In Focus

The expansion of AFRICOM in Africa under Obama: A Paradox?

In classic Orwellian juxtapose, Obama’s AFRICOM strategy appears to echo “War is Peace” and “Ignorance is Strength.” In his presidential campaign a few years ago, Obama personified change and hope which granted him a Nobel Peace Prize even before he had started working for world peace in earnest. Yet his message is constantly being undone.

Contrary to expectations, AFRICOM, a Europe-based military platform for advancing the US’ strategic interest in Africa, has secretly expanded its presence in Africa under the Obama presidency, notwithstanding spirited opposition from African countries opposed to militarization of African affairs.

In 2008, no African country would host US troops, yet 30 months after becoming an independent command, AFRICOM has used other surreptitious ways of marking its presence, principally through the consolidation of military-to-military relations with 51 African nations. Changes in government in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya have added two more countries to that column. US troops now have bases in Djibouti, Senegal and Uganda. A US military base in Botswana remains a rumour, yet military relations between the two countries have grown significantly.


AFRICOM’s expansion has not attracted much opposition or debate amongst African states, including South Africa, Africa’s hegemon. This is partly because while Africa has been posed to oppose the establishment of military bases on African soil, they have not realized that sensing this opposition, the US has decided to infuse its presence in more subtle ways. The US is pursuing military cooperation where the US is given major influence on military policies and even operations in return for modest military aid. We, of course, now know that the US did not need a military base in Egypt to control what happened in that country under Hosni Mubarak, but they used military aid and cooperation.

South Africa and the AU are constantly stressing the need for a new and fair multi-polar world yet indecisive action and poor leadership will allow AFRICOM to flourish. During NATO’s campaign in Libya in which AFRICOM participated, AU Chairman Teodoro Obiang Nguema stated “Africa does not need any external influence. Africa must manage its own affairs.” (note 1) The rhetoric - not followed by concrete action to regain control of the situation - did not end the campaign.

According to the chief architect of AFRICOM, General James Jones, ‘Officials at US European Command spent between 65 to 70 percent of their time on African issues...establishing such a group (AFRICOM) would also send a message to US companies that investing in many parts of Africa is a good idea.’ (note 2) This systematic intrusion into Africa using non-military elements of the AFRICOM and military aid sheds light onto recent events in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and Nigeria.

In November 2007, U.S.S. Fort McHenry amphibious assault ship began a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea. The ship stopped in 11 ports, namely; Angola, Benin, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo. In 2009, AFRICOM held a military exercise with eight West African states excluding Côte d’Ivoire. Since France destroyed the entire Ivorian air force in 2004, Cote d’Ivoire under Laurent Gbagbo opposed any interaction with the Western military apparatus. The ‘disputed’ elections of 2010 and the civil war that followed ‘invited’ the West into Côte d’Ivoire to fuel the civil war in order to remove Gbagbo and install Allasane Ouattara. Côte d’Ivoire has now positioned itself within the sphere of AFRICOM. In September 2011, chief of the AFRICOM, Gen. Carter F. Ham lunched with high ranking Ivorian officers and France’s ambassador to the Côte d’Ivoire during a two day visit. (note 3)

While it was suspected that AFRICOM was involved in the NATO campaign in support of the National Transitional Council to bring down the regime of Muammar Qadaffi in Libya, evidence of this was hard to find. This was so until AFRICOM released a statement which read: ‘AFRICOM stopped the advance of the Libyan Army on defenseless civilians in Benghazi, put into place a no-fly zone over Libya, and established a sea embargo against the Gadhafi regime.’ AFRICOM’s blatant arming of one side in the civil war leading to the assassination of Qadaffi has not attracted any condemnation from the AU or the West. This is yet another indication of the extent to which the US agenda of militarizing African affairs has continued without any dialogue or protest from Africans who are still poised only to oppose new US military bases in Africa.

As part of AFRICOM’s intention to counter ‘violent extremism’ through military and public diplomacy efforts under the guise of humanitarian assistance, it has become more and more involved in Nigeria given the flare up of religious extremism in the north of the country. (note 4) Indeed some press reports suggest that the AFRICOM has been ready to assist Nigeria fight the Boko Haram extremists through military advisors and humanitarian intervention. In James Cameron’s film Avatar based in the future, a veteran American Colonel showing off his war scars says he got them in his “tours in Nigeria and Venezuela.” Will the fictional Colonel turn into real ones? With the Boko Haram wreaking havoc throughout northern Nigeria and seemingly untouchable, the possibility that the military will have to step in to ‘save the nation’ is high. History will always repeat itself. Nigerian military dictatorships have always worked better with American big business.

I do not want to be understood to be arguing against all forms of military cooperation between the West and Africa. There is scope for cooperation to buttress Africa’s weak regional security capacity as seems to be the case in East Africa where AFRICOM’s geographical-positioning technology has helped Uganda fight the Lord’s Resistance Army. This may help end the northern Uganda conflict and shift the focus of government from conflict to development. But the manner in which the US is going about circumventing African opposition to militarization of African affairs is worrying. Instead of engaging the AU and developing a win-win solution, it decides to pursue its interests surreptitiously. African countries should also change their approach to this subject by watching non-military subversive AFRICOM and by engaging in a strategic dialogue with the world’s biggest military power towards a win-win solution. It is sad that in spite of all the rhetoric and inspirational talk, Obama has failed to lead a change of approach towards a consensus-led deal on AFRICOM.




Note 1 Rozoff, Rick, (2011), ‘From Ivory Coast to Libya and Beyond: Africa Threatened With Western Military Subjugation.’ April 8, 2011,

Note 2 Rozoff, Rick, (2009), ‘AFRICOM: Pentagon’s First Direct Military Intervention In Africa,

Note 3 (2011)  ‘AFRICOM chief visits Ivory Coast’,

Note 4 Bowie, Nile, January 6th, 2012, ‘The IMF and US African Command (AFRICOM) Join Hands in the Plunder of the African Continent’ context=va&aid=28520


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