If you weren’t paying attention to Africa during the Bush administration you might have missed the creation of United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM. Basically, the Bush administration took three separate ‘Africa’ military departments (EUCOM for West Africa, CENTCOM for East Africa, PACOM for Indian Ocean waters and islands off the east coast of Africa) and combined them into one. Why? Well, originally, AFRICOM was branded as a new partnership between African states and the US as a force for ‘good’. You know, we’ll train the rag tag armies of African countries and make them in to real forces, and we’ll dig some wells, and build some clinics, and be sure to take lots of pictures so that everyone across Africa and around the world sees what ‘good’ the US is doing with its military.
Lately, though, with the rise of Islamic terrorism on the continent, congressmen and senators have been looking to AFRICOM for answers and action. On Thursday, while most wonks and policy addicts were watching the debacle that was the Hagel hearing, Army Gen. David Rodriguez was also undergoing a hearing. Rodriguez was nominated last year to lead AFRICOM. Just a few months ago no one, outside of those who follow Africa, really cared. Now, since Mali, Libya, and the influence of al-Qaeda, Congress seems to have decided to start to pay attention. Even senators that would fail a map quiz locating African countries (looking at you, Inhofe) want MORE troops for AFRICOM, MORE money, and MORE results. See, according to Rodriguez, there are four major threats on the African continent at the moment:al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; al Shabaab in Somalia; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Congress feels that’s bad for the US. Bad for the world. Because of terrorism. So we should do something.
Yet, Obama doesn’t want the US to expand its military engagements in Africa. But now Congress does.
It will be interesting to see what use AFRICOM can be in combating the spread of terrorism throughout North Africa and in the Sahel. The point of the organization was to strengthen military ties between the US and African states, as well as the whole ‘force of good’. For AFRICOM to function properly, it can’t be seen as the US attempting to gain a military foothold on the continent. It has to be a willing, mutually beneficial relationship. That’s hard to accomplish, due to the long history of western domination of Africa. Obama has almost a ‘hands off’ approach to Africa and its myriad issues; he let France deal with Mali, has allowed the UNSC to handle the tragedy of the continuing war in the DRC, and, in truth, has barely mentioned the continent at all (except Mali in the State of the Union, and that was only in the context of the larger ‘war on terror’.)
All bets are that this will be another area of tension between the White House and Congress. And that is not good for anyone.
This post, along with other information on Africa, can be found at http://subsaharanroundup.blogspot.com/. An academic blog on politics and rebellion in Africa.