An Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) delegation comprised of Associate Dean Dr. John Kelly, Transnational Threats and Counter-Terrorism Chair Dr. Benjamin Nickels and Interim Chief of Communications Michelle Cavalcanti visited Uganda on September 19-22. The trip was part of the Topical Outreach Program Series (TOPS), the Africa Center’s initiative designed to increase the quality and quantity of communications and networking among ACSS alumni.
During the four-day visit, the group met with the Uganda Community Chapter president, Constitutional Court Justice Steven B.K. Kavuma, to discuss the state of the affiliate, which was founded in 2006. They also talked about challenges for the organization. Separately, the delegation took the opportunity to meet with newly appointed US Embassy staff.
ACSS’s visit to Kampala included the always well-received TOPS Symposium on an African security issue chosen by the chapter. Nearly 50 people—diplomats, military and civilians—gathered at the Serena Kampala Hotel on September 20 for discussions concerning al Shabaab in Eastern Africa and strategies for preventing terrorism. Both topics featured Dr. Nickels as the guest speaker.
US Ambassador to Uganda Jerry P. Lanier gave the conference’s opening remarks. (Link to speech) He spoke about security challenges and transnational terrorist networks, and focused on the US administration’s comprehensive approach to counter the threat. A key part of that approach, he said, would be to discredit al Qaida’s propaganda in the region. He also called for the state and civil society to work together to counter radicalization in Uganda.
Dr. Kelly echoed Lanier’s remarks during his talk, insisting on the need to recognize, analyze and fight extremism, especially “its destructive tendency and anarchistic philosophy” that foster “spiritual colonialism.” Kelly said this should be a core principle not just for Uganda and the United States, but also for the international community.
Lanier and Kelly’s talks paved the way for the first lecture, in which Nickels gave an overview of Somali terrorist group al Shabaab and described the current situation. He showed how the nature of modern terrorism presents a tremendous challenge to global security and stability and bears international and multinational characteristics. In his second presentation on strategies for preventing terrorism, he discussed various factors that contribute to it, but also pointed out the difficulty in defining specific triggers. He stressed the importance of dealing with the root causes of terrorism and not the symptoms by getting ahead of problems, recognizing early signs of radicalization in young people and allocating resources to fight it.
Nickels’ presentations sparked many questions about al Shabaab’s finances, whereabouts and agenda. A number of participants said the ideals of the youth must be addressed along with poverty and unemployment to prevent young people from joining the ranks of terrorist groups. Audience members said poverty has made locals vulnerable to indoctrination and recruitment into terrorist activities. Questions about the international community’s commitment to the fight were also raised.
To wrap up the day, Justice Kavuma thanked everybody for coming, and pledged the chapter’s continued engagement with the government to work on addressing security issues.
The ACSS community chapter Topical Outreach Program Series is the organization’s flagship initiative for maintaining active, positive and substantive Africa Center relationships with ACSS community members, expanding on efforts to reach non-traditional audiences in Africa and continuing Africa Center academic programing on the continent in countries not visited through other formal ACSS programs. TOPS are run in 29 ACSS community chapters throughout Africa.
The Africa Center for Strategic Studies is the premier agency of the United States charged with advancing U.S. security interests in Africa through the development of a self-sustaining, networked and empowered community of current and future African security sector leaders.