African maritime leaders along with their international counterparts are attending the first-of-its-kind African Maritime Forces Summit (AMFS) in Sal Island, Cabo Verde, this week, where they are discussing African-led solutions and areas for cooperation to improve maritime security in Africa’s waters.
The US Naval Forces Europe-Africa/US Sixth Fleet said the symposium is the largest maritime security-focused conference in Africa, replacing the three annual exercise related Senior Leadership Symposia (SLSs).
African countries taking part in this inaugural event are Angola, Benin, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, and Tunisia. Participants include heads of navy, coast guards, and naval infantries from four continents including Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.
AMFS is expected to become an annual event. “AMFS is a new model for African senior leadership engagement, which combines the three senior leadership symposiums traditionally held during NAVAF’s annual regional express-series exercises into a single continent-wide event,” said a US Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF)/US Sixth Fleet statement on 19 March. Previously, the Express series of military exercises— Obangame Express and Cutlass Express—would have senior leadership symposiums as a part of the agenda. With AMFS, rather than have three regional, leadership symposiums built inside each exercise’s programming, it is now a single, combined, continent-wide Summit for improved interaction and exchange among chiefs of navies and coast guard infantry leaders, in one room, from across Africa.
The location of Cabo Verde is notable because the country is at the crossroads of West Africa, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, and has the facilities to co-host with NAVEUR-NAVAF, simplifying the participation of, “key allies and partners with interest in the region, including: Brazil, France, India, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom,” and the United States of America.
The top brass of US President Joseph Biden’s defence officials traveling to Africa to attend AMFS include US Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, the commandant of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Linda Fagan, commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, Admiral Stuart B Munsch, US Africa Command’s deputy to the commander for Civil-Military Engagement, Ambassador Andrew Young, and senior United States Agency for International Development (USAID) leadership.
Del Toro’s travel to Africa is significant because his job entails the responsibility and authority to oversee the entire affairs of the US Department of the Navy, what and how policies are formed and implemented, and conducting activities that fulfil goals laid out or instructed by President Biden and his defence minister, the Secretary of Defence, Llyod Austin III.
Day one of the AMFS will focus on collective responses to maritime security challenges across the continent while day two will include service focused events, including tours of a US Navy warship and US Marine Corps and Coast Guard static displays. Day three will deal with regional challenges and responses.
The Summit is designed to allow the heads of African maritime departments to review challenges African countries say they are facing in their ocean waters, and dialogue. The primary focus being “Africa-led solutions.” It is expected that participants will aim to steer progress towards increased cooperation and strengthened partnerships, all hallmarks of Biden’s US Strategy towards Africa, in effect since its launch in Pretoria last August.
The greatest challenge Africa’s coastal states—from Egypt to South Africa, Algeria to Namibia, and Cabo Verde to Somalia— face is the unique ocean ecosystem threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, cascading impact of Salafi jihadism, beyond climate events and storm surges, toxic waste dumping, and the trafficking of humans, weapons, and narcotics.
Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on US foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe