UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Constructing AFRICOM : understanding US Africa Command’s articulation of security, contingency, and Africanism for the 21st century. Gold, Catriona


This thesis investigates the creation and evolution of the US’ newest military command, US Africa Command (AFRICOM). It contributes to ongoing debates around ‘liberal’ government, securitization (in terms of circulation, police and the ‘security-development nexus’), 21st century ‘humanitarian’ warfare, militarization of humanitarianism and development, Africanist and interventionist imaginative geographies, and critical public health. I look at the causes and consequences of AFRICOM’s establishment, in particular its involvement in the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic and its role in humanitarian and development work more broadly, to critically assess various claims made by government officials and spokespeople for the command which present AFRICOM as a wholly new type of command. AFRICOM is said to take a holistic ‘whole-of- government’ approach whereby civilian and military branches of government cooperate in service of the ‘three Ds’: defense, diplomacy and development; AFRICOM is not imposed, but cooperates with African nations as ‘partners’, through sharing intelligence and providing training programs for African militaries. Through archival examination of government and strategic documents, media coverage and publicly-available transcripts of interviews with AFRICOM officers, I argue that – contrary to official claims – the command’s creation is motivated primarily by US interest in facilitating the circulation of African resources (particularly oil) in patterns conducive to US economic interest, and also reflects increasing concern with Chinese competition. The command’s claims to holism or ‘African-led’ involvement represent less a sea change in strategy and more an attempt to conceal continuing tensions not only between US and African interests, but also between the US military and other humanitarian and development actors operating on the continent. I also present evidence of the contingency of AFRICOM’s iii strategic discourses and practices. African understandings of historical (and continuing) Northern dispossession present challenges for AFRICOM in the form of distrustful African media, leaders and publics; however, official and strategic justifications for AFRICOM have been able to rely heavily on both Africanist tropes and the relative invisibility of the African continent – in addition to newer liberal discourses of ‘humanitarian’ warfare – to present a vision of AFRICOM as mutually beneficial. AFRICOM’s involvement in the Ebola response serves as a case study of these tensions.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International