Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 85: US militarization of the Sahara-Sahel: Security, Space & Imperialism

The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part One)

June 2010

AFRICOM brings together three separate US military commands. Militarization of Africa is being co-ordinated by AFRICOM. It was established by President George Bush, following the war on terror and to serve other US interests. AFRICOM will also reflect on new doctrines of counterinsurgency and that means militarization as well as taking on developmental functions too.

I will make three brief points. My first point is based on the War on Terror and prosecution of US interests – the way I look at what happened in Ethiopia and Somalia, for instance. Ethiopians initiated an action which took them into Mogadishu. I see that as a great disaster. This action was cleared by Washington, which seemed to be oblivious to the long standing enmities and military actions that have taken place between the two countries over the years. They were oblivious also to the fact that the Ethiopian army still functions along Warsaw pact lines, which means their attack on Mogadishu was always going to take place ‘tank first’ to destroy huge sections of the city. What it has done is to form a hardened cadre in southern areas of Somalia of more fundamental Islamic groups. In other words, it has created a rod with which to beat people’s backs rather than solved any of the new problems of the poor in terms of the normal enunciation of US interests.

My second point is on development. If this is going to have a developmental function, what on earth is that going to be? The US military is not a developmental agency. There are many others involved in developmental work who are better equipped to do this, even if it is not perfect. The US military will add nothing to the developmental desk, certainly not in terms of civil engineering projects. For instance, there will being nothing that could rival Chinese projects in terms of civil engineering projects.

My last point is about the outsourcing of logistical supplies and materials. I hope it makes use of African contractors instead of simply using American ones and I hope that there will not be a reliance on security agencies like Blackwater.

Is AFRICOM here to stay? I’m afraid it is just like EUCOM: here to stay. Will it do any good? I will leave that to our speakers. Will the Africans have their say? I hope so.

The debate will be led by two speakers. The first is Daniel Volman and then Jeremy Keenan.

Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research Project in Washington DC, a member of the board of directors of the US Association of Concerned African Scholars (ACAS) and is a specialist on US security policy in Africa. He has been working on this field now for some three decades.

Jeremy Keenan will be known to a number of you as a professorial research associate here at SOAS. He is an anthropologist and an authority on the Sahara. He has written a number of articles and books in recent years on US approaches to counter terrorism in Africa. Jeremy has asked me to apologise for him: he may have to present sitting down as the years he spent tramping around the Sahara carrying his supplies has done some ‘interesting things’ to his back.

Part Two: Contribution from Daniel Volman

Part Three: Contribution from Jeremy Keenan:

About the Author

Dr Stephen Chan is a Professor of Politics and International Relations, and an associate member of the Centre for Media and Film Studies, at the School of Oriental and African Studies. His specialization is the politics of southern Africa and non-Western methodologies. His most recent books are The End of Certainty : towards a new internationalism (Zed 2009) and Grasping Africa: A Tale of Achievement and Tragedy (I.B. Tauris 2007).

1 Comment to “The origins of AFRICOM: the Obama administration, the Sahara-Sahel and US Militarization of Africa (Part One)”
Carl LeVan: June 25th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

I am glad that ACAS remains committed to researching and openly debating the implications of AFRICOM.

For those of you interested, I posted the unclassified draft research guidelines for the new DOD research institute on Africa on my blog at

The institute’s proposed transparency is refreshing but will prove difficult to implement in any meaningful way – especially since the academics involved appear to have very little leverage with or insulation from DOD bureaucratic interests.

Looking forward to reading this issue of the ACAS Bulletin.

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