The AFRICOM Commander, then went on to outline purposes that underpin the programs and activities that the Command would undertake namely: building the capacity of partner conventional forces; supporting capacity building of partner security forces; building the capacity of partner enabling forces; fostering strategic relationships; conducting defense sector reforms; fostering regional cooperation, situational awareness and interoperationability; countering transnational and extremist threats; contributing to stability in current zones of conflict and addressing conditions that contribute to instability. Indeed, these are laudable commitments that if developed and sustained would transform the continent’s security environment and ensure peace and development for all African societies.

The initial hurdles and controversies that have made these pronouncements unattractive to most African governments and civil society groups were largely due to lack of consultation and agreement on the elements for building Africa’s security architecture. Currently, serious consultations are ongoing with the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, Washington DC and the leadership of AFRICOM on one hand, and African governments, representatives of civil society groups, think-tanks and other interest groups on the continent. As at July 2010, four of such consultations had been held, the most recent one having been held in Dakar Senegal. The expectation is that the areas of disagreement and suspicion would fade off as more of such interactions take place so that policy coordination among and between the US Department of Defense, the leadership of AFRICOM, African governments and civil society groups would yield common grounds for long-term projections to be made.

US Energy Needs and the West Africa Oil Market

Reports over the past few years indicate that parts of Africa, particularly the West African sub-region is emerging as a world-class oil producer and as such has become a strategic concern for the United States in particular and also for the European Union. Estimates of oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea put it at between 20 billion and 30 billion barrels.[21] This represents the single largest bloc of crude oil deposits in sub-Saharan Africa and is well-placed to supply oil to the United States and Europe. The largest deposits in the sub-region include those of Nigeria and Angola but also Equitoral Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome-Principe and Ghana. Based on rough estimates, Nigeria will earn about US$110 billion by 2010, Angola (US$43 billion) and Equatorial Guinea (US$10).[22] By 2015, the region will be supplying 25 per cent of the oil needs of the United States (to be increased to 30 per cent), surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.[23] Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole currently provides the United States with 16 per cent of its oil needs.[24] According to some estimates, the reality of oil reserves in the region, coupled with the region’s fisheries and rich offshore gas meant it can compete with other regions, if not surpass the quantities in the Persian Gulf.[25] The fact remains though that in terms of global reserves, Saudi Arabia stands sky high with its oil reserves estimated at 264.2 billion barrels.

From 2002, there had been concerted efforts to provide the necessary security for the Gulf of Guinea. The Gulf of Guinea comprises the sea area enclosed between the coastal states from Senegal to Angola and includes also Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Congo DR, Gabon and Angola. Both at bilateral and multilateral levels, the United States, Britain and France have individually and collectively intensified their efforts for greater military assistance. The sub-regional grouping, the ECOMOG had earlier received US$5.3 million worth of satellite equipment from the United States and Europe to build a communication system.[26] It is in the interest of the United States to secure all vital sea routes for international trade and commerce, including the Gulf of Guinea. Studies indicate that the United States has shown increasing interest in maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and has organized a security mechanism in that regard. Two sub-regional maritime security initiatives have been formulated with security implications for the sub-region. These consist of the United States-Gulf of Guinea Coastal Security Initiative (US-GoG Security Initiative) and the Gulf of Guinea Coast Guard Program pioneered by the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA Coast Guard Program). It is on record that none of the two initiatives have been formulated on an ECOWAS agenda or do they have any synergy that will revolve around the sub-region’s security needs.

The United State’s Security Priorities

The role of the United States in the region’s security architecture is taking on a defining character and with clear-cut goals and objectives. The United States has reached the realization that the region matters in achieving its strategic interests. The assistance of African leaders and governments in the war against terrorism and the preservation of the oil sector to meet her future energy needs are typical examples. To accomplish this task requires the creation of a stable political environment devoid of civil conflict, threats to life and endemic political instability. A number of policy recommendations and measures have indeed emerged from the American foreign policy public that the US government apparently was accomplishing in detail under the presidency of George W. Bush Jr. The obvious question is whether President Barack Obama has an interest in revising these commitments or even adding new ones. The currently existing ones consist of the following, among others:

  • The US government should place priority on fighting global terrorism in Africa;
  • The US should be prepared to intervene directly in Africa when her vital interests are at stake;
  • Assist African states with the specific military support they need (air and naval transport, advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, communication gadgets and force protection assets);
  • Provide more military assistance to African democracies in peace time;
  • Support the establishment of an African intervention force;
  • Establish an African Command subordinated to the Central Command (CENTCOM);
  • The United States should use her political leverage to structure appropriate incentives (debt relief, infrastructure finance, trade) to elicit transparency in governance, particularly the oil producing states (Angola and Nigeria particularly came up for mention);
  • The establishment of  a Special Adviser to the US President and Secretary of State for Africa Energy diplomacy with ambassadorial rank to lead interagency policy (to build bridges through frequent interactions among African heads of state and the US government);
  • Regional support programs such as the Millennium Challenge Account should be extended to all the oil-producing African countries and also AGOA eligibility as a leverage for good governance, while insisting on eligibility standards;
  • Organize a bi-annual African Oil Producer’s Summit to provide a platform for governance issues and could be appended to G-8 Summit or an AGOA Summit;
  • The US should dramatically increase peacekeeping training and international military education (IMET) support for nations that commit to respect for human rights;
  • The US should help establish and train an African maritime force to protect offshore oil rigs, contingent on mandatory human rights training (with added responsibility of policing borders, strengthen customs enforcement, counter-narcotics efforts, counter-terrorism and piracy);
  • Increase support for the development of civil society groups, individuals and indigenous NGOs in energy-rich countries to monitor and report on reforms and government commitment to transparency.[27]

The Obama administration has been in office for some time now and some of these objectives and preoccupations seem to remain part of US-Africa security cooperation. Obviously, the fundamental or core issues have not changed; for instance, the search for energy supply from Africa and the fight against international terrorism. AFRICOM has been established firmly on the ground, even if the headquarters is located in the United States itself. Certainly, the degree to which these issues continue to play in US foreign policy choices and the consolidation of the structures on the ground will make the difference.