Nov 4, 2007

AFRICOM : America discovers Africa

October 2007 marked the birth of America's newest initiative for global peace and security, as the Pentagon announced that "Africom", was up and working.

Until this year, American affairs in Africa were primarily handled out of Europe, with some specific countries assigned to Pacom and Centcom. Since 9/11, however, with the spreading of Al-Quada and Muslim Fundamentalism from Somalia to Morocco to Kenya, as well the Darfur genocide, HIV epidemic, and the usual problems posed by abject poverty and endemic corruption, it was determined that Africa needed to given a special priority – hence U.S. Africa Command (known as Africom) was formed.

But unlike the other unified commands that focus on the military side, Africom focuses on other than war-fighting; its mission will be focused on building local economic and security on the continent. Even the structure is different; while it is still lead by a military officer, Gen William Ward, Africom has two deputy directors; one military, and the other a civilian. I talked with Ms. Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs about this new strategy, and how the situation in Africa as it pertains to the United States:

Q – How does Africom differ from Centcom and the other commands?
A – It’s much different. First; war-fighting is not the sole mission. its mission will be focused on building local economic and security capacity in Africa and building partnerships with Africa in order to enable African nations to try and address their security challenges themselves, so that we don't get into situations where security challenges in Africa go unaddressed until the point they become such a major crisis that the international community, including the United States, is forced to respond. So the focus is essentially on security capacity building, not on war fighting.

Q – So you’re de-emphasizing military action?
A – Yes and no. What we're changing is how we do business, not what we do. And it is true, in Africa our focus has been basically around three issues - we call them the legs of the stool -- but they are -- and they are interrelated. The first is civil control of the military and defense reform, which we see as sort of two sides of the same coin. The second is military professionalization, and the third is capacity building. And those three things are the things that DOD has been focused on in Africa for probably about the last 10 years. And those three things will continue to be DOD's focus in the context of capacity building and the mission of the command.

Q – This sounds like the DoD is still in control?
A – The State Department remains in the lead on foreign policy. The fact that DOD is establishing a unified command for Africa does not mean that DOD becomes the foreign policy leader; State stays in the lead. The ambassadors on the ground in Africa will continue to hold their position as the president's representative, and they have the supreme authority from a U.S. standpoint in terms of what the U.S. does or doesn't do vis-a-vis those countries. And DOD falls in line behind them and in support of them.

The other thing that doesn't change is that the Africans themselves remain in the lead in terms of determining how they want to structure their security relations with the United States and also how they want to structure their security relations internally to the continent -- whether it be on a continental basis through the A.U. or a regional basis through regional economic communities.

They still have the lead in all of that. The fact that the United States has decided to, again, establish or reorganize its unified command system to have a command focused on Africa does not mean that the United States is in charge. It just means that we're organized differently and hopefully more effectively to do business with the Africans.

Lastly, the other thing that doesn't change is we are not going to be building new bases or putting troops, operational forces, on the continent. We have no intention of doing that.

Q- Much is made of the African Union and “African peacekeeping;” would that apply to the Somalia problem as well?
A - Sure. The general idea is that the African countries want to be able to try and address the security problems that they face in their own backyards. And their challenge that they have had is just simply not necessarily having the wherewithal to do so. And I think you've seen with the establishment of the A.U. as a successful organization to the OAU and the A.U.'s plan of action in the area of security -- you've seen the desire that has been growing since the Economic Community of West African States made its first foray into multilateral security in Liberia. And this has become something that's important to the Africans, to be able to address these crises in their backyards so that they don't necessarily spread and become larger problems.

Q - Somalia seems more complicated than some of the training and airlift support that's that U.S. forces have provided to peacekeeping in Darfur; the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia had direct U.S. action in support of that, with Special Forces gunships and all. Will direct action be a part of AFRICOM, that despite this focus on new training and capacity-building?
A - Well, you’re absolutely right with regard to the complexity of Somalia. Somalia defies the imagination in terms of its complexity because of its political structure with the clans, subclans, and sub-subclan system that dominates their internal politics. It even has defied the African ability of helping the Somalis help themselves.

The solution in Somalia really isn't a military one, it's -- it is a political one. We did act kinetically. We struck a place against two terrorist targets because no on else was in a position to strike, and these individuals had been involved in the bombings of our embassy in Kenya and Tanzania, and also the subsequent action in Mombasa.

But that was completely separate from the problem of instability and lack of governance in Somalia. It was a symptom that these terrorists could find Somali groups and Somalis that were willing to harbor them that was all sort of part of the Somali political game. But it isn't directly causing the chaos in Somalia. The chaos in Somalia is because various Somali clans can't seem to agree on how they want to govern themselves.

Q - The poster child is Zimbabwe. What can AFRICOM do?
A - Well, actually, that's a case that’s not a problem that lends itself to a military solution. It is a political problem within Zimbabwe, and it is one that the Zimbabweans have to solve themselves, and maybe with a little help from their neighbors.

There's room for international diplomatic pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to change its behavior, although unfortunately they seem to have been immune to it. But that is one of those incredibly sad cases where there isn't really much anyone other than Zimbabweans can do about it. And it certainly is not a problem that falls into the military solution set.

Thank you Ms Whelen !!

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