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4U.S. security interests in Africa


Within six months of assuming office as President of the U.S., Barack Obama visited Africa twice. In May 2009, he visited Egypt where he delivered a major speech to both Egyptians and a world-wide Moslem audience. Then, in July, he paid a state visit to Ghana. He was well received in both Egypt and Ghana. In September 2009, Obama had lunch with 25 African heads of state in New York. The Obama Administration also granted $10 million in security assistance to Somalia and the president’s 2010 budgetary request to Congress reflected a higher level of military aid to Africa. Obama’s two predecessors as president, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also went on official visits to Africa, where, like Obama, they were received with pomp and pageantry. Bush even managed a few dance steps in East Africa. In August 2009, Hillary Clinton, the U.S.’s Secretary of State, visited seven African countries. President Bush

substantially increased U.S. economic aid to Africa. In particular, he committed enormous U.S. resources to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. His father, President George H. Bush, sent U.S. forces to Somalia in 1992, as part of the international community’s response to famine and violence in that country. The violence in Somalia had threatened the lives of many Somalis and the deployment of U.S. soldiers was part of an international humanitarian intervention, dubbed “Operation Restore Hope” by the Bush Administration.4

Bush’s successor, President Clinton, continued the policy of U.S. humanitarian intervention in Somalia until October 1993, when U.S. troops were ambushed in Mogadishu and nearly 100 soldiers were either killed or wounded. The growing importance of Africa in American policy reckoning is also reflected

by the substantial increase in U.S. security assistance to Africa. As Foreign Policy in Focus has noted, “the total value of U.S. security assistance to Africa has risen from about $100 million each year, to an annual level of about $800 million.”5 Escalating U.S. military presence in Africa is sign-posted by the Bush Administration’s series of airstrikes in Somalia over a two-year period. The U.S. also backed the Ethiopian invasion and subsequent occupation of Somalia to uproot the Union of Islamic Courts in December 2006. The creation of AFRICOM, a new combatant command structure of the U.S. Armed Forces, which is responsible for all U.S. military activities in Africa, is equally a testament to the strategic importance of Africa to the U.S. AFRICOM which became operational on October 1, 2008, reflected the higher pedestal, which Africa now seems to rank in U.S. strategic thinking. Even before AFRICOM was established, however, the U.S. had two major military operations initiatives in Africa-“OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOMTrans-Sahara (OEF-TS)” and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) as part of the broad mandate of the “Global War on Terror.” For a very long time, Africa was not seen as a place of economic or strategic

interest to the U.S. The continent merited little interest in U.S. foreign policy calculations. Africa was not even considered worthy of state visits by American Presidents. It was not viewed as a strategic place in its own right, but rather as a mere appendage to U.S. geo-political interests in either Europe or the Middle East. Until the creation of AFRICOM in 2007, U.S. military and security concerns in Africa were the shared responsibilities of three geographical combat commands: EUROCOM, CENTCOM, and the Pacific Command. Even when the U.S. showed little interest in African affairs, it did so simply as an extension of the Cold War ideological rivalry with the then Soviet Union. Within this context, Africa was seen as a pawn in the competition over world supremacy between the two super-powers. When the U.S.’s attention in Africa was not dictated by Cold War considerations, it was influenced a great deal by a desire to protect European and White South Africans’ economic and political privileges in Africa. This was particularly the case under the Reagan Administration, when the U.S. openly sided with some of Africa’s most brutal dictators and terrorists such as Mobutu Sese Seko, Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe, and Jonas Savimbi. Their so-called anti-communist credentials made them

beloved leaders in the eyes of the rabidly anti-communist Reagan Administration. The Reagan Administration’s policy of Constructive Engagement with the apartheid rulers of South Africa also demonstrated the penchant of the U.S. to side with white people’s interests in Africa. Why does the U.S. now show great interest in Africa? What are the moti-

vating factors behind these new interests? What are the implications for Africa and the U.S. for a robust U.S. presence in Africa? In particular, what does the U.S. perceive as its security interests in Africa? Are U.S. security concerns in tandem with Africans’ own security issues or do they diverge fundamentally from each other? In other words, do American security priorities in Africa mirror Africans’ own security priorities? How has the U.S.’s “war on global terrorism” shaped U.S. perceptions of threats to its security interests in Africa? What is the place of Africa in U.S. strategic calculations? What means are the U.S. using in pursuit of its security objectives in Africa? This chapter will attempt to answer the above questions through a careful

analysis of U.S. security interests in Africa. The first section of the chapter outlines the changing dynamics of American interests in Africa. It outlines contemporary U.S. interests in Africa against the background of American policy on Africa during the Cold War. Drawing on statements by American political leaders, this section identifies and analyzes the most important factors that have transformed U.S.–Africa relations. Section two situates Africa within the context of American national defense strategy. It first examines what the U.S. considers the most important threats to its national security and then examines how Africa fits into the larger framework of U.S. perceptions of dangers and threats to its national interests. Section three examines fundamental challenges to U.S. security in Africa. It singles out insurgency and poor governance as factors which complicate the realization of U.S. security goals in the region. A concluding section of the chapter suggests how the U.S. can merge its security interests with the welfare and security of Africans contending that the U.S. cannot achieve its security interests in Africa at the expense of Africans.