ATC080305: Report AFRICOM

International Relations

Report of the Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs on the United States of America Africa Command (AFRICOM), dated 5 March 2008:

1. Background

The Portfolio Committee on Foreign Affairs initiated a discussion on the proposed United States of America (USA) Africa Command (AFRICOM). This discussion was in the context of relations between the USA and South Africa in general and Africa in particular. The first time that the Committee discussed the question of AFRICOM was during a briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs which took place on 19 September 2007.  The second time was during a briefing by the Ambassador of the USA to South Africa which took place on 14 November 2007. Both these respective briefings provided some insight into the plans and objectives of AFRICOM. 

Among other things, what transpired during the briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs was that South Africa as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) supports the position taken by the meeting of the SADC Inter-State Defence and Security Ministers which openly stated that this region must not support the hosting of AFRICOM in Southern Africa. Among other things, the briefing from the USA Ambassador made it clear that the USA Government is determined to ensure that AFRICOM becomes operational and they will engage with those African countries and partners willing to be part of this process.  

At the conclusion of the briefing by the Department of Foreign Affairs a view was expressed that the Committee must declare its support to the SADC position referred to above. These two interactions enabled the Committee to hold a follow-up meeting, with the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence to serve as an update on AFRICOM. This meeting, which was a joint sitting with the Portfolio Committee on Defence, took place on 22 February 2008. During the February 2008 meeting the Members of Parliament (MPs) also benefited from inputs made by experts from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD). The purpose of this report is to capture and summarise the main inputs regarding these deliberations and make recommendations to Parliament. 

2. About AFRICOM

MPs were informed that on 6 February 2007, the USA Government announced its intention to create a new unified combatant command, AFRICOM. Among other things, the stated intention of AFRICOM is to promote U.S. national security objectives in Africa.[1] Currently, U.S. military involvement in Africa is divided among three commands namely, the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), U.S. Central   Command (CENTCOM), and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).  Operationally, AFRICOM is based on three related pillars:

1. Building local security capacity in Africa;

2. Civilian control of the military and defence reform; and

3. Military professionalism.

According to the US Department of Defense, AFRICOM’s primary mission will be to promote U.S. strategic objectives by working with African states and regional organisations, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).   Some of the specific objectives of AFRICOM will be to:

1. Bolster Security capabilities of Africa;

2. Enhance efforts to bring peace and security in Africa;

3. Promote development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth;

4. Play a supportive role towards building democratic institutions, good governance  and foster respect for human rights;

5. Support USA Government agencies in implementing security policies;

6. Increase partner counter-terrorism skills;

7. Enhance humanitarian assistance, disaster mitigation, and response activities; and

8. Support African Regional Organisations.

The MPs were also informed that according to the U.S. Department of Defense the creation of AFRICOM does not mean that there would be a significant troop presence on the continent. However, AFRICOM intends to establish a Headquarters presence on African soil, with a significantly large civilian component and thereafter make use of existing USA resources and programmes in Africa to achieve intended objectives.[2] In fact, the USA Administration has emphasised that AFRICOM will have a civilian component including the position of a Deputy Commander responsible for civilian affairs.

Currently AFRICOM is situated in Stuttgart, Germany which is home to another USA Command, EUCOM. However, discussions are currently under way regarding its future presence on African soil.[3] It is intended that AFRICOM will become fully operational before the end of the fiscal year, which is September 2008. 

3. Issues and Challenges

During the meeting of 22 February 2008, the representative of the Department of Foreign Affairs noted two primary concerns of the Department regarding AFRICOM. Firstly, it is that there was no consultation by the US Government prior to the announcement that it will create AFRICOM. Secondly, South Africa engages with the US Government on various issues that serve to advance African interests therefore the Department does not view AFRICOM as an appropriate mechanism to address the multifaceted issues confronted by South Africa and Africa and the manner in which AFRICOM is projected by the USA is that it only seeks to advance American interests in Africa. 

The experts from ISS and IGD also noted their reservations regarding AFRICOM. For example, the expert from ISS raised concerns relating to the impact that AFRICOM can possibly have on the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) as a whole. The MPs were informed that the APSA initiative is still evolving and part of the evolution involves attempts at institution building through the African Peace and Security Council (PSC) and theoperationalisation of the African Standby Force (ASF). In the same vein, the expert from IGD noted that the introduction of AFRICOM could lead to what can be regarded as ‘the militarisation of Africa’. She therefore warned that AFRICOM may also result in what is known as “Mission Creep”, meaning that, while it starts with specific and seemingly good intentions, it may, in the long run, develop into something other than what was initially stated. 

The representatives from the South African Department of Defence (DoD) reiterated the SADC position on AFRICOM. They also stated that in their opinion, the Government of the USA would prefer to host AFRICOM in SADC because it is an emerging big player in international relations and a more stable region compared to other African regions. This fact means that Southern Africa poses big challenges to countries such as the USA, which used to be able to use the economic and military muscle to force co-opt poorer countries into co-operating with them in matters that primarily advanced their national interests. It was also emphasised that South Africa should be warned not engage with the USA Government through AFRICOM, due to its militaristic history, but that co-operation should be advanced through existing structures. 

It also transpired during the briefings that AFRICOM is intended to serve Africa as a whole, except for Egypt. The latter is set to remain under CENTOM. This, it was argued, may be due to Egypt’s geo-strategic importance to USA Government’s foreign policy in the Middle East and the country’s proximity to the Suez Canal, which is critical to the USA’s interests and functions as a strategic access point to that region.

4. The African Voice 

The briefing from the Department of Defence further outlined South Africa’s own position which thus far, has entailed:

1. South Africa expressed its reservation on AFRICOM and the possible presence of  a significant USA military presence on African soil;

2. South Africa’s position is guided by that of SADC;

3. South Africa believes in multilateralism therefore will not interact with the US unilaterally on AFRICOM; and

4. South Africa has a co-operation arrangement with the USA Government on Defence matters and the SA-USA Defence Committee met on 12-14 February 2008 and AFRICOM was not discussed.

The briefing observed that the establishment of AFRICOM has been met with varying degrees of concern, acceptance and rejection. For instance, SADC and West African Security and Defence Ministers have expressed their rejections and concerns about hosting AFRICOM. Among other things, the MPs were made aware of the fact that the SADC position on AFRICOM is informed by a history of military interventions in Africa since independence and it is guided by the need to strengthen Africa’s Regional Standby Forces.

On the other hand, some African States, such as for instance, Liberia, have expressed their willingness to host AFRICOM. But, the DoD officials pointed out that for strategic reasons they do not see the USA locating AFRICOM Headquarters in Liberia. Both experts from IGD and ISS as well as the briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs noted that the USA Administration is currently on a continent-wide drive to consult various African countries on economic and development issues, but it is suspected that part of the reason for this trip that was not stated may be to engage African States on AFRICOM and co-opt some countries into siding with the USA when the matter is raised in the relevant Forums in future and the African Union (AU) in order to explain and possibly make AFRICOM better understood in Africa.

These consultations are primarily informed by the USA Government’s characterisation of African ambivalence as misconception about AFRICOM’s objectives. The meeting was also informed that the AU has not yet formally taken a position on AFRICOM. However, the expert from IGD informed the meeting that, the AU is apparently working on a position paper on AFRICOM which will hopefully, make clear pronouncements on this matter and give proper guidance to all its member States. However, the Committee draws strength from the fact that the Pan-African Parliament, during its Eight Ordinary Session in September 2007, passed a recommendation calling on the AU not to accede to the USA Government’s attempt to host AFRICOM on the African continent. Therefore, while the collective voice of the AU may have not fully emerged, it is clear from the PAP and SADC positions, that there are large sections of the African political groupings which are opposed to AFRICOM. 

5. Recommendations of the Committee

The Committee took several resolutions regarding AFRICOM which are:

1. That the South African Parliament should look into the matter guided by primarily  the South African Government approach which has expressed reservations about AFRICOM; 

2. That the South African Parliament’s pronouncement on the matter should also be informed by the position of SADC which is against hosting of AFRICOM in the region; and

3. That a Seminar should be held on AFRICOM in Parliament which will involve  the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence, academics and civil society. 

For its part, the Committee will remain seized with the matter and will use its role to further discuss AFRICOM in 2008 and as and when it becomes necessary the House will be duly informed about developments on this matter. 

Report to be considered.


[1] Bloch, L, 2007, Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa, Congressional Research Services.

[2] United States Africa Command: Questions and Answers about the Command. Sourced from:  On 2008/15/02

[3] United States Africa Command: Questions and Answers about the Command. Sourced from:  On 2008/15/02


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