August 9, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, discusses how to better “sell” the new United States military command for Africa (AFRICOM).

The article argues that “while some of the institutional realities of relations between sovereign states pursuing what their leaders perceive as their self-interests as well as some of the ideological currents present in Africa…will mean that America can never hope to garner unanimous consent to the establishment of AFRICOM, a more thoughtful effort at strategic communications cannot but help influence public opinion favorably.” Consequently Dr. Pham suggests:

First, be up front about our self-interests—and emphasize that those interests are complementary to those of Africans… Second, AFRICOM needs to have a modest footprint… Third, the voices of far-sighted African leaders like Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has even offered national territory to host AFRICOM, should be privileged…Fourth,…the mission of AFRICOM will necessarily require a major break with conventional doctrinal mentalities both within the armed services themselves and between government agencies… AFRICOM would benefit immensely from finding the appropriate mechanisms to tap into the extraordinary wealth of knowledge that exists among academic and other experts who have invested lifetimes in understanding Africa and the vast pool of experience of those who have given years of service in religious, humanitarian, and other nongovernmental organizations in Africa as well as the cultural and personal knowledge of African diaspora communities in the United States. While many of these individuals may be reluctant to become involved with military and other official institutions, it does not necessarily follow that constructive partnerships cannot be constructed with academia and other civil society institutions; it just means that adequate will—and resources—must be committed to the effort .

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Selling AFRICOM,” click here.