U.S. Interests in Africa: Developing a Sustainable Policy for Ending African Wars and Assisting in Counterterrorism Efforts (Part 2)

As I explained in yesterday's post, the United States has begun to realize the importance of Africa in its foreign policy agenda over the past several decades. Particularly because of the U.S. War on Terror and the increasing emphasis of furthering development throughout the Global South, the U.S. has realized the need to end African wars and conflicts in order to aid in development and to discourage international terrorism. Contributing to the various UN missions serving in Africa is one method by which the U.S. helps achieve this goal; however, the U.S. has also created its own initiatives that are aimed at supporting African responses to its own crisis. This post highlights a few of those initiatives. 

African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI)
Photo via ACOTA
In addition to its contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, the U.S. has developed other methods by which to respond to and prevent armed conflicts in Africa. For example, the U.S. created the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), which served to “enable Africans to manage their own conflicts”.1  However, the African response to ACRI was split throughout the continent. States who viewed their security problems emanating from external sources were often reluctant or refused to be part of ACRI, whereas states that had internal domestic security threats were more likely to participate in ACRI for the purpose of advancing their national interests. The reason for this being that the states with domestic security problems saw ACRI as a way to build their military response capacity so that they can better handle their internal threats. The result of this, however, did not lead to greater peace throughout Africa. Instead, the states with preexisting domestic security struggles ended up becoming militarized through ACRI. In fact, ACRI participants were more likely to use their “military forces to settle domestic conflicts” instead of through politics.2 Therefore, it could be argued that ACRI was counterproductive to its own objectives.

Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA)
The African Crisis Response Initiative was dissolved in 2004 and was replaced by the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA). ACOTA is similar ACRI in that it also trains African troops to respond to their own crisis. According to the head of ACOTA, “Our job is to help African countries enhance their capabilities to effectively take part in peacekeeping operations”.

Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI)
Another initiative that was created when ACRI was dissolved was the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). GPOI is a multilateral program that was created in 2004 by the G-8, which trains African troops to respond to its own crisis by creating a “self-sustaining peacekeeping force”, that is managed by the U.S. Department of State.3 GPOI is considered vital for peacekeeping efforts given that Africa only contributes 22% of the total number of peacekeeping troops in the world, despite the fact that the majority of peacekeeping forces are within Africa.4

For the most part, GPOI and ACOTA are welcomed in Africa since most African nations have stated that they prefer a UN or African Union intervention in their crisis rather than a unilateral intervention “by a rich country”, like the U.S.5 ACOTA and GPOI are not, however, without their critics. Some believe that both initiatives are simply part of a scheme to train African troops to fight in the U.S.’s War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other “hot spots” for terrorism.6 However, there is little evidence as of now to support this claim. Nevertheless, this perception illustrates the distrust by Africans that is built upon decades (and centuries) of secretive schemes used by America to further their national interests.

Photo via AFRICOM
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)
Yet another more recent U.S. response to African conflicts was the creation of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007 by President Bush. Unlike GPOI and ACOTA, AFRICOM is not intended to train African troops to respond to their own crisis; rather it is direct U.S. involvement in African conflicts. The timing for the announcement to create AFRICOM was strategic – the U.S. now has many interests in the continent including “counter terrorism, secur[ing] natural resources, contain[ing] armed conflict and humanitarian crisis, retard[ing] the spread of HIV/ AIDS, reduc[ing] international crime, and respond[ing] to growing Chinese influence.”7 However, quite often AFRICOM struggles due to its limited knowledge of Africa’s complex social, economic, and political landscapes.

Therefore, AFRICOM often seeks to collaborate with other third parties such as NGOs who are usually “uneasy” about partnering due to their adherence to impartiality and independence, as well as for fear of blurring the lines between humanitarian aid workers and U.S. military.8

Furthermore, many are suspicious of AFRICOM because of the history of U.S.-Africa relations – colonialism has planted a seed of distrust in many leaders – as well as the American interests that lay in Africa, such as counterterrorism initiatives and African oil. This makes some fear that AFRICOM is simply a way by which to secure U.S. interests without giving African states anything in return.9 For AFRICOM to be truly effective, Washington needs to prove that it is not a Trojan horse to better access African oil or expand its front for the Global War on Terror. Given the uneasy history of U.S.-Africa relations, gaining the necessary trust for AFRICOM will take time and effort.

1 Paul Omach, “The African Crisis Response Initiative: Domestic Politics and Convergence of National Interests,” Foreign Affairs, 99, (2000): 94.
2 Ibid., 73, 94.
3 Sean McFate, “U.S. Africa Command: A New Strategic Paradigm?,” Military Review (2008), 13.
4 Raymond Copson, The United States in Africa, (London: Zed Books, 2007), 107.
5 Ibid., 102.
6 Ibid., 106.
7 Sean McFate, “U.S. Africa Command: A New Strategic Paradigm?,” Military Review (2008), 12.
8 Ibid., 20.
9 Ibid., 18.


  1. AFRICOM is just like EUCOM (european command), NORTHCOM (north america command), SOUTHCOM (south america command), CENTCOM (central asia command), and PACOM (pacific command). Each of these regional commands are supposed to coordinate all US military actions in their region. AFRICOM was the last regional command formed and before 2007 was covered by EUCOM.

    Many africans remain suspicious of AFRICOM- I've been to many AFRICOM sponsored conferences where the people try to figure out what AFRICOM is up to and ask why they are really there. Under General Ward AFRICOM always said it came in peace and promoted helping Africans help themselves. However, under General Ham AFRICOM bombed Libya, causing more confusion about AFRICOM and its intent.

  2. Thanks for the comment Arnie!
    Yes, I believe that the shift from having Africa be covered by EUCOM to having it have its own regional command was needed and deserved.

    I agree, although I have not talked much to people in Sierra Leone about AFRICOM, I would be curious to speak with more people who live in countries where it actually operates (perhaps in the Sahel?) who I'm sure would have a much more stronger opionion either for or against it.

    A few months back I read a book on AFRICOM and I should probably go back and reread it because now I remember very little from it, but what I do remember is that it had two or three papers in it that were written by various African scholars. I think 1 of the papers the authors supported AFRICOM, 1 was a little suspicious, and the 3rd was very suspicious. I should go back and reread their critiques.

    And yes, I agree with you on Libya. Although I'm no expert on Libya or really the Maghreb for that matter, I think Africans have the write to be suspicious after Libya, do they not? I think U.S. involvement in overthrowing/killing an African leader is quite reminiscent to the Cold War years when things like that occurred for frequently - and secretively (i.e. Patrice Lumumba).

    Thanks again, Arnie!
    Karen K


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