Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Monday, May 28

AFRICOM

In February, the White house announced the creation of the Defense Department Africa Command to promote security and stability in the region. AFRICOM, set to begin operations in October, has raised concerns about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy from critics both inside and outside the government. While President Bush’s announcement indicated a balance of hard and soft power, such as supporting counter-terrorism and conflict prevention, several in the State Department, USAID, in addition to NGOs and African pundits, are wary of the move.

A principle question is whether AFRICOM’s military goals will conflict with broader U.S. diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. For instance, President Bush and many lawmakers have deplored the Darfur genocide, urging the Sudanese government to stop the violence. However, as four Senators pointed out earlier this month, the State Department’s 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism states that “the Sudanese government was a strong partner in the War on Terror.”

More broadly, there is debate as to whether AFRICOM is necessary. Several in the NGO community say no. For example, TransAfrica Forum, shortly after President Bush’s announcement, issued a statement condemning the move as “a dangerous step towards the further militarization of the continent.”

For those in government, the primary concern appears to be the ability to pursue consistent goals on the Continent. Members of Congress have expressed interest in the creation of an Africa Command, and in 2006 Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), one of the aforementioned Darfur letter’s authors, introduced legislation requiring a feasibility study on the establishment of a new command for Africa. The resulting CRS report asks many good questions that will need to be addressed should AFRICOM be successful.

Finally, some experts suggest that the command’s creation was motivated by more specific concerns: China and oil. With the PRC making aggressive inroads to secure natural resources on the continent and some projecting that West Africa's oil exports to the U.S. will surpass the Middle East's by 2015, it is not surprising that oil is playing at least some role in AFRICOM’s creation.