TRANSCRIPT: Presentation on the Role and Mission of United States Africa CommandJanuary 27th, 2013; Howard University — ; U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs
Gen. Carter Ham spoke at Howard University to discuss his committment to the mission of strengthening the defense capabilities of African partners. AFRICOM strengthens the defense capabilities of individual African states as well as regional organizations so that they are more capable of providing for their own security which is in everyone's best interest. He also commented on the successes of African Partnership Station (APS) and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Calling it his "highest priority," Gen. Ham also discussed how AFRICOM is supporting efforts to counter the growing network of violent extremist organizations in Africa.
GENERAL CARTER HAM: Well, thanks very much, Dr. Scott. That’s a very kind introduction.
I would just point out one fact. In his introduction as he cited some of the places where I’ve served over time and things that I’ve done, you heard no mention of service in Africa, which is an interesting thing for the guy who’s commanding United States Africa Command. But the fact of the matter is, until very recently Africa was not very high on the list of priorities for the United States military. And so it’s an interesting – interesting juxtaposition, if you will, to come to Howard University, a university founded in 1867, with the nation’s oldest Africa Studies program, and be the guy who’s commanding an organization that is less than five years old, stood up on the 1st of October of 2008. So we have a mix, perhaps, today of the old and the new between Howard and Africa Command.
What I would like to do today is take just a few minutes to talk with you a little bit about who we are, what we’re doing, a couple of timely topics, perhaps, but reserve most of the time for your questions and comments and discussions. I think that’s why you came, is more to hear that kind of a discussion than to hear me rattle on. So we’ll certainly focus on that as we move forward.
But again let me come back to this point of why AFRICOM; again, formed just in 2008. We are one of six geographic what we call combatant commands, five – six commands that look at parts of the world day in, day out. And so it won’t surprise you there’s a geographic command for the Pacific, one for South America and one now for North America – there used to not be one of those – that was stood up after 9/11; one for the Mideast – we call that Central Command, that does Iraq and Afghanistan and that part of the world; and then European Command, which until 2008 also had responsibility for Africa. So they were merged in those days.
And I think what happened in the mid-2000s is that the United States, perhaps belatedly, came to the conclusion that Africa was of great – is of great concern to the United States in many different ways, and so – and one of them being on the security front. So in the mid-2000s the decision was made to form Africa Command and then formally establish the command in 2008.
The benefit of that is, frankly, there is a group of people who – with whom I serve – who wake up every day thinking about African security matters. We didn’t have that before, or the focus of the command was split between Europe and Africa, wildly different criteria and factors to be considered. So if nothing else, I think there is some goodness in having a group of people who think about Africa, who establish relationships with African leaders, both military and civilian, and hopefully will establish enduring relationships which will be very, very important for us.
The mission of the command actually is quite simple. It is to protect the national interests of the United States. We are a United States military organization. That’s what the United States military does. But what’s interesting to us is that we do that perhaps a little differently than many of the other geographic combatant commands of the U.S. military. We find that we are at our best, and the way that we best protect the national security interests of the United States in Africa, is by strengthening the defense capabilities of African nations so that they are able to provide for their own security and, importantly, increasingly contribute to regional security and stability as well.
Now, like every other U.S. military organization, we have to always be prepared to conduct – to conduct military operations at the direction of our president and the secretary of defense. The operations in Libya in 2011 are an example of that. When so directed by our president, then we have to take on those kinds of actions. But mostly we think our effort is best when we are working to increase the capabilities of our African partners.
Our activities in Africa are guided by two overarching but simple principles. The first is simply that a safe, stable, secure Africa is in the best interest not only of the African countries but of our country as well. And the second principle is one that was articulated first by President Obama when he visited Accra, Ghana, In 2009, and where our president stated that in the long run it is Africans who are best able and best capable of addressing Africa’s challenges. That often gets condensed in the shorthand of “African solutions to African problems,” but it’s an important principle.
Secretary Clinton last year, on one of her many trips through Africa, expanded upon President Obama’s views and said, yes, African solutions for African problems, but increasingly, global problems require African solutions as well. And I think what Secretary Clinton was getting at is that Africa is no longer isolated. Africa’s part of a broader global community, and the African countries have a role to play and have contributions to make. So those principles, I think, are quite important for us as we think about what it is that we’re supposed to do on behalf of our country.
We’re guided – also, in addition to those two principles, there are two over-arching documents, United States government documents, that help shape our activities. The first is the Presidential Policy Directive on Sub-Saharan Africa. That outlines the U.S. government’s policy and strategy toward Africa, and it’s based on four pillars: the first, to promote opportunity and development; the second, to spur economic growth, trade and investment; thirdly, to advance peace and security; and fourth, to strengthen democratic institutions. That’s what our country said. That’s what our president said. That’s how we’re going to build the United States strategy and our policy toward Africa.
We at AFRICOM, unsurprisingly to you, focus mostly on that third pillar of advancing peace and security, in our engagements with individual African states, with regional organizations and with the African Union as we move forward – help them move forward to achieve the other three objectives. It is important, I think, to me, that – to recognize that advancing peace and security is foundational to achieving the other three pillars. It’s tough to have good governance, it’s tough to have growth and opportunity if you don’t have at least a modicum of peace and stability. So we think our objectives are pretty important.
So that presidential policy directive helped shapes (sic) our government, our activities in Africa, as it does every other branch and element of the U.S. government.
The second document that guides our action is the defense strategic guidance, which was issued by the president and the secretary of defense about a year ago. Now, this is the document that articulates, in general terms, what is – what is expected of the armed forces of the United States. And it is in this document where we first codified the idea of rebalance toward the Pacific. So you’ve heard that phrase in discussions, but it’s in this document where that – where that comes up.
Well, what does that mean for us in Africa, where the priority regions of the world for the U.S. defense establishment are the Pacific and the – and the Mideast? In fact, if you read the document, which I would encourage you to do, you’ll find that the word “Africa” appears precisely one time. And so you read that, and you say, oh, my goodness. And our African partners read that, and they say, does that mean you don’t – that you don’t care about us?
And so I – so I – my response to them is, don’t focus so much on the – on the word; don’t focus so much on the geography. I think for understandable reasons, the Pacific is vitally important to the United States, economically, politically. I mean, there is a focus there. But when you look at the articulation of the priorities that the nation establishes for the armed forces, we find that the activities that the United States military engages in in Africa come through loud and clear.
At the top of that list, unsurprisingly, is countering violent extremist organizations. Sadly, that’s a necessary function for us in Africa today. But it’s not the only thing that we do. We do a lot more.
Another priority in the defense strategic guidance is maintaining global access to and throughout the continent so as to facilitate global trade. And Africa is a place that has two key strategic chokepoints, in the Bab el-Mandeb and the Straits of Gibraltar. People forget that one-half of the Straits of Gibraltar are in Africa. Everybody thinks about the European side; they forget about the African side. Takes two sides to make a strait. And lots of economic traffic passes through those two chokepoints.
For us in the United States, the Gulf of Guinea is becoming increasingly important to us from an economic standpoint. So maintaining global access is important.
A third priority articulated in the strategic guidance is what we call building partner capacity. This is the substance of what we do in Africa. This is working with African partners, again, to help them build the capabilities and the capacities that they need not only for their own security but so that they can contribute to regional organizations that build security as well. And you say, well, why do we want to do that? Why is that in the best interests of the United States?
Well, we find, if there are – if there are capable security forces, it lessens the likelihood of conflict. It lessens the likelihood that there will be disputes between nations. And it lessens the likelihood that U.S. military activities might be required. So we think, for a multiplicity of reasons, working with our African partners to increase their capability is a worthwhile endeavor – in fact, our main effort on the continent.
Another set of requirements that fall to us are assisting with the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. And again, regrettably, these are circumstances which present themselves in Africa, and sometimes these are of such magnitude that they exceed the capacities of the host nations to contend with, and sometimes they leave – need a little bit of help.
The last priority is one that’s relatively new, at least new if not in concept, new in formalized doctrine and guidance from the United States, and that’s the prevention and response to mass atrocities. And again, it’s unfortunate but fact that mass atrocities have occurred in Africa, and we want to work – find ways working with African militaries – some of whom in the past have been the perpetrators of mass atrocities – how do we work with those organizations to prevent and, if necessary, respond to mass atrocities.
All of that says to me that while Africa is not the priority region of the world as articulated in the Defense Strategic Guidance, the mission sets that tasks given to the United States military in that strategic guidance match very, very cleanly with what we are trying to do inside Africa.
Let me – let me shift now to just highlight a couple of ongoing activities, and maybe that will spur some thought for questions and comments, and we’ll shift to that very quickly.
As I mentioned, our highest priority is countering the growing network of violent extremists organizations in Africa. Another way to put that is our mission is to protect America, Americans and American interests from threats that may emerge from the continent of Africa. And we see this manifest itself in Somalia with al-Shabab; in the – in the Maghreb, in the Sahel as playing out now in Mali with the – al-Qaida in the – in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine and others organizations; shifting a bit further south into Nigeria, the existence of Boko Haram – organizations that are all focused on undermining the governance of those countries and establishing their own regime of control outside of legitimate government control.
While I’m very concerned about each of those individuals entities – al-Shabab, AQIM, Ansar al-Dine, Boko Haram – it is increasingly the coordination, the synchronization of efforts of those different organizations that is of concern to me. We’re starting to see the increasing collaboration, sharing of funding, sharing recruiting efforts, sharing of weapons and explosives and certainly a sharing of ideology that is expanding and connecting these various organizations. And I think that’s what poses at least the greatest immediate threat in the region. And my guess is, you’ll probably have some questions about activities in Mali, and we can certainly talk about that.
A second set of ongoing efforts is the – is the African-led effort to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army leader, Joseph Kony, and his senior lieutenants, to bring them to justice, as they’re indicted by the International Criminal Court. You remember just over a year ago President Obama directed us to deploy a small number of U.S. Special Operations personnel to assist the four – the militaries of the four countries that are involved in this effort – Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Our role is not to be tracking down Kony; the Ugandans, the Central Africans and others are much better at that than we would be. But we do bring U.S. capabilities in terms of intelligence, mobility, logistics and other capabilities. And we have seen some progress as of late with increased defections, increased effectiveness by the African forces. So the effort against the Lord’s Resistance Army continues. And there are a number of other events and incidents that we can certainly talk about in the question-and-answer period.
What I would – what I would ask you, though, to think about is it’s real easy in Africa to get focused on all of the negative things. There’s – you know, there’s challenges in Mali to be sure. Libya’s got challenges. The Great Lake region is certainly in turmoil right now. Guinea-Bissau and many other places – there are lots of problems.
I think it’s worthwhile every now and then to take a step back, and in addition to looking at the problem sets, which is important to do – but it’s almost important to look at the good things and at the opportunities that present themselves. Africa is home to, depending on which survey you look at, six or seven of the fastest-growing economies in the world. That’s pretty extraordinary. But it gets lost in the – in the nose – in the noise sometimes.
There’s lots of countries that had successful elections. We focus on those where there’s a coup or other unsettling events, and we tend to not think about the places where there have been very successful elections and good progress made. So all of that says to me that Africa, while certainly the home of lots of challenges, is also the home of great opportunity and progress and hope. And I think that’s a – that – we should never forget about that as well.
As I was mentioning to Dr. Scott, I’ve had in the almost two years I’ve been at the command the opportunity to travel quite a bit in Africa, and I’ve been now to 42 of the – of the countries. It’s been exciting and exhilarating, tiring at times, to be sure. It’s a big place to move about.
But one of the – one of the things I learned early on was – a member of my staff who’s – who belongs to the U.S. foreign service gave me a list of African proverbs. He says, hey, you ought to think about these and what these mean. And I found one that to me, I think, ideally captures what we at U.S. AFRICOM are trying to do. It says simply: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” And we at U.S. Africa Command choose to go far, and we choose to go it together with our African partners.
So with that, thank you very much, and I will welcome your questions. (Applause.)
I think the ground rule is if it’s an easy one, I’ll answer it, and it’s a hard one, I’ll toss it to Dr. Scott. (Laughter.)
MR. SCOTT: OK. Now open the floor for questions. Just raise your hand. Go ahead.
GEN. HAM: Should we give them the score first? So some of you know – some of you know that the Africa Cup of Nations is a fairly important event in Africa. In fact, just a few days ago – and the colonel will recognize this – I told my staff, I said, there will be no fighting in Mali today. And they looked at me and they said, why, have you suddenly become clairvoyant? And I said, no; Mali and Niger play today in the Africa Cup of Nations, and everything will stop to watch this game. So today, not so good. Mali and Ghana played today. We’re about to get a report from Ghana, I think.
MR. SCOTT: I just want to make one note. Turn on your microphone to speak. After you’re finished, please turn it off so we can cut down on the feedback.
Q: Thank you very much, Dr. Scott. My name is Nia Aquid (ph). I was introduced to the general, and I told him I’m an immigrant from Ghana, so he started talking about the soccer and was teasing the colonel, who is from Mali, that we are sitting together, because Ghana just played Mali.
Thank you, General. My quick question is Mali was part of the counterterrorism program for the past eight years. And as we see, last year it gets descended, and Mali now has such difficult problems. And so my question – if I look at the counterterrorism program, which, as you said, is designed to strengthened African militaries, it doesn’t seem to have worked very well in Mali.
Therefore my question is – in the – in The Washington Post they say this year you’re going to expand it to other African countries and train them to deal with security problems. Why give a medicine to more people when the one person who took it certainly hasn’t recovered and it could be argued that they are doing worse?
And if I might tack it on, why not bring AFRICOM to the U.S. instead of on the continent? Because I’m anxious about it, and I know lots of Africans are anxious about it – I mean the headquarters of AFRICOM.
GEN. HAM: It’s – the question about Mali is a – is a very, very fair question. And the colonel probably has some more insightful views on this. But we have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years. Some of that has occurred in Mali, and some of it was Malian officers coming to the U.S. for training, to include Captain Sanogo, who was – led the military coup which overthrew the constitutionally elected government. That’s very worrisome for us.
And so we looked at that. We asked ourselves this questions and – first of all, what did we – did we – did we miss the signs that this was happening, and was there anything that we did in our training that was – that was – that could have been done differently, perhaps have caused a different outcome? I think the answer is a little bit of both. As we look at this from a purely military standpoint, we focused – we were focusing our training almost exclusively on tactical or technical matters, how to operate various pieces of equipment, how to improve effectiveness of tactical operations and the like. And the colonel probably knows – I see that he’s a paratrooper, so we did – you know, how do you aerial resupply of remote bases and those kinds of things, all of which is very, very good.
We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and a military ethos that says when you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority that is – has been established, to conduct yourselves according to the rule of law and to see yourselves really as servants of the people of the nation. We didn’t do that to the degree that we needed to, I think. We – I believe we’ve focused exclusively on tactical and technical. So we’ve learned from that.
But I would – I would also say that there are other countries across the continent, indeed, across the globe, where we have had enduring relationships, where the military has performed admirably when the nation has been stressed. Tunisia comes to mind as an example as a place where – again, where the military was under great pressure but performed very effectively during the revolution there. So I think there’s a lot to be learned from that.
With regard to the headquarters location, we’re in Stuttgart because it made – it was practical, frankly. When the command was birthed from European Command, the people were already right there and the facilities were right there, so it made sense to operate – to continue to operate from Germany, where we are today, in good facilities, with good access to Africa through the civilian airports that are – that are in Europe. It keeps us in, generally, the same time zones as our African partners. So it’s a pretty good location for us to operate.
There is – there was, early on, consideration of the command headquarters being located somewhere in Africa. We’re no longer considering that. We think where we are is the – is the right place to be. But thank you.
MR. SCOTT: Back there.
Q: (Off mic) – I’m not sure the United States has – because in Nigeria, we had the conflict in the north between the Christians and the Muslims, and now Boko Haram – I’m not sure the United States has done anything in particular to curb these activities, and if they have, what exactly have they done to curb the activities in the north?
GEN. HAM: Thanks. It’s a – thank you. It’s a – it’s a great question. First and foremost, we recognize that it – that it is – it is not only the U.S. – United States – is not our responsibility to address that, to be the primary people to address that. That must reside with the Nigerian government. If we – if we tried to take the lead, we wouldn’t get it right because we don’t – we don’t understand the context. We’re Americans, not Nigerians, and it – we – and it would be very difficult for us to be effective.
So our focus has been working, through our U.S. ambassador, through our attaché, with the Nigerians to say, what can we do to help you? And we think that’s the right approach. And so we have an ongoing dialogue with the – with the Nigerian officials on what types of support might be helpful.
To my comments about Mali and what – as one example, there are numerous Nigerian officers and warrant officers and noncommissioned officers who train with us, both here and in the United States and in other programs across Europe. We think that that’s a very good endeavor. We are talking with the Nigerians. They made some specific requests to help them use some of the lessons that we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, in countering improvised explosive devices; how do you – how do you consider that weapon that’s being used increasingly by Boko Haram? And there are again some technologies and some procedures that we might be able to assist with. At a more – at a more mundane level, things like equipment of – helping Nigeria get their military aircraft to a state where they operate routinely and reliably, so that piece is important as well.
And since – though you didn’t ask, let me just take this opportunity to commend Nigeria for offering the force commander for the African-led international support mission for Mali. The force commander will be a Nigerian. It will be a Nigerian contingent. And I think that’s a great effort by the great country of Nigeria.
MR. SCOTT: The young woman there, second row. (Off mic.)
Q: Hi, how are you? Hi, General Ham. I’m – (off mic) –
MR. SCOTT: (Off mic.)
General Ham, I’m Robin Sanders. I was formerly the U.S. ambassador in Nigeria. I just wanted to follow up on Mali and really wanted to ask you a strategic question. What would be the endgame from your view in Mali? Is it absolute elimination of the jihadists, or is it containment? And I ask that, I know we're providing lifts to the French and to the African Union forces as well as to the Malian army, but I also wanted to have an idea on the strategic level, what do we see as the endgame and /or the exit strategy? What is the endgame? Is it just containment and pushback, or is it absolutely, you know, eliminating all of the jihadists that are in the region?
GEN. HAM: Thank you, Madam Ambassador. I suspect you could probably answer the question better than I can. But let me start by saying, in Mali, we view this not as a single problem but rather as four very much interrelated problems. And Ambassador Carson, Assistant Secretary Carson and I have had the opportunity to travel together throughout the region and talk about this.
So let me identify just how we look at the four problems. First is the restoration of constitutional government in Bamako as a necessary precondition for a satisfactory solution. Second is addressing the concerns of a largely disaffected population in the northern portion of the country. Thirdly is the – is, as you mention, Madam Ambassador, the existence in northern Mali now of al-Qaida and other terrorists and extremist organizations that undermine the rule of law – in fact, they’ve eliminated the rule of law in that portion of country – of the country; that’s got to be dealt with. And the fourth problem is one that doesn’t get much attention but actually, in the long run, might be the most difficult to address, and that’s the bad and worsening humanitarian assistance conditions across the – across the Sahel. Now, if any one of those four problems existed, it would be a significant problem. When all four exist simultaneously, it makes it increasingly complex.
So with that in mind, we think that the right end state first has to be: legitimate government in Bamako; the ability for that government to extend its reach into all portions of the country, so territorial integrity of Mali is non-negotiable, no discussion of a separatist state or something like that, but – but it also appears that Mali has asked for and will need some help to establish government control in the north.
Realistically, we would all like to see the elimination of al-Qaida and others from northern Mali. Realistically, probably the best you can get is containment and disruption so that al-Qaida is no longer able to control territory, as they do today, no longer to control the lives of the population centers, particularly in the three main cities of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Those have to be freed and restored under Malian control. So I think that’s what I would see as the end state. And I think that ECOWAS and others in the African Union, the U.N., see that – those end states as well.
One last point. We very clearly see this, from the U.S. government side, that this must – this must be in fact and in perception an African-led endeavor that is done at the request of the Malian government, and I think that’s well under way now.
Q: Hello, General. My name is Emanuel Johnson (sp), Cadet Johnson (sp), at the Howard Army ROTC. And this is currently a topic that I’m going over in class.
I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors and concerns about people say how we got involved in Libya and all the intervention that we did; people say we had our reasons, but people are wondering why aren’t we doing the same in Syria. But from what I’ve gathered, it’s about fears of accidentally arming the jihad and – I’m sorry – (pause) – arming the jihad and – I can’t really remember the question.
Q: (Off mic.)
Q: I’m sorry.
GEN. HAM: No, that’s fine. I think I got enough to go on. But thank you very much. And I know – I think we’ll have a chance to talk a little bit later. As an ROTC graduate myself, thanks for choosing to serve as you’re serving. This is pretty important.
Libya, I think, is absolutely a fair topic to talk about. We have to put it in context and remember how things in Libya began. Think back to March of 2011. That’s easier for us old people to do than for you young guys; that seems like a long time ago. But in that situation you had in the city of Benghazi, a city of about 700,000 people – you had the Libyan army poised on the outskirts of that town, and we had language coming from the leader of Libya, words like “we will hunt them down like rats, we will exterminate them like vermin.”
Africa and the world have heard these words before, and with very harsh consequence. So the United Nations made a decision, our president made a decision, in my personal view a bold decision, that said we aren’t going to stand for that; we are not going to let this army go in and kill innocents in the city of Benghazi. And so we took military action to prevent that.
And remember how this started. This started, the mission was protect civilian populations. It wasn’t take sides, it was not support the revolution, it was protect civilians And that’s how this started. And then as – after a while, as NATO took the mission, the mission evolved into something different. But it is important to remember how it – how it started.
It is absolutely, I think, a fair question to say why did you act in Libya in this circumstance, under the doctrine, if you will, or the principle, if you will, of the responsibility to protect noncombatants – why did you choose to do that in Libya and not choose – or choose to not do that in other places? Each circumstance, of course, is significantly different and has to be measured on its own merits. It also addresses, I think, the limits of power. Military power does not solve all problems.
And importantly, in Libya, there was a U.N. Security Council resolution that called for this mission and authorized all available means. In Syria, there is no such Security Council resolution that would – that would provide the legal underpinning for an operation in Syria similar to what was conducted in Libya. So it’s a great question, but there are significant differences, I think.
And I should caveat all of that by reminding all that Syria is not in my region, so I’m a long, long way from a – from a Syrian expert. But as an – as an interested observer, that’s kind of how I see the difference.
Q: Thank you, Dr. Scott and General. My name is Melvin Foote. I’m the president of an organization called the Constituency for Africa. We work on public policy here in the United States in building support for Africa.
I can say as a young man coming out of college, my father always told me I should support my country, and so this is during the time of Vietnam. And rather than go to Vietnam, I opted for the Peace Corps. And, you know, my whole thing – you’d rather go to the war corps – go to the Peace Corps.
Having said that, there are a lot of people – I’ve been involved in following AFRICOM from inception, because it’s the bulk of the people in the public domain don’t feel that AFRICOM is what it say it is. They’re saying that it’s a – the real goal is militarization and not necessarily security.
And so my question to you – we see an increasing military presence. We see the drone policy in Somalia and elsewhere in Africa. We see this Joseph Kony expedition going on. And we see the American military increasingly involved in action around the continent. One question is how do you measure success? You know, how do you – how do you say you succeeded in the mission?
And then another part is how is AFRICOM informed by civil society both in the United States and in Africa, and how do you engage your diaspora here in the United States, the African diaspora, in efforts to promote security in Africa?
GEN. HAM: Great questions, all. And I would preface that by saying, maybe unusual for a guy in uniform, I’m a huge supporter of the Peace Corps, and thank you for choosing to volunteer.
They’re still looking for volunteers, by the way, so if you want to come back, there’s lots – there’s lots who are coming – there are lots who are coming back. You would chuckle about that, but there are lots of Peace Corps volunteers who served as young people, did their service and went on and had successful careers in doing whatever it is that they were going to do, and many are now coming back for a second tour with the Peace Corps, and it’s deeply appreciated. And I – not only – not only by us, but I think by all Americans, but especially by the ambassadors, and the ambassador can attest to this. Having a seasoned, experienced Peace Corps volunteer come back to a country is hugely beneficial, so thanks for choosing to serve.
And we should also remember that particularly in Africa, but in other parts of the world to be sure, for many people, the only American they’ll ever meet is a Peace Corps volunteer. Yeah, so it’s a very powerful program.
I get asked a lot, you know, what about this militarization of U.S. foreign policy and, you know, is AFRICOM really just a guise to allow the U.S. military an entrée into Africa, and is that really what you’re – you know, what you’re about there, is to get a presence on the continent?
Let me just say from a – just from a scale, the State Department and USAID as the principal entity of the government that spends money spends last fiscal year between 8 (billion dollars) and 9 billion (dollars) – billion with a “B” – in Africa. The Department of Defense spent a little more than 500 million (dollars). So there’s a – I mean, there’s a – just a dollar comparison in terms of what the level of effort is.
Overwhelmingly, the U.S. government’s support to African countries falls into the categories of health care, education and agriculture. Security is a – is a very, very minor part of it. It’s an important part, but it’s a minor part of the U.S. overall engagement with African countries. And I – and I think that’s probably as it should be. The Defense Strategic Guidance, which I referred to in my – in my opening comments, tells me, from the president and the secretary of defense, that in Africa, we are to seek a light footprint and innovative approaches and low-cost approaches to achieving the United States’ security objectives.
To that end, we have one base in Africa. It’s in – it’s in Djibouti, where we have about 2,000 people, and it supports not only U.S. Africa Command but U.S. Central Command, which is just across the Gulf of Aden, Transportation Command as well. That’s our enduring presence on the continent. Other places in the continent, the military – our military goes for specific missions, usually limited scale and limited duration, such as the hundred personnel who are supporting the Africans in the effort to bring Joseph Kony and his senior lieutenants to justice. They are indicted by the International Criminal Court, so we think our efforts – not only there’s a U.S. law that tells us to do that – and kind of principle one for the U.S. military is follow the law, so when there’s a U.S. law that says do this, we go – we go do that, which is an important part of the consideration is that – is that, as I mentioned, I go to – I travel a bit, and I’ve been to 42 of the different countries.
Whatever country in Africa I happen to be in, there’s always a senior American, and it’s never me. It’s always the ambassador or the charge d’affaires. We don’t do anything independently. The U.S. military doesn’t do anything independently in any country in Africa. Anything that we do is undertaken with the consultation and the support from the chief of mission. And in that particular country, that chief of mission, that ambassador, is our president’s and our country’s senior representative, and my job, our job at Africa Command, is to support that ambassador in the attainment of his or her objectives.
The – one success story – and I think this is – this is an important one, and it’s the African Union Mission in Somalia. If you had told me a year ago that Somalia would have an elected president, a parliament, that Mogadishu and Kismayo would be largely free of al-Shabab, I would have told you, you’re crazy; there’s no way that that could happen. Yet that’s exactly what has happened. And it has happened because the African countries, under African Union leadership, collectively made a determination that that’s what they were going to do.
I was privileged in – about a year and a half ago to be invited to a very, very small meeting of African chiefs of defense, from a small number of countries in East Africa, who had been directed by their presidents to say, you guys develop the military strategy to defeat al-Shabab. It was a fascinating conversation. That was only the principals in the room, no (takers ?), no nobodies, no big staffs, just them. And it was heated debate, lots of different views about how to do that. But ultimately, they came – and I didn’t say a word. Ultimately, they came to a conclusion and said, this is how we want to do this. And then they turned to me and say, OK, and – OK, Ham, here’s what we – here’s what we need from you.
But it, to me, is a great model. It was the – it was the Africans deciding, this is what we want to do; we need a little bit of help. They needed some training, some funding, some equipping from the United States and others, and – but it was African-led. And I think that’s a pretty good model, and I think that’s a pretty good success story.
Now, the mission is not complete in Somalia. Somalia has a long way to go. But the fact that President Hassan was here last week, that our secretary of state formally announced the recognition of that government – this was inconceivable just a few years ago. And I think, again, that’s where we’re at our best, not necessarily leading – supporting, training, equipping, helping, in ways that the Africans ask us to help. That’s what we do best.
Q: (Off mic.) Good afternoon. I am Emira Woods with the Institute for Policy Studies, and just really want to applaud the Bunche Center for hosting this event, bringing us together the week of an incredible inauguration and celebration of Martin Luther King Day to be able to talk about foreign policy. So I thank you for your vision.
Commander Ham, you know, there are so many areas, as you spoke, that I thought, oh – (chuckles) – I want to quibble on and want to question. I guess at the core of it, when you talked about this, the State Department giving 8 (billion dollars) to 9 billion (dollars) and the Department of Defense giving 500 million (dollars) to Africa, it seems a bit, you know, disingenuous, primarily because the State Department covers funds for private military contractors that many would think are covered by the Department of Defense. So it seems a bit disingenuous to put it in that way to create a sense that the State Department is actually dominating when many of us are truly concerned that the Department of Defense is having way too much sway in terms of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Africa but especially in Africa.
The African Union meets this – they’ve met this week. (Chuckles.) On the – top on the agenda is jobs, you know. It’s an – it’s the – it’s an economic livelihood for primarily young people who are, like our wonderful students at Howard, graduating and don’t see prospects for jobs. And I think there’s a concern that the U.S. in its foreign policy, as well as many other countries, France and others, are really shifting to emphasize more militaries and militaries as a means to security when many see, you know, jobs and stable economies as a means to security and stability.
So I think the concerns are many, the concerns around AFRICOM standing up in 2008 at a time when Africa actually surpassed the Middle East as a supplier of oil to the United States and a concern that U.S. interest in Africa’s oil and other vital resources is the true rationale for AFRICOM as well as countering China in the African theater where China is increasing its influence. So I think the concerns were heightened before AFRICOM established; the concerns have only grown over time.
And I wonder if there is any effort to evaluate AFRICOM. I understand that you are stepping down. As a new commander steps up, where is there an evaluation? Where is there a review? There has been a congressional hearing on Benghazi, but clearly, there’s a bigger issue at stake, and that is U.S. foreign policy and U.S. militarization still with regard to Africa.
GEN. HAM: Good. Thanks. It won’t surprise you that I disagree with most of what you said – which is OK, and the good news is, we live in a country where you can – where you can do that.
It is true that the State Department has purview and authority for security assistance matters, so they – so much of – some, not much – some of that 8 (billion dollars) to 9 billion (dollars) that the – that is spent in Africa does, in fact, go to security assistance programs.
But let’s be – let’s be wildly extravagant and say, that’s a billion. It isn’t, but let’s say it’s a billion. So that still leaves 7 (billion dollars) to $8 billion that goes to nonmilitary activities – again, mostly health care, education and agriculture. That’s where the U.S. spends its money in Africa – for all the right reasons, in my view.
The one – the one point where I could not agree with you more is about how do you – how do you establish security any place? And obviously, I think mostly about in Africa. The way I would characterize it is that the military is an essential but nondecisive component of establishing security and stability in any particular region.
There is – so let’s take Somalia, for example. There is the presence of an al-Qaida-affiliated organization. There was a necessity, as determined by the African Union, that that – there was a military effort required to dislodge that al-Qaida element. That will – that is important. It is essential. It will be nondecisive. The military defeat of al-Shabab will not in and of itself bring security and stability to Somalia. That will come with good governance, with local governance, with economic development, hope, education and health care, nonmilitary programs that will be – that contribute to the – that are the underlying factors to bring lasting security and stability. It’s my view, and certainly you and others can disagree with that, but I don’t think you can have the ability to extend good governance, to extend the opportunity for economic development, to extend the opportunity for good education systems if you have an extremist organization suppressing those opportunities in a particular society. So again, I’m not – I’m – I try to be pretty realistic about things, and I think that, again, a military component, essential but nondecisive.
Let me talk just a minute about China, as you raised the issue. China is in most places in Africa. And they have, I think, chosen a different path than has the United States. The Chinese invest very heavily in infrastructure. It’s hard to not go to an African country and not see a Chinese project – a road, an airport, a ministry – government buildings and ministries, football stadiums – the Chinese are very – they’re very good at that, and they build those facilities. They built the African Union headquarters in Addis. They built the – I was in Dar es Salaam not too long ago; they built the National Defense College for Tanzania. So they do a lot of good work. They have chosen a path to kind of invest in infrastructure.
The United States has taken a bit of a different path. And our path has been, we’re going to invest in human capital. We’re going to invest in the people of Africa, not so much in the stuff of Africa. I happen to think that’s a pretty wise choice.
And I will – I will tell you once in a moment of a little bit of frustration, I was in a – in a – in a – in a city, and someone pointed out to me that one of the people from the host nation said, see that football stadium? You know, the Chinese built that for us. How come the United States doesn’t build stuff for us like that? And my probably impolitic response to that was, the fact that there are people whose health allows them to fill that stadium is thanks to the people of the United States of America. That was probably – an ambassador probably would yell at me if I said that, but it points out a little bit different approach.
Militarily, we are absolutely not in an adversarial relationship at all with China in Africa. Economic competitors, I think absolutely. I think that’s a global situation between the United States and China, part of which plays out in Africa. But certainly not military adversaries. I meet often with the – with defense attaches from China and others as I’m – as I’m moving around in Africa, and it’s not a particularly close relationship, but it certainly isn’t an adversarial relationship either as we – as we move through Africa. So again, I think there’s great interaction with the Chinese across the continent.
And then one last point, it – with regard to how people sense – how people feel about AFRICOM. We so – we actually spend a fair amount of effort trying to make sure that we understand that as best we can. And I would just characterize it this way: I have yet to go to an African country where a head of state or a prime minister or a minister of foreign affairs or a minister of defense or a chief of defense or a member of parliament has ever said to me, General, thanks for coming, but we don’t – we don’t need to have any more interaction with you. That hasn’t happened to me. Now, admittedly, there’s a couple of places where I – where I haven’t gone and places that – a couple of countries where there’s not a great relationship with the United States writ large, not only with the military. But what I find in Africa is appreciation, is an – is an understand of what we’re trying – what we’re trying to do because what we try to do is, first of all, supportive of our U.S. ambassador, and secondly, import – supportive of that African country.
One of the beauties of being American – an American in Africa is we don’t have a colonial history; that helps us, frankly. And part of it is just we are who we are. With Americans, there’s no -- there aren’t hidden agendas. That’s not in our constitutional makeup. We’re just kind of – we’re just kind of who we are. And with Americans, it’s what you see is what you get. And I find that we’ve been – we’ve been welcomed, some places more warmly than others, but it’s a pretty good relationship; not – I mean, not without its warts and without its faults, but it’s a pretty good relationship. And my sense is, if you ask African leaders do you want AFRICOM, I think most of them, even those who have some questions, would probably say, on balance, yeah.
MR. SCOTT: I think we have time for one final question. And I’m going to allow Professor Greg to ask.
Q: I’m asking about one of your former – I don’t know if the program is still going, but it’s the African Partnership Station. And it has done some good, but I’m not certain if it’s still going. We were part of this – funded through this program to look at maritime security but not from – you know, it was from more of a hazards perspective. And it has – we had two workshops in West Africa, where we did some training of oceanographers and forecasters. Students worked with the – in Senegal, the Senegalese navy. But we developed some operational capacity for hazards in coastal areas, and those turned into real-time daily forecasts for fishermen and others, and there was a lot of collaboration from those 19 different – I think 19 countries took part in that.
Is that program finished or is it still going, is what I’m interested in.
MR. SCOTT (?): (Off mic.)
Q: I’m Greg Jenkins. I’m a professor in physics and do weather and regional climate change in West Africa.
GEN. HAM: Good. Thanks, Professor.
Yes, the Africa Partnership Station remains an important part of our overall portfolio, again with the thrust being to improve the capacity and the capabilities, in this case of African maritime capabilities. So it’s multifaceted. We have not – we have not had – we have not been able to have all of the U.S. naval and Coast Guard presence that we’d like to have, because of other global competing demands, but it’s still a very active program, particularly in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, and now extending into East Africa as well.
I’d take the opportunity to highlight a couple of things. So on both coasts of Africa, we’ve been able to help African countries establish a series of maritime radar so that they can track and monitor commercial traffic that’s operating in their territorial waters or in their exclusive economic zones. That is very, very important not only from a hazards prevention standpoint but from fisheries enforcement and, sadly, particularly in West Africa, in helping African law enforcement address a growing narcotics problem, illegal narcotics problem coming mostly from Central and South America into ports in West Africa.
In the Gulf of Guinea, I would highlight a notable program, the first that anyone is aware of, of a truly effective partnership not between two African countries but between two of the African Union’s regional economic communities. So the Gulf of Guinea, as you all know, rests on the boundaries between the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States. And through a number of workshops, as mentioned, mostly legalistic matters, but to help those two regional organizations craft sharing arrangements that have allowed for the nations to share law enforcement information, to allow for pursuit of –hot pursuit of criminals across the borders, whether that’s illegal fishery, whether it’s oil bunkering or other illegal activities.
So still a lot of work to do in the domain of maritime security, but progress is being made. The challenge, of course, is that operations in the maritime domain are the most expense than to – than operating in any other domain other than space. Ships are expensive. Patrol craft are expensive. They’re expensive to procure, they’re expensive to maintain, the radars are very expensive, so it’s a – it’s a tough, tough thing to work through this.
And so we’re, again, working with a number of U.S. government agencies as well as other nations that are willing to contribute to help the maritime officials on both coasts establish the security that they need. So thanks. But it’s alive – it’s alive and well, not quite as alive and well as I’d like it to be. I’d like to get more coast guard presence particularly because of the law enforcement aspect of this, and we’ll keep moving in that – in that regard.
So with that, again, let me just say thank you all for making time this afternoon. This has been for me, these past two years, an extraordinary journey. Again, like most in the military, I started not knowing much about Africa. I’m at a point now about two years later where I can comfortably say I’m beginning to understand just how much I don’t know about Africa, because just when you think you understand the complexity of a challenge, another layer of complexity is revealed.
But the U.S. relationship with African countries is important. It’s growing in importance. The military component is a piece of that, and we’re very glad to be part of our nation’s engagement with our African partners.
Thank you very much. Dr. Scott, thank you. (Applause.)
MR. SCOTT: And I want to thank you for your participation. Thank you.