November 2011

  • Colonel de Vathaire bringing the next “French touch” to ACSS

    devathaire-webColonel Patrick de Vathaire became the Senior French Representative to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in August 2011.  He comes to ACSS with extensive operational experience and a thorough knowledge of Africa, thanks to his degree from France’s military academy (EMIA), class of 1983, and his many missions across the African continent.  In his previous post, Colonel de Vathaire monitored the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire and oversaw French forces’ operations to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia and the redeployment of French troops in Africa.  He has agreed to share his first impressions of his new job with us and look back on a few of the defining moments in his career.

    1-      Why is it important for the United States to have a French representative to the ACSS?

    It is important for two reasons.  First, because the United States and France need to share what they know and have learned about Africa. The United States has realized that other countries can provide support for its African operations, and France, with its long history in the region, has vast experience that cannot help but be beneficial to both countries.  In addition, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been working since 2007 to leave behind the notion of an exclusive sphere of French influence in favor of openness and collaboration with Africa as a whole.  

    The discussions between the United States and France allow for an exchange of ideas and lead to a better understanding of what remains a highly complex continent.  My reasoning also coincides with ACSS’ actions, which are above all in the academic realm. The Center promotes reflection and analysis to better understand the many factors at work in Africa and how those factors interact.

    2-      What precisely is your role at ACSS? What do you do?

    To start, I would say that I am first and foremost an advisor to the ACSS director.  I give him my opinion – when he asks for it – on the ongoing files and programs or on current events in the French-speaking world.  I am also a participant in my own right in ACSS activities, particularly at seminars, where I bring – or at least I hope I bring – a French perspective to the discussion that can be different from the American view.  For example, at a seminar I just attended in Dakar, I made a contribution that had less to do with language and more to do with my personal thoughts on the subject.

    That said, at the request of the director, I am also in charge of assessing the intelligibility of certain documents for French-speaking readers.  My job is not to change the message, but to ensure that the documents are written in such a way as to clearly convey the ideas to the intended audience.

    3-      What is your most defining memory from your time working in Africa?

    That is a difficult question, because I had many memorable experiences in Africa.  But if I had to choose, two experiences would stand out.  First was what I went through while in Rwanda during that dreadful period we all know well.  I was a young captain at the time and as a man the experience was all the more striking.

    The other time was when I was commanding the French battalion in Abidjan.  It was a true balancing act because I had to find a happy medium between my mission and actions that could have triggered serious incidents or a major crisis.

    The decisions that I had to make during those two periods were especially difficult and are a reflection of the sort of man I am, professionally and ethically.

    4-      How will you use your prior experience in your new position?

    I am going to respond more generally to your question.  One of the characteristics of the Senior French Representatives to ACSS is that they are all officers with hands-on experience in Africa – men who have dealt with a crisis there.  They have also all worked as staff officers.  This combined experience in the field and with the people and decision-making centers in Africa and in France typically gives them a different perspective from that of the academic world. That is an asset for ACSS.  We draw on our practical experience to cultivate academic thought among the ACSS professors and researchers so that they grasp all the dimensions of a given situation.

    More personally, I would say that my military background and past experiences have given me a better understanding of the countries of Africa and of its people.  They have also led me to believe that it is important to respect people’s culture in all our actions, especially in Africa.  That is the message that I am trying to get across from my place in the ACSS.

    5-      Was it easy to transition from your previous position to your current one?

    Yes, it was.  First of all because I spoke at length with my predecessor, Xavier Collignon, who gave me a good idea of both what to expect and what was expected of me.  Second, as you might imagine, I read up a lot on American culture to get a better feel for the environment I would be working in.  For that matter, I am continuing to read and to learn.

    6-      How would you characterize your colleague’s welcome at ACSS?

    Excellent.  I was really very warmly welcomed to ACSS; everyone went out of their way to make me feel more at home.  While it is true that the Center is accustomed to having a French representative, I nonetheless owe them a lot, especially for their help in dealing with day-to-day administrative details.  They have been very kind and helpful.

    7-      Do you miss France yet?

    Not really.  In part, that is because I still visit once in a while.  And, being in the military, moving is part and parcel of my job.  To give you an idea, this was my 17th move since I began my career.  I think it has made me more adaptable, allowing me to integrate more easily into my environment.  The difference this time is that this is my first post in an English-speaking country.  Overall, my family and I are very happy and we think that living in the United States is a very good experience.  I would also add that Washington is an excellent place to meet the area’s decision-makers and better understand the upheavals going on around the world, particularly in Africa.

  • Africa Center Holds Horn of Africa Task Force Training

    CJTF-HOAAfrica Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) experts helped prepare new members of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) core staff for their coming assignment during an October 2011 training held in Norfolk, Va.

    Speakers from ACSS and other organizations focused on political, diplomatic, economic, and security histories and trends at play in the Horn of Africa. They spoke to 48 military officials from a range of services and specializations.

    Sessions included in-depth briefings on 10 of the 19 countries that make up the task force’s areas of operation and interest, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen. Participants also learned about Africa’s peace and security architecture, including the East African Standby Force, and CJTF-HOA’s role as an important player in the region for more than nine years.

    With an environment meant to foster frank and open conversations, the seminar included intense exchanges between participants and guest speakers. The two-day workshop increased participants’ awareness and understanding of the complex security landscape within which CJTF-HOA operates, as well as the opportunities and challenges team members would likely face while performing their duties in the region. The training was one of ACSS’s direct-support programs for U.S. troops operating in Africa.

  • Catalyst of Reform: The Arab Spring in Africa


    Click here for photos from this event.

    North Africa’s dramatic repudiation of autocratic rulers during 2011’s Arab Spring is adding new vitality to Sub-Saharan Africa’s governance landscape, a report from a working group of experts convened by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) has found.

    The November 2011 report, Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations, is the first volume of the Africa Center’s new Special Report series. During an ACSS roundtable at the National Defense University on November 16, three coauthors of the report presented their findings and responded to questions from an audience of 120. Attendees included members of the African diplomatic corps, the U.S. government interagency, academic institutions, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations, among others.

    The panelists noted that the often asked question “What effects will the Arab Spring have on Africa?” largely has the sequence backwards. Rather, Africa has been democratizing to varying degrees for two decades. And it is this range of complex processes that is driving democratic change in Africa today – in tandem with and parallel to the Arab Spring.

    Ripple effects from the Arab Spring are indeed visible across the continent. Protests have occurred in more than a dozen African capitals in 2011. Demonstrators, activists, opposition leaders, and journalists have explicitly drawn direct connections between the events in North Africa and recent protests and public debates about legitimate claims on authority in their own countries.

    Yet many of the key democratic breakthroughs in Sub-Saharan Africa this year – including in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Niger, and Nigeria – were not the result of street revolutions, as witnessed in North Africa. Some have lamented that recent protests in Africa have yet to topple a government, “but this is an incomplete indicator of progress since protests alone are not able to sustain political change,” explained Dr. Joseph Siegle, the working group chair and Research Director at ACSS.

    “Still, the Arab Spring has resonated deeply in Africa – and is contributing to changed expectations citizens have of their governments. In this way, the Arab Spring is serving as a catalyst to political reform in Africa,” he continued.

    Crosscurrents of Change in a Dynamic Landscape

    roundtable_acss_nov_16While the Arab Spring has been the focus of conversation and analysis, the report states, a momentous year for democracy south of the Sahara has gone largely unnoticed. For example, watershed elections were held in Guinea, Nigeria, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zambia. Niger and Guinea, meanwhile, reversed the corrosive effects of military coups.

    Such events reflect the increasingly robust forces driving democratic change in Africa. Over the last decade in particular, elections have become increasingly regular and courts, legislatures, local governments, and other institutional checks and balances have functioned more effectively. Civil society has also grown more sophisticated and influential. Access to information and communications technology has diversified and grown exponentially, enhancing the ability for collective action. Regional and international standards have risen as well, directly contributing or prompting governance improvements in some African countries.

    While the drivers of democratic change in Africa have accelerated in recent years, significant countervailing forces remain.  Forty percent of states in Sub-Saharan Africa remain organized on authoritarian principles, and half of this group feature distinctly autocratic regimes. Africa’s legacy of “big man” politics is still strong in many countries, and remains a key impediment in Africa’s leading democracies. Civil society remains weak in many parts of Africa and some authoritarian regimes are able to coopt opposition through patronage networks, which are often maintained through control of substantial natural resource endowments. The fallout from the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, especially the flow of arms and trained mercenaries in the Sahel, poses particularly severe challenges to regional neighbors.

    “The future trajectory of democratic governance in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the report concludes, “will be determined by the tension between these competing forces.”

    A focus on relative progress, then, is critical. Change will be marked by advances and backsliding. Setbacks will not be uncommon, nor will they necessarily be permanent.

    The Democratic Calculus Has Shifted

    The shifting balance of complex forces of political change and governance indicates that a window for democratic breakthroughs has widened in Africa. “The continent aspires to be governed differently,” Chris Fomunyoh, working group member and Regional Director for Africa at the National Democratic Institute, told attendees.

    Meanwhile, the strengthening of civil society, legislatures, elections, and a range of other democratic institutions in Africa has chipped away at the monopoly on power of the executive branch. This process has also placed more pressure on Africa’s authoritarians and autocrats.

    Some African leaders have even betrayed a sense of weakness in their response to the Arab Spring, entirely prohibiting discussion of the topic, usually with little success given that their fellow citizens are “wired in” to regional events and democratic norms through cell phones, the internet, and independent media.

    The Arab Spring also “raised awareness of the important role of citizen action in democracies,” explained Dr. Siegle. Democratic change is not a onetime push against a single individual or leader, but requires sustained popular participation and extensive organization across civil society groups.

    Change is also occurring at the ballot box. While 19 African leaders have been in power for more than a decade, in some regions a whole new generation of leaders have emerged. Only 3 heads of state in West Africa have been in power for more than 10 years, for example.

    Partners Should Value Legitimacy

    Dr. Fomunyoh explained that though a confluence of forces seems to strengthen the prospects for democratic change on the continent, “old habits die hard, and so we should expect autocratic pushback.”

    Regional and international partners have important roles to play in facilitating smooth transitions on the continent. A starting point should be to empower the continent’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs). Several of the RECs have been at the vanguard of advancing democratic norms and pressuring recalcitrant leaders to implement real reform. Most importantly, as peers they have the credibility and diplomatic tools to manage political change.

    The African Union has been several steps behind some of the RECs in recent transitions, especially Libya and Côte d’Ivoire. With the ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance expected soon, the African Union will be compelled to support democratic principles on the continent more vigorously.

    Other efforts can be made to strengthen Africa’s civil society networks so that they can act more cohesively. Similarly, Africa’s journalists and information technology entrepreneurs need to be protected so that the media sector can play its educational, informational, and oversight role.   A focal point of attention needs to be the professionalization of the security sector, which continues to be used to support a particular leadership rather than the institutions of the state.

    The overarching litmus test for engagement should be legitimacy. Policies and assistance on the continent should more consistently support and favor democratic practices and norms – as this will contribute to more stability, economic growth, and development effectiveness.

    While resistance to democratic reform can be expected to persist, the report concludes, such resistance ignores a principal lesson of recent transitions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Côte d’Ivoire: “those leaders who stay in power too long are likely to depart on terms considerably less favorable to themselves.”

    Welcome remarks by Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.), Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and comments  by Joseph Siegle, Working Group Chair and ACSS Director of Research , Christopher Fomunyoh, National Democratic Institute's Regional Director for Africa , Edward McMahon, University of Vermont Professor and Freedom House Senior Research Associate
    Questions and Answers Session
  • Africa Center Releases New Brief on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Africa


    AlternativeDisputeResolutionInAfricaBy Ernest Uwazie. Africa Center for Strategic Studies, November 2011.

    Low-level disputes in Africa can spiral into violence and conflict due to the lack of effective judicial systems that can provide a credible and timely process for resolving differences. Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques can strengthen dispute settlement systems and bridge the gap between formal legal systems and traditional modes of African justice. They may have particular value in stabilization and statebuilding efforts when judicial institutions are weak and social tensions are high.

    Download the Brief in: [ENGLISH]

  • Senior African and American Officials Discuss Global Concerns at Inaugural African Executive Dialogue


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    Washington, D.C.— Twenty-one senior government officials representing nine African countries, the African Union, and the United States discussed pressing global concerns on  Nov. 9, the first day of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies’ (ACSS) inaugural African Executive Dialogue.

    The high-level meeting’s participants found that water scarcity, climate change, and unstable food supplies in Africa are security issues that could derail democratic and economic advances being made on the continent. They tackled other major international issues on the second day including booming population growth and how governments could best respond to complex emergencies.

    “Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the quickest growing economies in the world, yet it faces great challenges,” said Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs.  “We cannot ignore any of these issues—climate change, corruption, population, among others—and it’s all of our responsibility to come up with solutions. Africa must take these on for the sake of Africa, but also for the sake of the world.”

    Before they dove into the first of five plenary sessions meant to dissect the major contemporary issues, Lieutenant General Ivan Koreta, Deputy Chief of the Uganda Peoples Defence Force, forecast the theme of the dialogue would become education and awareness. He said humanity would be unable to confront global problems without understanding them, especially issues that unravel slowly over time like climate change.

    “We’re not experiencing some of these yet in Uganda, but we can see them coming,” Koreta said. “It’s not a question of if, but when. We must raise awareness and educate the people of Uganda and around the world to address these issues before they are unmanageable.”

    Ambassador William M. Bellamy (ret.), Director of ACSS, said he had high hopes for the results of the dialogue, which sprouted from a meeting in which security sector experts tried to conceptualize what the world would look like in 20 years.  He saw that the group needed to expand the conversation to include voices from around the world.

    “This dialogue is the first step to examine a series of issues. Will the world come together to manage the global commons: the oceans, outer space, the polar zones, cyberspace?” Bellamy asked the assembly. “Africa and Africans need to be part of this debate and help to shape how we manage the global commons.”


  • Africa and the Arab Spring

    senegal_anti-Wade_protestsACSS released its inaugural Special Report this month assessing the impact of the Arab Spring on democracy in Africa. The protests and dramatic political changes that have occurred in North Africa have captivated the attention of Africans throughout the continent. They have also sparked a broader debate about the legitimate claims on authority in Africa. The past year has simultaneously seen noteworthy democratic advances in Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria, and Zambia, among other places. This ACSS Special Report, the product of a Working Group of Africa democracy experts, evaluates the significance of these developments, the countervailing forces to democratization in Africa, and the priority actions required of African and international partners to strengthen democratic norms in the region.

    Click here to download the report in: [ENGLISH]