More than 40 nations wrapped up the US-led military communications exercise Africa Endeavour in Zambia’s capital Lusaka today, after conducting what was the largest such exercise in nearly a decade.
Colonel Francis Chitambo, Zambian Army Director of Communications, said that a total of 329 personnel from 44 countries and organisations took part in Africa Endeavour between August 6 and 15, making it the biggest yet since it first came into being in 2006.
Africa Endeavour is held every year, with South Africa the first to host the exercise. Past exercises have taken place in Nigeria (2008), Gabon (2009), Ghana (2010), The Gambia (2011), and Cameroon (2012). “We are happy Zambia hosted the exercise. It was a success,” Chitambo said. He pointed out that Zambia has participated in every Africa Endeavour since inception but, “what was lacking was for us to host.”
According to exercise coordinator Commander Bryan McRoberts from the US military’s Africa Command (Africom), the purpose of Africa Endeavour 2013 was to develop the military communications capabilities of participating countries in the context of conducting peacekeeping/peace support and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The exercise is expected to be valuable to regional bodies like the African Union in conducting future operations.
During the exercise a fictional scenario was enacted to give realistic command, control, communications and computer (C4) communications practice. Participating delegates reacted to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake striking the fictitious island of Carana off Somalia, coordinating the provision of humanitarian aid and disaster relief.
The exercise was also aimed at improving interoperability between US, African and non-African partner nations as well as regional operations centres and maritime operations centres – during the exercise, a Cameroonian vessel in the Gulf of Guinea sent information to a maritime operations centre ashore and this information was then disseminated to other organisations like the African Union and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Africa Endeavour also assists with modernisation efforts as countries in future will better be able to decide what communications equipment to acquire. Like last year’s edition, Africa Endeavour 2013 featured a public affairs workshop.
One of the tangible outcomes of the exercise was the production of a command, control, communications and computer handbook – this 49 page document will serve as a standardised procedural guide across Africa to facilitate further communications interoperability.
“One of the key elements in crisis response is communication,” McRoberts said, especially with so many potential partner nations working across Africa with so many languages. This was illustrated by the need for a translator at the media briefings to translate English, French and Portuguese.
McRoberts said Africa Endeavour 2013 was good preparation for all African nations that will be sending peacekeeping forces to Mali – he pointed out that all the African countries that have committed troops to that country have participated in Africa Endeavour.
Nigerian Lieutenant Colonel Olatokundo Bello, representing the African Union, said that one can only launch an operation when the logistics and communications are in place; otherwise it is unlikely that the operation will succeed.
Bello emphasised the importance of foreign assistance in bolstering African military capacity, particularly through partner nations like China, Germany, the European Union and the United States. “The US was instrumental in logistics support in Mali,” he said. “The AU cannot take care of all its logistics and other concerns by itself at the moment,” Bello said, but added that with the help of partners it is getting closer to its goal of bringing peace to the continent.
The nearly 40 African countries that took part in Africa Endeavour 2013 were mostly from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), ECCAS and the East African Standby Force. Some of the non-African participants included Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden.
South Africa was invited to participate but did not. (The South African National Defence Force has just finished participating in Exercise Shared Accord with the United States.) McRoberts said he was looking forward to future possibilities regarding collaboration with South Africa.
The closing ceremony of Africa Endeavour 2013 was held at a military base in Lusaka on Thursday afternoon and was attended by all the participants as well as Defence Permanent Secretary Rose Saukatula. She said that the exercise has been a success. “As a country, we are glad to be associated with these exercises which prepare us for peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in a multinational environment.” The minister said such exercises provide an enabling environment that leads to peaceful coexistence between nations.
Africa Endeavor has trained more than 1 500 communications specialists, according to Africom. The next edition will be held in October or November next year. US Africa Command conducts around 12 exercises in Africa every year and works with most African countries, although not presently with Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Sudan or Eritrea due to the political problems with those nations.
This year’s Africa Endeavour had a budget of $3.6 million, according to McRoberts, with a big portion going to meals, transportation and other logistics. The other non-African participants attended at their own expense.
The geopolitical background used in the training scenario for Africa Endeavour 2013 will be repeated for the upcoming Exercise Amani Africa in 2014. Bello told journalists that exercise Amani Africa will be launched in Gaborone, Botswana, next year and will demonstrate the effectiveness of African Union and regional security arrangements regarding peacekeeping in Africa. It will assess the capacity of African Union nations to bring relief to a disaster-affected area.
Such training will be useful for entities like the African Standby Force, which is scheduled to become operational in 2015, Bello said. “The AU takes very seriously quick response to crisis,” he added. The situation in Mali earlier this year and the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have highlighted the importance of rapid reaction forces.
Click here to view the Africa Endeavour 2013 gallery.
Guy Martin attended Africa Endeavour at the invitation of the US military.