During a virtual meeting, earlier this week, with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari urged the United States to consider relocating the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) headquarters from Germany to Africa.
President Buhari said that given the lack of security in many areas and the continued efforts to expel militant Islamist groups, like Boko Haram, the U.S. should consider moving AFRICOM’s headquarters. This would better support African nations against the violence besetting the region.
“Considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, the Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel weighing heavily on Africa underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart in Germany to Africa, and near the theater of operations,” Buhari said, according to a State Department transcript.
“The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impact it more negatively by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central, and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region,” he added.
“The support of important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concern, cooperation, and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.”
A Relocation That Has Never Fructified
Moving AFRICOM’s headquarters to Africa has been discussed and shot down by Congress and the Pentagon before. AFRICOM, founded in 2007, established its headquarters in Germany due to concerns within Africa about a heavy U.S. troop presence on the continent being construed as neo-colonialism.
In 2013, Pentagon officials decided to leave AFRICOM’s headquarters in Stuttgart after a long review of other potential sites, including the United States. At the time, DoD said Germany best met the “operational needs” of the Africa-based missions.
Back in 2018, then-AFRICOM Commander Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, said moving the headquarters, and the approximately 1,200 DoD employees, would be a significant cost with questionable return.
Yet, last year, President Trump, in a pique over Germany not paying its fair share for its own defense, ordered AFRICOM to relocate.
“U.S. Africa Command has been told to plan to move,” AFRICOM commander Army Gen. Stephen Townsend said in a statement at the time. “While it will likely take several months to develop options, consider locations, and come to a decision, the command has started the process. We will ensure we continue to support our host nation and African partners and our families and forces throughout.”
However, when recently pressed by the media on whether the plans to move AFRICOM would continue under President Biden, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that he wouldn’t “relitigate” the decision.
Different Realities Call for Different Approaches
Yet, the circumstances are now different. Given that an African president suggested the relocation, the idea may get much more support from America’s African allies.
The ongoing insurgencies in the Sahel are also of concern to neighboring Nigeria and Cameroon. The insurgencies have seen an increasing presence of international terrorist groups tied to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. France has also urged the U.S. to be more involved in the region.
Moving AFRICOM HQs to the continent would accomplish several things.
Firstly, despite fears that relocating AFRICOM’s headquarters would militarize U.S. policy in Africa, the security situation in the continent needs to be stabilized. Along with AFRICOM, the Special Operations Command Africa (SOFAFRICA) would be co-located to help in that arena.
Secondly, the headquarters would also serve as a hub for civilian and humanitarian aid flowing in the region.
Having military civil affairs units and USAID personnel centrally located would go a long way in alleviating the insurgencies’ underlying causes by addressing young peoples’ disillusionment. Humanitarian aid and political support from the State Department could rectify the problems faced by the countries in the region.
AFRICOM as a Counter to America’s Antagonists
Additionally, with China seeking to expand its influence in the continent, the relocation would reaffirm America’s investment in Africa. It would also check China, which is undertaking construction projects in over 50 African countries.
In March, SOCAFRICA commander MG Dagvin Anderson speaking at the Global SOF Symposium highlighted that Russia and China are quick to try to build their influence in several African countries. Nevertheless, when a security or humanitarian need arises African countries call the United States instead.
“The U.S. remains the gold standard in counter-terrorism training and operations,” General Anderson had added.
A Marshall Plan for Africa
Furthermore, this is a perfect time to invest in Africa, not just militarily, but economically and politically as well. What the U.S. and the Biden administration really need to do is institute a Marshal Plan for the continent.
The Marshall Plan, which was instituted for Europe after World War II, supported the stability and security of European nations.
President Buhari said Nigeria will welcome cooperation in all forms with friends and strategic partners.
Secretary Blinken, however, was noncommittal. Instead, he expressed pleasure in making Nigeria part of his “first virtual visit to Africa,” stating that Nigeria and the United States share several bilateral issues.