There are many challenges across the African continent, but there are also seldom-talked-about opportunities and successes, U.S. Africa Command’s leader said here today.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham addressed students, faculty and reporters about what he’s seen during his command in Africa. The general spoke at the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University here, home to the nation’s oldest Africa studies program.
“It’s really easy in Africa to get focused on all of the negative things,” he said. “There [are] challenges in Mali, to be sure; Libya has challenges. The Great Lakes region is certainly in turmoil right now; Guinea-Bissau and many other places.”
“There are lots of problems,” Ham said. “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 – to look at the good things, and look at the opportunities that present themselves.”
Ham provided examples of successes throughout the continent that are not generally the focus of attention.
“Africa is home to, depending on which survey you look at, six or seven of the fastest growing economies in the world,” he said. “[This is] pretty extraordinary. But it gets lost in the noise sometimes.”
“There are lots of countries that [have] had successful elections,” he noted. “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.”
The general said this tells him while Africa is “certainly home to lots of challenges,” it is also the “home of great opportunity and progress and hope.”
“I think we should never forget about that as well,” Ham added.
The general noted he has now been to 42 of the countries on the continent, and “it’s been exciting and exhilarating, and tiring at times, to be sure. It’s a big place to move about.”
Ham said a member of his staff, who is in the U.S. foreign service, gave him a list of African proverbs to think about.
“I found one that, to me, ideally captures what we, at U.S. Africom, are trying to do,” he said. “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 together with our African partners,” Ham said.