AFRICOM: its reality, rhetoric and future JeReMY KeeNAN
Much of what has been written over the last 2-3 years about AFRICOM, the new United States Africa Command, is little more than rhetoric associated with the Pentagon’s fairly sophisticated attempt to shift AFRICOM from the Global War on Terror (GWOT) discourse into the new security-development discourse and, while so doing, re-rewrite, or at least blur, the history of its development. President Bush’s authorisation of AFRICOM in December 2006 and its subsequent establishment as a new, independent, fully autonomous command on 1 October 2008, was much more than a post-Cold War rationalisation of America’s global military command structure.1 AFRICOM reflects the recognition of Africa’s new strategic importance to the United States. This shift in US interest towards Africa did not come about overnight, but was, as AFRICOM’s website states, ‘the culmination of a ten-year thought process within the Department of Defense’.2 That ‘thought process’ began in 1997. Since then, Africa’s strategic importance to the United States has undergone several reappraisals as a result of the United States’ increased awareness of its own energy crisis, the post-9/11 GWOT and China’s growing economic investment in Africa. The year 1997 was, in fact, a landmark year in contemporary US history for two related reasons: it saw the founding of the neoconservatives’ (‘neocons’) ‘Project for the New American Century’ (PNAC 1997), and US dependency on foreign oil reached the psychologically critical 50 per cent. The threat posed to national security by the latter development was not lost on the neocons. They made it an election issue in 2000, with George W. Bush pledging to make energy security a top priority. One of his first executive decisions was to establish a National Energy Policy Development (NEPD) group under the Chairmanship of his Vice President, Dick Cheney. The ‘Cheney Report’ was published in May 2001 (National Energy Policy Group 2001). Its findings were stark: between 1991 and 2000, Americans had used 17 per cent more energy than in the previous decade, while domestic energy production had risen by only 2.3 per cent. It projected that, by 2020, US energy consumption would increase by about 32 per cent, with the oil share remaining at around 40 per cent, more than one-quarter of the world’s total consumption. The Cheney Report singled out sub-Saharan Africa as the key source of future US oil supplies. It forecast that by 2015, 25 per cent of US imported oil would
come from the Gulf of Guinea. Some forecasts now put this figure at 35 per cent. In 2002 sub-Saharan Africa was already supplying 14 per cent of US oil imports; by 2006, the US imported 22 per cent of its oil from Africa; by 2007 the country was importing more crude oil from Africa than from the Persian Gulf (US Dept of Energy 2007). The Cheney Report highlighted the strategic importance of Africa, prompting Bush to define African oil as a ‘strategic national interest’ and thus a resource that the United States might choose military force to control (Volman 2003).