The debate over whether Tunisia should accomodate the United States Africa Command (also known as AFRICOM) started off since the US declared its intentions to create AFRICOM in the year 2006. Debate was mainly over the possible consequences that Tunisia should expect by hosting AFRICOM both on its internal affairs and its foreign policy.

The United States Africa Command is responsible for the US’s military operations and relations with African countries. Currently situated near Stuttgart, Germany, AFRICOM directly operates 1,300 personnel. It has an additional number of several military and civilian personnel attached to it in several areas of the world like Djibouti and the UK. The point behind creating AFRICOM is to provide a base for rapid deployment in any location in Africa whenever American interests are under threat.

As early as 2006, there have been talks over whether Tunisia would accomodate AFRI Tunisia’s strategic location would enable AFRICOM to link up wih the American Sixth Fleet located in Naples, Italy whenever is needed. Tunisia also remains part of one of Al-QUaieda’s most important area of operations, North Africa.

According to most reports, Tunisia rejected America’s request to host the Command for several reasons. On a local level, Tunisia feared that fundamentalist militias would take such an agreement to be a a declaration of war from the Tunisian government. This would certainly attract retaliative attacks both compromising national security and Tunisia’s main source of income, tourism. On the level of foreign policy, Tunisia feared that its relations with France may suffer a sort of an undeclared crisis. France has always considered north Africa its backyard where even its best allies cannot play.

The situation has now changed. A dramatic change, brought about by the revolution, may change the fate of the AFRICOM affair. Terrorists have already breached Tunisian national security and they have breached it well. Secret weapons warehouses are being discovered on a regular basis, daily skirmishes between the Tunisian army and terrorist groups in border areas like Chaanbi are taking place, and hundreds of Tunisian well trained Jihadists will return home from Syria as soon as the score is settled there. The Tunisian army is proving that its current capabilities do not allow it to stand against these guerillas much longer. Furthermore, current situation of the economy does not allow for a good rearmement plan. Hosting an American base would be ,therefore, less expensive, if not lucrative.

Tunisian foreign relations have been affected by the revolution as well. Sarkozy’s secret shipments of tear gas to the Tunisian regime during the revolution have scarred upcoming government’s relationship with France. France’s continuous interventionist statements concerning the political situation in Tunisia have provoked the current Islamist government’s outrage on numerous occasion. Tunisian’s officials recent visists to America, Germany, Japan, and China, may signal, therefore, a transition in Tunisian foreign policy based on seeking new strategic alliances.

It seems, then, that Africom is no longer a taboo. Of course things wont happen overnight, it should take some years before we can see AFRICOM in Tunisia. What is certain is that Tunisian upcoming governments are no longer bound to reject America’s bid, if not to say that they are bound to accept it.

Mohammad Mootaz Bellah Ghothbani, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Tunis

A propos de l'auteur

Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse e-mail ne sera pas publié.