John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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AFRICOM to Stay in Stuttgart

by John Campbell
February 8, 2013

Kampala, Uganda
U.S. General Carter F. Ham, Commander of the U.S. Africa Command addresses a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda's capital Kampala, May 11, 2011. (Edward Echwalu/Courtesy Reuters) Kampala, Uganda U.S. General Carter F. Ham, Commander of the U.S. Africa Command addresses a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda's capital Kampala, May 11, 2011. (Edward Echwalu/Courtesy Reuters)

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.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by brad

    I would add two points of clarification 1-AFRICOM’s components do not belong to US European Command. 2-There is not a single major city on the African continent which could realistically absorb a combatant command headquarters and associated families. Housing, power supply, etc are all huge forces at play.

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    A few comments directed to Brad.

    1. South Africa has a few cities that can very comfortably absorb a combatant command, but they will not play ball.

    2. Your second point illustrates why the US is not serious about playing in Africa. France operates with a much leaner footprint and still covers the continent pretty well. US tends to be obsessed with replicating America abroad.

    3. Your second point also points to Africa’s obvious infrastructure challenges – so what does America do when it confronts them? Promote AFRICOM. What do the Chinese do? They help build the infrastructure.

  • Posted by Chris

    Chike is correct. The problem isn’t their ability to host a large command, it is in America’s insistence on making “little Americas” everywhere. While more “comfortable” for those working there it makes little sense in an area where western influence is not viewed in an overly positive light. I have said time and time again that the Chinese are playing this friendship game FAR better than we Americans are. Their relationship with both Latin America and Africa should be a wake up call to our Government. Sadly an insistence on only cooperating fully with countries most like us will continue to decrease our ability to make headway with the developing countries.

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