The Controversy about AFRICOM's Headquarters Location

December 30, 2007

A controversy about the location of AFRICOM has been appearing on some media outlets. Ethiopia is presumed to be in the lead for the selection of the location of AFRICOM's headquarters. Nonetheless, some critics have gone to the extent of blaming Ethiopia as betraying Africa for its reported willingness to be AFRICOM's headquarters. The basis of such criticisms must be looked at rationally and put in perspective.

USAFRICOM or AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, is a new Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense. According to published sources, AFRICOM will be responsible for U.S. military operations in and military relations with 53 African nations, which include all African countries except Egypt.

AFRICOM is reported to have been conceived in 2006 under the leadership of the former Defense Secretary of the United States, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld. President George W. Bush is reported to have authorized this new command on the same day Secretary Rumsfeld left office. Whether the decision was made unilaterally by the United States, or after multilateral consultations with all the concerned African countries, or after bilateral consultations with the continental African Union organization, is not clear.

USAFRICOM is not the first one of its kind. The United States European Command (USEUCOM), headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, has areas of responsibility for many countries and territories of the European region, including Turkey, Greenland, and most of the former Soviet Union republics. The United States Central Command, based in Tampa, Florida, has areas of responsibility in the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia. The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), based in Hawaii, has areas of responsibility that encompasses East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Alaska, Madagascar, and Oceania.

As AFRICOM enters previously established similar United States Commands, the controversy about the location of its headquarters should have been easier to put in perspective. Perhaps, the most important question should be about which African entity to be the responsible party to take the lead in agreeing or disagreeing with the placement of AFRICOM on African soil? Could it be the African Union, the African Civil Society, individual African governments, or all African governments? It is the answer to this critical question that must be the basis for blaming Ethiopia as a country for betraying Africa, if indeed it is a betrayal of Africa by Ethiopia, a country that in the past fought against colonization and won.

Some of the critics of the establishment of AFRICOM's headquarters on African soil are individual writers and commentators, including a Nigerian physician practicing in the United States. Some critics have even called the relocation of the African Union headquarters from Finfinne (Addis Ababa) to other African countries because of this issue. On the other hand, as the Economist magazine reported in June 2007, African countries have been competing to host the headquarters as it is perceived that it will bring money to the recipient country. According to this report "...Africans know that the superpower's military investment will bring money and jobs."

With these two sides of the controversy, Ethiopia may not be in a comfortable position to make the decision for or against hosing AFRICOM's headquarters. The logical step may be to refer to the consensus of the African entity that is responsible for such an important matter that concerns the continent. Despite political differences, the role of the Ethiopian intellectuals could well be analyzing the long-term implications and benefits of such matters. They should not use this matter to score cheap political points against or for the current Ethiopian government or the party that is ruling it.

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