The Department of Defense announced on Feb 5 that the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters will remain in Stuttgart, Germany.
According to Stars and Stripes, the decision to stay in Germany rather than relocate to the United States was based on “operational needs.”
When AFRICOM was created in 2007, the expectation had been that its headquarters would be on the African continent. Six years later, that is apparently no longer a realistic option.
In much of sub-Saharan Africa, AFRICOM has been deeply controversial. The initial roll-out of AFRICOM was ham-fisted, and involved minimal and hurried consultation with African governments. That precluded the natural development of an African constituency for it, which would have taken time and careful cultivation. Instead, the new command was widely seen in Africa as yet another example of the militarization of U.S. policy toward Africa in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan. At that time, Liberia, just emerging from a civil war, expressed some receptivity to hosting the AFRICOM headquarters–until Nigeria made it clear that that would be unacceptable. Africa’s other giant, South Africa, was also unsympathetic to the establishment of the new command. In the end, AFRICOM stayed in Stuttgart, Germany, where most of its component parts were already based as part of the European Command (EUCOM). Since then, African suspicion of AFRICOM has mitigated somewhat, especially among weak West African governments frightened of radical jihadist movements. But elsewhere suspicion appears little abated. This was illustrated most recently in the near-universal African assumption that the signing of a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Niger on Jan 28, 2013, is the first step toward the establishment of a U.S. drone base in West Africa. This assumption discounts the fact that the negotiations have been underway for over a year, and the U.S. already has more than twenty-four such agreements with other African states.
Operationally, AFRICOM’s creation made good sense; it largely amounted to an internal re-arrangement of U.S. assets and, ironically, foresaw a much larger civilian component that was present in other commands, reflecting its anticipated training and disaster-relief components. The deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, Christopher Dell, is a serving ambassador from the Department of State rather than a military officer. However, the civilian component has never been as large as initially envisaged, primarily because of personnel shortages in the contributing civilian agencies. And it will take a long time for AFRICOM to live down its roll-out.