by Rana Irby
Much discussion on the U.S. military’s presence abroad in recent years has focused on the Middle East. What seems to not have garnered as much attention, however, is America’s military presence in Africa. Known as the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM), this presence is approaching its 15th year of operation. In that time, it has raised concerns of being another project with exploitative effects on the continent – concerns that aren’t without merit. They are concerns crucial to fostering a global culture of non-violence.
AFRICOM was created in 2008 with the goal of fostering peace and development on the African continent. The command does this through “military-to-military partnerships to improve the capacity and operability of African armed forces, assisting other US [sic] agencies in fulfilling their tasks in Africa and, where necessary, undertaking military activities in Africa to protect America’s national interests.” In contrast to other American military outlets abroad, AFRICOM’s structure includes officials from such agencies as the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). However, there remains the question of the U.S. continuing a militaristic stance through AFRICOM.
As Ebrahim Shabbir Deen notes, a number of African political leaders and intellectuals haven’t forgotten the history of American backing of militias and dictators on the continent. In addition, according to the Black Alliance for Peace, the U.S. and NATO attack in Libya in 2011 resulted in the U.S. establishing military-to-military relations with 53 out of the 54 African nations, as well as a number of bases and special forces troops operating across the continent. Thus, a reasonable concern that the U.S. is again employing a military approach to foreign relations at the expense of diplomacy has arisen. It is an approach that, as Deen concludes, will lead to more violence and civil war if things don’t change.
Many voices have and are speaking out. Most important of these voices are those from African nations themselves. Opposition to AFRICOM on the continent has been so strong that the command had to halt plans to move its headquarters to Africa. Another voice that’s doing significant work to end the problem of AFRICOM is that of the aforementioned Black Alliance for Peace. Recognizing the important connection between militarization in Black communities in the U.S. and U.S. militarization in Africa, the organization calls for the end of AFRICOM’s operations and an investigation into the command’s impact on the continent.
In the effort to create a culture of anti-violence around the world, AFRICOM has shown itself to be a significant area of concern. That concern is that U.S. involvement in Africa through this command is yet another example of employing military solutions over diplomacy in foreign relations. For those who want a world free of violence, supporting the efforts to end the militarization of Africa, including the work of Black Alliance for Peace, is worth engaging in.