Senior African security-sector leaders met with their US counterparts for the annual African Executive Dialogue (AED), organised by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary of Defence (OSD), US Africa Command (AFRICOM), and the US Department of State.
The three days of talks took place late last month in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington.
This high-level meeting, the third of its kind since 2012, brought together a select group of high-ranking African leaders (including current or recently retired government officials and representatives from the African Union and Regional Economic Communities), joined by officials from the US government and the United Nations. Participants at the talks are ministers, heads of mission, chiefs of defence staff and other senior executives.
Over the course of the meetings, African and American senior executives planned to critically evaluate regional approaches to security co-operation and explore ways of how best to create, implement and monitor programmes that reflect African realities and security priorities while advancing US strategic objectives and security interests.
In her opening remarks, Amanda Dory, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for African Affairs, stressed the vital role US/Africa defence partnerships play in helping African countries improve security outcomes; shaping US assistance to better reflect local priorities and improving learning, co-ordination and sharing of experiences between African, European and American partners.
She highlighted the inter-agency and whole-of-government approach to Africa policy, reflected by the participation of senior executives from the US Defence Department and State Department. She also noted that the high-level dialogue was taking place at an opportune time in the lead up to the first US/Africa Leaders’ Summit, which the President Barack Obama will host for leaders across the African continent in August this year.
“We are here to listen and to take your views and inputs into the ongoing planning process for this landmark event,” Dory said.
In his keynote address, Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, said US defence relationships with African nations are among the most dynamic in the world and have changed significantly in the past decade.
“We have learned good and hard lessons along the way,” he reflected. “Often in public debates African issues are seen as challenges and this is an under-appreciation of the considerable progress African countries continue to make.”
“Many Americans, for instance would be surprised to know that seven of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and that many indicators such as infant mortality, access to education and health and life expectancy are improving and prosperity is growing,” Chollet said.
“Challenges, however, remain,” he continued. “Across the continent in places like Nigeria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Mali we see several emerging strategic challenges. And forums like AED will provide a platform to determine what sorts of tools we need to address them comprehensively, collaboratively and concretely.”
Chollet cited the key pillars underpinning US strategy as captured in the 2010 National Security Strategy, 2012 Defence Strategic Guidance, 2012 US Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa and the 2014 Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR).
“As articulated in our most recent QDR, our resources, although still significant, are limited,” he noted. “This requires us to continue sustaining a small footprint and modest force posture while investing in relatively low-cost, but highly targeted training and capacity building, bringing to bear our unique capabilities and niche assets to address specific requirements and needs such as strategic airlift and other technical inputs.”
The Assistant Secretary told participants the commencement address by President Obama to graduates at United States Military Academy at West Point, which was being delivered the same morning, would stress partnerships, targeted assistance, and more “nimble” but highly specialised forces.
“As articulated in the president’s address, we have to be more selective in how we target our assistance,” he continued. “This will allow us to focus more on working with partners and enabling them to, in the end, take up the challenge of tackling security challenges on their own.”
“We will be looking to you for more leadership,” he said.
The Assistant Secretary suggested US policy and African priorities were mutually exclusive and not necessarily incompatible.
“The United States will continue to act when its interests are at stake. In a very real sense, however, these interests are shared – a stable, prosperous and secure Africa is in the long-term interest of the United States and we will continue to invest in Africa and help African nations realise their hopes.”
Chollet concluded his remarks by stressing the importance of developing more holistic and comprehensive approaches. He echoed observations shared by several participants who argued that more attention needed to be given to addressing the structural roots of instability in Africa.
“This must be a multi-level approach involving combat as well as noncombat assets and capabilities,” he said.
ACSS is the pre-eminent Department of Defence (DOD) institution for strategic security studies, research and outreach in Africa. The Africa Centre engages African partner states and institutions through rigorous academic and outreach programmes 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 programmes and dialogue.