As U.S. Africa Command matures and strengthens ties with African nations, American interests on the continent become more stable, the command's top officer said July 20, 2010.
U.S. AFRICOM was established in October 2007 to "add value" to African nations by improving their military capacities and to help nations achieve their short- and long-term goals, Army General William E. "Kip" Ward said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He discussed progress and challenges and explained the strategic importance of the continent to global security.
Many African nations struggle with democratic processes, political reform, civil conflict and reconstruction issues, Ward noted. Despite those challenges, Africa presents tremendous opportunity, he said.
Much of the continent's development progress is hindered by corruption, weak governance and drug and human trafficking, Ward explained. Also, the growing population faces challenges in food and security. However, those concerns are "not absolute barriers," he said.
Good governance and reliable militaries prove to counter such concerns, Ward said. Several nations have become well-respected, international partners dedicated to peacekeeping, he added.
"Good governance ... fosters change in stability that allows the U.S. and Africa, across all spectrums to build trust (and) pursue mutual interests toward lasting relationships," Ward said. "Africans are steadily taking ownership in addressing existing security challenges. It means that, over time, we can work more effectively together to further these mutual interests."
African nations have the potential to be great, long-term security partners, the general said. But some are more dependent on outside resources, he added.
"The greater issue is not that challenges exist in Africa," he said. "Africans lack the means to wholly and fully confront them."
In some cases, Ward explained, resources are available within African nations but are not aligned to address the challenges. Also, sometimes opportunities for progress are not well understood, he said, adding that developing a stable economy and government need as much focus as security.
"I get asked all the time: What are you going to do about Somalia? What are you going to do about Sudan? What are you going to do about the Democratic Republic of the Congo? What are you going to do about Liberia?" the general said.
"It's also important to look at Africa in terms of the opportunity that exists," he said. "Economic development, governance, security initiatives and the continent's geopolitical role will both improve the lives of Africans and build a foundation for a stronger, longer friendship (and) cooperation between the nations of Africa and the United States, all the while promoting an environment where American lives are more secure."
Such effects will be felt abroad and in the United States, anywhere American interests are promoted, General Ward said. The strategic importance of Africa is about stability and growth, which is in the best interest of the United States, he added.
"Since the command's inception, we routinely heard phrases like, 'African solutions to African problems,'" he said. "While that theme still resonates, U.S. efforts to help Africans address their challenges focus ... on a combination of diplomatic, developmental and defense engagement - programs that help build capacity, that foster African ownership."
The command, Ward said, prides itself on the ability to "listen and learn" from African nations.
"We had to get out of our foxholes, go down range and look back at what we were doing from the perspective of our most-important partners, the Africans," he said. "After hundreds of engagements with African political and military leaders, as well as members of civil society, there were several common themes of what the Africans wanted in terms of their long-term security interests."
AFRICOM is primarily concerned with building military forces, the general said, acknowledging the importance of ground, sea and air military capabilities. However, he added, broader capabilities also are needed.
"Police, border patrols, coast guard, customs, immigration, air/space management, courts, law; all these are lined against the challenges and threats the partner nations face," Ward said. "Sufficient freedom from political violence is needed to allow real progress to take root."
Conditions must be set for Africans to address short-term challenges, so long-term objectives can be pursued, he said.
"This is clearly a long-term endeavor," Ward said. "Development or transformation of security capacity does not happen overnight, and in many cases will happen on an African, not an American, timetable."