COTONOU, Benin — The Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) worked with the ACSS Community Chapter in Benin (AB-CESA) to convene a Topical Outreach Program Series (TOPS) symposium on September 26 that examined maritime safety and security as well as environment and security issues. Held in partnership with the U.S. Embassy and Benin’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the event was attended by nearly 100 participants, including ACSS community members, current and former officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of the Interior, and officials from the U.S. Embassies in Cotonou and Accra, as well as civil society and academia.
Speaking at the event, Captain Denis Hounsou Gbessemehlan, Benin’s Chief of Navy Staff, stressed the long-recognized need to enhance cooperation on maritime safety and security, noting that Benin and Nigeria launched a joint sea patrol operation in September 2011 in an effort to combat the surge in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
“Our country has been at the forefront of international mobilization on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea,” noted Pamphile Goutondji, the Permanent Secretary in Benin’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “These joint efforts have enabled the development of a national strategy document on maritime security, safety, and protection that is in the process of being adopted by the Government.”
The symposium also highlighted the links between environmental degradation and security. “The concept of security has evolved over time,” Ambassador Rogatien Biaou, former Foreign Minister of Benin, told symposium participants. “It is now accepted that environmental factors have an impact on conflicts and levels of stability and peace.”
“Experience shows that environmental degradation and resource depletion are causes of tension in many parts of the world,” Ambassador Michael Raynor, the U.S. Ambassador to Benin, said during the symposium. “Problems related to the environment can threaten the livelihood of the people and enhance the social and economic inequalities.”
Representing the Africa Center was Mr. Gerald Lefler, Regional Program Manager for the Regional Office West Africa, based in Senegal. Facilitating academic discussion was Dr. Mathurin C. Houngnikpo, Academic Chair of Civil-Military Relations at the Africa Center. The discussion portion of the symposium took place under the Africa Center’s strict policy of non-attribution to allow an open exchange of ideas.
Based in Washington, D.C., the Africa Center uses its Topical Outreach Program Series to maintain face-to-face relationships with ACSS community members and security stakeholders throughout Africa. Under TOPS, a small academic outreach team travels to more than a dozen nations each year. These programs are designed to increase the quality and quantity of communications and networking among ACSS alumni, ACSS and U.S. stakeholders and policymakers.