Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Ezekiel Pajibo and Emira Woods express their concerns about the proposed U.S. Africa command military structure that could possibly be based in Liberia

Africom – Origins

February 2007, just 2 months after U.S. aerial bombardments began in Somalia, the Bush Administration solidified its militaristic engagement with Africa when the Department of Defense (DoD) announced the creation of a new U.S. Africa Command infrastructure, code name AFRICOM, to “coordinate all U.S. military and security interests throughout the continent.”

President Bush said in a White House statement, “This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa.” Ordering that AFRICOM be created by September 30, 2008, Bush said, “Africa Command will 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” [1]

The general assumption of this policy is that prioritising security through a unilateral framework will somehow bring health, education and development, and that the Department of Defense can best serve as architect and arbiter of U.S. Africa policy. Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller, director of the AFRICOM transition team, emphasised that “By creating AFRICOM, the Defense Department will be able to coordinate better its own activities in Africa as well as help coordinate the work of other U.S. government agencies, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development” [2]

This military driven U.S. engagement with Africa reflects the desperation of the Bush Administration in its efforts to control the increasingly strategic natural resources on the African continent, especially oil, gas and uranium. In what is becoming a multi-polar world with increased competition from China, among other countries, for those resources, the U.S. wants above all else to strengthen its foothold in resource-rich regions of Africa.

Nigeria is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the U.S. The West African region currently provides nearly 20 percent of the U.S. supply of hydrocarbons, up from 15 percent just five years ago and well on the way to a 25-percent share forecast for 2015.[3] While the Bush Administration endlessly beats the drums for its “global war on terror,” the African context underscores that the real interests of the Neoconservatives is less Al Quaeda and more access and control of extractive industries, particularly oil.

Responsibility for operations on the African continent is currently divided among three distinct Commands: U.S. European Command, which has responsibility for nearly 43 African countries; U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Kenya; and U.S. Pacific Command, which has responsibility for Madagascar, the Seychelles and the countries off the coast of the Indian Ocean.[4] All three existing Commands have maintained a relatively low-key presence, often using elite special operations forces to train, equip and work alongside national militaries. [5]
A new Africa Command, based potentially in or near oil-rich West Africa would consolidate these existing operations while also bringing core avenues of international engagement from development (USAID) to diplomacy (State Department) even more in line with U.S. military objectives.
Africom – Liberia?

Africom’s first public links with the West African country of Liberia was through a Washington Post oped written by the African-American businessman Robert L. Johnson, "Liberia's Moment of Opportunity." Johnson forcefully endorsed Africom and urged that it be based in Liberia. Then came an unprecedented guest column from Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, “Africom Can Help Governments Willing To Help Themselves,” touting Africom’s potential to “help” Africa “develop a stable environment in which civil society can flourish and the quality of life for Africans can be improved.”

Let’s be clear, consolidation and expansion of U.S. military power on the African continent is misguided and could lead to disastrous outcomes.
Remember, Liberia's 26-year descent into chaos started when the Reagan administration prioritised military engagement and funneled military hardware, training and financing to the regime of the ruthless dictator Samuel K. Doe. This military "aid," seen as “soft power” at that time, built the machinery of repression that led to the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians.

Basing Africom in Liberia will put Liberians at risk now and in the future. Liberia’s national threat level will dramatically increase as the country becomes a target of those interested in attacking U.S. assets. This will severely jeopardise Liberia’s national security interests while creating new problems for the country’s fragile peace and its nascent democracy.

The Bush Administration has already been given the exclusive role of restructuring the Armed Forces of Liberia. A U.S. private military contractor, DYNCORP, was tasked to carry out this function. After more than two years in Liberia and an estimated $800,000 budget allocated, DYNCORP has not only failed to train the 2,000 men it was contracted to train, it has also not engaged Liberia’s National Legislature nor civil society in defining the nature, content or character of the new army. DYNCORP allotted itself the prerogative to determine the amount of men/women to be trained and the kind of training it would conduct, (exclusively infantry training), even though Liberia had not elaborated a national security plan nor developed a comprehensive military doctrine. In fact, the creation of Liberia’s new army has been the responsibility of another sovereign state, the United States of America, in total disregard to Liberia’s constitution, which empowers the National Legislature to raise the national army.

This pattern of abuse and incompetence with the U.S. military and its surrogate contractors suggests that if Africom is based in Liberia, the Bush Administration will have an unacceptable amount of power to dictate Liberia’s security interests and orchestrate how the country manages those interests. By placing a military base in Liberia, the U.S. could systematically interfere in Liberian politics in order to ensure that those who succeed in obtaining power are subservient to U.S. national security and other interests. If this is not neo-colonialism, then what is?

The Bush Administration’s new obsession with Africom and its militaristic approach leads to an Africa policy that brings U.S. interference in the affairs of Africa along with more weapons, equipment, and military hardware than schools. By helping to build machineries of repression, these policies reinforce undemocratic practices and reward leaders responsive not to the interests or needs of their people but to the demands and dictates of U.S. military agents. Making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that can encourage irresponsible regimes to use U.S. sourced military might to oppress their own people, now or potentially in the future. These fatally flawed policies create instability, foment tensions, and lead to a less secure world.

What Africa needs least is U.S. military expansion on the continent (and elsewhere in the world). What Africa needs most is its own mechanism to respond to peacemaking priorities. Fifty years ago, Kwame Nkrumah sounded the clarion call for a “United States of Africa.” One central feature of his call was for an Africa Military High Command. Today, as the African Union deliberates continental governance, there could not be a better time to reject U.S. military expansion and push forward African responses to Africa’s priorities.
Africom must be rejected at all cost. Further, Liberia, long suffering the effects of militaristic "assistance" from the United States, would be the worst possible base.

* Ezekiel Pajibo is executive director of the Liberia-based Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE).
* Emira Woods is co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies.

* Please send comments to or comment online at