Cooperation - internationally and on the continent - is changing Africa, defense officials said here today.
Partnerships among the nations of the continent, among international allies and among both groups are giving African nations the resources and hand they need to prosper, and the Defense Department has a role in this, said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs.
Dory spoke with Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the commander of U.S. Africa Command during a Pentagon news conference.
"The department's focus in Africa is to foster stability and prosperity," she said. "And in the security realm, this means a focus on building partnership capacity, both at the institutional level and the operational level."
The department has a number of partners across many levels, Dory said. This starts with individual African states and progresses up to regional organizations that focus on security and economic matters. It culminates on the continent, with the African Union. Within the U.S. government, she added, key partners are the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Other agencies - such as the Treasury, Justice and Homeland Security departments - also play important roles, she said.
"So sometimes when we talk about partnership, it's fair to ask us, ‘Which partners are you referring to?’ because we have many," Dory said.
Partnerships require patience, coordination and hard work, Dory said, but they do pay off. She pointed to Sierra Leone and Liberia as two examples of countries that had problems and now are actually providing peacekeepers for other countries in the region.
But not all on the African continent is brightness and light, Dory said, as terrorists, criminal organizations, militias, corrupt officials and pirates continue to exploit ungoverned and under-governed territory on the continent and in its surrounding waters. "The potential for rapidly developing threats, particularly in fragile states, including violent public protests and terrorist attacks, could pose acute challenges to U.S. interests," she said.
And while the core of al-Qaida has been degraded, affiliates have expanded into new areas, such as the Maghreb and the Sahel regions, Dory said. "In our globalized world,” she added, “groups that are viewed as distant from U.S. territory are able to threaten our interests, citizens, and personnel in other regions, as well as those of our partners."
More investments are needed on the continent Dory said -- not necessarily military hardware or training, but in State Department and USAID funds for democracy and governance programs. The money spent now is "minuscule," she added.
Many African nations have bought into democracy, the deputy assistant secretary said, but the quality of the elections needs to be improved.
"These are the types of resources that help in terms of promoting civic action, freedom of the press, independent electoral commissions in various countries, and they are absolutely under pressure," she said. "And I think
from a DOD perspective, we understand that elections - good elections - serve as a conflict prevention mechanism, in a sense, and where you don't have that kind of ability for the people to have a voice and for change of power on some basis, that's where the tensions seem to build, and occasionally explode."