immense role for private global stability providers from the humanitarian relief, development, security, and military support sectors.

AFRICOM’s proponents acknowledge the challenges inherent in assisting the needy, hopeless millions. They expect “pontoon bridges,” so to speak, to be erected linking the command with existing structures active in and around the continent. These include the USAID, Peace Corps, International Red Cross, United Nations Food for Peace, and dozens of other welfare organizations, programs, and groups.

Safeguarding relief aid per se will be among the most significant, if not largest, responsibilities. Geostrategic interest and geopolitics also play a big role.

The Wages of Neglect

AFRICOM’s existence is a nod to the fact that the globe remains a giant chessboard, with various powers seeking leverage, if not dominance, of one kind or another. In early August, Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, underscored the urgency of countering fast-growing, aggressive American rivals like China. “The United States,” she reminded members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, “spends approximately $9 billion a year in Africa, funding programs in such areas as health, development, trade promotion, and good governance.” Conversely, “security-related programs receive only about $250 million a year.”

This, say insiders, was a loud wake-up call for many legislators, especially so because recent information suggests rising anti-U.S. and terrorist activities in Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, and terrorist toeholds being attempted elsewhere.

AFRICOM’s creation comes “not a moment too soon,” says J. Peter Pham, a professor at James Madison University and columnist for World Defense Review. “Our enemies,” Pham recently warned, “have already decided that Africa is the next front for their land and sea war of terror on America, and our potential strategic rivals, like China, have also made of it a theater of competition.… So the only question is whether America…will be farsighted enough to invest in an adequate response, for which the time is now.”

Douglas Farah, a former Washington Post bureau chief in Africa, agrees. Asked if Washington’s approach to Africa over the past decade or so had left it in limbo owing to benign neglect, Farah tells Serviam, “It’s been worse than limbo. I think ‘benign neglect’ is too kind.” Farah mentions the Somalia and Rwanda genocide crises as emblems of America’s “totally inadequate response.” Both genocidal affairs left U.S. government officials feeling they lacked the capacity to grasp Africa’s manifold problems—or weren’t up to tackling them. Many, according to Farah, simply wrote off the continent.

The United States lacks its own eyes and ears in much of the region. Farah says that two-thirds of CIA stations across Africa have closed their doors or operate with a skeleton staff. His “optic,” Farah explains, comes from his years “covering insurgency groups and nonstate armed actors” in Africa and elsewhere. Farah documented “blood diamonds” in the 1990s for the Post and has co-authored Merchant of Death, a new book about a rapacious Russian arms dealer.

The veteran correspondent points out that in 1999–2001, Liberia was particularly frightening; it had “Russian organized crime, Israeli organized crime, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, South African organized crime, Ukrainian organized crime—everyone was in there.” Such incubators for crime, drugs, illicit arms dealing, and terrorism “are not in our interest,” Farah concludes dryly.

A New Breed of PSCs

A big part of AFRICOM and the Pentagon’s “Total Force” concept are the private contractors and NGOs. Many private security contractors have military combat or special operations experience, and, with U.S. government approval, have trained many African militaries through the years.

Employing contractors has been controversial. Critics refer to them as “America’s mercenary army.” Farah voices some concerns, but says he sees little problem if the contractors remain within “the command chain and accountability chain.” Otherwise the situation would be akin to newspapers’ stringers—freelancers “you don’t know have screwed up” until later, after damage has been done. Private security contractors under AFRICOM’s mandate are to be responsible for training, convoy escort a la Iraq, and other functions. Farah expects that in many regards the contractors “are going to be the U.S. presence.”

Pham agrees: “AFRICOM is likely to get few personnel of its own to deploy.”

Pham, Farah, and other analysts stress it’s too early to know even the unclassified details: stationing and training modalities, pilferage-halting strategies, rules of engagement, links with United Nations “blue helmets,” aid group interface, and coordination with U.S. intelligence, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism services.

Safeguarding America’s Interests

The important thing was to “create the atmosphere”; to embed, so to speak, the idea that Africa is a legitimate, vital American interest. The rest, Pham and other AFRICOM champions suggest, will fall into place.

With AFRICOM as inspiration, the dozen or so pro-U.S. nations in Africa that are working to get their militaries up to speed will succeed. They hope the African Union’s African Standby Force, with a little help, can by 2015 boast of having 15,000–20,000 effective and professional regional peacekeepers.

As with any large, new, expensive, inherently complex, risky (and yes, dangerous) undertaking, there are doubters: “wait-and-see” types and outright critics. Some resist change. Others are philosophically opposed to private companies’ involvement. Some strategic thinkers worry that AFRICOM will sap too many scarce resources, personnel, and funds from the ongoing Global War on Terror.

Other AFRICOM skeptics, citing lethally flawed U.S. military peacekeeping/humanitarian missions like Lebanon (1983) and Somalia (1991), contend that food and medicine distribution schemes should be government-to-government, civilian-entity-to-civilian-entity, and civilian-entity-to-government undertakings.

Pham, who is closely attuned to Pentagon thinking, also dismisses fears about a Vietnam-war style escalation. He tells Serviam, “No one is envisioning a major footprint.” Pham thinks it unlikely that many more than the 1,500 combined joint task force personnel already stationed in or near Djibouti would be involved—not counting, he meant, several hundred command staffers, and maybe “a few hundred special forces scattered throughout the continent doing training exercises.”

Pham said he would be “very surprised” by any serious uptick in such numbers of “active-duty” personnel. One area where some think a small detachment of AFRICOM troops could assist is Ghana, where former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan plans a Peacekeeping Training Center. Notes Pham, “[AFRICOM] is a work in progress.” The ultimate hope is that Africa can be prepared to carry most of the load. Some have risen to the occasion. Four of the top 10 contributors to U.N. peacekeeping, the CRS says, are African: Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa.

Oil Creates New Alliances

Energy is an important part of the calculus. Purchasing oil concessions or mines is, indeed, complicated by civil strife, robbery, and pipeline sabotage. Those disruptions inflict further damage on Africa’s troubled economies and civil societies.

Though most Americans don’t recognize it, the nation has grown much more reliant on West African oil sources than Middle Eastern ones. Does this presage a shift from a volatile region to a frequently unstable one? Pham says no. The mere lack of a stable U.S. naval presence in the Gulf of Guinea should, he stressed, “drive a stake in the heart of the myth” that America covets Africa’s oilfields. “Hard power [military] is our last resort; soft power [diplomacy and training] is really our attraction.”

On the other hand, oil companies and governments of oil-producing states like Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria have hired American private companies, under State Department authority, to train their forces and serve other security functions. All appear to agree that the arrangement has worked to their mutual benefit.

The views of America’s European allies, Pham says, are “generally positive” on AFRICOM, since many are “looking at realigning their own commitments to Africa. So that rather than viewing [AFRICOM] as a threat as they might have 20 years ago, many of them—even the French, who are looking at scaling back—are looking at this as a complement… . As America steps up they can step back a bit.”

In intelligence-sharing terms, Pham singled out as “cooperative” Ethiopia and Kenya. “We certainly have a number of very reliable other partners.” Unfortunately, the willingness to partner isn’t matched by capabilities.

Applying the Unique Expertise of the Private Sector

Which is where the private sector comes in. A template already exists in Iraq. Such personnel, many with combat or special operations experience, help take pressure off deployed troops, freeing them for combat operations. “A lot of what AFRICOM is doing can be easily contracted out, like the GPOI [Global Peace Operators Initiative]—training and equipping about 75,000 African troops so they’re adequate,” says Pham. “It’s what Africa wants for itself, which is to assume greater responsibility for regional peacekeeping…and not wait for the outside world to intervene in their crises.”

Even AFRICOM’s most vocal champions caution not to expect too much, too soon. Says Pham, “The major challenge is going to be back here at home; that’s getting the resources. Because we’re looking at a long-term project—an enterprise that isn’t heavy on ‘front-loaded deliverables.’ No one’s going to be able to point to an immediate gain. This is investing really in African nations’ capabilities to secure their own continent—which is in our best interest.”


Source:Ocnus.net 2007

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