The U.S. Department of Defense officially opened AfriCom, the U.S. Africa Command, this week in recognition of Africa’s growing strategic importance to the world. Not to mention the continent’s increasing importance as an oil producer. In a line that could have come directly from the double-dealing White House portrayed in my novel Heart of Diamonds, the new command says it will work with African nations to create a more stable environment for political and economic growth.
The delight with which this news was received by the countries involved is reflected in the location of AfriCom’s headquarters–Stuttgart, Germany. It was reported earlier that none of the African nations approached was willing to have the American command on its soil.
Be that as it may, AfriCom is supposed to not just bolster the U.S. military presence, but to improve the delivery and effectivness of economic development aid as well. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said:
“The focus is on the three Ds: defense, diplomacy and development. On the defense side, AFRICOM’s mission is not to wage war, but to prevent it; not to show United States military presence, but to enhance the security forces of our partners.”
In fact, the non-military aspects of the command are supposed to be demonstrated by the assignment of a deputy from the State Department to the staff of the four-star Army general at the top of Africom. This “guns and butter” approach is rather hard to swallow, though, when USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore says,
“We expect AFRICOM to substantially contribute to African defense sector reform and to build African partner capabilities and capacities in peacekeeping, in coastal and border security and counterterrorism.”
It sounds a lot more like the mission is building African armies than boosting African economies to me.