Africom Now: Security and Development Policy in Africa

by Taylor Jo Isenberg | September 22nd, 2010 | |Subscribe

With the third day underway for the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), much of the news coverage is focused on the international celebrities out in force in New York and the progress (or lack thereof) towards achieving the goals designed to end extreme poverty.  Yet as the UN Summit was beginning this week, twelve members of al Qaeda’s North African wing (AQIM) were killed after clashing with Mauritanian military forces, Kenya voiced their growing concern about the international community’s neglect of the security situation in Somalia, anxiety rose over al Qaeda’s headway in Uganda, and Sudan’s upcoming referendum has resulted in rigorous diplomatic efforts to prevent a potential war between north and south. In all of these situations, the shaky security situation impedes international efforts to promote progress through sustainable development. As Obama takes the stage today to discuss his Presidential Study Directive for Global Development (PSD-7), we need to assess how we form and implement policy in Africa to address the interrelated nature of security and development in the 21st century.

In tackling this challenge, the U.S. tried hitting two birds with one stone: along with recognizing Africa’s growing importance on the global stage, the Bush administration established Africa Command (Africom) in 2008 to act as a test tube institution meant to preempt and respond to the new multidimensional challenges of 21st century threats. Through training programs, promoting stability with development projects, and a partnership-based approach to states and regional institutions, the military command center has put into practice the integration of development and security priorities. As Vice Admiral Robert Moeller, the first Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations in Africom stated, “diplomacy, development, and defense should work hand in hand—and in balance—to achieve long-term security.”

Africom, in targeting the three D’s (defense, diplomacy, and development) as a humanitarian and strategic interest, has the right idea of capacity building and supporting Africans to solve their own problems. Their focus on partnerships and success stories such as the Africa Partnership Station are promising, and the working relationship with State and USAID demonstrates the necessary integration of civilian and military capabilities.

Yet two years in, Africom is struggling to exert influence and faces an uphill publicity battle against the notion that it is attempting to militarize Africa and its vast resource wealth. Unable to find a location acceptable to a host African nation, Africom remains in Stuttgart, Germany, and it is unlikely to relocate. The Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), in many ways a flagship example of combining the three D’s, is faltering in its mission. With 60% of its budget allocated to civil affairs projects, it does not have the training or know-how to follow up on their development related activities. Building a health clinic that does not have the resources to serve the community, while not a failure of strategy, is a failure of implementation.

The problems facing Africom- concern over militarization of US foreign policy, a lack luster response from African governments, and a limited knowledge of the tenants of good development policy- are indications that Africom’s integrative structure does not solve the larger systemic problem, where our diplomatic and development arms still do not have the support or financial means to lead our foreign policy infrastructure in the 21st century. While Secretary Gates and other military leaders have noted the need to reform and invest in diplomacy and development, change has been slow, leaving the military to pick up the slack and become the face of American foreign policy. Instead of Africom being the centralization of our efforts to integrate the three D’s, it should instead be a responsive support arm. Rather than 60% of the CJF-HOA budget being allotted for civilian capacity building, that money should be under the purview of USAID to implement their development knowhow.

Africom should do what it does best: train military forces, build military capacity and partnerships, promote rule of law, and educate on human rights in war zones- all of which speak to the reality of security as a precursor to development. The military understands what role it should be playing. Now, as Obama releases some of the policies mapped in PSD-7, we should ensure that diplomacy and development are given the resources and ability to hold up their end and lead the integrated strategy.


  1. Africom Now: Security and Development Policy in Africa – Across the Aisle (blog) « HOA Management USA wrote,

    [...] Africom Now: Security and Development Policy in AfricaAcross the Aisle (blog)The Combined Joint Task Force- Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), in many ways a flagship example of combining the three D's, is faltering in its mission. … [...]

    Pingback on September 22, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

  2. Ekuson Debango wrote,

    The caption to this story clearly threw me for a loop. I don’t get the development part of Africom at all. In fact I still do not understand the purpose of this 21st century gamble and how it will benefit the Africans. I can see how putting economic structures and programmes on the ground will benefit Africans but I sure as hell don’t see how all this display of military might will benefit the average African. Am I missing something here?

    Comment on September 24, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

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