Before September 11th, 2001, American military strategy in Africa was little more than a cursory investment to buffer its interests against those of the Soviet Union, then Russia, China, and the Middle East governments. Now the Pentagon is taking a new approach to the African continent, one that may be especially welcome.
Part of the new strategy is to create a new regional headquarters called “Africa Command” responsible for coordinating American military projects on that continent. The idea is that the Pentagon will forge a “civilian-military partnership” in which the Defense Department will work with the State Department and Agency for International Development and the host nation’s security and development agencies as well. They hope to assign military personnel to train local anti-terrorism forces, dig wells, build sewers, and assist with inoculations of the local citizenry.
Not everyone is excited about the development. To see why,
The new top officer of this command, General William E. Ward reassured those with a suspicious eye towards American militarism that: “We are trying to prevent conflict, as opposed to having to react to a conflict.” Those casting the suspicious eyes are not assuaged. Many of those who work in NGOs in Africa are very concerned that injecting the military into public services will ultimately result in change in policies driven by fears of terrorism or the desire for the countries natural resources such as oil. One official has an even more practical worry which is the risk that Africom (African Command) “... will take over many humanitarian and development activities that soldiers aren’t trained to perform.”
Is inserting a proactive military presence into Africa a positive step — or should humanitarian efforts be kept separate from military interests?