On the heels of news that the new AFRICOM is (perhaps) initially setting up in Stuttgart comes this dig in an OpEd in China’s People’s Daily Online, US Embarrassment in Africa:
The US plan to set up its African Command has been unpleasant and out of sorts from the very beginning. An editorial carried by the Gabonese newspaper “Reporter” has appealed to African countries to say “no” to the US African Command and not to partake in any activities for the construction of any US military facility on the African continent. Meanwhile, the Algerian government also announced its refusal to allow the US Africa Command to locate within its territories.
US President George W. Bush gave green light to a plan to set up the US African command in February 2007. According to the plan, the Command is set to complete and go into service in 2008. The United States had reportedly intended to build it in Algeria but it was turned down, so it had to relocate it in Stuttgart, Germany for the time being.
The United States claimed that the main purpose of establishing its African Command was to fight the war on terror and provide a humanitarian aid. African countries, however, hold that it has harbored with “ulterior motives.” Mohamed Bedjaoui, the Algerian minister of state and foreign affairs, questioned that why no one had ever proposed for any anti-terror cooperation with Algeria in the 1990s when terrorist violence went rampant and wrought great havocs? Some analysts hold that the destabilization of the situation in the Middle East region has beefed up the US’s dependence on African oil resources. To protect its potential oil interests in Africa is precisely a major reason for the U.S. to set up its African Command.
Even as the Americans asserted their US military forces have come to Africa to combat terrorist activities, African countries are still concerned that the US African Command could become an destabilizing factor in their countries instead of helping to uproot terrorism. In both Afghanistan and the whole Middle East region, the US military forces, hoisting high the banner of anti-terrorism, only plunged these areas into a prolonged turmoil, with their followers enduring repeated terrorist attacks. The Algerian newspaper “Reporter” warned the African countries that “they should wake up after seeing the scars of others.” Furthermore, the countries having been under the yoke of a prolonged colonial abyss are also worried about their state sovereignty to be encroached upon.
Americans, having a complex sense of self-arrogance or self-importance, often seem to act in line with their own wishful thinking. Their embarrassment in an initial plan period to set up the US African Command has once again added an obvious, new evidence. Perhaps only by capitalizing on the advantage of its might, the United States would perhaps be able to find a seat for its command on the African continent. However, the role of the African Command will remain doubtful, if it does not taken into fuller account of the desires of African nations and truly serve the stability and development of the African continent.
The People’s Daily made a dig at a US military presence in Africa just over a year ago, making this a trend from China in a competitive arena that is seeing Chinese influence go up and American influence decline (see also the recent NYT editorial of the US leading w/ the combat boot in Africa). More importantly, there is an audience in Africa for this type of news.
Continuing our trend of a militarized foreign policy and pubic diplomacy in Africa, People’s Daily is right that AFRICOM is exercise both hard and soft power (some might call that smart power). In the past, resulting from a request from and under the direction of EUCOM, the Office of Naval Research and other elements orchestrated a series of port visits by a USN submarine tender last year that emphasized mariner-to-mariner connections, share know-how on fixing engines, teach port management, etc. In the present, we still have other operations such as the Trans-Sahel CT Initiative with USAID.
These are well and good, but to the point of the editorial above, we have opened ourselves up to the criticism by allowing DoD to step into a gap State should have been filling already. Staff up and properly fund USAID and other civilian-based agencies, including recreating USIA, and we suffer in a media war with China in Africa.
We send Assistant Secretaries of State to “witness the impact of U.S. foreign assistance and public diplomacy programs in Africa, including the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID)” and explore “opportunities for public-private partnerships to support these programs in Africa.” China also sends kids to Africa, but they also send their Foreign Minister and President Hu. While it may be true that the trade deals China signs are short on details that are to be worked out later, according to Josh Kurlantzick. Unlike the US, though, they’re there, large and in charge.