n Africa Conflict Monthly Monitor - The US Africa Command's continental shift : five years on - : East Africa - issue in focus

Volume 2013, Issue 05
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The United States' (US) Africa Command (AFRICOM) has had a rocky five-year existence since its formation in 2008, and received a frosty reception by African states. The initial reluctance by virtually all countries on the continent to host AFRICOM's headquarters served as a plain statement of resistance to the organisation's existence. In March 2013, AFRICOM's commander, General Carter Ham, announced the path forward for American military interaction with their African counterparts. With the new commander, General David Rodriguez, only now taking command in April, he will be expected to follow suit to deepen military ties with key countries in the region, with a specific objective of suppressing terrorism and maritime piracy. In this sense then, AFRICOM's approach includes a blend of low-key training- and support-exercises in the background with key partners and, in specific cases, construction of military infrastructure that both American and African servicemen can benefit from.

With both Islamic terrorism and maritime piracy already experiencing sharp declines in 2013, AFRICOM has a stated its intention to continue fighting these two major threats. However, the intention relies primarily on cooperation with regional partners, rather than unilateral action. For East Africa, the implications are a mixed bag of positives and negatives. Depending on the state, greater AFRICOM engagement can yield significant gains in terms of regional security, operational capability, and reductions in terrorist threats. On the other hand, a perceived reliance on American military assistance to solve African problems can result in great African Union (AU) alienation for the host nation, or at the least, the inability to disengage from the AFRICOM partnership once it has been established.
The official path forward for AFRICOM in East Africa lies in strengthening existing training and the capacity-building programmes that it shares with major Eastern African states, particularly in stabilising Somalia and training the Kenyan military. The ongoing engagements, detailed by Ham in the 2013 posture statement, highlight an important, softer tone adopted by the US Military in East Africa and have yielded positive results. Amidst a hostile African perception of American presence in the continent, East African states have shown a remarkable willingness to engage with AFRICOM assets - in the form of trainers, logisticians, intelligence sources and so on - for the specific purpose of counter-terrorism and broader military capability in the region.

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