Africa on Our Minds

Amb. Peter R. Chaveas, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a DOD regional center based on the National Defense University campus, said that the close of the Cold War also brought diminished interest in Africa. However, he said Sept. 16 during AFA’s Air & Space Conference that “our sense of humanity and generosity, and some economic interests, did not permit us to entirely disengage” from this huge continent of 53 countries. In discussing the strategic importance of the continent, Chaveas noted that the US now acquires more than 19 percent of its total oil imports from Africa and the US also imports from Africa key resources like copper and platinum. The terrorist threat is active, with some areas directly linked to al Qaeda, and is aided by the rampant poverty, he said. During the last seven years, Chaveas said, “We have given unprecedented attention and resources to Africa. … Our assistance programs have received far better resources, and we have made measured use of our military tools.” And, he said that although the creation of Africa Command made “a rough start” with a “major gaffe”—declaring it would be based on the continent “without asking the Africans” and not adequately explaining its role—he believes it can overcome the early perception as “very threatening” and become a “great tool” as long as the command listens and shows it can be reliable. He said, “What we are doing four and five and ten years from now will tell the tale of whether US and African interests are being served.”