Africa's Fears of US Military Command on the Continent Might Be Misplaced

Article excerpt

Many Africans are suspicious about the United States's motives in planning to establish a new unified Africa Command (Africom) on the continent in October next year.

The South African government seems to be among them. This was evident when Theresa Whelan, US deputy assistant secretary of defence for Africa, briefed the Centre for International Policy Studies (Cips) at the University of Pretoria about Africom last week.

African concerns about being overwhelmed by a concentrated US presence have already persuaded Washington to distribute Africom's headquarters around the continent, though it has not yet decided where.

The rough idea seems to be to have sub-HQs in Africa's five regions, though Whelan said, so far at least, southern Africa, through the Southern African Development Community (SADC), had rejected the idea of hosting Africom at all.

That was fine, she said; the US would simply cut off military relations with SADC and move on.

Some diplomats and analysts suspect South Africa is leading the anti-Africom moves within SADC. This impression was reinforced by US ambassador Eric Bost's complaint that Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota had for two months refused to meet General Kip Ward, the first commander of Africom.

Tensions about Africom may also have caused South Africa to postpone a planned US-sponsored African military exercise earlier this month.

Whelan said Africom was mainly just a rationalisation of the US military's own internal organisation dealing with Africa (which is now divided between three different regional commands). And that its primary mission would be to increase the capacity of Africa's own militaries, rather than to conduct combat. Only headquarters staff and training people would be stationed at Africom, and not combat troops.

Many Africans at Cips did not buy this. What was the real motive for Africom? they continued to ask.

What they were driving at, no doubt, was that its real mission would be taking the fight to the international terrorists, many of whom do operate in or from this continent as, for example, in the raids on suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia earlier this year. …