The U.S. military recognizes that access to food and national security are “inextricably linked” in the Horn of Africa, said General Carter Ham, Commander of U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM), during a food security conference held at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012.
“There are undeniable linkages between food security and overall security in the region,” he said to more than 180 government, academic, and civil society participants at the “Horn of Africa Food Security Crisis: Implications for USAFRICOM” conference sponsored by the Center for Technology and National Security Policy. “[AFRICOM’s] role is to protect and advance U.S. security interests, and to defeat and deter transnational threats. A safe, stable Africa is in the best interests of not only African states, but us as well.”
Ham acknowledged that thinking more broadly about the factors that figure into improving stability and security—alleviating food, water, energy, and other disruptive problems—is new for the U.S. military.
“We have a tendency to look at security matters in terms we’re aware of—who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” he said. “We don’t look at the broader issues facing security and what they mean. There’s a lot that we can do to address the issues.”
Ham said confronting broader social problems requires a whole-of-government approach. USAFRICOM, for its part, plays a limited role in promoting food security initiatives. Instead, it supports the work of other U.S. agencies, international organizations, and NGOs that are working on the continent, where food supply disruptions caused by environmental and political maladies are a chronic problem.
Remarks by General Carter F. Ham, U.S. AFRICOM Commander
East Africa’s most recent drought during the latter half of 2011 put nearly 11 million people in need of emergency assistance. It became a famine in southern Somalia due to meddling by the al Shabab insurgency. Tens of thousands died of malnutrition.
The most effective role USAFRICOM can play, he said, is to support others and help African nations deal with droughts and severe weather challenges. He pointed to the command’s expertise in training as a significant contribution to head off food supply problems from becoming famines. Some recent trainings undertaken jointly with U.S. universities include projects to teach Africans sustainable agriculture techniques and another on how to treat livestock diseases.
He also said USAFRICOM is in a position to show African military partners how to help instead of hinder their countries’ development.
“In some places, militaries do not see themselves as protectors of their societies,” Ham said. “There are opportunities to influence up-and-coming leaders to think about what they need to do to help their people.”