Africom Blues

Carl LeVan
Guest Blogger
An academic article I wrote in the current issue of the journal Africa Today offers a new explanation for negative African reactions to the US Military Command in Africa (AFRICOM). Using an original dataset of over 500 references in African print and radio media outlets from 28 countries, my study–entitled “The Political Economy of African Responses to the U.S. Africa Command”–uses content analysis to link aid dependence overall–and aid from the U.S. specifically–to sympathetic views of AFRICOM. By contrast, countries sustaining high levels of growth without much aid asserted more critical views in the first 18 months after the Command’s announcement.

An implication of the study is that Africa’s ties to the world remain embedded within broader economic relationships.

The empirical linkage is also important because political economists have spent much of the last two decades trying to understand the causes of economic performance in Africa instead of its effects. Economic hardships remain for vast majorities of Africans, but mounting evidence also points to a sizable cohort of countries sustaining good economic performance with human capital investment. For example, a new book published by the Center for Global Development, identifies 17 countries with declining poverty, steady growth, and improving governance. Few studies have considered the political effects of this growth, which will reduce external leverage on African governments and will reshape the balance of regional and sub-regional politics.

In addition, my study questions the conventional explanation for African responses to AFRICOM, which attributes negative reactions to a public relations failure. For example, in a Washington Post article on November 27, 2010, a retired general calls AFRICOM’s announcement “a textbook case of how you can get off on the wrong foot if you’re not good with public relations and explaining who you are and what you do.”

The same Post article mentioned that an AFRICOM headquarters in Africa remains a possibility. This is important because when African leaders objected to American military “bases,” the Department of Defense responded by clarifying that a “headquarters” is different from a base. It then used this distinction to characterize African reactions as rooted in mere misunderstandings rather than rooted in substantive concerns relating to AFRICOM’s missions, including its role in development and “Phase Zero” operations.

The Africa Today article uses two criteria to identify nine “low-dependence” countries: they receive less than 10 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) in foreign aid, and they had an average annual growth rate of at least 3 percent since 2004. Four “high dependence” countries all receive at least 15 percent of their GNI in foreign aid, and during the 18 months under study they were receiving or in the process of applying for aid from the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation. A handful of countries in this category, such as Ethiopia, unfortunately had to be dropped from the study because even though the media reports strongly supported the political economy hypothesis, the databases yielded too few hits.

You can read the article by clicking here.

* Carl Levan teaches courses on African politics and comparative political theory at American University. he blogs here.



Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

1 Comment
  1. Interesting topic but the article has many shortcomings. Given the way that Africanists detest Africom I am not surprised that it was published but the evidence that it provides to support the argument is thin. The journalistic introductory passages are informative, however.
    1. The author does not dis-aggregate the "data set" and supply info on the breakdown of TV vs. radio vs. newspaper articles. This is important. Moreover how many media accounts per country?
    2. If the majority of the data set is newspaper articles what does this mean in some African countries where illiteracy rates are >80%.
    3. Why are no Sahelian countries included- a region where arguably AFRICOM has the biggest presence?
    4. Where are the views of everyday Africans? The data set (once again we don't know the percentage of radio vs TV vs print media) is based on elite views.
    5. The article does not establish causality between the IV and DV. They correspond?
    6. There are no controls. What about the effects of being a petro-state? (There is real correlation here) A country with greater press freedom? The effect of Francophone versus Anglophone? Percentage of the population that is Muslim?(many view the war on terror a war on Islam).
    7. All outliers (Liberia, Zimbabwe, Libya and Sudan) have special relationships with the US that pre-date AFRICOM yet shape the relationship as it is today.

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