South African Perspective on AFRICOM Essay

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South African Perspective on United States Africa Command

As the United States continues its drawdown of troops in the Middle East and reevaluates its prosecution of the global war on terrorism following the recent elimination of key Al-Qaeda leaders, most especially Osama bin Laden, it is important to assess the impact of these events on American military forces elsewhere, especially in sub-Saharan Africa in general and South Africa in particular. The so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), with China taking the lead, are taking an increasingly active interest in developing improved trade and political ties with sub-Saharan African nations, and misperceptions of American global hegemonic intentions may interfere with the legitimate goals of the U.S. military in establishing improved relations with these countries. To help identify key challenges and potential solutions, this paper reviews the relevant literature to describe current U.S. military strategy in South Africa to provide salient policy recommendations that can be used between military organizations of the South African (Sub-Saharan Africa) and U.S. Africa Command. An analysis of issues such as military-to-military training and other military programs that make AFRICOM important to South Africa that protect U.S. national security and examine challenges to U.S. Interests and the instruments, institutions and approaches the U.S. might use to meet those challenges is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Background and Overview of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM)

On February 6, 2007, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established and was tasked with responsibility for all African countries except Egypt, which would remain under the supervision of the Central Command (CENTCOM) (Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Ojakorotu, 2010). One of the key strategies of CENTCOM is to forge solid host nation support for American forces, and the siting of U.S. bases is based on the dual objectives of providing as much support for the hosting nation as possible while avoiding the concomitant provocation of anti-American sentiments (U.S. Central Command Facilities, 2011).

From the outset, the establishment of AFRICOM was therefore intended to facilitate the Department of Defense's (DoD) ability to concentrate its resources to support ongoing U.S. initiatives that are intended to assist African nations, the African Union, and the regional economic communities; in addition, AFRICOM is also intended to provide African countries and regional organizations with an integrated DoD coordination point to coordinate security concerns and any associated problems that may arise (AFRICOM, 2011). The U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility is depicted graphically in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. AFRICOM area of operation

Source: PtTOJ2E / s400/africom0930.jpg

Strategic and Economic Implications of AFRICOM's Mission for South Africa

Although there are both strategic and economic implications of the AFRICOM mission in South Africa, it is important to point out that and the American government has allocated resources specifically to assist African national development, the economic implications of the command should not be considered as the main purpose of the initiative. In this regard, analysts at Global Security emphasize that, "As the Africans see the stand-up of AFRICOM, they should not look at it as a here's another donor, here's another source of revenue; rather it is someone who's going to come and share their knowledge, know-how along a path that the Africans have chosen to help them to better be able to a job for themselves" (AFRICOM, 2011, p. 4). While this view may be readily forthcoming for Americans and other Western observers, this perspective might be less apparent to South African observers where religious fundamentalists have been hard at work sowing anti-Americanism (South Africa, 2011). Indeed, history has shown time and again that, irrespective of the goals that are involved, a visible American presence in a foreign country generates a great deal of political backlash that can adversely affect the ability of American commanders to accomplish their missions. In this regard, Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Ojakorotu (2010) emphasize that, "The phenomenon of securitization of Africa is complex involving changing perceptions of the continent from a humanitarian and development category to a zone of conflict where terrorists hide. This is a concern of the West and America that are trying to portray their territories as zones of peace that are only put at risk by those areas that have no strong security architecture like Africa" (p. 94).

Consequently, the strategic implications of AFRICOM's establishment far outweigh the associated economic impact, at least from the perspective of American policymakers, but this does not mean that local policymakers will ignore this aspect of an American military presence, only that it will not automatically counter any anti-American sentiment that might be generated in the process. The perception of the South African people and its government of AFRICOM might well mirror the views espoused by Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Ojakorotu that, "The African state which like all other state had enjoyed some degree of control over the means and resources of violence is now directly challenged . . . By the American government to keep close military surveillance over the whole African continent via establishment of combat command centres. The phenomenon of weak, collapsed and failed states has been used as the justification for such dangerous securitization of Africa" (2010, p. 95). In fact, the prosecution of the global war on terrorism in the Middle East has created the perception that America's foreign policy is primarily focused on countries that have oil regardless of what U.S. policymakers may have to say about their true intentions to the contrary. As Ndlovu-Gatsheni & Ojakorotu emphasize, "Underneath the desire to monitor the movement of terrorists there is the more sinister and long-standing Western and American hegemonic strategy to access strategic resources like oil" (2010, p. 95). In this turbulent and unstable environment, identifying current security challenges to AFRICOM's mission and potential alternative courses of action is essential, and these issues are discussed further below.

Current Security Challenges to AFRICOM's Mission and Alternatives

First and foremost, Gilbert, Uzodike and Isike (2009) point to the need for AFRICOM to overcome its perception as being a clandestine military tool of the U.S. government that is intended to extend American hegemony to the African continent. For instance, according to these authorities, "AFRICOM was unilaterally created for the furtherance and consolidation of U.S. strategic state-centric security interests but packaged in human security paraphernalia for the twin purposes of credibility and acceptability by African statesmen" (Gilbert et al., 2009, p. 266). To the extent that such characterizations are viewed as accurate will therefore likely be the extent to which the ability of the AFRICOM mission is constrained in achieving its primary operational mission which is viewed by African observers far differently than American policymakers. This incongruence between stated American foreign policy and its perception represents a profound security challenge for the U.S. because it directly affects the relationships between American forces and host nations. Indeed, notwithstanding AFRICOM's dual mission of garner support from hosting nations while avoiding the provocation of anti-American sentiments, AFRICOM is confronted with the widespread perception that, "AFRICOM is the pragmatic instrumentality through which America seeks to maximize its three-fold foreign policy objectives in Africa: fighting terrorism, securing alternative sources of oil especially from the Gulf of Guinea, and checkmating the rising profile of China in the continent" (Gilbert et al., 2009, p. 267).

In support of this perception of American hegemony on the African continent, Gilbert and his associates argue that the effects of globalization have not been experienced by the nations of the world equally, and the African nations in general and sub-Saharan nations in particular remain mired in a vicious cycle where developed nations continue to exploit their natural resources while taking advantage of their growing middle classes for export purpose. In this regard, Gilbert et al. note that, "The continent is yet to recover from the deleterious effects of the 19th century scramble, which not only left it splintered into states with artificial borders but also forcibly injected into it a global political economy where it plays a decidedly bit role as a supplier of undervalued raw materials and a consumer of high-priced imported manufactures" (2009, p. 267). Finally, Gilbert and his colleagues maintain that an enhanced American military presence on the African continent will further destabilize the region as the major BRIC players pursue their own political and military agendas on the continent. For instance, according to Gilbert et al., "Basically, Africans do not want to host AFRICOM not only because it was constructed to serve western interests but also because it enhances the chances of a new 'Scramble for Africa,' positions the continent as a battle ground for states with global ambitions, and could become a veritable tool for undue interference in the internal affairs of independent African states" (2009, p. 266).

Opportunities for Overcoming Anti-American Sentiments and Improve Relations

It is important to point out that the newly established AFRICOM does not translate into more American "boots on the ground" on the African continent; rather, the AFRICOM initiative represents an effort by the U.S. military to…

Sources Used in Documents:


"AFRICOM." (2011). (2011). [online] available: http://www.globalsecurity.


Gilbert, L. D,. Uzodike, U.O. & Isike, C. (2009). "The United States Africa Command: Security

for Whom?" The Journal of Pan African Studies 2(9): 264-266.

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