US Africa Command Builds Partnerships, Fosters Self-Sufficiency

Aug 10, 2007
Author: David McKeeby

by David McKeeby (USINFO Staff Writer) 6 August 2007

Washington 6 August 2007 – The precise role the newly created US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will play is to build on long-standing partnerships to deliver humanitarian assistance and foster self-sufficiency by helping African nations build strong, effective democracies, according to US officials.

“We are not at war in Africa, nor do we expect to be,” Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer told senators in a 1st August hearing. “Our embassies and AFRICOM will work in concert to keep it that way.”

The United States monitors potential security threats by dividing its forces into regional combat commands. Despite Africa's many security challenges over the years, attention to the continent was divided among three separate military commands focused on Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

“Back in the Cold War, we were spending in the European Command only about 5 percent of our time in Africa. And now it's increasing,” Jonathan Gration, a retired US Air Force major general, told lawmakers. “AFRICOM is a concept that is good, and it needs to happen.”

But since the February announcement of its formation, AFRICOM has been the subject of great concern among many Africa watchers, said Mark Malan, a former South African military officer working on behalf of the Washington-based advocacy group Refugees International.

“When the US promotes a combatant military command in terms of development and humanitarianism, Africans will inevitably suspect that the true story is being kept from them,” Malan said.

“There is strong fear and apprehension within Africa, within the United States, in Europe and elsewhere that AFRICOM signals the militarisation of US engagement in Africa at the expense of developmental and diplomatic interests,” added Stephen Morrison, an Africa expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Frazer said these fears are unfounded.

Responsibility for US diplomacy will remain as always with the State Department, she said. Unlike any other US military command, AFRICOM will feature a senior State Department diplomat serving as a deputy and adviser to AFRICOM’s commander, with additional diplomats and aid workers joining military officers at the helm, she added.

“It is in many ways the marriage of State's expertise and authorities with the military's resources and security experience, and we are excited about it,” said Frazer.

Such a collaborative approach is not new, said Stephen Hess, an assistant administrator with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), who highlighted the close collaboration between his agency and the US military to save lives following disasters and to aid communities in need with civic action programs that deliver food, health care, clean water, new schools and other necessities.

“AFRICOM will support, not shape, US foreign policy on the continent,” said Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary for African affairs at the US Defense Department, who added that AFRICOM in many respects is an effort by the United States to “catch up” with rapidly evolving governance and defence institutions in the region, such as the African Union.

“Africa has long been seen as a problem to be solved, a continent of failed states, faltering economies, regional conflicts, and corrupt leadership. This image, though, is a far cry from the Africa of today. With the support of international partners, Africans are slowly but surely instituting democracy and good governance across the continent,” she said.

AFRICOM is another step in this process, but will not bring a large US troop presence to the continent, Whelan said. Currently based in Germany while reviewing hosting offers from several African countries, AFRICOM will not include a complex of large military bases, but rather a small support staff, which will be able to summon forces and equipment as needed.

For decades, the US military has helped train and equip Africa’s militaries, allowing them to take charge of securing their own countries, the wider region through bodies such as the African Union, and around the world, through participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Although the structure is new, AFRICOM’s mission will continue to stress the military’s role as a guardian of democratic society that operates under civilian control and respects human rights.

“The purpose of AFRICOM is to encourage and support this African leadership and initiative, not to compete with it or to discourage it,” Whelan said. “US security is enhanced when African nations themselves endeavor successfully to address and resolve emerging security issues before they become so serious that they require considerable international resources and intervention to resolve.”

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State. Web site:



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