AFRICOM makes progress with African allies, civilian director says

Apr 2, 2008
Author: American Forces Press Service

Warrenton, Virginia (USA), 31 March - US Africa Command is making progress in gaining acceptance in Africa, the command's deputy for civil-military activities said in an interview on 31 March 2008 at a conference outside Washington, DC, attended by representatives of 43 African nations.

“We're doing OK,” AFRICOM's Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates said in a tone that indicated she'd like to do better. In a unique command arrangement, Yates is co-deputy of Africa Command, sharing duties with a Navy vice admiral. She is the first civilian to hold such a position in a US regional command.

Africa Command is scheduled to become the Defense Department’s sixth independent regional command by 1 October 2008. The going hasn't been easy, AFRICOM officials said, as many African leaders questioned the formation of the command - calling it a US grab for African resources - while others felt the command represented the militarisation of US foreign policy.

The US position, Yates explained, is that the command is a reorganisation that allows the US military to help the Africans themselves provide security and to support the far larger US civilian agency programs on the continent.

“What we are finding is that the more we explain, the more understanding (there is) that it is a reorganisation,” Yates said, “and that we want the security relationships to continue as they are and find ways to enrich and enhance this.”

The command will coordinate US military-to-military relationships with continental Africa and its surrounding island nations, with the exception of Egypt. The continent currently is split among US European Command, US Central Command and US Pacific Command. AFRICOM will take over responsibility for programs those commands are currently running in Africa.

Africa Command also is breaking new ground in that it includes civilians from federal agencies outside the Defense Department. In addition to Yates, leaders from the US Agency for International Development, the departments of Treasury, Justice and Commerce, and other agencies are integral parts of the new command.

“We believe the new interagency approach is the way we can build more,” the ambassador said. “We can buttress what we're doing to have the programs more effective.”

Civilian agencies have the expertise in Africa, Yates said, adding that it's the right time for such a step. “The biggest difference I have seen in my 20 years of being involved in Africa is the Africans are taking more responsibility for themselves,” she said.

Africans want to fight the nearly endemic corruption, she said, and they understand that democracies are less likely to go to war. They also realise they need help in fighting the spread of AIDS. They understand the relationship between security and economic progress, and they believe they are up to the challenge, she added.

“They'll decide which programs they want to enrich their security and stability, and we, hopefully, will be ready and have built a more effective 21st-century structure to work with them,” Yates said.

Africa Command is a “listening command,” Yates said, and command officials have taken every opportunity to explain their mission to African leaders and the African people.

At meetings at the Airlie House in Warrenton, Virginia in late March, US officials laid out their concerns about problems, and Africans shared their perspective. Then both sides looked at the common ground.

“What's really important is for us to realise we are different, and we look at things differently,” Yates said. Even the Africans differ depending on their region, their tribe, their history and their resources, she noted.

The ambassador said she believes more dialogues with more people would be helpful - that Americans cannot stay in their stovepipes, but rather must reach out for the cross-fertilisation of ideas. If that doesn't happen, she said, “we're not going to get it right.”

“One of my biggest ‘takeaways’ (from the talks here) is that we have to find more ways for routine consultations,” she said. “It’s one thing for the Americans to interact with the Africans; it’s also wonderful to have the Africans interacting with each other and learning from the debates that go on between them.” - American Forces Press Service



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