THE UNITED STATES AFRICA COMMAND AND STABILITY OF AFRICAN STATES: ISSUES AND PROSPECTS (INDUSTRIAL RELATION AND PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT PROJECT TOPICS AND MATERIALS)
1.0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
The United States and Africa have a long history of engagements and interactions. This relationship spans the different epochs of African history such as the slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism, cold war and the prevailing global order. The perceived benefit of the engagements to either party is a subject of debate shaped by the socio-political factors at play during the epochs. In this regard, Tshiterek (2003:81-90), observed that during the colonial era, the African region was ignored and left at the mercy of the European colonial powers by the US. He further noted that the cold war era was characterized by ideological wars between the US and the defunct Soviet Union with attendant negative consequences for the region The US is also believed to have supported authoritarian regimes in Zaire, Sudan and Liberia contrary to the wishes of the people.
Generally, US strategic involvement in African affairs in the post cold war era has been noted to be minimal. Ploch (2008; 12), however stated that the manifest lack of interest in US policy towards Africa changed following the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 20O1 terrorist incident in the US.According to him, the period following the terrorist attacks witnessed a strategic shift in US foreign policy thrust regarding the African region. He further attributed the change in strategic policy to the US GWOT, the drive to secure alternative source of energy and curtailing the rising influence of China in the African region. Consequently, the African region has witnessed increased military, intergovernmental, economic and humanitarian engagements with the US. In this wise, Diene (2009) in the African Defense Forum Magazine listed some of these engagement to include the AGOWA, PEPFAR and ACOTA. Others are the TSCT, APS and IMET.
The idea of the US government to float the US African Command (AFRICOM) on 6 February 2007 is therefore perceived as a continuation of its effort to consolidate its activities in the African region, (Ploch 2008:12). According to the AFRICOM official website, the outfit became operational on 1 Oct 2008 and is charged with the responsibility of coordinating military, humanitarian and developmental activities in all African countries except Egypt. The former US Principal Deputy under Secretary of Defense Policy, WL Sharp in2007stated that thecreation of AFRICOM implies that traditional developmental activities carried out by agencies like the USAID now comes under the new outfit. Other US military engagements like ACOTA and TSCT, IMET, and APS will also be coordinated by the AFRICOM. He further described the US AFRICOM as the latest foreign policy initiative of the US DoD that will bring the needed development and stability to the African continent.
Despite its avowed altruistic intents, the US AFRICOM has been criticized and viewed with suspicion by African leaders and interest groups within the continent since its creation. The outfit has been perceived as a hegemonic tool for protection and propagation of US interest in Africa. Many African leaders have expressed concerns that the presence of US troops on the continent could escalate tensions between African nations and also threaten national sovereignty. The US government has been making concerted efforts to assuage the fears so far expressed on the operation of AFRICOM without much success. The contending issues regarding AFRICOM have so far hindered its smooth take off. This is buttressed by the inability to find a location for AFRICOM headquarters within the African region. According to the US AFRICOM Website, the headquarters of the outfit is at the moment temporarily located in Stuttgart Germany.