The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), launched by President Bush in February 2007 becomes fully operational today (Wednesday) when it takes over all U.S military operations in Africa. Supporters say AFRICOM is expected to focus primarily on war prevention rather than war fighting as well as working with African countries and organizations to build regional security and crisis response capacity in support of United States government efforts in Africa. But some skeptics are reportedly worried over a possible hidden agenda disguised as the war on terror and a self-interested scramble for the continent's resources.
Mauro De-Lorenzo is a resident fellow for foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Washington that AFRICOM would bolster Africa's security situation.
"I think it's a positive development, but one which almost no one will notice in Africa in their daily lives. AFRICOM is simply going to take over the programs and objectives that were previously carried out by three separate U.S military commands. And most governments won't notice much of a difference. The content of what they are engaging in with the United States is not going to change very much right now. And certainly citizens will not see anything new or surprising as a result of this," De-Lorenzo noted.
He concurred that AFRICOM would bring a focused approach to the continent, which he said had never been a priority before.
"I agree and actually I think a lot of African governments agree, and that's why they've after a year or more than a year now of discussions with the U.S to understand better what this is about. They see the positive side. Remember that before security issues were divided just cut up arbitrarily in three places, and Africans complained about this a lot in previous decade. They would say what you don't take us seriously enough for us to have our own command? Why do you put us with the Europeans or with the Middle East or even with the Pacific? Part of Africa was related to the Pacific command," he said.
De-Lorenzo said African Countries unanimously demanded AFRICOM to deal specifically with African concerns.
"We (African countries) merit our own structure, we want to deal with you and talk about African problems and not have to compete with Europe or the Middle East for attention because Europe and Middle East are probably almost always going to be higher priorities. It will make us learn when the administration goes to Congress to ask for funding for peacekeeping training, medical co-operation mission with African militaries. A whole range of functions that AFRICOM is going to take over, you would be able to make a case on African term with the full attention committee that is there to listen with a four star general who is the commander making arguments African based on consultations with African leaders instead of having to integrate with the priorities of Europe and the Middle East," De-Lorenzo pointed out.
He said although the US has done a good job in explaining the rationale behind the creation of AFRICOM, it could do better.
"I think they have done a very good job technically in terms of their bilateral relations with other militaries and African defense departments. And the suspicion with those partners I think has been later reduced, but they've done a poor job and they were waiting to see the response in terms of political outreach. Outreach to African journalists student groups, civil society groups, the Defense Department is not built to engage with those sorts of groups, and we need a whole of government effort on the side of the U.S not only to explain AFRICOM because ultimately AFRICOM is just a tool, it's a form of bureaucratic organization. But we need whole government efforts, which explains U.S purpose in Africa in general to include AFRICOM, to include other development agency efforts and in our foreign policy objectives," he said.
Before AFRICOM was created more than a year ago, American military programs on the continent had reportedly been divided among three other commands concerned with NATO and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But AFRICOM is also facing skeptical U.S. lawmakers who slashed its budget by a third last week and said the command's rollout over the last year had been "badly bungled.
The new command is inheriting responsibility for the United States Central Command-run base in Djibouti, where 1,800 troops are deployed to keep Horn of Africa terror networks in check. It also takes over European Command's Trans-Sahara Counter-terrorism Initiative and dozens of other military and maritime training programs.