Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM): Building Partnership or Neo-Colonialism of U.S.-Africa Relations?

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM): Building Partnership or Neo-Colonialism of U.S.-Africa Relations?

Article excerpt


The end of the Cold War and the attacks of September 11th have drastically changed the United States' geo-strategic interests and perceptions. Africa had long been on the periphery of U.S. interest, but this is quickly changing. The War on Terror, Africa's vast natural resources and the still existing widespread instability across the continent are all factors that play a role for the new foreign policy of the United States. According to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, the new U.S. African Command is "part of a broader vision of U.S. policy" intended to adapt to the new developments after the end of the Cold War. (1) While previously, Africa was seen as only of humanitarian interest, it is now increasingly becoming of national security interest for the United States.

According to Thomas-Greenfield, the new "conceptual framework" of the Bush administration is focused on developing new strategic partnerships with key players within Africa, such as International Organizations, state and non-state actors, to help increase peace and security within the continent. (2) However, the central goal is to help African countries, international organizations and non-state actors help themselves, and not force foreign ideas and security paradigms on these actors. According to Ryan Henry, the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for policy, AFRICOM is meant to support the "indigenous leadership efforts that are currently going on ... and to complement rather than compete with any leadership efforts currently going on." (3) In essence, the United States strives to support conflict resolution, African peace missions and the fight against terror.

The Pentagon's Unified Command Plan divides the world into zones, called "Unified Commands," on the basis of geo-strategic military purposes. (4) These commands administrate and coordinate all Defense Department personnel, equipment and operations in the specific area. Previously, Africa was divided between three unified commands, the European Command (EUCOM), the Central Command (CENTCOM) and the Pacific Command (PACOM). EUCOM has responsibility over most of the countries in the African mainland, CENTCOM over Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya and PACOM over Madagascar, the Seychelles and Indian Ocean region of the African coast. AFRICOM, now, is intended to cover all African countries except Egypt, which, because of its close relationship with the Middle East, remains under CENTCOM. (5) The previous division of Africa under three commands caused a few complications and proved fairly inefficient. According to Sean McFate, Africa was never a primary priority for any of the three commands, due to the placement of their main headquarters elsewhere and the division violated the "principle of unity of command." (6) Further, he claims the Department of Defense lacked an appropriate number of African experts and centering the general focus of AFRICOM now solely on mediating between Africa and the United States will help implement effective policies that target the essence of the problems the continent faces.

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, stated that the creation of AFRICOM will improve the United States' approach towards African policy and make it more effective and integrated. (7) Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Robert Gates stated that the new command was intended to build partnerships and security cooperation, and support non-military and military missions on the continent. (8) Apart from the long-standing humanitarian interest in the region, the U.S. is now expanding its foreign policy scope and giving the African continent a place of greater importance in its national security calculations.


The African Command (AFRICOM) is structured differently from the other commands, such as EUCOM and CENTCOM, which were established to fight wars. …

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