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Africa Military Command: A Call for Africa Leadership

President Bush this week approved plans to create a U.S. military command for Africa. The President said AFRICOM, as the unit would be called, should be operational by the end of September 2008. But what’s in it for Africa? Ron Walters is professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland near Washington. He said he’s skeptical about the proposed U.S. Africa military Command.

“It has always been the dream of African states, going all the way back to Kwame Nkrumah, to have a joint African military force for the continent. For the United States to announce that it wants to do this creates the perception immediately that such a force would be under the United States control, and I think for many people raises the specter of what is going on at the moment in Iraq. And so I think that this is something that African states, if they put it together, might solicit American help in some way, but not in the way I think it’s being described,” he said.

Walters said a U.S. Africa military command at this time would create the impression that such a force is being set up to help fight the global war on terrorism.

“I think what we have seen recently, of course, is striking - a United States military assistance on the ground in the Horn of Africa in support of Ethiopian forces to fight against the Islamists in Somalia. To expand that to an all-military force for Africa is a linkage that a lot of people will immediately make, and therefore creates the specter of again United States military forces…presumably, are fighting a global war on terrorism. And again that’s not, I think, what United States should be doing; that’s not the perception it should be creating,” Walters said.

Some have suggested the proposed Africa military command may be motivated partly by United States concerned for China’s growing influence in Africa. But Walters said China’s influence in Africa is non-military.

“In think China’s recent inroads into Africa have been significantly economic. And I think that if one is concerned about those inroads, again the wrong instrument to use really is the military. The right instrument to use is economic competition and developing terms of trade that would enable Africa to earn surpluses, to have sort of profits, to have a type of flow of revenues into very critical social needs and those kinds of things. That’s the way I think to compete with the Chinese,” Walters said.