chapter  4
14 Pages

AFRICOM: terrorism and security challenges in Africa J . PeTeR PhAM

In ordering the stand-up of the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) as America’s sixth geographic unified combatant command, President George W. Bush gave it a rather unusual mission for a military structure: “To enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa” by strengthening bilateral and multilateral security cooperation with African states and creating new opportunities to bolster their capabilities.1 Subsequently, especially as criticisms of the initiative mounted – some perhaps misinformed, but understandable given both historical sensibilities and mismanaged communications – some of AFRICOM’s supporters have sought to further soft-pedal its creation as “primarily an internal bureaucratic shift, a more efficient and sensible way of organizing the US military’s relations with Africa.”2 While it is true that AFRICOM is intended both as “a post-Cold War experiment that rethinks security in the early 21st century based on peace building lessons learned since the fall of the Berlin Wall,”3 and as a much-needed updating of the structural framework that has long handicapped efforts by the US military to build bilateral and multilateral partnerships in Africa, it is also very unlikely that the initiative would have come about in the absence of a shift in the calculations of America’s policymakers and analysts about Africa’s strategic significance, especially with respect to terrorism and other security challenges. Almost seven years to the day before he announced the creation of AFRICOM, Bush had actually responded negatively when PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer asked him whether Africa had a place in his understanding of the strategic interests of the United States: “At some point in time the President’s got to clearly define what the national strategic interests are, and while Africa may be important, it doesn’t fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them.”4 As Princeton Lyman, a former Assistant Secretary of State who had also served as a US ambassador to South Africa and to Nigeria, has observed, as galling as Bush’s comment was to Africanists, it nonetheless reflected “what had in fact been the approach of both Democratic and Republican administrations for decades.”5 With the exception of the preoccupation with countering Soviet attempts to secure a foothold on the continent during the Cold War, American interests in Africa have historically been framed almost exclusively in terms of

preoccupation over the humanitarian consequences of poverty, war, and natural disaster, rather than strategic considerations. These moral impulses, however, rarely had the staying power to sustain long-term commitments. Broadly conceived, there are three major areas in which Africa’s significance for America – or at least the public recognition thereof – has been amplified in recent years. The first is Africa’s role in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and the potential of the poorly governed spaces of the continent to provide facilitating environments, recruits, and eventual targets for terrorists who threaten Western interests in general, and those of the United States in particular. The second important consideration is Africa’s abundant natural resources, particularly those in its burgeoning energy sector. The third area of interest remains the humanitarian concern for the devastating toll which conflict, poverty, and disease – especially HIV/AIDS – continue to exact in Africa. This chapter will focus primarily on the first area, briefly touching upon the second insofar as the security challenges it poses relate to the challenge of terrorism, and leaving the third for the relevant chapter in this volume.