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Officials From Over 30 African Nations Gather for 16th Annual Senior Leaders Seminar in Washington

By Paul Nantulya

June 9, 2014


WASHINGTON, D.C.  — A high-level seminar for senior military and civilian leaders opened June 9, 2014 as the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) began its two-week flagship program, the Senior Leaders Seminar, at National Defense University in the U.S. capital. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Africa Center, which conducted its first program in 1999 with a Senior Leaders Seminar in Dakar, Senegal. The annual program is a means for senior-level Africans and their international partners to reflect collectively on the strategic challenges facing Africa.

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The theme for this iteration of the SLS is “Strengthening Regional Security Initiatives in Africa,” and it builds on the outcomes of the just-concluded third annual African Executive Dialogue (AED) which concluded May 30, 2014 in Alexandria, Virginia, in the outskirts of Washington, D.C.

Approximately 66 participants from more than 30 African countries were attending the program. Representation has been drawn from military and civilian officials involved in decision making at the strategic as well as operational level.

U.S. officials invited their African counterparts to identify and discuss security topics that should be raised in the upcoming summit of African heads of State in Washington, D.C., to be hosted this August by President Obama.

Ms. Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, in her opening remarks discussed the importance of the Africa Center as the principal tool of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for engaging African security partners in rigorous academic programs to complement the DOD’s larger portfolio of security and defense cooperation activities on the continent. She also said that ACSS holds an important place between the Pentagon’s Track One diplomacy (involving official government-to-government contacts) and Track Two relations (involving contacts with nongovernmental and citizen-focused groups). As a Defense Department organization with a mandate that includes academia and civil-society, Ms. Dory said that the Africa Center effectively is a “Track One-and-a-Half” organization, bridging government and civil society.

“The Africa Center allows us at the Pentagon to enrich our Track One initiatives with academically centered programs that include not just civilian managers of the security sector but also broader structures of civil society,” Ms. Dory told her guests. She added that long term security in many ways rested on a sound academic and professional foundation.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary explained the broader strategic African trends. These  include: rapid economic growth, rapid population growth and the youth bulge, rapid technological changes, persisting poverty, increasing finds of hydrocarbon resources, decreasing conflicts and governance improvements, expansion of violent extremist actors and other transnational threats and challenges in consolidating democracy and sound governance.

Ms. Dory also gave a quick summary of security trends in each African region, discussing complex evolving security challenges in West Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central African Republic (CAR), but also singling out Southern Africa as the most stable and prosperous region on the continent.

“There are many positive and negative developments, each requiring a particular set of tools and above all, sound and enlightened leadership,” she said. “At DOD, we temper pessimism and optimism with realism, and from that vantage point there are many areas of cooperation and mutual interests that we have forged with our African colleagues over time, and this will continue.”

On the DOD’s strategic approach to Africa, she noted the following:

“At DOD we take our strategic direction from the vision set forth by the President in the 2012 U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, which identifies four pillars: strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development.”

“All these pieces,” she said, “and the programs under them, are crucial ingredients for unlocking Africa’s potential and bringing greater stability and prosperity, all of which are in the longer term strategic interest of the United States.”

Seminar participants were encouraged to familiarize themselves with various policy and doctrinal documents which also affect U.S. policy toward Africa such as the recently concluded 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG), 2011 National Military Strategy (NMS), and 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS).

Ms. Dory fielded several questions from participants following her remarks, highlighting the growing relationship between the United States and the African Union, and the importance of supporting the building of African defense institutions instead of just tactical military training. She also responded to several questions about the future location of the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command, currently in Stuttgart, Germany. Ms. Dory said U.S. congressional politics might be a factor moving the organization to a location in the United States, but there is almost no chance of U.S. AFRICOM headquarters moving to a location in Africa because of political and diplomatic concerns by African nations.

Acting ACSS Director Mr. Michael Garrison in his welcoming remarks said that Africa’s geostrategic environment was changing in ways that require greater engagement and collaboration between United States and African nations.

“These changes are taking place on many different levels and involve a wide range of challenges and opportunities requiring leadership, ethical management of state affairs, strengthening the rule of law, and instituting greater accountability in the security sector,” he observed.

“Our late president John F. Kennedy once said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” Mr. Garrison said, “and nothing could be more apt for the conduct of public affairs in Africa for decades to come.”

Mr. Garrison underscored the value of the Africa Center’s methodology of creating avenues for dialogue among top African security managers in a non-attribution environment.

“The value of non-attribution is that we can all share our perspectives on crucial issues in a frank and open atmosphere, and in doing so elaborate some common themes and amplify our mutual interests as Africans and Americans.”

Mr. Garrison closed the session by citing an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go by yourself; if you want to go far, go together.”

“This principle,” he explained, “has guided the Africa Center’s operations since 1999 and will continue to be central to the way the Center works with African partners now and in future.”

The two-week seminar planned to cover three modules: fundamentals of security and strategy in Africa; core areas in security studies; and current critical issues. Outcomes will be used to frame part of the agenda of the upcoming African Leaders Summit to be hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama in August.

ACSS is the pre-eminent Department of Defense (DOD) institution for strategic security studies, research and outreach in Africa. The Africa Center engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programs that build strategic capacity and foster long-term, collaborative relationships. Over the past 15 years, more than 6,000 African and international leaders have participated in ACSS programs and dialogue.