Africom: choosing a headquarter location in Africa

In 2007 Africom started its operations as part of the European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. This is a temporary location, for the permanent location for Africom’s headquarters has still to be chosen. In 2007 several African countries offered to house Africom within their borders, especially because the United States is not planning to add military forces in Africa. The way it was conceived to work was that the central headquarters would be coordinating a group of smaller locations around the continent.

In February 2007, President Bush announced the establishment of a unified military command for Africa. The reason for the establishment was that Pentagon and many military analysts have realized that the continent represents an increasingly important strategic hub which requires a dedicated regional command. The president announced that the command will help “bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa”. (Hanson 2007). Security, according to him, is necessary also to safeguard the aid to Africa that especially thanks to the ex-President Bush has grown in size to African countries since 2001. Several Africans have been showed their interest in the program, and have stressed their interest in working with existing security structures on the continent such as the African Union and regional economic organizations (Hanson 2007.
However, experts have argued that the real reason behind the will of establishing Africom is a growing concern about Chinese economic presence in African territories to access to natural resources. They also argue that Americans equate Islam with terrorism and that therefore they want to have a tighter control on the African territory to rule out potential threats to US security before they occur (DeYoung 2008). Such skepticism pushed some African countries to refuse to host AFRICOM with their territory and it is making the decision of a permanent location much harder.

Potential Locations

There is large amount of speculation about a possible headquarters location in Africa. It was suggested that Morocco is one of the “geographically and politically viable” locations because it is a neutral Muslim state that has demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with the United States to fight the growth of radical Islam in Africa. Such headquarters would require also minor bases in the Gulf of Guinea, East Africa, and southern Africa. Some others would locate the headquarters in Ethiopia because it is the seat of the African Union and it has a good relationship with the United States (DeYoung 2008).
However, much concern has been caused by the fact that many African states did not know exactly was Africom is about. Consequently, envisaging a military rise in troops by the US has given birth to diffused concern about a more than likely political interference by the US. If several states in 2007 were considering hosting Africom within their territories as a new source of income and wealth, after some months very few of them have publicly expressed their willingness to do so. The way African politics works has contributed to the widespread dissent in Africa about Africom that now exists. Very powerful countries expressed their concern, leading many other to accept that opinion and refuse to officially host the headquarters (De Young 2008). Many have therefore concluded that Africom is just an extension of US counterterrorism policy, whose main goal is to closely watch the African Muslim population. It followed that skepticism arose and of all the many states that were considering being the hosts ended up responding to the American request with a firm ‘no’. Very few states are in fact willing to appear in the eyes of the public as supporters of the American interest in having a tight control on the African population (DeYoung 2008).

US officials have remarked several times that the location in question would be simply a staff headquarters, and that there have been no plans to establish new military bases in Africa. However, this has not helped the situation to develop, and several factors, like a negative African reaction, challenges in finding a suitable location, and a lack of consensus within the US government on the criteria for choosing a site have led Africom officials to delay answering the question of the command’s permanent location (Ploch 2009).

Best location: pros and cons

As I have shown above, it is critical not to interfere with African politics, especially because upsetting a powerful state entails having several minor states against US affairs. This would be exactly what the US does not want to achieve with Africom and will further spread dissent towards US foreign policy. Should an African country be picked as headquarters, it would be extremely important to do so only in a country that fully supports this move. It is also key not to give skepticals reasons to support the claim that the US are just trying to gain surveillance on the large African Muslim community. The military commitment, at least in a first moment, has to be kept at minimum, also to meet the expectations that the headquarters will be mainly filled with staff, with no additional military troops residing in the location.
The only country that has publicly expressed its willingness to become the host of AFRICOM headquarters is Liberia (Colombant 2008).
The relationship between Liberia and the US are extremely positive. Liberia is a nation founded in 1847 by freed U.S. slaves, and the ex-President Bush is alleged to have played an important role in convincing former President Charles Taylor to resign in August 2003. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was accused of death and mutilation of tens of thousands of people, of the embezzlement of large sums of money, human rights violations, war crimes, abuse of power war crimes (Liberiapastandpresent.org ND). It is following this event that the Liberian civil war was put to an end. Liberians are also grateful to Bush for the recent cancellation of the country’s debt (Liu 2009).
Local opposition focuses his arguments on the fact that many Liberia’s problems (civil wars, genocides) are connected with American presence on the Liberian territory. The Reagan administration funneled military hardware, training, and financing to the regime of the dictator Samuel K. Doe, who has started the civil war that has led to thousands of death and many human rights violations. What was supposed to help Liberia, it is believed to have actually supported a brutal regime that has been held responsible for the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians (Pajibo 2007). Thus, some Liberians think that having a US presence on their territory will actually make it safer. On the contrary, US troops are more than likely to attract the attention of those interested in attacking U.S. assets, jeopardizing the security of the country.
The Bush administration was allowed to train and equip the Liberian armed forces. However, after more than two years the US is deemed to have failed convincing the locals of the real usefulness, nature and goals of such an army, which was not even trained in the quantity that it was supposed to. The US is also deemed by some to have taken the right to restructure Liberian armed forces without the consent of the local institutions that were put in place with the precise mission of defining the structure and nature of the Liberian forces. It follows that Liberian public opinion thinks that allowing the US to establish Africom in Liberia will enable it to have control on local politics, by defining the security priorities, and how they are to be secured. It has been argued that it would be the first step towards controlling the who succeeds in power, thus talking about a new form of colonialism (Pajibo 2007).

In conclusion, should the establishment of Africom in Africa be considered necessary, Liberia appears to be the best location that can be chosen so far in order not to attract further dissent towards American foreign policy, being Liberia the only one that as publicly offered to host it. It is vital to keep what has been promised in terms of military presence, to show Liberians that what has happened in the past is not connected with the American presence. That will also convince the surrounding states that the American presence is not another expression of neocolonialism and it is just what has been promised: a local outpost that coordinates the effort to keep Africa safe and prevent any crisis from occurring.

Bibliography
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Ploch, Lauren. 2009. US Africa Command: A More »Active« American Approach to Addressing African Security Challenges? < http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/ipg/ipg-2009-1/06_a_ploch_us.pdf >. Accessed: March 28, 2009. (A2).

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