Following bipartisan discussions with U.S. European Command (EUCOM), the House National Security Committee in June 1995 requested that the Department of Defense develop an “African Center for Security Studies” that would “encourage a broader understanding on the African continent of military matters compatible with democratic principles and civilian control.” In March 1998, President Bill Clinton made the first major trip to sub-Saharan Africa by a U.S. president in over 20 years. While there, he discussed promoting a U.S.-Africa partnership for the 21st century based on mutual respect and mutual interest, and announced the intention to establish a regional Africa center “designed in consultation with African nations and intended to promote the exchange of ideas and information tailored specifically for African concerns,” according to a White House fact sheet from April 1998.
In March 1999, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) was formally established in Arlington, Virginia, with Dr. Nancy J. Walker as the Center’s first director. The Africa Center’s first event was its Senior Leaders Seminar, held in Dakar, Senegal, in May 1999. The Dakar seminar brought together 115 senior-level civilians, flag-level military officers, and representatives of civil society from Africa, Europe and the United States for two weeks of intense academic work. Fifty African nations were represented. In 2004, the Africa Center was co-located with the National Defense University, with ACSS situated in a group of historic pre–Civil War buildings in the heart of Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.
ACSS is dedicated to promoting good governance and democratic values in the defense and security sectors around the globe, and to establishing long-term active communications with African leaders across the continent, as well as deepening the discussion and debate on African security issues in order to see a more peaceful and prosperous continent. The Africa Center accomplishes this through a comprehensive program of seminars, symposia, conferences, research, and other academic programs, as well as through a range of outreach activities and programs in Africa, Europe, and the United States.