The initial idea for an institution for Africa similar to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies originated at U.S. European Command in November 1994. Through language in Appropriations Committee reports in both 1996 and 1997, the House International Relations Committee, chaired by former Representative Ronald Dellums (D-CA) encouraged the Department of Defense to establish a Center on African Affairs. 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 twenty-first century based on mutual respect and mutual interest, and mentioned the establishment of this “Marshall-like” center for Africa. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice later explained that this center would “provide a forum for senior military and civilian officials to explore together complex defense policy issues and provide training to strengthen civil-military relations in burgeoning democracies.”
In January 1999 the Office of African Affairs in conjunction with African, European and American leaders, scholars, and policymakers convened a curriculum development conference. These partners endeavored to open a center that would create an interactive learning environment to encourage open and frank discussion of the appropriate roles for the military in democracies. They felt that the center should be “dedicated to contributing to regional peace, security, and well-being by engaging African leaders in dialogue…”
In March 1999, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) was formally established and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Dr. Nancy J. Walker, whose vision and efforts helped to establish ACSS, was chosen to be the Center’s first director. Today, ACSS is one of five regional centers. 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. The Africa Center accomplishes this through a comprehensive program of seminars, symposia, conferences, research and other academic programs; and through a range of outreach activities in Africa and in the U.S.
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. Over the next few years, more and more programs were added to the Africa Center’s curriculum, including sub-regional seminars, counter-terrorism workshops, and programs addressing defense economics and civil-military relationships. By 2009, ACSS had scheduled twelve academic programs during the year. The Center organizes programs that allow participants to examine complex issues and seek their own solutions.
In February 2004, the Center relocated to the the campus of the Department of Defense’s National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. More fully integrated with National Defense University Community, the majority of the Center’s faculty and staff work from three historic buildings.
In 2005, ACSS conducted its Next Generation of African Military Leaders Course, a program focused on enhancing professionalism, ethics and leadership among mid-level African military officers. This program was conceptualized by the Center’s second director, General (Ret.) Carlton R. Fulford. General Fulford hoped to enhance these mid-level officers’ professional education by helping them transition from tactical level to strategic level planning. ACSS conducted the sixth iteration of the Next Generation Course in early 2009.
General Fulford also recognized the need to build stronger ties to the increasing number of former participants of ACSS academic programs. Recognizing the difficulty of achieving long-term and active relations with individual community members throughout Africa, he encouraged members in countries to form alumni associations-called “Community Chapters.” The first community chapter was formed in Mali on October 18, 2003. As of February 2009, 22 community chapters have been established in Africa. These chapters are independent, non-government, apolitical organizations whose members seek to continue a dialogue regarding stability and security in their countries and their regions.
During his tenure as director, General Fulford also initiated the establishment of an ACSS office on the continent in order to enable the Africa Center to operate more effectively and support U.S. security interests in the region. He believed that an office in Africa would strengthen ACSS’ relationships with African governments, regional and sub-regional organizations, U.S. Embassy personnel, and Africa Center community chapters. This goal was realized in late 2006. General Fulford also presided over the Africa Center’s move in 2005 from its original location to the campus of the National Defense University in Washington, DC.
In 2006, after serving as Deputy Director under General Fulford, Ambassador (ret.) Peter R. Chaveas took over as the Africa Center’s third director. Ambassador Chaveas brought to ACSS significant experience working on African security issues. During his tenure, Ambassador Chaveas worked to enhance existing relationships between ACSS and regional and sub-regional organizations on the continent, and initiated the working partnership with the recently established U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM). Ambassador Chaveas also oversaw the opening of the Africa Center’s first regional office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2006. In November 2008, a second regional office was established in Dakar, Senegal. The opening of these offices on the continent further demonstrates the Africa Center’s commitment to promoting dialogue between African and U.S. leaders on security-related topics of mutual concern.
Over the past ten years, the Africa Center has had more than 3,500 African and international leaders participate in its programs. ACSS recognizes that it is fundamentally important to maintain long-term and active relationships with the members of its community. ACSS focuses its outreach programs on building two-way communications networks of security-sector decision-makers in order to foster awareness of, and dialogue on, U.S. and African strategic priorities and security issues. This is done, primarily, through its Community Chapter program. In addition, in order to expand the Center’s presence on the continent, ACSS initiated in July 2007 its Topical Outreach Program (TOPS). Under the TOPS, ACSS visits every country in Africa in which a community chapter has been formed. During these visits, ACSS meets with U.S. ambassadors and senior staff members, as well as senior African military and government officials to help build support for community chapters. ACSS also co-sponsors with the chapters topical programs on security-related subjects that are recommended by the chapters in each country. As of February 2009, ACSS has conducted 60 programs in 30 countries. ACSS also conducts continent-wide and regional Community Leadership Conferences to help strengthen chapter capacity to meet their established goals.
In addition to its outreach initiatives in Africa, ACSS maintains contact with key stakeholders in Washington DC. The African Defense Attachés in Washington are an important link between ACSS and the African diplomatic community in the U.S. Also, in 2009 the Africa Center will work to establish a U.S.-based community chapter, which will include both former USG participants as well as members of the diplomatic community in Washington. Through the establishment of this chapter, ACSS hopes to strengthen its relationship with security-sector professionals in the U.S. who have expertise in African affairs.
In October 2008, Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.) assumed responsibility as Director of the Africa Center. Like his predecessor, Ambassador Bellamy has a great deal of diplomatic experience in Africa, and has most recently served as Resident Senior Fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. During his tenure at ACSS, Ambassador Bellamy plans to continue working to build capacity in the area of peacekeeping in Africa. In addition, the Africa Center will maintain its focus on emerging threats on the continent, including the connection between environmental degradation and national security. Ambassador Bellamy has stated his goal to enhance the established relationship with USAFRICOM by continuing to provide academic and outreach support to this combatant command.
As the Africa Center celebrates its ten year anniversary in 2009, it continues to demonstrate its long-term commitment to Africa through academic excellence and energetic outreach. As the organization continues to grow and diversify its programs both in Washington DC and in Africa, ACSS looks forward to strengthening its network of security-sector professionals worldwide and deepening the discussion and debate on African security issues in order to see a more peaceful and prosperous continent.