Thursday, August 16, 2012

AFRICOM good intentions

In the 16 August 2012 Foreign Policy article The Pivot to Africa: Circumcision, mosquito killing, and other strange doings of Africom the author, Rosa Brooks, describes several of the projects undertaken by the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve relations with the locals and African governments.  AFRICOM is different from other regional military commands, like EUCOM in Europe or SOUTHCOM in South America, as it was designed to integrate civilian and military teams as a unified approach to helping the African continent.  So in Africa you have military service-members interfacing with Africans in a variety of ways, from teaching Africans how to clear minefields and purify drinking water to building schools.

In the Pivot to Africa article, Brooks listed several examples: 
  • Construction of school classrooms in Chad
  • Research on the "Association of Sexual Violence and Human Rights Violations With Physical and Mental Health in Territories of the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo"
  • Cattle vaccination in Uganda, designed to provide healthy cattle to internally displaced civilians returning to their homes
  • Activities to combat drug trafficking through the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative
  • Construction of closed wells with solar-powered pumps in Senegal
  • Establishment of an East African Malaria Task Force to combat "one of the biggest killers on the continent: the mosquito"
  • Development of a news and information website aimed at local audiences in the Maghreb region, featuring "analysis, interviews and commentary by paid Magharebia correspondents"
  • Construction of a maternal- and pediatric-care ward at a Ugandan hospital
  • Collaboration with Botswana's military to "promote Botswana's national program of education, HIV screening and male circumcision surgeries"
  • Cooperation with the Sierra Leone Maritime Wing and Fisheries Ministry that "result[ed] in the apprehension of an illegally operating fishing vessel"
This is just a very small list of all the activities the Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) in the US Embassies in Africa manage.  Each DoD Office of Security Cooperation manages hundreds of thousands of dollars of projects in each country in efforts to enhance relations and the capabilities of the African host nation.  These projects are coordinated with the rest of the embassy offices including USAID and approved by the Ambassador to synchronize US efforts in the country in accordance with the US mission plan.

Some projects are better conceived and received than others.  For example a school opening I witnessed in Senegal was very well received by local government officials and the community but in Chad the US funded schools I saw were padlocked and not used by the locals.  Instead the locals were holding class in a more traditional hut that provided ventilation and light and a much more comfortable learning environment than the concrete box with tiny windows and tin roof provided by DoD.
US DoD built school in Chad

Where we found the locals holding class nearby in Chad

I think that AFRICOM has good intentions but mixed results due to mistrust across the continent and less than thorough understanding of the locals and their needs.  To be fair AFRICOM is a very young organization that is still growing its team to work on the continent and it takes time to develop relationships and expertise in 54 African countries.  At the very least, AFRICOM is a good effort for the US to try to reengage on the continent after its near abandonment following the disaster of "Blackhawk Down" in Somalia in 1993.

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