‘US AFRICOM PRECONDITIONS’:
Is Liberia qualified to host headquarters?
Julius Kanubah, Julius.email@example.com (+2316586240)
The debate surrounding the positioning of the US Africa Command headquarters on the Continent has reignited with the new head of the Command presently paying a visit to Liberia- a Country that has publicly declared willingness to host the program.
General Carter F. Ham landed in Liberia on Monday (April 18, 2011) to participate in a series of meetings with senior Liberian officials and US Embassy personnel. These meetings have by now been held with Gen. Ham appearing at his first and perhaps final interaction with the Liberian media before his departure.
At news conference Tuesday (April 19, 2011) at the US Public Affairs Diplomacy section, Gen. Ham gave yet the strongest indications of the basic requirements for any African nation to host the Africa Command headquarters.
Africa Command is a new US initiative with a primary function “to train and equip African militaries to ‘legitimize’ and ‘professionalize’ soldiers. AFRICO is also a piece of a broader shift in US foreign policy- a foreign policy that places an emphasis on defense above diplomacy. It is designed to fulfil the immediate special interests of the United States with little heed to the implications for the people of Africa. The official AFRICOM website further states that “United States Africa Command, in concert with other US government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote stable and secure African environment in support of US foreign policy”.
“There are two things that are important when we consider the possibility of the headquarters being stationed on the continent of Africa. First, it is important to remember as many of you do, when the Command was first formed, one of the principles was that we will not seek a large American military presence on the Continent of Africa. Africa Command headquarters is a very large presence. And, so there is some tension, and some discussion that we need to have as to whether it will be indeed appropriate to be on the Continent of Africa”, said Gen. Ham, as he outlined some of the requirements of positioning AFRICOM headquarters in Africa.
Besides these basic principles he noted “the second point frankly is simply a matter of cost. We are at a large headquarters [in Stuttgart, Germany]. We have lots of service members, family, civilian employees, and wherever we would go will be a very large foot print; a very large headquarters with housing and schools and sports field, shopping centres and all the normal things that the United States Military does when it puts a large presence some place”.
Gen. Ham was blunt to emphasize that the positioning of the AFRICOM headquarters on the Continent was ‘very very expensive’ but he however spoke of an ongoing assessment to find a possible headquarters of the Africa Command.
“Having said all that, we are in the process now; we’ve begun the process of making that assessment of where the location should be and in some point I will hope in the next few Months I will be ready to go back to Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates with my recommendation from a Military standpoint as to where the headquarters should be located”.
Responding to an inquiry whether Liberia is ideally located to host the headquarters of the Africa Command amidst his ongoing assessment of potential Countries, Gen. Ham was not direct but he laid out some of the preconditions.
“What we will look at as we conduct this process is a large variety of factors to make out the best recommendation possible for the location of the headquarters. It will consider the geographic location and accessibility throughout the Continent. It will address security both in general and then at specific site. It will address the communication infrastructure…we are very heavily dependent on a wide variety of communication means to make sure that, that is there. We will look at quality of life, facilities for service members and their families, cost of living for example, provision of host nation health care- a wide variety of factors that will be considered. And then, on top of all that- cost. And, not surprisingly, cost will be a significant determinant as to what our final recommendation is”.
These factors as spelt out by the US AFRICOM new head place Liberia in a delicate but yet difficult and precarious position in its bid to host the American military presence in Africa. Though Liberia is considered a strategic partner of the US government, the Country is struggling to recover from years of brutal rebel war with high rate of poverty compounded with low quality of life and high cost of living, low provision of health care delivery and perhaps lack of an effective and efficient communication sector.
These are factors US Defense authorities as announced by Gen. Ham are reviewing and making serious consideration to awarding the hosting privilege of the headquarters of the Africa Command to any African nation like Liberia.
As Gen. Ham laid out these factors, the next line of inquiry shifted to US Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield who was asked whether Liberia fits into the requirements put forth.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield smartly responded to the question by saying “I think I can ask you [FrontPageAfica] that question”.
Her response was an interrogation, requesting journalists to answer whether Liberia meets the requirements put forth by Gen. Ham. And, with smile and laughter during the press conference, FrontPageAfrica returned the question to Gen. Ham who stressed that “we are at the very beginning of this process. Not at the end. So, I wouldn’t want to prejudge any of this. [But], what I will tell you is, that we know one thing for certain and that one thing we know for certain is that, the Armed Forces of Liberia and military of the United States are great partners and we will continue to be great partners well into the future”.
The issue of partnership between the Armed Forces of Liberia and the US military was further emphasized when US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield declared that “Liberia has a very significant AFRICOM presence here with our mentors [US military & Advisors] who are working with the AFL and a very strong commitment by AFRICOM to continue to work with the Liberians”.
The visit of Gen. Ham is seen as highly important to the ongoing military cooperation between Liberia and the US but interestingly Liberia is not the only Country the US AFRICOM new head is visiting or has visited.
He has already been to South Africa, Kenya, Djibouti, Egypt and Tunisia for either private or military engagements. Gen. Ham is now due to head to Senegal- the second West African Country after Liberia and later to Mali- which will become the third regional Country of his visitation before he heads back to the AFRICOM present headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
Gen. Ham who has a wealth of experience with the US army dating back from 1976 expressed the hope that the people of Liberians will expect from their Armed Forces “a well-trained, well disciplined, well led force that is subordinate to civilian control of the military, respectful of human rights and respectful of the rule of law. And, I think that’s exactly what this country will get. And, it will get a force that will be able to meet not only the security requirements of Liberia but be a valuable contributor to multinational operations into the future. It will take some time to get there. And, we are honoured and proud to be a part of the process”.
Though the debate will continue to linger whether Liberia meets the requirements to hosting the headquarters of Africa Command, it’s clear that the military engagement with the US will continue.