SA still snubbing Africom

2013-03-22 12:24

Outgoing head of the US Africa Command (Africom), General Carter Ham, said in his two-year tenure he had never been invited to South Africa but “would love the opportunity to go there”.

Ham told reporters visiting the organisation’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, yesterday that, in the five years since Africom was established amid great controversy, its leaders had “not managed to change South Africa’s attitude officially, but I do think we have a good relationship with the SA National Defence Force (SANDF).

On an official level, the South African government has thus far preferred to deal directly with the Department of Defence in Washington DC, although the defence force has cooperated in training exercises with Africom.

Ham said in his two-year tenure as Africom commander he had visited 42 countries on the continent and he considered travel an important part of his job. Although his deputies and civilian leaders from Africom had been to South Africa, he would “heartily welcome an invite and I hope my successor will get an invite”.

General David Rodriguez is set to take over from Ham, who is retiring, next month. The ANC has resolved not to deal with Africom, which is considered with great suspicion by many African countries as an organisation that narrowly focuses on American interests on the continent.

Africom also became a bone of contention in the party when former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema accused Botswana of collaborating with the organisation to establish a military base there after Wikileaks claimed there were talks about this.

Ham categorically denied that it was even discussed.

Some on the continent have accused Africom of interference in local military and peace-keeping operations, while others have accused the Americans of fuelling terrorist activity while claiming to combat them.

Ham has also admitted that the coup in Mali last year under Captain Amadou Sanogo, with the help of an army that Africom had helped train, had been “an unacceptable outcome” and a “setback”. He also said the coup illustrated the need for a rapid reaction force in the region, which should preferably be African. He said it would have been ideal if the economic community Ecowas had a force ready at the time.

Various Africom officials this week emphasised that the organisation was aiming to do its terrorism-fighting and humanitarian activities with the help of military forces on the continent and that they sought to learn from Africans how to solve its problems.

Ham said Africom didn’t need to be in every place in Africa all the time, and had “no intention of pushing ourselves in places where we are not wanted”.

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