Post-Cold War United States-Africa security cooperation has been transformed from the humanitarian efforts of President George Bush Sr. that ended with the Somalia debacle in 1994, through the selective engagement policy of President Bill Clinton that avoided the Rwandan civil conflict to what could be viewed as a more structured relationship with clearly defined priorities under President George Bush Jr. since the new millennium. This has been amplified with the establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) nearly three years ago. Against the backdrop of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, different interpretations have been adduced for these developments. Efforts towards building trusted allies towards containing international terrorism, the quest for Africa’s natural resources, particularly oil in the Gulf of Guinea and the desire by the United States to help transform Africa on a more sustained developmental path have been assigned. The study appraises these perspectives, examines the different nodes and forms of security cooperation between the United States and Africa in the recent past and the motivating factors for the establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM). It argues that the thrust of United States interest in Africa is in conformity with classical realist interpretation, thus a pursuit of her national interests within contemporary geo-strategic calculations.


United States security engagement in Africa, whether historical or contemporary, could be viewed from a strictly strategic consideration, thus intrinsically, the pursuit of its national interest on the continent and, by extension, globally. For instance, during the Cold War, the United States engaged herself in African affairs in the context of superpower rivalry. The intense ideological competition between the then Soviet Union and the United States shaped the policy choices and relations that the latter forged with individual African governments. Indeed, some policy choices by the US within the context of the Cold War generated antagonistic relations with the then Soviet Union, manifested in the ideological and political entanglements in the civil conflicts in Angola (support for Jonas Savimbi), the altercation with governments in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia under Siad Barre and Ethiopia under Mengistu Haile Mariam. There were other instances that manifested in the uncanny support for military regimes on the continent such as Liberia under President Samuel Doe and Mobutu Sese Seko of former Zaire. Additionally was the obnoxious ideological stance on apartheid South Africa under then President Ronald Reagan and his associate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with the assertion that UN sponsored economic sanctions would hurt the majority South African blacks the most, not excluding their indifference to the apartheid regime holding on to Namibia, despite UN resolutions on the issue. The period was thus counter-productive to Africa’s long-term interests and did not promote regional security in terms of laying the foundations for political stability, peace and economic development.[1]

In a realistic sense though, the United States entered Africa during the Cold War as a new actor pursuing her superpower ambitions on the continent, since she had never “colonized” an African territory in its “Eurocentric” manifestation. The exception was the historical example of American nationals who, acting through the American Colonization Society (ACS), secured land on the West Coast of Africa for the settlement of American freed slaves in the 1820s under the presidency of James Monroe. Now Liberia, the capital Monrovia was named reverently after the then president of the United States. This realistically marked America’s historical relations with the continent; yet, she was quite hesitant to intervene forcefully in Liberia during the civil war that engulfed Liberia in the 1990s.

United States’ relations with her only African enclave therefore contrasted sharply with those of the European powers which actually maintained prolonged foothold on the continent. For instance, the benchmark of Franco-African relations was the enactment of extensive strategic security pacts, even after these colonies attained formal political independence. On the other hand, Great Britain’s security relations with its former colonies took on a characteristically “manage your own affairs” approach. Of course, this attitude did not rule out security assistance with various Anglophone African countries through sponsorship and training programs for personnel in the security services in prestigious institutions in Great Britain and elsewhere. The other colonial powers such as Portugal unabashedly engaged their former colonies, thus Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in armed struggles against the popular movement for political emancipation. Belgium likewise adopted political intrigue and subterfuge in the resource-rich Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) to overturn the popular choice of the people for political leadership and economic emancipation, resulting in the death of Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Similarly, French military engagement in Algeria and the British outpost in Rhodesia encountered prolonged armed resistance, signifying examples of the unwillingness of the colonialists to vacate settler colonies on the continent. Notwithstanding, African nationalism and political assertiveness in various forms towards continental unity and economic emancipation became the popular theme throughout the Cold War, though not without the debilitating effects of superpower rivalry that often broke the front of its leadership.

Emergent Interests of the United States

Following the demise of the Cold War in 1989, the aftermath which was accompanied by a rather ill-defined engagement of the continent by successive American governments, the sudden renewed interest by the United States, particularly in the security sphere, had generated some scrutiny. The records portray a prolonged lull following the withdrawal of her marine corps from Mogadishu in 1994, and the apparent disengagement from Africa by the Clinton Administration which was cleverly adumbrated in various policy initiatives towards African governments and their military to assume responsibility for African challenges directly, especially in the 1990s.

In the last decade, however, American initiatives cut across diverse sectors and issues, with a combination of policy instruments which have raised eyebrows both within and outside the continent. Certainly, since September 11, 2001 one could decipher in this new dalliance emergent security concerns and the decision to protect the US homeland as well as her assets and allies around the world. An examination of her security strategies and relations with Africa has, therefore, led to various interpretations as to how this new phase of entrenched security cooperation can be characterized. The more pronounced of these interpretations include an apparent deepening of strategic partnership with African countries in the war against terrorism; advancing her quest for newer sources of energy supply, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea; and thirdly, making a stronger claim for the continent as a result of economic competition by Asia countries (China, India and Japan) and also from some of her Western allies within the European Union. The veracity or otherwise of these claims or interpretations are explored in this study.

The Concept and Practice of Security Cooperation

The idea and practice of security cooperation within the context of international relations could mean several things. The practice of two or more states entering a formal agreement to protect or defend their sovereign existence or territorial space against an external actor is recognized as collective defense arrangement or a security alliance for mutual cooperation against outside attack. The historical examples of NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact during the Cold War are demonstrative in this regard (Bennett, 1991: 132-33; 234-238). Thus in a defense alliance, an attack on one is an attack on all members of the group in question and the appropriate response to such an attack is not necessarily towards restoration of peace but war against the enemy. On the other hand, under the practice of international organizations such as the United Nations or regional groupings, the African Union inclusive, member states are obliged to promote the collective security of members in the event of aggression from within or external to it, or situations that create conditions for international insecurity or threat to the peace. Under such arrangements, peace must be viewed to be indivisible and threats to the peace anywhere are viewed as a concern to all the members of the international system (Bennett, 1991: 131; Roberts & Kingsbury, 1993:1-62). A different interpretation, though not necessarily outside the mandate of the UN system, is to perceive it as a political edifice geared towards value allocation among several political actors (Finkelstein, 1988: 1-40).

In the case of the United Nations as a security arrangement, there are succinct provisions in the Charter for the promotion of international peace and security as well as containment of international aggression against or by member states. In the African setting, states have not made provisions, whether at the bilateral or multilateral levels, that commit them to a collective security alliance or defense, thus viewing an attack on one as an attack on all. Existing security mechanisms rather portray an element of sub-regional or regional conflict resolution strategies and policies with structural imbalances though the current dynamics contain opportunities for sustainability. The examples of the ECOMOG in West Africa under the auspices of ECOWAS and similar stand-by force arrangements as mandated by the African Union tend to shape the future direction of security on the continent. In addition to these, all the other security arrangements with external actors, particularly those that constitute the principal players in the region, intervene on the basis of mutually beneficial political arrangements, often resulting from colonial legacies and international political dynamics, for instance, Cold War politics and post-Cold War systemic developments.

Turning to security discourse in contemporary international relations, it is rather broad and encompasses activities and issues which are quite removed from the traditional conception of security, thus state security or national integrity. It includes broader and newer issues that relate to human security, rule of law and democratic governance. In fact, security in its contemporary application connotes the promotion of a secure political and economic environment that accords dignity for the individual. The role of the state is to ensure that security structures put premium on the needs, safety and wellbeing of the people or the citizenry (Wohglemuth, Rothschild et al, 1999). In accordance with this latest conception and, indeed practice, it is quite clear that the United States has demonstrated important interventions in the economic, social, political, institutional and governance structures of African states, either bilaterally or multilaterally.

Concrete examples in this regard include United States financial support for developing countries in the areas of HIV/AIDS prevention, consisting of a US$15 billion program that covered 12 African countries.[2] Another is the program by the United States government towards the prevention of tropical diseases in Africa with a US$350 million earmarked by President Bush on his recent tour of the continent. It has also encouraged trade relations under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) of 1999;[3] and quite recently, the inauguration of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) to boost economic development and overall national integration for the countries concerned.[4]

The concern, however, in this study centers on the narrower interpretation that explores the security commitments and interventions of the United States in post-Cold War Africa and how it constitutes agenda setting for the AFRICOM.

Objectives of Study and Scope

The work examines the character and structure of United States security cooperation in Africa and how these impact on the sub-region’s overall development. It probes such issues as the reasons for United States security cooperation, the benefits and the lessons learnt and what the new direction should be in this relationship. In this regard, the work explores the promotion of formal security arrangements by the United States in the areas of military and defense commitments towards the enhancement of political stability and the maintenance of an environment conducive to peaceful coexistence in Africa.

The scope is limited to post-Cold War events and activities but reflective of issues and developments that affect the continent of Africa and relevant to its development. In a post-Cold War international environment, therefore, the perceived visibility of the United States in African affairs has to be measured against her overall national agenda, whether her presence is one of altruistic internationalism or a pursuit of her own foreign policy agenda. It can be argued that, to a very large extent, United States African policies do not necessarily correspond to the continent’s strategic or security needs. They are usually tailored to respond to US security calculations which often invariably are unable to tackle individual complex situations. For instance, sub-Saharan Africa is normally treated en bloc in United States strategic calculations, while seemingly benching North Africa within the Middle East. By inference, sub-Saharan Africa is isolated by the US for policy coordination and it is in this vein that United States security cooperation must be analyzed. Again, the historical example of US responses to political events in Somalia had repercussions for Rwanda and inexorably, Liberia and the West African sub-region in the 1990s, for that matter.

The study is premised on the argument that United States security cooperation in Africa is guided by her national interest that seldom coincides with the important needs and aspirations of African states. If there are seeming convergences between US national interests and African aspirations, these are coincidental and largely defined by the foreign policy inclinations of the United States. To demonstrate the veracity of this assumption, the study looks at three epochal global developments that have shaped US interests or disinterest, as the case might be, in Africa.

  • The ending of the Cold War and US commitments under a professed “new international order” by former President George Bush, Sr.,
  • International events since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and America’s declared “War on Terror”,
  • The recent turbulence and instability in the global oil market and the interest in West African (Gulf of Guinea) oilfields by the United States.

The United States and Post-Cold War Policy

Former American President, George Bush Sr., heralded “internationalism” in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War as the blueprint for the future. Justifying his foreign policy direction after a prolonged struggle to contain the Soviet Union, he was convinced that the United States would not face military threats immediately from another superpower. Instability and threats to international security would rather emerge from small or middle-range powers as was soon demonstrated when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. It was his conviction that under a “New World Order”, rule of law must supplant the rule of the jungle, in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice and where the strong respect the rights of the weak.[5] In the new international system, he proclaimed, America had no alternative but to support the rule of law and to stand up to aggression. He quickly added though that the “New World Order” could be achieved only if the United States accepted the burden of leadership that was indispensable to its realization. Whiles not guaranteeing an era of perpetual peace after an era of Cold War stalemate within the United Nations system, he yearned for enduring peace to be the mission for all humankind.[6]

With the success from the Persian Gulf firmly rooted in the back of his mind, George Bush was determined to replicate his resolve on the African continent by launching “Operation Restore Hope”, also known as Unified Task Force (UNITAF) involving 25,000 troops drawn from 24 countries. The primary objective under its mandate was to ensure security, relieve suffering civilian populations and undertake other humanitarian activities. Alongside the UN Mission in Somalia, UNOSOM II, it had the mandate to restore peace through disarmament and work towards reconciliation among the warring factions. The United States, however, had to hurriedly withdraw from Somalia after the abortive yet fatal attempt to capture Somali Warlord General Mohamed Farah Aideed. The encounter resulted in the death of 18 US troops whose bodies were paraded on the streets of Mogadishu. This development also led to the termination of the UNOSOM II in 1994.[7]

The relevance of the Somalia debacle for United States Africa policy was that it constituted the barometer through which President Bush’s successor, President Bill Clinton viewed the continent to formulate his policy response to other conflicts on the continent. It led to the adoption of Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD-25) of 1995 under which the United States would not intervene directly or provide support to United Nations interventions, unless the situations in question directly threaten US national interests.[8] The assertive multilateralism that President Clinton brought to office was very quickly replaced with selective engagement. In reality, the pursuit of the national interest became the litmus test for all manner of international engagements, even those that did not include military deployments. The consequences for United States’ Africa policy was the lack of response to the Rwanda genocide and the complete lack of military engagement in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, except for the multilateral responses within the corridors of the United Nations and the few gestures of support for the ECOMOG effort in the two West African countries.

What the United States decided to do in concrete terms was to develop the capacities of the African military to undertake peace support operations (SPOs). The channels for doing this was through bilateral agreements with individual countries and then later with sub-regional and regional institutions such as the ECOWAS and the African Union (then the OAU). At the continental level, it commenced with the African Crisis Response Force (ACRF), designed to capacitate African forces for rapid deployment in conflict zones for the purpose of humanitarian intervention. The criticism of the program as a knee-jerk approach to conflicts on the continent, particularly after the events in Rwanda and the reluctance of African countries to sign on to it led to the launching of a new initiative, the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI).[9]

The ACRI was meant as a training program for African contingents to undertake peacekeeping roles on the continent. Sub-regional groupings such as the ECOWAS, with its infantile experiences in Liberia and Sierra Leone, were to benefit from this new arrangement. The glaring hindrance was the fact that the dynamics of international conflicts had changed from traditional inter-state conflicts to intra-state, and secondly, the newer types of conflicts demanded peace enforcement action instead of just keeping the peace. A number of countries from West Africa and elsewhere on the continent benefited from the program, notably Senegal and Ghana, and also Uganda and Tanzania. Though an estimated annual budget of US$15 million was earmarked for the program, it faced some difficulties and challenges, notably inadequate logistics and hardware, lack of support by the leading regional powers for the program, Nigeria and South Africa in particular, viewing it as an imposition from an external player, and that the program completely lacked consultation in designing its content and purpose.[10] Some of the beneficiaries included Ghanaian and Senegalese, Sudanese and Tanzanian troops who had engagement with the ECOMOG in Liberia in 1997.

Again, perhaps due to the bottlenecks and reservations about the ACRF and the ACRI, a new program was launched by the Bush Jr. administration in 2004, the Africa Contingency Training Assistance (ACOTA). It operated on the basis of bilateral agreements between the United States and recipient states, but also for regional and sub-regional groupings. It brought innovations, including training for offensive military operations, the provision of weaponry for such operations and training modules and programs designed to meet the specific tactical and operational needs of the recipient states.

The War against Terrorism and Africa

The events of September 11, 2001 certainly impacted on United States foreign policy and had repercussions for Africa as well. The initial responses of President Bush to questions about Africa’s place in US foreign policy when he assumed office lacked any coherence or strategic consideration about the continent in his scheme of priorities. Very soon though, his government realized that to win the war against terrorism, it had to engage more countries and build on existing bilateral relations with friendly countries. It led to the designation of a group of countries in Africa as “satellite” or “anchor” states, notably Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. It also led to the decision to assist and strengthen reforming states, and finally to support credible sub-regional organizations that could help address transnational threats on a sustained basis. The promotion of democracy and good governance became the bridgehead in this endeavor and sustained with financial support at both bilateral and multilateral levels. For instance, the African Union, ECOWAS and IGAD (Inter-Governmental Agency for Development), and other sub-regional groupings benefited from this objective. It also came in the form of training and capacity-building, bolstering planning element and peace support capabilities.[11]

The African Union has also benefited from these programs, especially with the launching of the United States Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) in 2005 which aimed at improving the supply of personnel for peace operations worldwide with a target of 75,000 troops. The aim was to enable states and regional organizations that benefit from the program to be provided with technical assistance, training and material support towards institutional knowledge. The beneficiaries of this program include the peace operation Centres of Excellence: the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, the Peacekeeping School in Koulikoro, Mali, the Peace Support Training Centre in Karen, Kenya and the African Stand-By Force (ASF) of the African Union. In the case of ECOWAS operations in the sub-region and the African Union Mission in Sudan, it included the provision of logistical support by the United States through a private US firm, Pacific Architects Engineers (PAE). It additionally deployed an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in support of the ECOWAS Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL) in 2003, paving the way for the deployment of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) later the same year. United States assistance was also manifest in such countries as Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire.[12]

In overall terms, United States’ role and policy direction in Africa has been driven by the realization that there is danger in standing aloof from the failed or fragile states on the continent. It serves American national interest, therefore, to assist in strengthening the fragile states, develop local capacity to build porous borders, beef up law enforcement and intelligence infrastructure in the fight against terrorism. It is on record that under its counter-terrorism initiatives, the United States Special Operations Forces in 2002 supplied weapons, vehicles and military training to counter-terrorism teams in Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. The United States had also established a permanent military base in Djibouti for which an amount of US$31 million was offered as development assistance. Similarly, countries that are perceived to have supported the war against terrorism, for instance, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan are aid beneficiaries in a variety of ways.[13]

Another manifestation of the war against terrorism in United States policy on the continent is that development aid in general increases or decreases relative to her commitments in other regions around the globe. The war in Iraq from 2003 meant that aid levels to Africa decreased but individual countries received proportionate higher levels of military and financial assistance depending on the country’s efforts in assisting the US war effort. For instance, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad have all benefited from the counter-terrorism assistance program under the US-European Command with supply of weapons, vehicles and military training. There is also a Department of Defense (Pentagon) program, “Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans-Sahara” under which Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia had benefited. There was a pledge of US$500 million mentioned by the former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld on his visit to the sub-region in 2005, spread over seven years.

Still, in furtherance of American national interest, countries which refused to sign on to the Non-Surrender Agreement (Article 98) as a waiver under the American Service Members Protection Act (ASPA) of 2002, exempting US nationals on their soil from prosecution by the ICC, are cut off from military assistance. This provision extends to all state parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and thus signatories to the Rome Statute. While Ghana, for instance, continues to enjoy its military assistance from the US for granting the waiver, other countries such as Benin, Mali and Niger in the West African sub-region and Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Kenya and Central African Republic were suspended for their refusal to comply with the waiver.[14]

The United States and Africa Command

Another important milestone in United States’ Africa policy is the establishment of an Africa Command (AFRICOM), following the recommendation by former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld in 2007 to that effect. The intention was that a new command headquartered in Africa should coordinate all US military and security interests on the continent. As the report indicated, the new command “would strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa. Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.”[15] The creation of AFRICOM meant that the overall military engagement and responsibility for Africa is removed from the European Command (EUCOM) based in Stuggart, Germany which has responsibility for 42 African countries. The United States Central Command (CENTCOM), based in Tampa, Florida was responsible for eight African countries, namely Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Seychelles, Somali and Sudan. The Hawaii-based United States Pacific Command (PACOM) had responsibility for Comoros, Mauritius and Madagascar.[16]

According to calculations by the then Bush administration, a single command centre with responsibility for Africa meant that initiatives would be streamlined, while giving opportunity to the United States to assess accurately the effectiveness of its programs. Apart from the fact that Africa is placed under a unified command to respond to the security and strategic interests of the US, it would seem that the real motive for the establishment of AFRICOM is not necessarily to satisfy the needs of the continent but rather, the realization that “Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is high priority to this administration.”[17] AFRICOM was to be in place by 30 September, 2008 by which date it had already become operational. With regard to the location of the headquarters in Africa, several countries came up for mention, with initially Algeria, Ghana, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti, and Ethiopia on the list. The opposition and controversy surrounding the establishment of AFRICOM among the African elite had led to disinterest in the project with only President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia signaling Liberia’s availability to host it when President Bush visited that country in 2008.

All the virtues and attributes of AFRICOM not withstanding, there had been a seeming lack of clarity in the true intention behind the establishment of the Command. The AFRICOM structurally is almost everything, except as an instrument of war. Understandably, it is functionally designed to work in concert with African partners to create a more stable security environment for political and economic growth. It is to build partnerships with African governments; support US government agencies operating in the continent; conduct region-wide security operations across the continent; increase the counter-terrorism skills of partner nations; enhance humanitarian assistance, including disaster management and response; promote respect for human rights; provide support for African regional organizations and conduct military support operations if necessary.[18]

Comments by officials of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS), Washington DC, during interactions with the Ghana Chapter of the (ACSS) in Accra, would seem to suggest that AFRICOM may not be headquartered in a single African country. There would be a head office in the United States headed by a military commander while operating staff would be spread around selected zones across the continent.[19] In his own submission in Accra during his tour of the continent, President Bush Jr. seemed to have confirmed this latter position when he condescended that to think that one African country was going to host it was “bullony”.[20] There was, however, no doubt about the intentions of the Bush administration to place AFRICOM on a solid foundation, if initial estimates of the Command’s 2007 cost of operations which was placed in the region of US$50 million was anything to go by.

While the policy pronouncements that underpin AFRICOM portend good intentions on the part of the United States to bring Africa to the forefront of its foreign policy and security commitments, the whole effort raised doubts about the supposed partnership inherent in it. Firstly, the United States was not convincing about enhancing efforts at bringing peace and security to ‘the people of Africa’ and promoting the ‘common’ goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth when Africans or their representatives, whether at the level of governments or civil society groups and organizations, were not properly consulted on this grand project initially. Secondly, it was unclear whether Africa needed a security edifice in the form of a military command just because it falls within the traditional hegemonic tradition and practice of the US to establish command structures around the world. Thirdly, was the issue of prioritization of the areas and sectors that required external intervention and support. Perhaps, an appropriate framework would have been to engage African representation in the discussions for a mutually beneficial framework around policy issues, strategies, vision and mission, and benchmarks. As events later unfolded, global security calculations, dictated by geo-strategic considerations seemed to have shaped the structures and even the perceived benefits to the continent and these were obviously predetermined.

Perceptively, there were efforts by some regional actors to thwart any attempt by the United States to develop any more military bases on the continent, particularly the Gulf of Guinea (Sao Tome-Principe has been the more attractive to the European Central Command) since these might play into the long-term intentions, if any, behind the AFRICOM. Some of these intentions might be to use AFRICOM to protect United States interests, including the fight against terrorism, contain foreign competition, particularly the growing influence of China on the continent, to canvas and protect vital resources, especially meeting its energy needs, to support her allies and partners vital to accomplishing its national interests across the region and beyond.

According to statements by the US Commander of AFRICOM, General William E. Ward before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 9, 2010 in Washington DC, priorities of the Obama Administration as spelt out during his visit to Ghana in July 2009 would determine the long-term objectives of AFRICOM. These include supporting strong and sustainable democracies and good governance; fostering sustained economic growth and development; increasing access to quality health and education; and helping to prevent, mitigate and resolve armed conflict. These priorities would be achieved, he emphasized, through sustained security engagement with African militaries. US programs and activities would therefore be geared toward supporting her national interests while also ensuring that four defense-oriented goals expressed by African governments and their people are pursued. These consist of building capable and accountable military forces that can perform professionally and with integrity; that these forces are supported and sustained by effective, legitimate, and professional security institutions; that they have the capability to exercise their means both nationally and regionally to dissuade, deter and defeat transnational threats; and finally that they have the capacity to increase their support towards international peacekeeping efforts.

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.


The partnership of African governments in meeting United States security needs in an environment permeated by international terrorism, the quest for energy and the place of the Gulf of Guinea, especially the oil-producing countries in US energy politics, are thus extremely important in these calculations. There are indications that the US is determined to establish friendly relations with African governments perceived to be supportive of her strategic needs. Different forms of assistance, financial, military and technical, had been offered and will continue to be channeled to individual governments to make them reliable partners in this regard. Both at bilateral and multilateral levels, a lot of diplomatic activity have gone on to consolidate what can be perceived as mutually rewarding arrangements.

It, however, appears that US activities are in the main geared towards fulfilling her national priorities and the region only comes in as a strategic partner. It seems also that the United States is active in the region only when it realized late in the day that the region provides a critical element in achieving her national interests. The case could be made that the United States would have been visibly absent from the African region had it not been for the recent developments at the global and local levels. The events of September 11, 2001 make international security a concern for all humanity but can also be looked at as linked to US foreign policy. The same events have led to the onslaught on perceived enemies of the United States, principally, terrorist groups and cells around the world. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are directly linked to the war against terrorism. So far as threats to US security persist, questions relating to safeguarding her national interest would take centre stage. Africa and the rest of the world should necessarily and certainly come in to play roles that complement the efforts of the United States and her coalition partners to vanquish international terrorism.

On the other hand, Africa has its own problems to resolve. The ravaging incidence of intra-state conflicts across the continent; poverty and indebtedness; high rates of HIV/AIDS infections (the highest rate globally); and the astronomical population growth rates (almost 900 million and expected to rise to 1.2 billion by 2020.[28] These are issues that the US has duly acknowledged and pledged time and again to assist in redressing. It would appear as though such assistance comes through only when there is guarantee that the recipient country is purportedly an ally in a common cause with the United States. The examples cited in the study demonstrate this anomaly in United States foreign policy, the avowed “carrot and stick” approach to decision-making regarding the beneficiaries of her international assistance programs.

The other concern is the lack of consultation in programs that are packaged for the continent. Though the problems and conditions which warrant intervention by our development partners are commonplace, it still would be more appropriate to entreat the cooperation and participation of African leaders and their people on such crucial decisions and policy frameworks. The case of AFRICOM has made controversial headlines because there was an apparent lack of adequate consultation, transparency, trust and mutual understanding, particularly as the true intentions of the United States had to be gleaned initially.

Lastly is the harnessing and development of the region’s vast natural resources. The potential that the region’s energy resources hold for economic growth and development are promising. It will take collaborative effort from the leaders of the African region in association with development partners such as the United States to harness such resources for mutual gain. The tendency to invest in the exploitation of the sub-region’s resources that completely ignores the benefits for the people affects relations and undermines trust. The cases of the Delta Region of Nigeria and by extension, Sudan are concrete examples in this regard; thus efforts must be made by the energy multinationals to invest not only in state security but human security, the security of the people of the sub-region who are the true owners of these resources. This certainly brings to the fore corporate social responsibility (CSO) and civil society groups must support their governments and be at the forefront of negotiations to make this a reality. Recent exploration activities in the oil sector in Ghana and the underlying issues of a legal framework, local content and appropriate formula for the utilization of the oil revenue speaks eloquently in this regard.

The role of regional and sub-regional groupings as bridgeheads of development, integration and security also become extremely important. The African Union, ECOWAS, IGAD and SADC, as examples, should identify their institutional relevance in the evolving security architecture. These organizations must task themselves, and rightly so, with policy coordination, leadership in negotiations and the prioritization of programs that bring development and stability to the continent. In this regard, they should liaise with African governments in providing a consultative forum, a sounding board of a sort towards enhancing the true interests of the people with important global actors such as the United States of America.


1 B. Y. Gebe, ‘The Cold War Reconsidered: The Politics of Survival in Africa.’ In Adjibolosoo, Senyo & Ofori-Amoah, Benjamin (eds.), Addressing Misconceptions about Africa’s Development: Seeing Beyond the Veil. (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1998), pp. 174-190.

2 President George Bush Jr. for instance, in his January 2003 State of the Union Address announced the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief  (PEPFAR) a five-year US$15 billion program, concentrated on assisting 12 African and 2 Caribbean countries.

3 Refer to the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 1999 signed into an Act of Congress during the presidency of President Bill Clinton.

4 Ghana, for instance, received US$547 million from the United States for utilization in the crucial sectors of rural development, agriculture production, infrastructure provision, towards overall poverty reduction.

5 Address to the Joint Session of Congress after the Gulf War that removed Iraq from Kuwait through the Grand Coalition.

6 Address to the Joint Session of Congress.

7 A. Sarjoh Bah & Kwesi Aning, United States Peace Operations Policy in Africa: From ACRI to AFRICOM. International Peacekeeping, Vol. 15, No. 1, February 2008, p. 119.

8 Ibid, p. 119.

9 Ibid, pp. 120-121.

10 Ibid, p. 121.

11 Ibid, p. 122.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid, p. 125.

14 Ibid, p. 122.

15 Quoted in Sarjoh & Aning, p. 126.

16 Ibid, p. 126.

17 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September, 2002.

18 Sarjoh and Aning, op. cit, p. 128.

19 This was revealed in a One-Day Conference on the AFRICOM project held at Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre on 6th June 2008.

20 See Daily Graphic editions of 19-22 February, 2008 that covered the entire visit of President Bush to Ghana.

21 Global Policy Forum, August 2, 2002. Cited in http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/natres/oil/2002/0802mili.htm

22 PFC Energy, West Africa Petroleum Sector Oil Value Forecast and Distribution. (Washington, D.C: PFC Energy, December 12, 2003). Cited in David Goldwyn and Stephen Morrison, Promoting Transparency in the African Oil Sector. (Washington, D.C: Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 2004), p. 2.

23 James Jay Carafano and Nile Gardiner, “United States Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution.” In the Backgrounder, Number 1697, October 15, 2003,  p. 2.

24 Carafano & Gardiner, United States Military Assistance for Africa, Carafano, James J. & Gardiner, Nile, “United States Military Assistance for Africa: A Better Solution.” The Backgrounder, No. 1697, October 15, 2003, p. 2.

25 Issah Yakubu, The Oil Find and United States Interests in the Gulf of Guinea – Cradle or Coffin of the Region? Daily Graphic, November 7, 2007.

26 Global Policy Forum, August 2, 2002.

27 Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Task Force Report (March 2004) and recommendations in the Heritage Foundation, October 15, 2003.

28 United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: Population Database, 2003 at http://esaun..org/unpp/.


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