USA — General Outlines U.S. Mission, Challenges in Africa

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2010 — As U.S. Africa Com­mand matures and strength­ens ties with African nations, Amer­i­can inter­ests on the con­ti­nent become more sta­ble, the command’s top offi­cer said today.

Africom was estab­lished in Octo­ber 2007 to “add val­ue” to African nations by improv­ing their mil­i­tary capac­i­ties and to help nations achieve their short- and long-term goals, Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward said dur­ing remarks at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies here. He dis­cussed progress and chal­lenges and explained the strate­gic impor­tance of the con­ti­nent to glob­al secu­ri­ty.

Many African nations strug­gle with demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es, polit­i­cal reform, civ­il con­flict and recon­struc­tion issues, Ward not­ed. Despite those chal­lenges, Africa presents tremen­dous oppor­tu­ni­ty, he said.

Much of the continent’s devel­op­ment progress is hin­dered by cor­rup­tion, weak gov­er­nance and drug and human traf­fick­ing, Ward explained. Also, the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion faces chal­lenges in food and secu­ri­ty. How­ev­er, those con­cerns are “not absolute bar­ri­ers,” he said.

Good gov­er­nance and reli­able mil­i­taries prove to counter such con­cerns, Ward said. Sev­er­al nations have become well-respect­ed, inter­na­tion­al part­ners ded­i­cat­ed to peace­keep­ing, he added.

“Good gov­er­nance … fos­ters change in sta­bil­i­ty that allows the U.S. and Africa, across all spec­trums to build trust [and] pur­sue mutu­al inter­ests toward last­ing rela­tion­ships,” Ward said. “Africans are steadi­ly tak­ing own­er­ship in address­ing exist­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges. It means that, over time, we can work more effec­tive­ly togeth­er to fur­ther these mutu­al inter­ests.”

African nations have the poten­tial to be great, long-term secu­ri­ty part­ners, the gen­er­al said. But some are more depen­dent on out­side resources, he added.

“The greater issue is not that chal­lenges exist in Africa,” he said. “Africans lack the means to whol­ly and ful­ly con­front them.”

In some cas­es, Ward explained, resources are avail­able with­in African nations, but are not aligned to address the chal­lenges. Also, some­times oppor­tu­ni­ties for progress are not well under­stood, he said, adding that devel­op­ing a sta­ble econ­o­my and gov­ern­ment need as much focus as secu­ri­ty.

“I get asked all the time: What are you going to do about Soma­lia? What are you going to do about Sudan? What are you going to do about the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of the Con­go? What are you going to do about Liberia?” the gen­er­al said.

“It’s also impor­tant to look at Africa in terms of the oppor­tu­ni­ty that exists,” Ward said. “Eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment, gov­er­nance, secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tives and the continent’s geopo­lit­i­cal role will both improve the lives of Africans and build a foun­da­tion for a stronger, longer friend­ship [and] coop­er­a­tion between the nations of Africa and the Unit­ed States, all the while pro­mot­ing an envi­ron­ment where Amer­i­can lives are more secure.”

Such effects will be felt abroad and in the Unit­ed States, any­where Amer­i­can inter­ests are pro­mot­ed, Ward said. The strate­gic impor­tance of Africa is about sta­bil­i­ty and growth, which is in the best inter­est of the Unit­ed States, he added.

“Since the command’s incep­tion, we rou­tine­ly heard phras­es like, ‘African solu­tions to African prob­lems,’ ” he said. “While that theme still res­onates, U.S. efforts to help Africans address their chal­lenges focus … on a com­bi­na­tion of diplo­mat­ic, devel­op­men­tal and defense engage­ment – pro­grams that help build capac­i­ty, that fos­ter African own­er­ship.”

The com­mand, he said, prides itself on the abil­i­ty to “lis­ten and learn” from African nations.

“We had to get out of our fox­holes, go down range and look back at what we were doing from the per­spec­tive of our most-impor­tant part­ners – the Africans,” Ward said. “After hun­dreds of engage­ments with African polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers, as well as mem­bers of civ­il soci­ety, there were sev­er­al com­mon themes of what the Africans want­ed in terms of their long-term secu­ri­ty inter­ests.”

Africom is pri­mar­i­ly con­cerned with build­ing mil­i­tary forces, the gen­er­al said, acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tance of ground, sea and air mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties. How­ev­er, he added, broad­er capa­bil­i­ties also are need­ed.

“Police, bor­der patrols, coast guard, cus­toms, immi­gra­tion, air/space man­age­ment, courts, law; all these are lined against the chal­lenges and threats the part­ner nations face,” Ward said. “Suf­fi­cient free­dom from polit­i­cal vio­lence is need­ed to allow real progress to take root.”

Con­di­tions must be set for Africans to address short-term chal­lenges, so long-term objec­tives can be pur­sued, he said.

“This is clear­ly a long-term endeav­or,” Ward said. “Devel­op­ment or trans­for­ma­tion of secu­ri­ty capac­i­ty does not hap­pen overnight, and in many cas­es will hap­pen on an African, not an Amer­i­can, timetable.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)