Shaping an Africom Approach to Africa
2013-10-29 By Guy Martin
The US military’s Africa Command (Africom) has cautioned that a military approach by itself will not solve Africa’s challenges as economic, social and political development is also needed.
“The solution to terrorism in the region is a long-term, broad, whole-of-government approach by all our partners as well as all the international community, because it’s not solved just by military operations,” said General David M Rodriguez, Africom Commander, during a teleconference last week.
“It’s about the economic development, it’s about the improvement in governance, it’s about the rule of law and law enforcement.”
Rodriguez reiterated Africom’s mission of developing partner nation capacities and enhancing regional cooperation with the premise that a safe and secure Africa is in the best interest of Africans, Americans, and the broader international community.
The general was optimistic about the progress African countries were making in addressing the many security challenges on the continent.
“Partners in East, North, and West Africa have made progress in countering violent extremist organizations such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, with some U.S. capacity-building and enabling support,” he said.
On the al Shabaab attack on Kenya’s Westgate Mall on September 21, Rodriguez said that the reason they chose such a soft target was because Amisom (the African Union mission in Somalia) has become too strong to attack directly.
The general said the US would continue to work with its partners to strengthen their capacity against al Shabaab, particularly through its ACOTA training programme and by assisting the Somali government.
Rodriguez said that progress has been made in Central Africa against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and East Africa has seen major progress in maritime security. However, he noted that maritime crime continues to be a major challenge in the Gulf of Guinea.
The US has a couple of initiatives aimed at reducing the problem, notably Africa Partnership Station, which strengthens partner navy capacity, and its legal review process.
“We’ve also helped build some capacity for some operation centres for several of the nations around the Gulf of Guinea to coordinate their efforts, and that is a regional problem and a regional challenge that everybody is going to have to work together to solve because of the challenges that occur in the Gulf of Guinea,”
Rodriguez said, adding that some progress has been made but there are “a lot of challenges out there and a long way to go.”
Rodriguez and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistance Secretary of State, Bureau of African Affairs, US Department of State, said there remained several areas of concern in Africa, such as the movement of arms across northwest Africa, which is affecting all countries in the region.
It is for this reason that NATO, the UK, Italy and France are working to build Libya’s military in order to stop the smuggling of weapons from that country.
These weapons have reached places like Mali, contributing to the conflict there.
A major security concern voiced by Thomas-Greenfield was the impact of Boko Haram both inside and outside Nigeria. Rodriguez said it was a “tough, tough issue up there in that northeast where Boko Haram is, and we’re all working together from many different directions to help move this forward and support the Nigerians in this struggle.”
Thomas-Greenfield said she was very concerned about the announcement that Renamo has renounced its peace deal with the Mozambican government. “This is a setback, but it – I believe it’s only a temporary setback, and hopefully we can move forward from here.”
She said the US was very concerned about the situation in the Central African Republic, both humanitarian and political. She said that the US was working to find a political solution to the crisis and disarm Seleka rebels and discourage opportunists to move into the CAR. “We know that an ungoverned space is welcoming to terrorists and it’s welcoming to the LRA,” she cautioned.
Rodriguez said that Africom has always been focused on supporting African nations so they can help themselves and has not been about expanding the US military presence on the continent.
He said the track record over the last five years since Africom was stoop up, has borne this out.
However, this excludes other US military activity on the continent, such as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes on Somalia.
Such activities are carried out by the CIA and other US government agencies and not Africom. The command has an annual budget of around $300 million, but this does not cover the cost cover the cost of the biggest US base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which has been funded under war-related “overseas contingency operations.”
The US military also has small forward bases in places like Kenya and Ethiopia.
Rodriguez dispelled talk of absorbing Africa Command, headquartered in Germany, into European Command due to budget cuts, as was suggested some months ago.
“Right now, the United States believes that the focus of having a headquarters focused on Africa to improve the effectiveness of our military support to the State Department and the region is going to remain separate. And we’ll just see how that goes in the future, but right now there are no plans to consolidate.”
Editor’s Note: A key challenge for such an approach is three fold: first is generating the resources for the effort; second is fitting the military means within the overall effort for regional stability; third is the clear need to clarify what the US interest is in the continent, for simply asserting that any power outside of the continent simply wishes to see peace and stability may be true, but other key dynamics are at play.
Clarifying those dynamics helps consolidate American public support and provides more transparency for Africans as well.
And notably with the growing influence of China in the continent, it is hard to believe that this is not a factor of significance as well.