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Is Africom a U.S. Military Maneuver or Real Help?

Final Call, News Analysis , Saeed Shabazz Posted: Feb 16, 2009

NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) - From the halls of academia to the streets of America, has come a call to confront the Obama administration and Congress over Africom, the militarys U.S. African Command that became operational last October.

Concerned citizens in the USA must work to build real solidarity with the peoples of Africasolidarity will replace the kind of phony humanitarianism on which AFRICOM is being presented, said Horace Campbell, a professor of African and American political science studies at the University of Syracuse, in a position paper sent to The Final Call.

Peace activists must vigorously oppose the planned U.S. Africa Command, Prof. Campbell said.

Activists, advocates and scholars worry that the true purpose of Africom is to increase U.S. power over African nations, exploit natural resources like oil and strategic minerals and pursue American military objectives.

The peace movement that helped to put (Barack) Obama in office must step up to demand a truly different vision of the world, and of Africa, said Emira Woods, co-director of the Washington-based Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Anti-war activists have every reason to engage in the debate on Africom, she said.

Africom is presently located in Stuttgart, Germany and headed by the highest ranking Black general in the U.S. Army, four-star Gen. William Ward, who was the head of the failed U.S.-led UN mission in Somalia.

The goal is to help Africans create a continent that is stable; create a secure environment for development, said Gen. Ward during a call-in to Straight Talk Africa on a Jan. 14 Voice of America broadcast. Africom is best described as a bureaucratic restructuring, he said.

Critics of Africom argue that the command represents growing military control of U.S. foreign policy. They say the command was a victory for neo-conservatives, led by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and allowed the U.S. to continue its war against terrorism and use soldiers to secure oil supplies. Washingtons agenda in the Middle East has been relocated to African soil, they charged.

Theresa Whelan, who was also a guest on the VOA show as the Bush administrations deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said, We have no intention of using the Africa Command to try and control oil resources.

According to Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project and a board member of the Association of Concerned African Scholars, Gen. Ward cited Americas growing dependence on African oil as a priority issue for Africom when he appeared before the House Armed Services Committee in March 2008. He barely mentioned development, humanitarian aid, peacekeeping or conflict resolution, noted Mr. Volman, who also appeared on VOA.

During a Jan. 14 interview with American Urban Radio, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the audience that the importance of the command was in assisting African nations in enhancing their security capacity. African nations are our partners politically, economically and in security, Ms. Rice said.

Chioma Oruh, an activist with Resist Africom, said the command is a more organized way of doing in Africa what was already going on since WWII.

At the end of World War II the United States had emerged as a leading political, economic force in world politics. It was in this period when the U.S. established unified military command structures such as the European Command, the Pacific Command and the Southern Command, said Prof. Campbell.

When this command structure was being refined, Africa was an afterthought in so far as the U.S. had relegated the exploitation of Africa to the former European colonial exploiters. But, the collapse of the Portuguese colonial forces in Mozambique, Angola, Guinea and Sao Tome; and the collapse of the White racist military forces in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) gradually led to a rethinking by the U.S. military.

The quest for peace in Africa has been sharpened by the crude materialism of the present period and the intensified exploitation of Africans in the era of imperialist plunder and looting. Contemporary looting is hidden behind the discourses of liberalization, privatization, the freedom of markets and the Global War on terror, Prof. Campbell said.

The new militarization of Africa by the U.S. Department of Defense is a very dangerous precedent, particularly during this period of ideological warfare now taking place in Africa, which can be exploited by the U.S., and the possible beginning of a new kind of Cold War scramble for Africas resources, observed Ms. Oruh.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prior to Jan. 21 congressional approval to lead the State Dept., said: The foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration in Africa are rooted in security, political, economic and humanitarian interests. Objectives also include combating Al-Qaedas efforts to seek safe haven in failed states in the Horn of Africa; helping African nations conserve their natural resources and to reap fair benefits from them.

Mrs. Clinton put security first, which is why advocates are looking for the doves in the Obama administration, noted Ms. Woods. The U.S. gets 24 percent of its oil from Africa; 80 percent of the coltan used for cell phones comes out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it goes on-and-on, Ms. Woods said.

We are seeing that there needs to be a two-front attack on the ground in order to get Mr. Obamas attention, she said. One is working with members of Congress such as the House Oversight Committee and Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, the other is working with the students in organizations such as Resist Africom.

Rep. Murtha attempted to cut President Bushs request for Africom in the FY 2009 budget from $389 million to $80.6 million, but settled for $266 million. They should use diplomacy rather than military, the congressman said, according to Stars and Stripes magazine.

According to Foreign Policy in Focus, which cited the Government Accountability Office, the cost of Africom was estimated at $4 billion between 2010 and 2015including $2 billion for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa base in Djibouti.

Chairman John Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs and of the House Oversight Committee expressed skepticism and anger at what he called the expansionist plans of the U.S. military in Africa. Another committee member, John Welch (D-Vt.), noted that it sounds like Africom is establishing a process in search of a problem, according to Foreign Policy in Focus.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who served President George W. Bush before being asked to stay on by President Obama, conceded: I think in some respects we probably didnt do as good a job as we should have when we rolled out Africom, according to some newspaper reports.

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