What Is AFRICOM? How the U.S. Military is Militarizing and Destabilizing Africa

Technically, the United States is not at war in Africa. But the practice and terminology of the US-led War on Terror has changed, making the US military’s involvement more difficult to trace. In the past 15 years, the US government has quietly expanded its military footprint across the African continent, engaging in “special operations” with African troops in the name of security. Since the 2007 establishment of the Africa Command (AFRICOM), the defense department’s regional combatant command for Africa, the US has adopted a military-first approach to securing its interests on the continent. This has had disastrous effects. Whether it’s the seemingly endless (undeclared) war against the militant group Al-Shabaab in Somalia or the wave of coups (in many cases led by US-trained officers), AFRICOM has contributed to the very instability it claims to address.

The decision to establish AFRICOM came at a time when US influence on the continent was on the decline — and Africa’s geostrategic significance was on the rise. By 2050, Africa is predicted to account for about 25% of the world’s population. It contains some of the world’s fastest growing economies, and by 2063, the continent as a whole is expected to become the world’s third largest economy, surpassing Germany, France, India, and the United Kingdom. According to the United Nations, approximately 30% of the world’s mineral reserves can be found in Africa, along with 12% of the world’s oil, and 8% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Africa is also home to 65% of the world’s arable land and 10% of the planet’s renewable fresh-water sources.

With this in mind we can make sense of the increasing number of foreign players competing for influence in Africa, including the US, China, Russia, Turkey, and Gulf Arab States such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Critics of AFRICOM decry the US government’s reliance on the military to protect its access to resources and markets on the continent. And because of the legacy of colonial-era slavery and resource exploitation, Africans remain suspicious of US intentions and have protested agreements that give AFRICOM more power, arguing that it compromises the sovereignty of African states.

Read the full piece in Teen Vogue.