Africa Center Community Affairs Specialist Amelia Carvalho headed an ambitious and successful Topical Outreach Program Series (TOPS) trip to Central Africa during January 9-24, 2011. Joining her in Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Gabon were two Africa Center staff, Professor Mathurin Houngnikpo, Academic Chair for Civil-Military Relations, and Colonel Xavier Collignon, Senior French Representative. The team also included Mr. Jeffrey McManus, Policy Director for West and Central Africa, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, International Security Affairs, Africa.
TOPS is designed to foster long-term relationships with Africa Center community members—those who have participated in Africa Center-sponsored events—and African leaders by offering focused thematic programs on U.S. policy and contemporary African security challenges. According to Ms. Carvalho, TOPS events held in the region included: strategic planning sessions for community members; topical symposiums for community members and invited guests; special events held at local institutions of interest, such as war colleges; and meetings and events as recommended by U.S. embassies and Africa Center chapter members.
“This was the third TOPS trip to Central Africa I’ve managed since coming to the Africa Center,” Ms. Carvalho said, “and it was also probably one of the most successful and memorable in terms of the number of participants and African and U.S. government officials we met, and the degree of dialogue we all shared. This was the first time we’ve had the opportunity to share the TOPS experience with the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Having Mr. McManus on board enriched the level of representation and discursions. Moreover, traveling with our Senior French Representative served as an example of collaboration across continents.
“This was also the first time the events followed one overarching theme,” Ms. Carvalho continued. “Professor Houngnikpo, who is highly esteemed by community members in the region, was able to provide a civil-military relations perspective to security challenges in the countries visited. A special highlight, of course, was the launching of our 26th Community Chapter in Gabon.”
The first stop on the tour was Cameroon where the Community Chapter was launched in 2004 and has 70 community members. The symposium on “Regional Border Security Cooperation and Resource Management in Central Africa” included a total of five briefings and was attended by 170 people, including: Director of the National Gendarmerie H.E. Jean Baptiste Bokam; the Director of the Cameroon Combined Arms War College (CSID) General Esaïe Ngambou; U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon Robert Jackson; and Mr. McManus.
A mini-symposium was held at CSID on “Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.” The event was attended by approximately 100 students and staff from the college and the Center for Strategic Studies and Policy Research at the University of Yaoundé. CSID is jointly managed by Cameroon and France and has 33 students from 20 countries, including France and the U.S. CSID, under the leadership of General Ngambou and his Deputy, French Colonel Hubert Grepin, hosted the event. Presenters included Mr. McManus, who briefed on U.S. policy priorities for Africa; Colonel Xavier Collignon, who presented on the global phenomena of maritime piracy (focusing on the Gulf of Aden); and Commissaire de la Marine Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo, who presentedon the challenge the issue poses for Cameroon.
Other events organized by the embassy and chapter in Cameroon included:
- a welcome dinner at the residence of the U.S. Defense Attaché, LTC Scott Morgan, where guests included Cameroon Community Chapter leadership, representatives of the U.S. and French diplomatic corps, and members of the Cameroon Combined Arms War College
- a luncheon hosted by the Community Chapter leadership
- an office call with the Cameroon Minister of Defense, H.E. Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo’o; a formal dinner hosted by the Permanent Secretary of Defense, Mr. Hamadou Vindjedou, and
- a Community Chapter planning meeting
» Photo gallery: Cameroon
Republic of the Congo
While in the Republic of the Congo January 14–17, a TOPS symposium was held on “The Role of the Army in Service to the Nation.” The event attracted the participation of 110 military and civilian nationals, including representatives from civil society organizations. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Murray opened the event with a keynote address on good governance and democracy and the benefits of trust between the people and their government. The event was attended by the Minister of National Defense, Professor Charles Zacharie Bowao, and Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Mondjo.
TOPS team members, Mr. McManus and Professor Houngnikpo, conducted two office calls with the Minister of Interior and Decentralization, H.E. Raymond Zéphyrin Mboulou, and the Minister of National Defence, Professor Charles Zacharie Bowao.
Other significant events included a reception hosted by Ambassador Murray, which was attended by most of the community members and the Minister of National Defense.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On 18 January the TOPS team crossed the Congo River to Kinshasa to execute the third leg of the TOPS tour. The DRC Community Chapter, was launched in 2008, has worked collaboratively with the Africa Center and the U.S. Embassy to organize annual TOPS events. This year’s symposium was on “The Fight against Corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Minister of Public Service, H.E. Dieudonné Upira Sanguma Kagimbi, presented the keynote address. Also presenting was the Director of the Center for the Observation of Ethical Professional Conduct (OCEP), Dr. St Augustin Mwendambali. The OCEP is a government-supported organization created to fight corruption.
The TOPS team took part in a roundtable discussion with the Minister of Public Service and the OCEP. Minister Dieudonné Upira Sanguma Kagimbi presented the national strategy for fighting corruption and was interested in contributions from Professor Houngnikpo and Mr. McManus. The event was recorded and aired on the local evening news.
» Photo gallery: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The Africa Center team traveled on to Gabon, where they helped launch the Africa Center’s 26th Community Chapter. The launch was initiated by the Ministry of Defense and coordinated through the U.S. Embassy Office of Security Cooperation. A launch reception was hosted by the U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, Eric Benjaminson, and was attended by Gabonese Defense Minister, H.E. Ruffin Pacôme Ondzounga, who delivered remarks on Gabon’s ongoing efforts to address maritime security challenges. Africa Center Director Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.), and Africa Center Regional Office Program Manager Mrs. Elisabeth Feleke also attended the launch reception. The local news media covered the event and were particularly interested in how the chapter would work with the government to address maritime security issues in the Gulf of Guinea.
Ambassador Bellamy, Colonel Collignon, and local U.S. embassy staff, including Ambassador Benjaminson, held subsequent meetings with representatives of the Economic Community of Central African States and the Central Africa Multinational Forces (FOMAC).